Peak 3,467ft P300
Spy Mountain P500
Peak 3,369ft P500
Reche Mountain P300
Goat Mountain P500
Ruby Mountain

Jan 27, 2016
Goat Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


In looking over the maps for interesting places to visit, I came across a feature called Giant Rock. It shows up on the satellite view as a distinct object, quite large, and appears very difficult. Located in Homestead Valley just north of Landers, I noticed there are three other named summits and two unnamed ones that form a rough circle about 11mi in circumference. It would keep me busy most of the third day of my desert road trip, the last day I would be hiking solo. I wish I had looked up the history of Giant Rock and the surrounding area before visiting as it has some colorful characters in its past, as related later in this report.

Peak 3,467ft

I'd spent the night off the side of a dirt spur road just north of the paved intersection of Linn Rd and Belfield Blvd, 3mi east of SR247. It wasn't exactly remote desert country here with homes scattered about and cars coming around the corner at irregular intervals through the night. Across the intersection was what appeared to be a white, domed house that looked much like an observatory, windows glowing with a soft green light. I was hoping my unannounced visit wouldn't draw undue attention from the homeowner while I spent the night there.

I was up before 7a as sunrise bathed the cold landscape with an orange glow, heading for the summit of Peak 3,467ft, less than a mile from where I'd parked. There appears to be several occupied homesteads nestled in the rocky slopes though all was quiet when I passed by at a distance. Other plots had never been developed but still had rough jeep road access, often used to park unwanted junk. The summit looks out over Homestead Valley to the south and the other peaks on the agenda to the north and east. 2mi to the northeast was Spy Mtn, where I next turned my attention.

Spy Mountain

After dropping off the NE side of Peak 3,467ft, I crossed a mile and a half of desert flat to reach the base of Spy Mtn. A few quiet homesteads inhabit this small expanse of desert, most of which is BLM managed. Much of this modest mountain is made up of granite boulders piled haphazardly in the fashion of the Coxcomb Mtns in Joshua Tree NP, generally making for good scrambling. The summit had a Gordon/Barbara register from 2008, though it was predated by a previous party who'd left a paper scrap three years earlier. The unusual name for the mountain commemorates (sort of) one of the first characters to call the area home. Frank Critzer was a prospector of German extraction who lived at Giant Rock during the Great Depression, building rough roads, an airstrip and other things in his spare time. He maintained a shortwave radio which he used to listen to broadcasts from his native country. As WWII broke out, rumors of a German spy living in the desert next to an airstrip caught the attention of authorities. Sheriff deputies came calling to question the man but it seems he managed to blow himself up and injure the deputies almost before anyone knew what was happening. Another version has the deputies lobbing a tear gas cannister into the abode when Critzer locked himself inside, the cannister igniting blasting caps and dynamite that Frank kept inside. In any event, it seems unlikely that Critzer was a spy, but these were uneasy times where suspicion and paranoia went about unbridled.

After signing the register, I picked a descent route down a steep gully especially for the scrambling opportunity which turned out to be a good one. At the bottom of this gully I reached the desert floor once more and followed around the base of the mountain in search of Giant Rock.

Giant Rock

Some places report this as the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Although the claim is completely unsupported and probably unprovable (one of those things that can only be disproved), it is enormous. Standing 60-70ft high (depending on reference source), one can't help but be impressed. Two things stand out almost immediately - it appears to be unclimbable on all sides by ordinary means, and the rock has suffered tremendous abuse over the years. Graffiti covers the lower reaches of the rock on all sides. Fire scars tell of giant bonfires that have blackened the walls where they overhang. Broken glass litters the ground. The history of this place has many chapters, beginning with the native Americans who held it as sacred ground. To some, magic in the rock represented the heart of Mother Earth.

In the 1930s, Frank Critzer found the place intriguing and eventually dug out 400ft of living space under the rock on its shaded north side and called it home. In the unforgiving desert it was not as crazy as it might seem - summer temperatures inside never exceeded 80F while outside air temps could soar to 120F. In winter it never got below 55F where freezing nights were the rule, not the exception. Frank thought much of his unusual abode, living here for more than a decade, scraping roads to reach it from all directions and prospecting to scrape up a living. He'd befriended George Van Tassel in Santa Monica in 1930 and they became almost instant friends. After Frank's death (in his hole under Giant Rock), George visited Giant Rock and eventually moved his family here in 1947. He improved the airport, repurposed Frank's hole under Giant Rock and built a restaurant on the north side of the boulder. A high school dropout, Van Tassel had become a test pilot and flight inspector working for the likes Douglas Aircraft, Hughes Aviation and Lockheed before retiring to Giant Rock. Once at Giant Rock, things just got weird. In 1953 he began weekly meditations in Frank's old room, eventually making contact with aliens, chosen to deliver alien wisdom, learning and messages to a skeptical world. He authored books such as I Rode a Flying Saucer, The Council of Seven Lights and others. In 1954 he held the first Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention at Giant Rock that would continue for 23 years. Some report crowds approaching 40,000 in its heyday, but it seems unlikely to have ever gathered more than a few thousand like-minded UFO fans. Life Magazine wrote an article in 1957 covering the unusual convention where Van Tassel declared his plan to run for the US presidency in 1960, funded by the aliens who'd contacted him (it appears alien funding fell through). Aliens also provided Van Tassel with the technical information to build the Integratron, a "time machine for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel". The four-story structure was built of non-metallic materials (no nails), located on a site based on a complex set of theories involving the earth's magnetic field, with the Integratron's relationship to the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Giant Rock. It was funded not by aliens, nor by George himself, but through donations collected at his conventions over the years. It was never fully operational by the time of Van Tassel's death in 1978. Conveniently the Integratron's location was only a few miles from Giant Rock - in fact it was the very building I had spent the night parked next to, what I had thought was more of an observatory. The Integratron is now owned and maintained by the three Karl sisters who have repurposed the structure as a new-agey experience, promising heightened awareness, waves of peace and relaxation of mind and body.

Shortly after Van Tassel's death his family moved from Giant Rock where the airport and other improvements fell into disrepair and vandalism. The structures were eventually bulldozed and Critzer's cave/home filled in by the BLM. All that remain are two concrete pads on either side of the rock. In the 80s & 90s the place became a hangout for teenagers and a draw for rockclimbers. The overhanging north side is sprinkled with dozens of old, rusty hangers and bolts, tattered webbing hanging in a few places. I saw no modern bolts of any kind and it looks to have been some time since anyone had climbed here - almost as though a zombie apocalypse had wiped them all out, or perhaps, they simply got bored one day and left. In any event, all was pretty quiet on a Wednesday morning and I was here without so much as a carabiner. I walked all around the rock, finding nothing I could remotely climb up - not more than a single bouldering stance, anyway.

On the south side of the rock you can see that a large chunk of the rock has broken off, exposing fresh, light-colored granite on the inside of the desert-varnished rock. This happened in 2000. Supposedly, ancient predictions had foretold of world-changing events that would happen when Giant Rock split open, the details of which were dependent on how it split open. One of the local new-agey seers claims to have predicted it's splitting only days before it happened. I call bullshit on this one. As for its splitting, the explanation seems more to do with the bonfires at its base heating the rock and expanding weaknesses until gravity won the day. Incidently, the split didn't make the rock any more climbable.

Peak 3,369ft

A mile and a half to the southeast from Giant Rock, across the desert flats once used for the Giant Rock Airport, lies unnamed Peak 3,369ft of little noteworthiness other than it lay along the path of my clockwise route. It can be climbed from any direction at class 2, my routes going up and down no better than any other choices. A wooden white cross, much of the paint aging away, was planted at the highpoint as a memorial to someone who passed away in 2002 at the age of 45yrs. Any name associated with it has been lost. Of further interest was the tiny plastic film cannister I found half-buried under the summit rocks, an Andy Smatko version from 1980. The two narrow pages had few other entries, the most recent from 1999. 35yrs later, the pencil was nearly as sharp as when it had been left.

Reche Mountain

This diminutive hill is the smallest of the summits I visited outside Giant Rock. Located 1.2mi SE of Peak 3,369ft, it is named for Charlie Reche, the earliest white homesteader in the immediate area, moving here in 1887. His parcel included land on which now sits the Integratron. Among other jobs, he worked as a foreman at the Desert Queen Mine in what is now Joshua Tree NP. As a deputy Sheriff he joined a posse to hunt down Willie Boy, a Paiute Indian who had murdered the chief of another tribe and abducted his daughter. In a gunfight that ensued, Charlie was shot in the hip and walked with a limp the rest of his life. The peak named after him is not much to look at. Old mining roads run close to the summit from the north and west. Various prospecting efforts have scraped off the top layer in strips around these roads, but nothing seems to have come of it. Nothing of note was found at the summit.

Goat Mountain

1.1mi southwest of Reche Mtn and 2mi east of the Integratron lies Goat Mtn, the most mountain-like summit of the day with more than 700ft of prominence. Reche was the first to prospect for gold atop the mountain and it was claimed he mined some 300 ounces before tiring of the effort and selling it to someone else. The claim changed hands on and off for 50yrs before the last hopefuls gave up in the 1950s. Climbing the mountain from the east, I came upon two memorial crosses planted on the eastern edge of the summit plateau overlooking Reche Mtn and the valley below. The were simple wooden crosses with steel supports buried in the mountain, one white, one unpainted. To whom these were dedicated I never ascertained. The highpoint was another ten minutes further west, but it held nothing of interest save the views. I dropped down a gully on the west side to return to the desert floor, followed by an easy 30min hike back to the van.

Ruby Mountain

As it wasn't yet 1p when I finished with the Giant Rock tour, I looked for something else to occupy some time on my way to Yucca Valley. I found it in Ruby Mountain on the east side of SR247 and Homestead Valley, only a few miles further south. The starting point I used is off the New Dixie Mine Rd, the same sandy road used to access the HPS summits of Bighorn Mtns and Meeks Mtn. Luckily I didn't have to drive very far, getting as far as the BLM kiosk found a mile in from the highway, just before the road drops into a wash. This was enough to get me within a mile of the summit which was located to the northwest amidst a number of OHV roads that criss-cross the area around Ruby Mtn. I followed the New Dixie road on foot for less than half a mile before turning north on a side road that winds higher up the mountainside. I left the OHV trail to climb the last few hundred feet cross-country up the SE Slope, reaching the top in about half an hour. The summit appears to be named for the reddish rocks that dominate the summit area, though not enough to be noticeable from a distance. In addition to a benchmark labeled "TUMBLE" there was a MacLeod/Lilley register from 2007. The dozen or so other entries were a mix of peakbaggers (Charlie Knapp, Thomas Gossett, Mark McCormick) and Geology 101 students mapping the mountain for a class at an unspecified college. The ring of small hills I had circumnavigated earlier in the day could be seen across Homestead Valley to the east while the higher summits of the Bighorn Mtns rose higher to the west with the even higher, snow-capped San Bernardino Mtns behind them. I dropped down to a saddle NE of the summit and followed another OHV road down from there, returning around 2p to call it a day. I would have dinner in Yucca Valley before eventually driving south to spend the night parked a mile north of Interstate 10 just outside the south entrance to Joshua Tree. Oh - as it turns out, Ruby Mtn had been the site where Charlie Reche took a bullet from Willie Boy. For more on the fascinating history of the area:

Tracking Willie Boy in 1909

The Intrigue of Giant Rock

George Van Tassel's Integratron


Nathan comments on 07/31/16:
>I call bullshit on this one.

I laughed out loud.
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