Enter the Dome

Orange County Register/March 30, 2003
By Marla Jo Fisher

You might not believe that the Integratron was inspired by space aliens, but it's worth a visit all the same.

Landers -- The sign in front says "UFO Parking Only. All others will be towed."

Inside, they ask you to please not snore.

Those are the rules when you take a "sound bath" at the Integratron, a small white dome in the Mojave Desert that was built - according to its founder - from plans drafted by visitors from outer space.

We are a few miles from Joshua Tree National Park, to attend a "singing bowl" concert that promises to impart mystical, healing energy to all who listen. I have no idea what a singing bowl is, but I'm willing to find out, as are my friends Jeff and Teri.

I don't know exactly what it is about the desert that attracts so many wacky, weird, scary and colorful people. But even for the Mojave, the Integratron registers pretty high on the wackometer.

Earlier that afternoon, we drove my Jeep to nearby Giant Rock, where the Integratron's founder, George Van Tassel, claimed he had UFO contacts in the 1950s.

Van Tassel, an engineer and former test pilot for Howard Hughes, lived at the huge landmark boulder with its underground cavern and operated Giant Rock Airport for two decades.

He claimed visitors from outer space, including Venus, helped him design the Integratron as a life extension, rejuvenation and time machine. The building does not function as a time machine, owners say, because it has never been completed according to plan.

"The purpose of the Integratron is to recharge energy into living cell structure, to bring about longer life with youthful energy," Van Tassel wrote. "This has been the goal of many people, since Ponce de Leon started looking for the fountain of youth." Instead, it is now operated as a rejuvenation and retreat center by sisters Nancy and Joanne Karl.

We leave the small dusty parking lot and walk toward the building as a chilly winter wind blows. If this were summer, the heat would be sizzling. A young girl is collecting money from new arrivals as they walk through the gate. Van Tassel supposedly spent 18 years of his life building the 38-foot-high 50-foot-diameter building, which now on our arrival seems smaller and shabbier than I expected, surrounded by a small encampment of trailers and some shrubby desert vegetation.

Inside, the decor is not "Star Trek" but crunchy granola, with raw wood furniture and a historical display on one wall.

We climb a ladder, listening to taped new age music, up into the central loft where the concert will be held. Once there, we each take a blanket from a folded pile and spread it on the bare wooden floor, under the unfinished plywood dome. In the middle of the dome, a rope-and-canvas chair is suspended where you can have private healing treatments.

Altogether, 16 of us have gathered to lie on the blankets or sit in lotus position in a circle around the entrance hole. Some seem to be praying or meditating; others are crass curiosity seekers like us. It seems like we should be whispering though no one has yet told us to shut up.

My friends and I dutifully lie down on our blankets, waiting for the person who is coming to play the crystal bowls, which sit on their own rug with a sign that says, "Please don't play the crystal bowls."

No problem. I couldn't play a crystal bowl on a bet.

Nearby, a blue wooden table has an altar with representations of Jesus and various Hindu and Buddhist deities displayed, in an apparent effort to cover all the bases.

Finally, a new age-y-looking woman comes upstairs and sits down. "The idea is to get comfortable, and we will play the bowl for 30 minutes," she explains, adding that there are seven bowls designed to stimulate the various shakras in the body. "This building is very acoustically sensitive, so, if you know you snore, it's a good idea to experience this sitting up."

She begins to rub the rims of bowls, and an eerie, pleasant ringing sound emerges. I don't know whether I went to sleep, or whether I offended anyone by snoring, but before I knew it, the concert was over and the canned music came back on.

"When you feel like it, open your eyes and go downstairs," the woman said. "No hurry."

I actually might have enjoyed just lying on the blanket awhile, listening to the music, but we had to drive back to the big city that night, so we got up, folded our blankets and hustled out.

I can't definitely say the singing bowls imparted any mystical healing properties, but it was pleasant. And who knows? Maybe the place really was designed by aliens. Plenty of people believe it was.

In that case, my life might already be extended.

Meanwhile, the Karl sisters and their partners, Tim Howard and Barbara Lindsey of Santa Cruz, run the place, offering tours, spiritual retreats and private parties, and keeping it alive as a historical landmark and local curiosity.

So, dear Integratron, I shall return.

About the Integratron

"The building I have been instructed to build is a 21st century version of the Tabernacle that Moses constructed.

The siting was worked out according to a complex set of theories involving the earth's magnetic field, and the Integratron's relationship to the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Giant Rock, the world's largest freestanding boulder." - George Van Tassel

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