[Hayley and Scott Rockit are poor, weird, and married. They do art stuff in Chicago and are parents to a dingo and have super cool hair. Yesterday they were telling us about how to get to the Joshua Tree area and where to stay. Today the adventure continues…]
5) Eat at Pappy and Harriet’s.
This place used to be a burrito bar for bikers in the ’60s. Then the kids inherited it and turned it into a honky-tonk bar/BBQ place. Gram Parsons used to frequent the joint before he died and got kidnapped (yes, in that order for folks who don’t know what I’m talking about). The food is amazing. Hell, I’ll use a word I hate–it is amazeballs. I am still dreaming of their salsa. If you like meat, and like it smokey and flavorful, this is your place. If you like veggies, you will also have an excellent meal (I originally wrote “you will also have excellent meat” in the finest of Freudian slips). They also have both kinds of music: country and western. While I’m not a big fan of the genre, the musicians who play here are good. Really good. Like, even their open mic night was amazing (and I hate open mic nights). If Gram Rabbit (the official band of Joshua Tree) is playing while you’re in town, drop everything and see them. Gram Rabbit is the band that leaves these amazing/bizarre little rabbit/pentagram signs all over the highway in that area. Keep an eye out for ‘em.
If you go there during the day, I suggest you nose around Pioneer Town, right next door. It was a permanent set built for all the western TV shows of the ’50s. Take pictures–your dad will think it’s great.
6) Integratron and Giant Rock
Whether you’re at all familiar with American UFO lore or have just always liked odd things, you’ll definitely want to check out two of the weirdest extraterrestrial-esque sites in California, if not the world: the Integratron and Giant Rock.
Before I explain what to expect from these sites, I’d like you to follow me back in time, to that golden age of weird, and allow me to introduce you to an inspired character named George Van Tassel.
George Van Tassel, of the Ohio Van Tassels, moved to California around 1930 to work as an aircraft mechanic. While he was there, he met Frank Citzer, a German prospector who lived under a giant rock. I’m not making this up. It’s a rock so big, it’s just called “Giant Rock.”
Now, Citzer was determined to find gold in the bizarre piles of boulders that pass for hills in the area, and to this end he’d carved out a little house beneath Giant Rock. Why, you might ask, would someone intentionally live beneath what looks like a menacing oversized prop from a Roadrunner cartoon? Well, the answer to that is the answer to a lot of similar questions from the 20th century: Germans be crazy.
Citzer’s time living beneath this ridiculous affront to all decently sized boulders came to an abrupt end during the Second World War when, suspicious he was a German spy, policemen clumsily raided his crappy boulder-house and somehow managed to set off a pile of dynamite in the process–yes, he didn’t just sleep underneath a hundred tons of boulder, he slept next to a bunch of dynamite–and that was the end of Herr Frank. Upon hearing the sad news, Van Tassel, admirer of the living-beneath-seven-stories-of-doom lifestyle, snatched the place up and moved his bewildered family into the multiroom hovel Frank had burrowed out beneath the thing.
He proceeded to give his newfound home the standard folksy improvements of the era, such as a dude ranch and an airstrip, and in 1953 engaged in the usual mid-century family pastimes of holding group meditations in an underground chamber to contact Venus.
Venusians, it is said, proceeded to pay him a visit. They took him aboard their spaceship and instructed him in the construction of a fabulous structure, one which would heal people and facilitate time travel and gravity research and all that kind of thing–the legendary Integratron. It was made mostly of wood and financed with UFO conventions at Giant Rock and donations from Howard Hughes (yes, that Howard Hughes). Finally, as you’ve probably guessed, a bit of Tesla technology was thrown in, as was the custom at the time.
Today, the Integratron’s current owners don’t confirm or deny that it allows contact with Venus or anything like that. Instead, they claim it uses sound waves and crystals, in “sound baths”, to calm and soothe people, which in this author’s opinion is a waste of perfectly good Venusian-inspired Teslatronic superscience, but whatever. If you visit their website, you can arrange for a paid appointment to get into the thing or find the next date for an open group visit. When we went, it was closed (it usually is), so we had to content ourselves with missing out on the “sound bath” and have remained sonic-ly filthy to this day.
Even when it’s not open for a visit, you can still get pretty close to it… but not too close. As I now assume to be typical of Venusian architecture, there’s menacing fences and No Trespassing signs all around the property. However, you can get right next to the giant historic-places plaque on the corner (pretty cool!), and you can also get some pretty good pictures from the road. While I can’t describe the experiences offered within, I can tell you that if you’re a paranormal history buff, just seeing it in person is kind of a thrill. I mean, it’s the freakin’ Integratron!
From the Integratron site, you can proceed to Giant Rock… if you dare. It’s actually not far, but to get to Giant Rock from the Integratron you’ll have to take some truly questionable roads. These roads have names and are on Google Maps, but they are otherwise almost invisible. We honestly depended more on Google Maps than our eyes for navigation.
NOTE: You WILL need a very sturdy vehicle for this. I cannot stress this enough. Hayley has already advised a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle for the area in general, but to get to Giant Rock, this is not simply a suggestion. It’s brutal.
We made it there eventually, and wow. It’s the largest free-standing boulder on Earth, and once you get up next to it, you’ll believe that factoid without hesitation. At this point in history, it’s become covered in graffiti and surrounded in a pile of broken glass and other debris–desert rats have parties there, rock-climbers and campers hang out there, Venusian scum have scandalous space-raves there. It’s kind of a mess, but when you stand back and see the rock itself, it’s just surreal and totally worth the trip.
Oh, and another thing: a giant slice of the rock spontaneously split off in the early 2000s, supposedly while some hikers stood and watched and presumably pooped themselves. Somehow, this makes it look even cooler. You can walk between the main rock and the piece that split off, and it’s pretty hairy, because there’s just a million pounds of immense boulder all around you–and who knows, it could split again…
7) Cabazon Dinosaurs
So, you’ve seen Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, right? [Ed. note: Erm…] If you haven’t, I don’t want you here anymore. Please leave this website until you’ve watched this fine film.
Anyway, remember the part where Pee-Wee and the waitress are sitting in a fake dinosaur’s mouth and she talks about how she wants to go to Paris. THOSE DINOSAURS ARE REAL. They’re only an hour away from Joshua Tree, and I thought they were worth it. Built in the ’70s by a man who wanted to attract tourists to his truck stop, the land (and dinos) were sold to Young Earth creationists (I s**t you not) some time in the early 2000s. If you are a creationist (Young Earth or otherwise), you might want to avert your eyes for the rest of this article.
The Brontosaurus is closed and seems to be permanently so (it might have some structural issues or some “not in line with their half-assed beliefs” issues, since I heard the original owner had some amazing, evolution-based murals in there). The T-Rex is still open, though you have to walk through the “dinosaur garden” to get there.
The first stop is the gift shop/parade of crappy animatronics. Apparently some dino-show that paraded through U.S. malls in the 1980s went out of business, and these guys snapped up all the leftovers. Please enjoy this video to give you an impression of the “quality” of these animatronics.
Did I mention this was now run by creationists? Everywhere you turn you see the phrase “not by accident, but by design,” and really questionable logic is thrown at you throughout.
They’re not only illogical; they’re cheap. They bought a bunch of old posters about the prehistoric eras and then just lazily scratched out the parts that didn’t apply to their version of history:
It is worth it, though, because there is just something marvelous about that original, handmade roadside Tyrannosaurs. Sitting in the T-Rex’s mouth is awesome. And kind of terrifying when the wind is whipping through those teeth.
9) Watch out for Art.
Joshua Tree is delightfully infested with old hippy outsider-art types, which the husband and I find grand. Every once in a while you’ll be driving along and then suddenly pass an epic art installation on somebody’s front yard. They go from beautiful to fascinating to terrifying to wtf. There’s a few of them over by the residential part of Pioneer Town. It is for sure worth a look-see.
10) Joshua Tree National Park
We didn’t go. I hear it is lovely and the reason most people go to this area in the first place. Go and hike and tell us about it.