In the middle of the nowhere known as Landers, California, sits a stark white dome with the power to heal. Or communicate with aliens. Or time travel. Or just echo sound so richly your bones shiver, forehead tingling, stomach churning, the vibrations resounding off the rounded, glossy wood ceiling and straight to your core. The desert is full of such anomalies, but none as individually rich with the history and aura of the place as this one.
This is the Integratron, a tabernacle built to be a center for rejuvenation and time travel in the Mojave Desert by UFO-enthusiast and leader George Van Tassel, with the friendly help of extraterrestrials whispering in his ears. Tassel moved to the Mojave in 1947 to occupy the space beneath the sacred and strange Giant Rock, a single room dug out in the 1930’s and left behind by Tassel’s friend and co-UFO-enthusiast, Frank Critzer, who had recently blown himself up.
Yes, this is all true.
Tassel and his family opened a restaurant beneath the boulder — the Come On Inn — as well as the Giant Rock Interplanetary Airport, which mostly flew humans in and out of the desert until one fateful night in August, 1953, when a spaceship from Venus landed near Tassel’s sleeping family and a being named Solgonda invited Tassel on board. The two became close friends, developing a telepathic bond through which Tassel gleaned vital information about time travel and rejuvenation. With this guidance, Tassel began building the Integratron.
With its unique design, the structure took 18 years to build. Held together without the use of nails, it is like a 38-foot-high puzzle with a supernaturally white exterior and cathedral-like golden-red hue inside. But there is more to it than the beauty. According to Tassel, the structure is located on an intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces that, when focused by the geometry of the building, concentrate and amplify the energy required for cell rejuvenation, and aide in the basic time travel he hoped to accomplish before his death in 1978.
Forty years later, the structure is not entirely negligent of its initial purpose. Bought by three sisters in 2000, the space is now open to the public for music recordings, events and, primarily, the sound baths that lured me into the Integratron’s resounding crown. Directly or not, these sound baths carry on Tassel’s legacy of rejuvenation through the use of singing, crystal bowls keyed to the body’s chakras, where “sound is nutrition for the nervous system.” So I went to be bathed in soundful sustenance.
Like so many things in this desert, the Integratron’s out-of-place-ness is what makes it appear at home. This UFO-reminiscent dome planted like an undimmed bulb in the middle of the wide, white desert is as natural as apple pie in a diner. And everyone else seems to think so, too: every year, thousands of people come to be bathed or simply to see. And on one hot day, I found myself in the company of 35 other people wandering out of the bright daylight and into the cool darkness of the wooded inside to sprawl about on the ground, stare up at the stretching, vaulted ceiling, and be swayed with sound.
It started deep, a low sound loud and pulsing and lounging on the body like a blanket as the woman playing these vessels swiveled the mallet around the crystal edge. The sound became round, ricocheting off the ceiling at all angles, only to ricochet back and around again, rolling like a ball in a spinning cup, gathering more and more sound, becoming thick and heavy with it. Then a new bowl would join in, layering a lighter tone over the deep one into a contrasting chorus until sound shook the stomach and rang the head, a full body experience.
In the midst of this, a person can get lost. The outside world, that big blueness gleaming through the tiny window above, seems impossible, unreasonable. All there is is sound and body, and a mind fluttering to keep up. Time collapses and the 25 minutes feels like five, and when it’s over, you feel like summer air at dusk: thick and light, full of what was before — be it day or sound — but somehow devoid of everything. Maybe in that way, the Integratron makes you like the desert: empty and full, alien and at home, ready for the strangeness to fill you up again.
Maybe at that moment you’ve reached the reawakening Tassel hoped you would. Here you are under desert sun: a strange being returning to actuality, turning back to wave the domed saucer goodbye.