Midnight At the Oasis: Confronting The Unknown In The Desert Wastes

The Mojave Desert region of California is a magnet for the strange. In such an inhospitable location, at least for humankind, there nevertheless flourishes a great many UFOs, ghosts and other paranormal manifestations of the unknown that make their presence felt there in no uncertain terms.

Why is there so much interest on the part of otherworldly denizens of the proverbial Twilight Zone? Tim Beckley of Global Communications has recently assembled and released a book called “Secrets of Death Valley – Mysteries and Haunts of the Mojave Desert” that tries to answer that question.


The highly skilled contributors include New Age Channeler Diane Tessman, UFO researcher Regan Lee, fringe topic author Adam Gorightly, as well as Paul Dale Roberts, Joe Parzanese, and a character called Cactus Jim. The lineup is, all in all, an excellent cross-section of experiencers and investigators who work to make the mysteries of the desert a little more accessible.

Regan Lee, for example, writes about the desert as a staging ground for numerous phenomena. “The desert has been the stage,” she writes, “for otherworldly encounters with Jinns, Space Visitors, Mary, religious deities and entities.” Lee goes on to say that contactee Dana Howard, who met the alien entity Diane there in the Yucca Valley, was no exception to that idea. Diane unequivocally states, “From the desert sands, cauldrons of magic will spring.”

It is in that same section of desert that the famous Giant Rock is located, as well as the domed device called the Integratron, a creation of early contactee George Van Tassel. Van Tassel is a major story himself, being one of the first to write about his encounters with alien beings in the early 1950s. Along with the perhaps better known George Adamski, he helped to create much of what we take for granted nowadays about Ufology and other New Age articles of faith.

Beckley has done another of his rescue jobs on the early contactee literature, this time resurrecting a history of Giant Rock written by Van Tassel that has the makings of a great movie. It started with a chance meeting with a traveler named Frank Critzer, who brought his car in for repairs to the auto shop run by Van Tassel’s uncle in 1930s Santa Monica, California. Van Tassel and his uncle quickly made friends with Critzer, even allowing him to sleep in their garage and repairing his car for free. When Critzer, an experienced prospector, moved on, he promised to write from wherever he settled down. He left with a $30 gift from Van Tassel and his uncle, a lot of money in those dark days of the Great Depression.

It wasn’t until a year later that Critzer was heard from. He sent a map showing how to get to Giant Rock, and the following weekend Van Tassel and his uncle made the trip to see him there. Critzer had made a home for himself by digging out a space under Giant Rock that was surprisingly livable and at least rent free. One needs to realize that Giant Rock covers 5800 square feet and is seven stories high. It is believed to be the largest boulder in the world, and no one can explain how it got to its location so far from any likely point of origin. Critzer’s living area was about 400 square feet, a small fraction of the bottom side of Giant Rock.


A former pilot for billionaire Howard Hughes, the late UFO contactee George Van Tassel displays a model of a rejuvenation machine, the plans of which were given to him by the Space Brother. The structure still stands in the town of Landers, Ca.

All was not well for Critzer however. In 1942, when the U.S. was at war with Germany, Critzer was falsely accused of stealing dynamite and failing to register for the draft. He also drew the suspicions of his neighbors, who felt his German name gave away the fact that he was a Nazi spy. Critzer had indeed served in the German Navy many years before, but he had also served in America’s Merchant Marines and was a naturalized citizen of the U.S.

Still, deputies from Riverside County came to interrogate him, which is odd, because Giant Rock is actually in San Bernardino County so the Riverside boys had no jurisdiction there, which Critzer pointed out. Critzer agreed to go with them anyway, and said he wanted to get his coat first. He went into his living quarters to retrieve it, but the deputies mistakenly thought he was defying them. They lobbed a tear gas grenade through the north side window, which set off some dynamite that Critzer kept for his prospecting work. Critzer died in the explosion and the deputies were injured.

Van Tassel came to visit Giant Rock in the aftermath of Critzer’s death, and he and his family grew to love the place. After the war ended, Van Tassel bought the land from the Bureau of Land Management and built a small airport there. In 1953, Van Tassel began to hold weekly meetings under Giant Rock, which eventually led to his long series of UFO contacts there and and to his creation of the Integratron, a device he built on instructions from the aliens that was believed to have regenerative health benefits for humans as well as to make travel in time possible.

Van Tassel’s history of Giant Rock is followed by the Global Communications reprint of Van Tassel’s contactee classic, “I Rode A Flying Saucer.” After explaining a little about his own realization that his story was admittedly hard to believe, he next goes on to wax mystical and poetic about the nature of God as creator of the universe, a creator whose work extends far beyond merely earthly mankind.

From the sublimely innocent contactees, such as George Van Tassel and Dana Howard, the picture darkens to a shadow of hell with the appearance of Charles Manson and his demonically-inspired madness. Writer Adam Gorightly contributes a chapter that traces the history of Manson’s time in the Death Valley region. One of Manson’s followers told him about an abandoned mining claim called Myers Ranch, which was one of several desert outposts Manson would lead his followers to in his efforts to conceal himself and his “family” from the imagined horrors of “Helter Skelter,” his Beatles-inspired term for the apocalypse.

Manson spent hundreds of dollars on topographic maps of the area to plan an escape route for himself and his cult. The flames of his paranoia were further fanned by his twisted interpretation of the Book of Revelation with the Beatles’ White Album thrown into the mix. He believed the Fab Four were in reality angels sent to destroy a third part of mankind and that a total upheaval of the social order was just around the corner.

Manson also believed there was a magic hole located in the desert, spoken of in Hopi legend, which would shelter his group during the apocalypse and permit them to return to the surface once the strife was over. A pit of water called “Devil’s Hole,” found near the northwest corner of Death Valley, was one possible location of the supernatural escape route. Manson would meditate in front of the hole for days at a time, until it dawned on him that the water in the hole was a door, or a blocking mechanism, that prevented entrance into the underworld. All he needed to do was to somehow suck the water out and the secret passageway would be revealed.

But sorry, Charlie. On the night of October 12, 1969, a contingent of Inyo County sheriff’s officers, National Park Rangers and California Highway Patrolmen raided the Manson Family headquarters and took the entire group into custody for the Tate-LaBianca murders.

“Mysteries and Haunts of the Mojave Desert – Secrets of Death Valley” moves on to relate a series of ghost stories and legends that have been handed down through the years, such as the tale of the Serpent-Necked “Canoa,” which is Native-American speak for “Canoe.” The storyteller, a Santa Rosa Indian, described a boat with a long neck and the head of a beast that turns out to be a Viking ship, with serpent heads at both the bow and the stern, as pictured in the book. The Indian says that seeing the ship was a bad sign, and that to save himself he had needed to leave the area immediately.

Ed Stevens, the writer relaying the Indian’s tale, argues for the plausibility of a ship venturing into the area in late spring, when the Colorado River would be flooded and other water-related factors would come into play. But given that the Indian saw a Viking ship, from centuries before, he was most likely experiencing a form of “retro-cognition,” which can loosely be defined as crossing over into the past in an almost physical sense, seeing some scene from antiquity, and then returning to the present. The phenomenon has been reported on numerous occasions and is not as rare as some might think.

There are other chapters of a similar nature, with intriguing titles like “Butcher-Knife Ike and the Lost Ship” and “The Lost Spanish Galleon.” Beckley also reprints newspaper articles dating back to the 19th century that report on odd occurrences there in the desert, such as one about a group of explorers who discovered yet another ship said to have been lost there many years before.

Another chapter, taken from a 1947 article in the San Diego Union, claims that the skeletal remains of several human beings eight to nine feet in height were discovered in the desert near the Arizona-Nevada-California borderline. The giant skeletons were found clothed in garments consisting of a medium-length jacket and trousers that extended to slightly below the knees.

The material was similar to gray dyed sheepskin, but “obviously it was taken from an animal unknown today.” The section also includes reporting on the same find from other newspapers at the time, providing a thorough cross section of media coverage of an extremely bizarre and grisly discovery.

Temperatures may well go  to  over a hundred degrees in death valley, but it doesnt take away from the strange atmosphere noted by those visitors who come in search of the unknown.

Not to be outdone, Tim Beckley himself authors a series of chapters on some high strangeness in the forbidding desert region. For instance, there is his report on a Bigfoot-type creature often sighted near such desert towns as Twenty Nine Palms and Joshua Tree. Even more remarkable is the fact that Bigfoot has been seen frequently in the area around Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert just north of Lancaster. The presence of Bigfoot became a running joke among the military personnel stationed there, which some at the base connected to the frequent visits made by UFOs to the installation. The Bigfoot/UFO connection has been reported for decades in many other parts of the world as well, and one can only wonder about the relationship the two phenomena apparently have with one another.

Beckley also talks about some ghostly manifestations in a Death Valley hotel and opera house located in a small town called Amargosa, noting that it was not the sort of situation he expected to encounter on his trips to the area. Amargosa was once the location of a borax mine, and was essentially built to be a company town.

“The Amargosa Hotel and Opera House,” Beckley explained, “was originally put up for the borax miners and their families, who hadn’t much to do in the 1920s. It laid abandoned for years until a woman named Marta Becket arrived from New York and cleaned up the place.”

Becket was an accomplished actress, dancer, choreographer and painter. After restoring the Opera House in the 1960s, she began to give one-woman performances there, often without an audience. A lot of paranormal activity has been reported there in the intervening years.

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“We drew upon the research,” Beckley said, “of Layla Halfhill of the Los Angeles Paranormal Association. Her group scoped out the place really well and noted some abnormalities of a parapsychological nature.”

The book contains a haunting photo of an orb taken by the Los Angeles Paranormal Association, who maintain that the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House holds deep mysteries that need further investigation.

Add to that a chapter by Beckley on celebrities who had supernatural encounters in the desert, to include Sammy Davis, Jr., jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and actors William Shatner and Michael Boatman. Beckley also includes a number of other desert anomalies that have become part of the urban legends of the Mojave, such as a twelve-foot-tall levitating clown who is seen to wander down the middle of the road around midnight; a teleporting leprechaun that might direct a worthy party to gold; the repeated apparition of a stagecoach from over a century ago; and a singer who had an “in-your-nose” confrontation with a small orb-like UFO.

In addition, the book is filled with numerous photos, some old and some new, of desert locales and the people whose lives were mysteriously touched there. As mentioned before, there are also numerous newspaper clippings provided that offer further evidence of paranormal events in the area stretching back many years.

Beckley offers a wonderful smorgasbord of several writers making their individual contributions to a book that runs the gamut from the halcyon early days of Giant Rock and the contactee movement to the dark side manifested in the desert rat called Charlie Manson to the many ghostly appearances of the unknown in the barren wastes called Death Valley and the Mojave. By reading “Secrets of Death Valley – Mysteries and Haunts of the Mojave Desert,” one can become a kind of tourist of the region without even breaking a sweat and shudder in fear in the privacy of one’s own home.

[If you enjoyed this article, please visit Sean Casteel’s website at www.seancasteel.com and read some of his previous work.]


If you would like more information or to purchase this book simply click on the book’s title: Secrets Of Death Valley: Mysteries And Haunts Of The Mojave Desert (Includes Full Text of I Rode In A Flying Saucer)

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