Until a few years ago, I thought of Palm Springs as a boring place in the desert for old people who like to golf. I didn't quite realize it was a mid-century mecca full of awesome architecture, stunning mountains and stylish gay men. It's also one of the sunniest places on the planet. Put it all together and bam!
I'm already planning my Palm Springs retirement.
When my dad asked Josh and I to join him with my brother and sister-in-law for a long weekend in the desert, I pretty much booked our tickets before I even asked Josh if he could get the time off from work. Details.
I love lounging by the pool as much as the next guy, but that's kind of what my last to Palm Springs was all about. This time, I wanted to enjoy some of the kitsch this town has to offer, like hiking to Bob Hope's house (see above photo!). After a thorough googling, I settled on one especially odd experience that looked straight out of a 1960s B movie:
Behold: The Integratron.
About an hour's drive north of Palm Springs, you'll find this little white dome in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
This structure was built in 1959 by ufologist and contactee George Van Tassel. This guy claimed the Integratron was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel, and allegedly he knew this because aliens from Venus told him so. It was financed predominantly by donations, including funds from Howard Hughes.
Clearly, there is nothing weird going on here.
The all-wood dome, which measures 38-feet high and spans 55-feet in diameter, features perfect acoustics and is positioned on an intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces that concentrate and amplify the earth’s magnetic field.
Basically, this is some serious new age shit.
Shockingly, Van Tassel's machine didn't really ever work as a time machine (hard to believe!), nor did it reverse-age humans as he purported is would (say what?!). When he died in 1978, the place shuffled through a few owners until three sisters bought the Landers, CA gem. These ladies restored the structure and have opened it to the public.
Now I know what you're probably thinking:
What in the hell would you do in the Integratron?
Take a sound bath, of course!
Before you start stripping down to your skivvies, let's get a few things straight. A sound bath requires no water. It's a 60-minute sonic healing sessions that consist of 25 minutes of crystal bowls played live, followed by another 25 minutes of relaxing recorded music. The sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls are (according to the Integratron peeps) "keyed to the energy centers or chakras of the body, where sound is nutrition for the nervous system." Allegedly, the experience leave you feeling peaceful, aware and totally relaxed.
I booked our sound bath ahead of time ($26 each; definitely recommended as they sell out). My dad likes this kind of thing, my husband... was a good sport about it. We followed our directions to the middle of the desert, thinking, is there really anything out here? Eventually, we saw the white dome against a big, blue sky, and pulled into the parking lot.
We entered an even smaller dome, smogged up with some really nice smelling incense, and confirmed our reservation with a man who sported a big, bushy beard. He asked if this was our first time at the Integratron. Um....yep. I listened as he asked everyone else checking in. Over half had been before. Repeat customers! That's a good sign.
At noon, we were allowed to enter the dome. The building has two floors, the first a plain area with some vintage photos and a big rug for everyone's shoes. Once in bare or stocking feet, we climbed up a steep flight of stairs into this:
We called dibs on three mats and got comfortable as we waited for instructions. I looked around the room. Our fellow sound bathers included artsy hipsters, older women in flowy maxi dresses, a mid-20s couple in Big Ten hoodies, and a few couples in their 50s who looked like they'd maybe played golf that morning.
The group skewed hippy-dippy, but more diverse than I'd expected.
Eventually, our quartz bowl player (a guy in his late 40s), entered the space, and gave us a little context.
The Integratron is a spiritual place. Our perfect acoustics create the ideal environment for the tones of these quartz bowls to deeply resonate within the body. Many experience vibrating waves pulsating throughout their body; others see dancing colors. I've even had a few people receive messages from deceased loved ones.
Riiight.... He continued:
You may notice you can clearly hear and understand whispers from across the room. If you're a snorer, I encourage you to try an not fall asleep as it your snores will become increasingly loud and disturb the experience for the others. But if you do fall asleep and start snoring, don't worry. It happens in almost every session.
Great. And here I am with my dad, who can barely make it through the first six seconds of a movie without falling asleep. Bonus: he's the loudest snorer I've ever heard. I'm at the Integratron with the auditory equivalent of a bull in a China shop.
We were instructed to lay down and cover ourselves with a blanket if desired. Next, I heard a faint tone. Kind of like when Sandra Bullock plays those water glasses in Miss Congeniality, only much richer and deeper. As he continued playing, the sound started to fill up the space. Initially, it was incredibly loud and sounded a little like a whale's mating call. How was I ever going to get comfortable enough the fall asleep?
Within minutes, that all went away.
Instead of being distracted, my mind became totally "present." You know, like they say it should be in a meditation or yoga class. My body buzzed from head to toe, and I began seeing ribbons of green, purple and yellow dancing-- kind of like the northern lights. My eyes were closed the entire time. At one point, I felt like I was floating over small waves on an air mattress. And next thing I knew, I heard people shuffling around, putting their blankets back and walking back downstairs.
I'd completely fallen asleep.
Was I a snorer? Maybe, but I was too out to notice or care.
On our way to lunch, my dad and Josh both said they'd felt similar things. A buzzing, mostly. Nobody communicated with the dead, which was just fine by all of us. We all agreed this was well-worth the drive, the weirdness (which I especially loved) and the $26.
And bonus: the Integratron is just a half an hour from Pioneertown.
Built in the 40s, Pioneertown started as a live-in Old West motion-picture set. It's really in the boonies, so the set also functioned as housing and recreation for the actors on long shoots. Pappy and Harriet's Palace is one of a handful of businesses still operating today.
As you make your way to this tiny village, you'll think to yourself "Is this just some elaborate hoax to get me out into the middle of the desert a la Breaking Bad?" I promise, it exists. And bikers, families and adventure bloggers all agree: this place is awesome.
How badly do you want to order a whiskey from that bar??!
They do rib-sticking Tex-Mex, barbecue, and burgers. It's not healthy, but it's damn good.
If you're lucky, you might stumble upon this place during one of their concert nights. It's a small place, but big name bands love it. Robert Plant, Vampire Weekend, and Wanda Jackson have all played here. Not a bad, considering you're in the middle of nowhere.
I can't recommend a trip to Palm Springs enough. And if you go, spend a day in Mojave getting your sound bath and Tex-Mex on. And who knows? Even if you don't time-travel like George Van Tassel said you would, a trip to Pioneertown is pretty darn close.
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