The Crystal Cave

There’s a little sidestreet you can take that leads into an alternative dimension. A place that hasn’t yet caught up with the rest of the world, or perhaps, that the world hasn’t yet caught up with. A shanty-town village of rusting desert treasures and rusting desert people.
It’s called Sky Village Swap Meet, and it meets in a little sandy hollow that was once a Drive In theater in Yucca Valley. More specifically, Joshua Tree, a place for which I hold a special fondness. At its entrance is a life size, fiberglass cow with painted lips, sitting on a trailer bed, waiting to be put up for the night. Rising up from its center is what they profess to be the world’s largest cactus and who am I to argue. Your arms wouldn’t fit around even a quarter of it’s circumference, although I don’t recommend you trying. The ancient sound system plays old country favorites in a scratchy melody, like aged records on victrolas. It sounds like squeaking hinges, fingernails on chalkboards, pop rocks settling on my tongue.
There’s a little country store that sells hand made signs rejected by Etsy but not by this town; you see them swinging from the mailboxes of the adobe style houses scattered across the desert. It’s how you spot the residents from the vacationers. They sell boots in varying shades and sizes, all faded from the sun, wrinkled at the ankle. Flannels and square dancing costumes, and little bumper stickers emblazoned with Comic Sans font.
Beside it is a shack that resembles the junk drawer beside your kitchen sink. Old TVs, VCRs, costume jewelry, a couple of wigs, and an old singer sewing machine that now sits in my library at home. The lady that runs it is Korean. She’s lived in the United States for 50 years and has never bothered to learn the language but she thinks I would look beautiful in the mother of pearl choker on display at the front of her store and I think she’s talking about the weather and so I say, “yes, it is a scorcher out there.” And she just nods and smiles and points to a sign that says “security cameras in use.” I like her subtlety. She gives me a wig for free. “For you, no charge.” And I take it graciously, then frantically search my purse for the Purel as soon as I am out of the lining of her sight. There’s a geriatric man with an unreasonably large collection of Vintage playboys, and an old wizard selling crystals beside the hippy who makes succulent arrangements from rusted tin cans he found lying across the desert. They’re $2 a piece. I bought three.
I bartered with the short woman, whose face resembled cow’s hide in the leathery grooves of her skin. I wanted that hubcap. We settled on $5. I put it in the vintage suitcase that came from the man who stood sweating beneath a canvas tent in his three piece suit.
And then there’s Bob. The owner of the swap meet. The founder and creator of the Crystal Cave, where you can sit within the dome shaped walls made from construction foam, painted over in vibrant teals and greens and shimmering metallic coppers. The City Council tried to take back the land from him almost a decade ago, but the town fought back, wanting to preserve the eccentric treasures held within. Thank goodness for that.
We stumbled upon the odd shape, and peered through the round ship window, trying to get a glimpse of what was inside.
“Want to go in?” He asked, approaching from behind. We turned around, startled. And there he stood, his bushy, white, Gandalf beard, stained by age and tobacco, tickled at our noses. His crinkled eyes held laughter and love. He smiled, crooked teeth outpouring from his mouth.
“Do you mind?”
“This is my greatest creation. I made it for you.”
And we followed behind as he led us into the cave, pulled open the door, stood back.
“Stay in as long as you like.”
We entered and heard the door slam shut behind us. I resisted the urge to press my hand against it to check if we were locked in.
The room was small, like a closet. It wouldn’t fit more than two or three people at a time. There was a bench lined with torn and tattered pillows where we sat and fanned away the smell of cigarettes that hung heavy in the air.
And what came next I do not know how to describe. You’ll have to see it for yourself. But I’ll do my best.
A glass barrier separates you from the dazzling array of crystals, in every shade of color in the spectrum. An entire landscape, lush with greenery, cut down the middle by the trickling path of a tiny little river. Lights shine from above and illuminate the stones, which twinkle, sparkling ferociously from their angled surfaces. Calcite and amethyst, fluorite, celestine, and garnet. Azurite and apatite compose the water in dazzling, rich blues, and galena makes the mountains. Agate lines the boundaries of the landscape, while jade and malachite dot the trees. Quartz is sprinkled throughout, coating the sandy shores of the stream that erupts from a lakebed made of turquoise. And all around you there are colors. Vivid hues of vibrancy. You forget the smell of the tobacco, you forget the strangeness of it all. You feel a little charged, like the electric currents fusing with the desert winds.
We leave and Bob is waiting eagerly by a door that opens easily enough, and I chide myself for my earlier musings.
“What did you think?”
And he tells us that he’s been working on it for years, that he’ll never stop working on it, that it will never be finished. And it’s much like Bob himself. It’s much like every human ought to be. A work in progress. We should never cease to make ourselves shine brighter than we did the day before. We should never stop polishing the rough exterior, grinding away at the sharp edges, smoothing over the concave angles.
He tells us that he made this for the world to see. To allow themselves to become eclipsed in a small moment of beauty, in a world that often lacks it. He says he cries every day when he comes here, overwhelmed with gratitude that he still possesses something worth sharing.
And it is worth sharing. Below is a link to his website, where you can get a glimpse of the quirky nature of this place. And if you ever find yourself wandering the desert, as I so often love to do, stop on by. Pick up an old VCR for nostalgia’s sake. Peer through the stain glass windows that seem oddly out of place amongst the splintered, wooden walls of the village.
Sit a while in the Crystal Cave and meditate on your rough edges, allowing the melodic trickle of the little river to polish them away.

20 thoughts on “The Crystal Cave

  1. LOVE IT! And guess what, I missed it. Stoped there (Yucca Valley) for food on our way back from Joshua Tree once. We visit L.A. often to see grandchildren, twins, 7 years old now. Do you think they might like this place? Probably later, right? A lot later. I think I’d better go on my own. Next time.

    Great description. Even better appreciation of the unique.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gracefully Global

    I get the funkiness…I’m from nearby in the Imperial County, and we have a lot of rock shows and swap meets. And Salvation Mountain, now famous, used to be just known to locals, and was something that a solitary, fervent man did every day on his own, and never stopped. Maybe one day Bob’s cave will be just as famous (whether or not that’s a good thing!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went to my first rock show for an archaeology class a couple of years ago…and I loved t. Quirky to the core. I think Bob’s cave has lessons for us all…but not everyone is willing to open themselves up to it. Nonetheless, part of the treasure is, perhaps, that the world does not understand it. Isn’t there something beautiful in the outcast?

      Liked by 1 person

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