The Integratron: Science, Sound, and Sci-Fi in the California Desert

The Mojave Desert is one of the most mysteriously enchanting and storied landscapes in North America. The arid, rain-shadow desert is home to the twisted Yuca brevifolia, whose strange silhouettes long ago captured the fascination of Mormon settlers. The jagged limbs of these trees reminded those early believers of a Biblical story in which Joshua reached his hands towards the heavens in prayer; thus, the Joshua Tree was christened.

The Mojave is also home to Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the world and whose Badwater Basin marks the lowest point of elevation on the continent. Hemmed between two mountain boundaries, the endorheic basins and salt pans of the desert straddle California’s largest faults. Walking across the parched earth of the Mojave, one can almost feel the significance of its geological transformations and the vastness of time, as though millions of years of history hang in the air, as heavy as the heat itself. It’s an intangible energy, one that has shaped the lore of the Mojave and Chemehuevi peoples who first inhabited the land.

There’s a lot of room for the imagination to play in the vast, haunting Mojave, but perhaps nowhere more so than the Integratron.

Rising up out of the parched sand, gleaming white amongst the blue California sky, the dome of the Integratron could almost be mistaken for a mirage. The cupola structure is a 38-ft curiosity designed by Ufologist and Contactee George Van Tassel. According to an article in The Desert Sun, Tassel was a former test pilot and engineer who claimed to have received extraterrestrial communication at Giant Rock, a sacred area in Native American culture. He began construction nearby in 1953 with strict instructions from those alien beings: wood and fibreglass had to be used instead of metal. The dome — the design of which was inspired by Moses’ Tabernacle and the writings of Nikola Tesla, as well as those telepathic communications — would be located on a patch of land that Tassel believed to be an energy vortex. According to the Integratron website, the land exists at the intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces; the unique geometry of the building focuses these forces into a concentrated, amplified magnetic field. (Magnetometers, they claim, read a “significant spike in the earth’s magnetic field in the centre of the Integratron.”)

Tassel’s ultimate purpose for the structure? Time travel.

While the effectiveness of this intended purpose remains to be seen, the Integratron has taken on a new life in the years since Tassel’s death. In the hands of the Karl sisters, who purchased the structure in 2000, it has experienced a renaissance of sorts; capitalizing on the acoustic integrity of the structure, the three visionary sisters — Joanne, Nancy, and Patty — created an oasis in which visitors could partake in “sound baths.”

Toted as a “kindergarten naptime for grown-ups in a sound sphere,” the experience is one designed to offer deep relaxation, rejuvenation, and introspection. These 60-minute sonic healing sessions open with a brief introduction to the wonderfully absurd history of the Integratron. Sitting on mats beneath the domed ceiling, surrounded by natural light from the moon-shaped window at the apex, visitors listen to the hypnotic sound waves produced by the live playing of quartz crystal bowls. Each has been specifically keyed to the energy centres of chakras of the body, wherein sound can function as a form of “nutrition.” This lasts for 30 minutes; afterwards, the remaining time is spent integrating the sound within the enchanting sound chamber and relaxing to the lull of ambient music.

“The results,” promises the team, “are waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind and body.”

Since the Karl sisters began maintenance and restoration on the property, a task that preceded their ownership and has been ongoing for the past 30 years, this wonderfully odd oasis in the desert has been attracting curious wanderers from all walks of life. Aging spiritualists mingle with curious millennials and lost urbanites in this immersive sensory experience, where sound cloaks the body in a soothing blanket and the air is sweet with pure rosemary essential oil and Palo Santo. It has somehow maintained an aura that straddles the line between hidden gem and popular destination; word of mouth heralds the Integratron as one of Joshua Tree’s many secret wonders, and yet eager guests should book well in advance to secure a spot.

And who knows — maybe the potential for time travel is simply yet to be discovered.



Photos via Integratron.