The Larger than Life Sculptures of Desert Christ Park

In the hills of California’s high desert sits an odd sight, a collection of massive, white washed statues of Jesus and his followers, including a ginormous interpretation of the Last Supper. Known as Desert Christ Park, the small area was the dream of one man, brought to life by another in the 1950s. While I’m not religious, Desert Christ Park is one of those places that is too strange to pass up.

A white washed statue of Jesus with his hands raised, on the base in black text reads "Desert Christ Park."

Frank Antone Martin of Inglewood, California worked in the aircraft industry by day, but in his off time he was dedicated to sculpting a ten foot tall statue of Jesus using steel reinforced concrete. His dream? To have it stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon. When completed Marin offered it to the park, but they promptly rejected it, citing they did not accept works from out of state artists. Martin then dubbed his larger than life creation “The Unwanted Christ.”

Meanwhile, over a hundred miles awhile in Yucca Valley, California, Eddie O. Garver, known as “The Desert Parson” had another Jesus dream. Arriving in the high desert in 1946, Garver established the Yucca Valley Community Church, and in 1950 he acquired five acres of land where he envisioned a “theme park” inspired by the Bible. Garver then heard about Martin’s “Unwanted Christ” and the two began communicating, resulting in Martin deciding that Yucca Valley would be the perfect place for his sculpture.

The Unwanted Christ arrived on March 22, 1951, and it took four days for the three ton sculpture to be hauled up the 90 foot hill to its high point overlooking the small town of Yucca Valley, also just in time for the Easter sermon. So bizarre was the event that Life Magazine even showed up, documenting the process and publishing it in their April 23, 1951 issue.

Soon Martin moved to the area and he and Garver spent the next ten years creating over 50 sculptures, including the massive 3 story depiction of the Last Supper. The variety of sculptures loosely depict the story of Christ, and a map and markers guide you, ending with the statue that started it all, the Unwanted Christ, now dubbed “Christ’s Ascension,” which looms over perhaps one of the most amazing churches I’ve ever seen, the Rock Chapel. Designed by Frank Garske, the tiny Flintstones-Does-Mid-Century-Modern chapel was built in 1954 by Garske, Garver, and Martin.

The "Unwanted Christ." A massive white washed statue of Jesus with his hands lifted toward the sky.

Overview of the stone church, the "Unwanted Christ" high above.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts, standing in front of a massive white washed statue of a bearded man.

A white washed statue of Jesus stands with a child, his hand raised, in front of a row of columns. Other statues stand in the foreground.

A white washed statue of Jesus kneels in prayer.

A small church made of warm rock and concrete. It has a flat triangle shaped steeple and palm trees out front.

Inside the small stone church. The back wall features the warm, brown and orange rocks, with a small window shaped like a cross in the center. Wood benches flank the edges.

Side of the stone church, which features angled wall supports.

A small statue, that has broken parts of its arm over the years, sits within a small cave.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts,

A massive relief interpretation of the Last Supper.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts, seated at the base of a massive white washed statue of Jesus, who is seated and extends his hand.

A row of columns behind which are statues, including Jesus and two women.

Close-up of two statues, one carries a baby, another carries a small bouquet of flowers.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts, standing in front of a row of giant white washed statue of people.

Close-up of Jesus in the Last Supper.

Close-up of the steeple through which the "Unwanted Christ" can be seen.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts, standing in front of a row of giant white washed statue of people.

A row of giant white washed statues.

Myself, wearing a straw hat, a white shirt reading 'Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels' in blue text, blue jean shorts, standing in front of the stone church.

Desert Christ Park soon became an icon of the area, and was even featured in postcards, the back of which read, “This picturesque Valley in the ‘high desert’ of California is the gateway to Pioneertown, Desert Christ Park, and many other scenic attractions.” Below are two from my postcard collection.

Vintage postcard that features an overview of Desert Christ Park with its white washed statues, Joshua trees, and the green expanse of a relatively undeveloped Yucca Valley in the distance. Red script reads "Greetings from Yucca Valley California"

Vintage postcard, featuring an overview of the giant white washed statues of Desert Christ Park on top, below a street view of Yucca Valley. Red script in the upper left reads "Yucca Valley, California"

Martin passed away in December of 1961, shortly after completion of Desert Christ Park, and Garver moved to Arizona, leaving their creations to the elements.

Today the white washed statues are maintained by volunteers who are part of the Desert Christ Park Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving this unique icon of the high desert.

Wander Desert Christ Park at 56200 Sunnyslope Drive in Yucca Valley. The park is free to visit and open every day during daylight hours. Learn more on their website.

Want more religion-based oddities of the desert? Check out the posts below!
Salvation Mountain
Shields Date Garden

Outfit
Hat: Ricochet, Joshua  Tree, California
Shirt: Worn Free (except they longer offer Gram Parsons merch, similar one found here)
Shorts & Purse: Buffalo Exchange
Jewelry: Here and there
Mocs: Minnetonka

Sources
About” Desert Christ Park
Information kiosk on site
Welcome to Desert Christ Park (Booklet acquired on site)

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