Sunday, December 28th, 2014
For years I had heard about a massive rock that stood out in the southern region of the Mojave near the small desert town of Landers, CA. There were lots of stories about how it was as big as an office building and dwarfed any of the other free standing boulders in the area. Naturally I had to get a look at this thing in person so I invited my mom and pops out for a local adventure and made way to Landers, CA.
To get there from Victorville, I had to travel about 64 miles along Bear Valley Rd, then Highway 18, and finally Highway 247 (a.k.a. Old Woman Springs Rd.). The last stretch was a 6.5 mile run starting at Linn Rd. in Landers and the last 3 miles were on a dirt road called Belfield Blvd. The dirt road is one of your typical ‘Washboard’ desert roads so if you have a stiff suspension like I do, get ready for a three mile shakeup. My recommendation is to air down your tires for a better experience if you can.
When we got there, it was an incredible sight to see. Unfortunately, it was tagged up with all sorts of rubbish like a dirty stall in a ghetto bathroom, but once you get past the eye sore of graffiti, you want to just get close to it. The size was no exaggeration either, this thing was massive. There were only a couple of people there so I snapped a shot of this girl who had climbed atop the broken piece. Afterward, she couldn’t get down and her boyfriend was trying to get her to jump, but after watching this go on for like 10 minutes, I stepped up and offered my help, but the boyfriend said no thanks. I got in my rig anyway and pulled up next to the rock and let her hop in the back of my truck so she could get down. She was thankful and the boyfriend looked annoyed, but whatever…lol.
Giant Rock is arguably the largest free standing boulder in the world. It is 7 stories high and covers a ground area of 5,800 square feet (540 m2). It has been said that the approximate weight of this behemoth is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 – 30,000 tons! In February 2000, a giant chunk of the rock did indeed break off. Spiritual leader Shri Naath Devi interpreted the break in a positive light: “The mother had opened her arms to us, cracking open her heart for the whole world to see.” The likely cause of this piece breaking off was related to all the campfires that were made at the base of the boulder over the years.
“The girl on the broken piece of boulder provided a great sense of scale for this shot.”
A Brief History of Giant Rock
One of the early white families who settled in the wide expanses of Homestead Valley ( later to be known as Landers) was Charlie Reche, having homesteaded here in 1887. “He was allowed the privilege of meeting with the local Indians many times”, according to a story retold by George Van Tassel. Reche’s homestead included the area where the Van Tassel Integratron now stands, as well as several acres besides. Reche was noted for sharing tales with the residents, since there weren’t many there at the time.
In the early 30s, a middle-aged prospector with an interest in short-wave radio, staked a claim in the Giant Rock area. He knew well enough that if he could fashion a supported house under the giant rock then he would enjoy cooler temperatures in the summer and burn less fuel in the winter. He built a one-room subterranean home with a doorway facing west and a storage room toward the east. He attached a radio antenna to the top for better signal strength. His name was Frank Critzer who most folks avoided. He seemed a little strange. Besides, he had excavated under Giant Rock!
George Van Tassel had a special fascination with airplanes, which led him to obtain his pilot’s license while still a teenager. He dropped out of school after 10th grade and took a job at Cleveland Municipal Airport. He was offered a job in California by his uncle, Glen Paine, who owned a garage in Santa Monica.
It was at that garage that Van Tassel met Frank Critzer, a German immigrant trying to make a living in the desert as a prospector. Van Tassel and his uncle befriended Critzer by repairing his car and stocking him with food and money for his journey. Critzer promised to cut them in on any future mining claims.
A year or so later, Critzer wrote to Van Tassel and invited him to the area he’d been mining. Van Tassel and Paine drove to the remote location, where they discovered Critzer living under “Giant Rock,” reputed to be the world’s largest boulder. Critzer had excavated about 400 square feet of space under the rock and lived in the cool cavern year-around. Critzer appears to have had his own celebrity status as a cantankerous old goat that would shoot at you as soon as look at you. He had also met and heard tales from Reche.
Nothing more appears to have come of the coincidental visit. But during World War II, Critzer came under suspicion as a German spy, no doubt because of his radio hobby, and was killed in a botched law enforcement raid on his dwelling in 1942. Legend says that all his possessions were removed by the government. Some stories claim that a tear gas canister was lobbed in and ignited Critzer’s cache of dynamite. No one really knows the truth but the burned out room was closed and locked for years. The potential of Giant Rock remained a latent hope in Van Tassel’s mind for 15 years.
During that time, Van Tassel established a name for himself as a flight test engineer. He worked for both Lockheed International and Douglas Aircraft in the 1930s. He spent the World War II years flying with Howard Hughes. It is unknown if Hughes’ eccentricity and passion for eternal earthly life (Hughes wanted to be frozen until someone could find the cure for whatever killed him) are what influenced Van Tassel to move to the desert.
After taking his family to Giant Rock on vacation, he was able to apply for leasing the property from Bureau of Land Management in 1945. By 1947, he packed up his wife and three daughters and moved them onto the land surrounding Giant Rock. “He said he got tired of the rat race because California was growing so much,” his half-sister Margaret Manyo said in a recent interview.
Among his accomplishments, Critzer had established an airfield at Great Rock, and Van Tassel reopened the field and built a cafe there. Manyo said Howard Hughes would fly into the airport on weekends just so he could get a slice of the pie Van Tassel’s wife made. Fly-ins were common. The sturdy little restaurant was made of cinder block construction to withstand the worst desert storms, so the pilots knew they had a place to get away from dangerous air currents when forced to land.
The Van Tassels lived a hand-to-mouth existence. They held UFO conventions at Giant Rock for almost 20 years to raise money for the project that would make Van Tassel a noted man of the region, and was constantly asking supporters for donations. Thousands of believers passed through.(Source: lucernevalley.net / written by Barbara LaGrange)
“I parked the Starship in front of the boulder and told my folks to stand next to it for scale.”
More people started to arrive and It was getting a little crowded after a while, so I left with only a few shots, but they were satisfactory for now. I will have to return here some day to get a sweet night shot of the rock with the galactic arm in the background. Anyhow, that’s it for this mini venture.
Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”
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