Center of the Desert
July 23, 2021 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Desert Center, CA is that line on I-10 signs that you never exited to see. From the highway, it's abandoned buildings and oddly-arranged palm trees. There's a lot more to its history and the founder was quite a character.
posted by bbrown (7 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I am not happy with the post title. That is my placeholder; I finally posted with a Β―\_(ツ)_/Β―

posted by bbrown at 2:00 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]

Great post! I've driven past Desert Center and the palm circles many times on my way to Phoenix.

If I had the funds, I'd hire a mid-budget director to film a monster (giant irradiated scorpions?) movie there, before the town's redeveloped.
posted by JDC8 at 3:20 PM on July 23

Huh, the town has a paved airstrip, CN64. Wikipedia says it was an Army Air Force base then slowly fell into disuse. Now it's owned by the nearby Chuckwalla Raceway which I guess is one of the few things like a functioning business in the area.

This city should not exist. It is a monument to man's arrogance.
posted by Nelson at 3:30 PM on July 23

Oh man did I ever stop there.

And here's yet another random 90s rave story, and this post kind of ties some loose ends up because I never really knew much about Desert Center.

And with the timeline I'm guessing it was Desert Steve's sons that were involved with this and not Desert Steve. And whomever it was that was the contact was really into us being out there and energetically supportive.

I don't know all the details but someone I knew a long time ago tried to throw a large unpermitted rave on BLM land a few miles back from this property, just in time for the relatively newly formed multi-department "Desert Rave Task Force" to pick it as a juicy target and shut it down.

The day of setting up for the event this multi-department task force blockaded the road into the site at a location off of BLM land because they couldn't really legally force us to leave the BLM land, so they did the road block instead.

This was before cell phones were common so there were some communications issues. We were wondering why people weren't showing up to help set up camp and we really know about the road block until several hours into setting up the sound.

Our first sign that something was wrong was when we finally saw a line of cars approaching which raised a hearty cheer from everyone already there which quickly soured when we realized the whole line of cars was all LEOs and police cars. It was like "YAAAAAYYYyyy wait, shit, those are cops uh oh..."

Who then quickly rounded up anyone vaguely responsible for this unpermitted party and started handing out tickets and arresting at least one person who tried to resist. (They were later released after they were done handing out the tickets.)

We heard some details later, some of it directly from the LEOs on scene.

Apparently there were cars backed up for over several miles on HWY 10 due to the roadblock.

We also heard that whoever we were in contact with back at Desert Center kind of flipped out, and maybe got arrested? Apparently they owned some kind of military surplus armored personal carrier. I remember seeing it on the way in with all of the other desert vehicles like bulldozers and graders and RVs and stuff, it was on of those big eight wheeled beasts that looked like something out of a futuristic Mad Max film.

And apparently this person had to be talked down (by the party people) from running it right through the road block that was just off his property. Reportedly he had the APC all fired up and was facing down the roadblock and ready to gun it. And AFAIR he also threatened to try to bulldoze a brand new emergency road on their private property that had a more direct path to the BLM land, but... yeah, that usually takes longer than a few hours.

After it was all over the people with tickets ended up getting toyed with by the local county court out there for something like 1.5 years. They'd set appearance and hearing dates and then the prosecutors or witnesses for the prosecution would conveniently not be available and they'd just keep kicking the trial dates on down the road on purpose so the defendants had to waste a lot of time, money on gas and transportation to appear over and over again for months and wring them dry in legal fees until eventually the whole case was just dismissed.

It was pretty fucked up, but in hindsight it was obvious they didn't want to actually take it to trial because they didn't want to test the legality of what they were doing with this new "Desert Rave Task Force" idea.

One nice thing I remember about all of this is the sound check. They had rented an absolutely huge sound system, something like 80+ cabinets and around 20k watts of power amplifiers. For the sound check they had one of the scheduled artists plug in a Roland MC-303 Groovebox directly into the sound. The MC-303 was one of the first "all in one" drum machine+synth instruments.

It's a weird hybrid sort of a digital and analog synthesis using DCOs, or digitally controlled oscillators. It puts out a LOT of bass.

I remember walking around the sandy dance floor in front of the speakers in the stereo sweet spot and watching sand vibrate into the air nearly up to my waist, well over my knees. I remember I was wearing shorts and I could feel gentle fountains of sand particles just sort of enveloping my legs in the strangest feeling that was very pleasant and not at all like being sandblasted by sand in high winds, but almost silky and tingly feeling.

I remember I could feel the bass all through me and taking my breath away, and feeling the particles of sand moving with the same frequencies, and how different bass tones felt like they lifted different sized sand particles with more or less mass.

I've never seen or felt this before or since. It was just that one time with that totally massive sound system hooked up to that MC-303 and me all alone out there in front of it.

Another thing in hindsight that I and other realized is that it might have been for the best that we got shut down. We were definitely not prepared for the size of the crowd that almost showed up. We didn't have portapotties. Or any real first aid to speak of. We didn't really know what we were doing and this was in an era where people were expected to bring their own everything and support themselves and practice self care and be safe.

But we also weren't aiming for what sounded something like 2,500 to 5,000 people trying to show up. I think the presale tickets were just a few hundred at best. Having way too many people show up to a rave is something that happened, because sometimes other parties would get busted so people would just try to go to another one.
posted by loquacious at 5:10 PM on July 23 [28 favorites]

Is there a compendium of desert rave stories somewhere? They are each and every one a absolute treasure.
posted by Jacen at 5:55 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Is there a compendium of desert rave stories somewhere? They are each and every one a absolute treasure.

Apologies for the derail so I'll keep it brief.

I've strongly considered writing a non-fiction book about this. I guess I could just start at the beginning and have a chapter each for about a dozen different select stories and end up with a decently sized book and still have dozens of untold stories.

I've seen some really incredible things that are all true and yet almost unbelievable high weirdness and shenanigans. I mean it was sincerely kind of a goal I had from a young in going out to some of these things to witness and remember them and be able to tell them not unlike gonzo journalism. Except I just did the gonzo part and forgot the journalism part.
posted by loquacious at 2:34 PM on July 24 [6 favorites]

And here's yet another random 90s rave story, and this post kind of ties some loose ends up...
Cool story.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 9:12 AM on July 26

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