Giant Rock: Between a Rock and an Odd Place

The next time you ask someone what rock they crawled out from under, consider this cautionary tale about Giant Rock. Technically, Frank Critzer was a squatter, since he was living on government land. In the 1930s, Critzer became known as “straight road Critzer” by locals because he built 60 roads all leading in a spider web fashion to Giant Rock. In addition, he built a series of concealed caverns on the side of the rocky butte which were invisible to unsuspecting visitors. The cozy rooms that Critzer dug under Giant Rock were a total of 400 square feet. During WWII, Critzer ran afoul of the government and was accused of stealing dynamite and later of being an enemy spy.

Postcard of Giant Rock Airport. It operated from 1947 to 1975, first under Frank Critzer then George Van Tassel.

The roughly seven stories tall granite boulder called Giant Rock, located on Bureau of Land Management Public Lands in Landers, California, is a fun area to visit for off-roaders, dirt bikers and campers, but we wonder how many truly know much about it beyond its amazing visual impact on a flat surface. Tim Carter of the Ask the Builder site, came up with a mathematical formula based on Giant Rock’s uneven circumference and determined Giant Rock weighs 29,452.5 tons. Researchers, like Barbara LaGrange, has written extensively about Giant Rock, as well as The Integratron, in the vicinity. Giant Rock is estimated to be 65-136 millions of years old. It was considered to be the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Native Americans considered it sacred.

On October 18, 1984, The Sacramento Bee reported that after hermit Frank Critzer blasted his way under Giant Rock to hollow out two rooms with only a small stairwell leading inside, he drilled air shafts into the boulder’s side and cemented small windows in the rock’s wall. Critzer’s only companion was his loyal dog. It took 10 years to complete but by 1941, the 1,600 foot long airstrip Critzer made by dragging a stone-weighted iron with his old Essex automobile, was averaging a plane a day. Critzer registered for the draft in 1918, then was interned in Kansas for being a World War I German sympathizer. The FBI wanted Riverside County authorities to keep an eye on him. Over time, the three assigned deputies and Critzer became friends of sorts. Deputy Harold Simpson recalled target shooting with Critzer and listening to Critzer’s elaborate radio with 4,800 feet of antenna wire, or talking about Critzer’s strange home under the rock. Deputy Simpson filed reports after each visit and knew the radio was capable of receiving signals from Germany and Italy. According to local news reports at the time, Critzer had also been investigated in 1938 by U.S. Customs officials who found “hangars” camouflaged by a giant canvas cover. In addition, military intelligence went to Giant Rock to drop in on Critzer but found nothing illegal. Most of all, authorities were baffled by reports about single-engine planes conducting quick meetings on the airfield with lumbering transport planes and black sedans leaving the airport under cover of darkness, so they hatched a plan.

Page 2 states 32-year old Critzer is missing his left index finger. Look at Critzer’s photo to match.

As the story goes, on the fateful day of July 24, 1942, Deputies Pratt, McCracken and Simpson investigated Critzer for possibly being a World War II spy and amassing illegal explosives. Critzer went out with a bang when he detonated himself in his underground bunker to avoid capture, ending his life. However, some experts believe the explosion actually occurred when the FBI launched a tear gas canister into Critzer’s home which ignited Critzer’s small cache of mining dynamite. Except neither version is accurate, and the truth is stranger than fiction. On July 1, 1942, authorities got an unexpected break when the government raised the maximum draftable age from 50 to 55 years old. Was Frank Critzer, who was 54, registered? The deputies set their plan into motion. They wanted to set up night surveillance at the air strip to see what was happening but they needed Critzer out of the way, at least temporarily. When confronted, Critzer told Deputy Simpson he’d been meaning to go to Riverside to register but hadn’t got around to it yet. Simpson suggested they’d give Critzer a lift on the county’s dime but Critzer refused and warned he would never leave Giant Rock voluntarily. Things escalated quickly.

Morongo Basin Historical Society Museum and Research Center. Photo courtesy of Jaylyn Earl.

According to the the Morongo Basin Historical Society and Twentynine Palms Historical Society commemorative magazine titled 100 Year Project 1910-2010: Early in World War II, the United States raised the maximum draft age to 64 in what is known as the Fourth Draft or Old Man’s Draft. Frank Critzer, a U.S. citizen of German ancestry living under Giant Rock, was 54. On July 24, 1942, three sheriff’s deputies from Riverside County offered to drive him to Banning to register for the draft. When Frank refused, the deputies said they had to take him in. Before leaving, Frank told the deputies he had to go to the outhouse. According to police reports, he went into his 10′ by 10′ bedroom inside the rock to get his hat. Frank emerged holding a flashlight battery attached to a wire dangling from a binocular case. He held another wire running along the wall, when he said his peace. Frank then touched the wires together and caused an explosion. All three deputies survived. Two of them were blown 80 feet from the entrance. Deputy McCracken suffered critical injuries when a piece of Frank’s vertebrae was propelled into his stomach like a bullet. The blast lifted the 26,000 ton rock a foot off the ground. Authorities recovered Critzer’s charred remains and 217 lbs. of dynamite. Critzer is buried in Victorville, California. Many thanks to Barbara Harris and the Morongo Basin Historical Society for telling us (as radio announcer Paul Harvey used to say) the rest of the story. 

Palm Springs Limelight 31 July 1942
Palm Springs Limelight 31 July 1942

Legend has it Hopi shamans in the 1920s prophesied the future of the 21st century would be foretold by sacred Giant Rock in Landers, California, based on how the 7-story granite boulder split in the future. In February 2000, a humongous chunk of rock did indeed break off the side of Giant Rock thus fulfilling the Hopi legend, ensuring the continuity of the world. Had Giant Rock broken in the center, the Hopi predicted mankind would’ve ceased. It has been said that the Maya were masters of time, whereas the Hopi are masters of space. Many Hopi spiritual elders claim that we are living in the final days of the Fourth World.

The Spacecrafter Jan-May 1960

According to Barbara LaGrange, “the Integratron is a 38-foot high, 50-foot diameter, non-metallic structure designed by the engineer George Van Tassel as a rejuvenation and time machine. Van Tassel was a legendary figure, a former test pilot for Howard Hughes and Douglas Aircraft, who lived at Giant Rock, and operated Giant Rock airport [on 4 square miles of leased land]. His annual Spacecraft Conventions were attended by thousands across two decades, featuring high profile UFO contactees and pioneers in the fields of antigravity, primary energy research, and electromagnetics. Van Tassel led weekly meditations in the excavated room under the rock from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, which he claimed led to UFO contacts. He said UFO channelings and ideas from scientists such as Nikola Tesla led to the unique architecture of the Integratron. He spent 18 years constructing the building.”

The Intergratron. Photo courtesy of Jaylyn Earl.

An article published in the June 23, 1996 edition of The Desert Sun, said Van Tassel’s first actual encounter with aliens happened on August 24, 1953. According to his autobiography, a flying saucer hovered 4 feet off the ground at 1:50 a.m. He was sleeping when it landed but awoke to find an alien standing at the foot of his bed. The alien introduced himself as Solganda from the planet Venus. Van Tassel accepted its invitation to enter the alien ship, which was 36 feet in diameter and 19 feet high, occupied by four Venutians. They had a discussion about the destructiveness of man. The Venutians offered Van Tassel “a gift to mankind,” the formula for the Intergraton. The idea was to build a machine that would rejuvenate living cell tissue, adding 50-80 years to an average lifespan. Mankind could devote the extra time to accumulate knowledge and put it to good use. The plan was infused in Van Tassel’s brain. One part of the puzzle was missing though. The Venutians did not tell Van Tassel how to complete the Intergraton. Van Tassel died in 1978 at the age of 68. By then, Van Tassel estimated the Intergraton was 82% complete. Built to the specifications of Solganda, the 16-sided circular two story building with its 16 small windows three stories tall was acoustically perfect but remained unfinished. After his passing, Mrs. Van Tassel sold the Intergratron for $10,000 dollars, later reclaimed it then sold it again for $25,000 dollars. After changing hands again, three sisters from New York now own it and run a successful sound bath business. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. 

Los Angeles Times, 17 June 1954

We have seen the aftermath of people digging under Giant Rock perhaps trying to peer into Critzer’s demolished digs, as well as graffiti vandalism, trash, old fires, and people driving their quads onto Giant Rock. Raves were occasionally held here; one resulted in a murder charge for providing illicit drugs to a minor. A volunteer group called Friends of Giant Rock organizes trash pickups and graffiti removal, but sadly it only stays clean for a short period before it gets trashed again. Please join the group for their next event in September 2023! In collaboration with BlightsitesHigh Desert Keepersthe Landers Community Associationthe Mojave Desert Land Trust and Positional Projects offers the 8th annual #storiesandstewardship onsite restoration in Landers, CA. 34.3331572,-116.3972266 Whenever you visit, please remember to practice leave no trace principles.

Large UFO gatherings were popular at Giant Rock in the 1950s.
The San Bernardino Sun 01 May 1956
Giant Rock Airport and Cafe

John stands next to the Giant Rock’s enormous split.

Desert Sentinel 23 Aug 1973

Photo courtesy of Jaylyn Earl.

Van Tassel was close friends with Cabot Xerxa and Dutch psychic, Peter Hurkos, both frequent visitors. In 1977, renown prognosticator, The Amazing Chriswell, claimed World War III would begin at Giant Rock. Apparently Giant Rock made quite the impression on the visionary, as he mentioned again with his prediction of the coming shrimp rain in 1978. He asserted Giant Rock would provide high ground from the tides that would sweep from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. According to their website, The Intergratron is open Thursday-Sunday for the gift shop, sound baths, meditation and other activities. Call ahead to confirm. The paved road ends past the Intergratron. Drive on the packed but rutted sand, keeping the closest rock formations to your left. You will see Giant Rock ahead. In fact, you can’t miss it. Bonus trivia! Landers had the biggest earthquake in the world in 1992.

Photograph by Ralph Crane, Life Magazine Archives, 1957.

Photo courtesy of Jaylyn Earl.

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