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Inside the dome. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Touching the Sound in Joshua Tree

After much anticipation, I finally arrived at the Integratron in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree.

I bumbled around the geodesic dome trying to snap photos with my big SLR as my host explained the properties of the quartz bowls he would be playing in the sound bath, the “signature experience” at the Integratron.

“Please take pictures after I have left, and you have the place to yourself,” DJ Neuron instructed. “Also, please take off your shoes,” he added with a frown.

I followed his gaze down to the dusty footprints my flip-flops had left on the shiny wood floor. I frowned, too.

Hoping to change the subject, I asked my host how long he had been involved with the Integratron. He told me that his long relationship with the structure began in 1979, a year after its creator, George Van Tassel, died suddenly.

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The Karl sisters bought the Integratron in 2000. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Van Tassel had conceived of the structure as a “rejuvenation machine” that could keep people young — based on instructions he claimed to have received from aliens from Venus.

Though this all sounds a bit out there, Van Tassel was actually a respected aeronautical engineer who worked for powerhouse companies like Lockheed and Hughes Aviation (Howard Hughes himself contributed funds to help build the extraordinary dome) — and scientists have measured a significant spike in the Earth’s magnetic field in the center of the Integratron.

As I sat in the belly of his creation letting all this information sink in, DJ Neuron voice broke through the silence.

He demonstrated the three sound effects that occur in the Integratron: one at the center (when I spoke it sounded like I had a jar over my head), another while sitting directly across from another person in the center (it sounded like I was talking through a tin can on a string), and a third (similar to an echo across a canyon) that occurred when standing anywhere else in the dome.

“Each bowl plays one of the seven major notes of the scale up to G, and they correspond with the seven major body chakras, as well as to the colors of the spectrum,” he said. I listened quietly, nodding along as he talked, hoping to earn back some trust.

I slowly succumbed to the soothing, but somehow intergalactic sounds the bowls produced. I closed my eyes and waited for something to happen, though I wasn’t sure what.

After the session ended, I had the opportunity to chat with Joanne Karl, one of three sisters who bought the Integratron in 2000 after having made pilgrimages there since the ’80s. “You can’t really own something like this,” she said. “We bought it for you and everyone who visits, we just pay the mortgage.”

Like DJ Neuron before her, Joanne emphasized that she didn’t want to kill the mystery surrounding the Integratron by talking too much about what it was. “Why see it through my filter?,” she asked. “I mean, what if you have an experience I can’t even fathom?”

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The eclectic decor at Spin and Margie’s. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

And according to Joanne, people have their own reasons for visiting the dome in the desert: to get married, have babies, heal chronic ailments, practice yoga, meditate, summon extraterrestrials, you name it.

“What we have here is a ‘Do-ocracy,'” she said. “Everybody chips in to keep it running, and we go shoulder-to-shoulder to make things happen.” Joanne said that, from the very beginning, her favorite thing about the Integratron was the people she encountered there. “They think outside the box, because out here there was never a box to begin with,” she said.

No, there is certainly no box, I thought as I gazed at the geodesic dome for the last time. DJ Neuron and Joanne had done their job of preserving the mystery well; I left more perplexed than when I had arrived.

When I retreated to my digs in Joshua Tree after my sound-bath session, I was pleased to find they were equally intriguing. Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideaway had playful surprises around every corner — a wheelbarrow full of succulents here, an abstract barbed-wire sculpture there.

That evening, sitting in a lime green chair by a bocce ball court under a full moon, I looked out over the desert and wondered, if I could just stay up late enough, what interesting things I might encounter.

Shannon is driving a Ford C-MAX Hybrid on her Road to Wellness tour. Follow the Curious Traveler’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer.