The Landers Mystique
June 26, 2020 • Landers, Calif.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Mojave Desert, mostly in the community of Landers, north of Yucca Valley and not far from Joshua Tree National Park. Originally known as Yucca Flats, Landers got its modern name after Vernette Landers worked to open a post office there in 1962. The building is still standing, and it’s possible to visit if you’re a history buff.
Landers is best-known for events that happened here before it even had that name. In the early 1950s George Van Tassel began hosting UFO meetups at Giant Rock, north of the post office (where Google Maps says Landers is) in an undeveloped desert flatland. Closer to the post office, Van Tassel also worked over several decades to build a domed wooden structure called the Integratron, and it remained unfinished when he died in 1978. From reading Van Tassel’s books, my interpretation of what he says is that he was attempting to set up a religion, but it didn’t ever get sufficient traction. Today you can visit the Integratron by appointment for a delightful sound bath.
Lots has been written about Giant Rock and Van Tassel and the aliens who were in contact with him, and it’s worth exploring. His own writing is a bit tough going, but others have written about him and the early UFO contactees. One thing I haven’t been able to figure out is Van Tassel’s relationship to Truman Bethurum, another 1950s contactee who told the world about Aura Rhanes, a flying-saucer pilot who was “tops in shapeliness and beauty.” Bethurum’s wife left him partly because of his fixation on Captain Rhanes. Anyway, Bethurum’s obituary says that he died in Landers in 1969, when Van Tassel’s Giant Rock UFO events were still happening, and when the Integratron was still under construction. I’d love for anyone in the know about Bethurum’s last days to fill me in.
A local resident once told me that when he thinks of Landers, he thinks of yards full of junked cars and meth heads. But there’s more to the Landers mystique—my sense of this part of the Mojave Desert is that it’s essentially different in some way, in the landscape, in the air, in the way it feels—what the hippies called the “vibes.” George Van Tassel definitely felt it. If you find yourself driving along Highway 62, I recommend a detour north to this unique part of the world.