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