The desert has a tendency to attract some interesting characters, not all good, but not all bad either. Some can be a bit eccentric, while others, just plain nuts. Spend a few years exploring and/or writing about the desert, and some of those interesting characters will find you, if you don’t find them first. This isn’t any sort of new revelation, the desert has attracted these types for as long as we’ve inhabited this side of the country.
The 1960’s, and Charles Manson are one of the first things to come to mind in terms of “interesting desert characters”. Or am I giving him too much credit? It is a well-known fact that Manson escaped to the desert after the gruesome Tate-Labianca murders in 1969. He wasn’t here long, but definitely found himself a place in desert history.
Also in the 1960’s a religious cult was forming in the desert called the “Kingdom of Zion”. The group established a compound in the Chuckwalla Mountains, a few miles east of Desert Center. What is unfortunate is that their story is lost, and locals only seem to remember them as a group of displaced hippies.
I went out and visited the site of the compound on a beautiful February day, the temperature was in the low 80’s, and the sky, not a cloud in it. I parked my vehicle well before the mouth of the canyon, and hiked the short distance in. The first sign of the compound was along the dirt road, a rock placed on the side, simply had the word “Zion” painted on it. Simple enough I thought, and a sure sign that I was in the right place.
A bit further along, and the road comes to an end. A BLM sign is posted, stating that beyond is wilderness, and closed to vehicular traffic. Along with the BLM sign, yet another rock is painted, this time with the words, “No Guns Beyond This Point”. To the right there is a foundation in a clearing among a granite boulder stack, and among the boulders, a small man-made dam. The dam construction reminded me of similar sites in nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Ranchers in the early to mid-1900’s would construct these types of dams in natural tank like areas to collect rain water.
Back on trail to the compound, and yet another painted stone, “The Way To Zion”, along with an arrow pointing the direction. They sure weren’t very secretive of their location.
From there the number of messages increased, and began to take on religious messages, “Our God is a Rock” along with an eyeball, “Isaiah 35:9 – But the redeemed shall walk – “10-4″ 1977”, “The Lord Loves the Gates of Zion”, and “The Holy Hill of Zion”. All of which are quotes of Bible scripture.
I honestly have a good case of the heebie-jeebies at this point, religious fanaticism is one of the most terrifying things to me. I completely understand the concept of religion, I get the idea of worship, but what I don’t get is going overboard with all of it. No God, that I am aware of is going to give you extra brownie points for painting their message on a boulder, or for that matter, putting a plastic fish on the back of your vehicle.
Anyway…approaching the compound the trail turns to concrete, and I crossed the “Mustard Seed Dam”. No, it isn’t painted on a rock, but rather carved into the cement layer of the dam. I had officially entered the “Kingdom of Zion”. Nothing much remains from the “hippie/cult” years except for several foundations, stone walls, and damming projects. Of course every foundation, and every piece of cement has a date, names, or something carved into it. Appears to me to be a bit egotistical, but what do I know, I get accused of being egotistical all the time, and I really don’t see it.
The canyon itself is beautiful with its craggy walls, and rock littered washes – but the beauty is somewhat tainted with the overwhelming creepy factor of what may have transpired here nearly fifty years ago.
As for the cult group, there is virtually zero, zip, zilch, nada details available about them. My best guess is that they may have had ties to the Zionist Movement, or possibly the hippie Jesus Movement of the 60’s. Whatever it was, I stand by my previous sentiment, it’s creepy.