LANDERS — The Hi-Desert’s UFO history was celebrated with aluminum foil party hats during the Morongo Basin Historical Society’s “Area 62” fundraiser Sunday. The curious mingled with true believers for a day of weird facts, conspiracy fun and a thought-provoking film. There were also tables of good food and a field trip to Giant Rock and George Van Tassel’s visionary Integratron.
“We should be able to tell our history and we want to keep our history being documented,” Barbara Harris, hostess and Hi-Desert historian for all things extraterrestrial, commented. “We present the possibilities and the options, have an open mind.”
Jane Pojawa, a former director on the Cabot’s Pueblo Museum board, brought the low desert low-down with her presentation on “Interplanetary Spacecraft Visits in Desert Hot Springs and Surrounding Areas.”
Pojawa countered the official narratives about early Desert Hot Springs homesteaders Cabot Yerxa and his wife, which she said deliberately distance the renowned couple from any UFO connections. Her slide show included photographs of the Yerxas with the Van Tassels at their Giant Rock home and airstrip. She described recordings made by Cabot that detailed the accounts of ET encounters told by attendees at the Giant Rock UFO conferences.
“There’s nothing shameful about having the UFO connection in the desert,” Pojawa said. “It’s fun and it’s quirky and it’s a draw for tourism. But people also come here for health and spirituality reasons, they have that questing mindset. There is a synergy when people come together.”
Filmmaker Rich Newey showed his professional short film, “Blue Highway,” a moving story about a family man with cancer and his search for a cure that takes him through local landmarks like the windmills, the Joshua Tree Retreat Center and Giant Rock.
“I was researching another film and trying to get a handle on UFOs and the kind of film we wanted to make,” Newey explained. “We heard about the Integratron and Giant Rock and I was so inspired about what I saw out here, I fell in love with the area. I was able to get my good friend, actor Chris Mulky who was just in ‘Captain Phillips,’ to star in this film.”
Newey said he saw a UFO with his mother when he was 11 years old.
“We were driving home to Bermuda Dunes, where we’re from, and when we were stopped at a stop sign we looked up and there was this silver orb, maybe 50 to 100 yards up, just hovering there,” Newey recalled. “We’re looking at each other and looking at this thing and wondering, is this real? Then in the blink of an eye it was just gone.
“Since then, I’ve been a big believer for sure,” Newey averred.
Newey brought a full contingent of his family to Area 62, and his dad, Donald, also witnessed unexplained phenomena one night as he was getting out of the swimming pool.
“I was looking north, and coming across the sky in the far distance was lights in a V-shape,” the elder Newey remembered. “I felt the hair go up my neck. I saw it three times as it went across the sky and I’m actually getting the chills now.”
Dorothy Newey, Rich’s aunt from Montreal, claimed she had a UFO experience during a sound bath at the Integratron four years ago.
“I came here for the healing but felt that I was taken in a UFO, it was so visual,” the Canadian said.
Sam and Kaye Cooke from Wisconsin were visiting Joshua Tree National Park, saw the event’s flyer at the Saturday farmers market and thought it would be fun.
“I have a friend in Belleville, Wisc., and they have UFO Day to celebrate the sightings there,” Kaye said. “And of course we’re true believers.”
Before the group caravaned on a field trip into the desert, Harris prepared the travelers with her presentation on “The Legend of Giant Rock.”
She told how the Native American people of the area considered the large standing stone a sacred place, fit for chiefs to commune with the mighty spirits. She retraced the modern saga of Charlie Reche, who homesteaded the property that he later sold to Van Tassel who erected the Integratron there in 1957.
Van Tassel had earlier made friends with Frank Critzer, the man who lived under Giant Rock, and acquired that property from the Bureau of Land Management after Critzer’s death. The Van Tassels created an airstrip and a diner at Giant Rock and held meditation meetings and UFO conventions there that regularly drew thousands.
“George Van Tassel died within weeks of having the Integratron ‘turned on,’” Harris said. “It will probably never be turned on as Van Tassel intended, but it’s being turned on now by the crystal bowls used in the sound baths as nutrition for the nervous system.”
When asked what she would say if she were contacted by an alien intelligence, Jenifer Palmer-Lacy of Joshua Tree answered that she wouldn’t say anything.
“I’d just listen,” Palmer-Lacy said with a smile.
Proceeds from the Area 62 fundraiser will go toward installing a concrete floor under the front portico that will be wheechair-accessible. For more information about the historical society, including making a donation or becoming a member, call (760) 364-2000 or log on to www.mbhs.net.