August 5, 2013

High desert sightings: Something is out there

Barbara Harris, who is giving guided tours and a lecture Friday at Giant Rock as part of the Contact in the Desert conference, says local residents placed a 1947 Crosley car on the top of the huge boulder by nailing spikes into the rock and lifting it up with rope, block and tackle. This photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in 1951.

Bruce Fessier
Desert Sun

Full disclosure: I saw a UFO one afternoon in the summer of 1981.

I was driving through the curvy section of Highway 62 between Morongo Valley and Desert Hot Springs when a winged vessel, the likes of which I had never seen, flew between —not over —the hills, sandwiching the road. It paused and hovered for a moment, like a helicopter, and then accelerated faster than a Lear jet. By the time I got down the hill a minute later, it was gone. Without a trace.

I told a grocer in Morongo Valley about it and he wasn’t fazed. He said lots of people saw UFOs there. He attributed it to the Marine base in Twenty­nine Palms trying out experimental vessels.

I accepted that and just waited for that flying vehicle to be publicly unveiled. Three decades later, I’m still waiting.

That’s why I don’t think of the people attending this weekend’s Contact in the Desert convention at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center a bunch of kooks. I actually felt more sane after interviewing one of the speakers, Barbara Harris, chairwoman of the Morongo Basin Historical Society, who will give a lecture and tour of Giant Rock near Landers on Friday morning.

“Where you said you saw that, I have documentation,” she said. “Probably in the ’70s, there was a list where they had watchers who were calling in —a constant flow of sightings in that particular area. In their little town newspaper, people were writing what they were seeing and all these people were talking about the UFOs in that area. So that particular space, it’s very common for sightings.”

I lived in Joshua Tree in 1981 and have made regular trips to Joshua Tree National Park ever since. I attended the Joshua Tree Retreat Center when it was the Institute of Mentalphysics and I heard the story of how its founder, Edwin Dingle, was guided to that spot by a guru in China and how Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Lloyd, designed the complex on what has been called an energy vortex.

I had heard Joshua Tree has the highest rate of UFOs in the nation, but never knew who measured those things. Harris, 56, said what drew Dingle to Joshua Tree also inspired Cabot Yerxa to build his pueblo in Desert Hot Springs, George Van Tassel to build his Integratron near Giant Rock and hold UFO conventions there in the 1950s, and actor Ted Markland to take celebrities to his hill in west Joshua Tree National Park to hear the voice of an ethereal being.

“The high desert has a special, unique, you might say ‘attraction’ within the world,” Harris explained. “There is a special ley line called the 33rd parallel. It’s used in astronomy to arrange where you mark your sightings to the North Star. The 33rd parallel is really an auspicious type of parallel line in the world and for some reason it’s very provocative and has a lot of synchronicities. The area up here in the high desert, we sit on the 33rd parallel and it’s noted for the most UFO sightings in the world. It sits on the same parallel as Roswell (New Mexico). It’s also the same parallel where the Japanese bomb went off. It also sits on the same parallel as the Bermuda Triangle. It’s also on the same parallel line where the Phoenix lights have happened.”

I noted Joshua Tree also is a popular place to take hallucinogenics such as magic mushrooms and peyote. The late Markland hosted Timothy Leary’s wedding at his Yucca Valley home with massive doses of LSD. I asked if that might be partially why the high desert leads the nation in UFO sightings.

Harris, like my Morongo Valley grocer, thinks it has more to do with the area’s proximity to the Marine base. But she won’t rule out Van Tassel’s assertion that he received the technology to build his Integratron from Venus.

Based on science?

Van Tassel worked on the Integratron from 1954 until his death in 1978 —two weeks before it was scheduled to open. He built it, partially upon the research of engineers Nikola Tesla and Georges Lakhovsky, as a “nonferromagnetic” structure to study the rejuvenation of people’s cells, anti-gravity and time travel. Howard Hughes reportedly invested in his experiments.

Harris doesn’t lecture on Van Tassel because she says he pulled some fraudulent stunts to attract business to further his research. But the Integratron is an engineering marvel and many visitors say its sound baths have therapeutic value. Harris notes the technology for his research didn’t exist before Van Tassel claimed to have had contact with someone from Venus.

Harris, who co-owns Adset Graphics in Yucca Valley, prefers to talk about Giant Rock, the seven-story, 5,800 square-foot free-standing boulder. Nomadic Indians used it as a site to contact the dead, Harris said. Legend has it that a Hopi shaman predicted before 1920 that man’s destiny in the 21st century would be foretold by the way Giant Rock would split. If it split in half it would mean the Earth Mother would not accept prayers for mankind. But if it split on the side, then man’s prayers would be answered and a new era would be revealed.

On Feb. 23, 2000, the Hi-Desert Star reported that a slice of the boulder split off at 8:20 a.m. on Feb. 21 after a group led by spiritual leader Shri Naath Devi spent two days praying and meditating at Giant Rock. Devi then declared “a great shift” was at hand.

Harris has interviewed a woman at that prayer session. She doubts they fulfilled the legend.

“To me, it was some people capitalizing on the moment,” she says. “This rock is millions of years old, 25,000 tons, seven stories high. It defied millions of years of wear and tear. Why did it pick Feb. (21), 2000 to split?”

She’ll explore that and her own 30-year study of UFOs in the high desert at Contact in the Desert. She’ll help kick off a three-day event featuring some of the biggest names in science and metaphysics to explore ancient legends. Harris says 500 people are expected.

Space lineage

Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the star and consulting producer of the TV show “Ancient Aliens,” who is leading a workshop at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, says he’s never seen a conference quite like this one.

“This is a really, really great conference to attend if you’re interested in talking in person to the people that have appeared on ‘Ancient Aliens,’ ”said Tsoukalos, an associate of “Chariots of the Gods” author Erich von Daniken. “I am always incredibly grateful to be not only invited to speak at these things, but also to go to them and meet people interested in these topics because, back in the early ’90s, the average age of conferences like this was in the 80s. Now there are young people coming and that to me clearly indicates a craving for knowledge —knowledge that clearly exists.”

Tsoukalos believes von Daniken’s theory that ancient aliens have been seeding mankind for centuries. He says their visitations are the reason there are missing links in the evolution of species and paradigm leaps in civilizations. He also believes aliens are still visiting our planet.

“According to the Ancient Astronaut theory I subscribe to, we are essentially their offspring,” said Tsoukalos. “We’re all hybrid beings —half human, half extraterrestrial. This will one day be determined (by) geneticists. So, if you’re a parent and you have kids, you’re interested in what they’re doing for the rest of your life. So, I think that is the reason they’re still here —to keep an eye on our progress or to simply see how did the ‘experiment’ work out?”

Tsoukalos doesn’t necessarily believe we’ve had contact from Venus. He doesn’t want to know where the aliens are from because, he said, “That to me adds another level of speculation that actually turns off the general public to our ideas. I think it is better to approach the general public with just the idea that we’ve been visited.”

He’s excited about the gathering of such other experts in their fields as Jason Martell, George Noury, Michael Cremo and Graham Hancock. There are 31 speakers giving lectures and workshops and Michael C. Luckman, founder of the Cosmic Majority, will do a live stream. The event also coincides with the Perseid Meteor Shows, which are always spectacular in the high desert.

So, I can agree with Tsoukalos when he says, “It’s definitely going to be a star-studded event.”