By Rod Andrew
Ten years ago, my wife, Sharon, and I met four friends in the desert near an abandoned mine called American Girl in Southern California. I was intrigued by the name because of the doll that was a fad at that time. We were dry-camping with Don and Lorraine and Chris and Sherrie in a very flat and featureless stony desert, which, as we drove in, didn’t seem to be very interesting. The only break in the scenery was the gravel road that we arrived on. However, we knew that the company would be enjoyable, so where we were wasn’t all that important.
We had wine. And someone had a sense of humor, as we passed this sign on the way in.
After we had set up, we all went for a walk. Our hosts, apparently, had a destination in mind. They took off and we followed. There was a slight rise a short distance behind our campsite: a rare feature. We walked to the top of what was really just a low fold in the terrain and looked ahead. That’s when the desert surprised Sharon and me.
Lying ahead of us was a huge, complex structure, created from the pebbles and stones of the terrain. Someone, at some fairly recent time, had designed and built a mandala, an enormous circle, crisscrossed by lines and pathways and punctuated by mounds of stones. I’m guessing, but I think it was over 200 feet wide. It was stunning!
I tried to take a photo of it, but my low vantage point made it difficult to capture either the size or complexity of this creation. Our friends had sprung it on us as a surprise. I’m sure that they didn’t realize that I would still be haunted by it, ten years later.
Who made it, and why? How long did it take? Was the intent spiritual or artistic?
Since then, I’ve read a little about mandalas. I’ve always associated them with Buddhism, but have found that almost all religions use circle designs to create connections with, or representations of, the spiritual world. Buddhist monks are famous for making intricate designs with colored sands, which they erase soon after they are completed. These mandalas seem to be indicating that life is beautiful, but fleeting. That only the spirit endures.
In more recent times, the New Age movement adopted the mandala as a symbol of their beliefs in a spiritual world. I believe that the stone mandala I was shown in the desert was probably created by an adherent to New Age beliefs. Just as the Buddhist monks destroyed their creations, this mandala was left for the desert to gradually erase.
Someone chose that spot in a virtually featureless plain to spend days, perhaps weeks, creating a miracle of design, then abandoned it. Perhaps it would be gone before anyone else saw it. The act of creation was the point.
The next day, Chris and Sherrie took us to see the famous American Girl mine. I was struck, later, by the realization that the mine, once a huge project, was now abandoned and would, eventually vanish, taken back by the desert.
Back at camp, we discovered that Don had been busy.
He had cleared every pebble from a large, rocky area, to create an absolutely perfect bocce court. The parallels with the creation of the mandala are too obvious to point out. Unlike the mandala, however, this was not a connection to spiritual truth, but a field of combat. We formed teams and, fueled by beer, battled for supremacy, showing no mercy. Ten years later, we all remember, clearly, that our team won.
Our memories are as transitory as the mandala.
My curiosity about the mysterious mandala has stayed with me. Ten years later, while I will probably never know the complete story of its origin, thanks to information supplied by my friend, Don, I now know a little more.
Remember, the mandala, as I saw it, looked like this …..
It was a stunning creation. The photo, repeated here to allow comparison with the next photo, only captures a small part of it. And badly, at that.
Don, who had led us to the mandala in 2013, decided to use Google Maps references to try to locate the original. What he found was more evidence of how special this work of art and adoration was.
This is a satellite photo of the mandala as it must have appeared when it was first created. This fits my memory of the shapes I saw from ground level.
Don and Lorraine revisited the site a few weeks ago. Fittingly, as mandalas are supposed to be ephemeral, not much was left of the design we saw in 2013. That tremendous rainstorm that swept over the area last September accelerated the slow erasure of the mandala and left just a few scattered stones.
Don sent me this photo.
He also told me that his bocce court had suffered the same fate. It was gone.
Too bad, as that was the site of one of my greatest competitive victories. Probably.
I learned a couple of things from the desert mandala: The point of creating beauty is the point of creating beauty. Not original, but I now understand it.
I still remember the mandala, which is gone. Sometimes our memories, as unreliable as they can be, are less transient than the things we remember.
I want to thank my friend, Don, for doing the research to finish this story. We joined Don and Lorraine this year for a few days of boondocking. Don met us with ……
You guessed it, a new bocce field. Of course, strong winds have already erased that.
More by Rod
- A very, very wet Valentine’s Day in Borrego Springs
- Feeling a little… grumpy… in the RV park showers
- Great expectations: Revisiting places that aren’t as you remember them
Great story: whether its hippies, college students, or Joe Suburbia having fun, or an ancient culture (also probably having fun). I am intrigued how they generate such intricate and precise designs so they appear perfect from above. Must be some secret surveyor class race!
Great story! Thanks for sharing it with us 😊
I loved this story and the emotional and spiritual nuances. Thanks for your time and writing talent.
Nice. A modern day Nazca Lines. Too bad it didn’t stay.
Wow! Somebody was extremelly creative. Very interesting article.
What mystery was solved?
Great article! Thank you!
Love your story about creativity!
Bravo! Wonderful story, wonderfully told.
Agree! Photo backup is terrific addition!