April 18, 2016

Photo Essay: The High Desert's Crystal Cave (Updated for 2019)

[Last updated 1/22/19 7:09 PM PT to reflect the passing of Bob Carr]

[12/29/18 7:35 PM PT Updated with some additional historical information, courtesy of the Morongo Basin Historical Society]

[Photos added 10/17/16 7:03 PM PT]

I'm amazed at how many places I still haven't visited in the high desert—especially the Joshua Tree area—considering how much time I've spent there.

And you'd think that I'd have made the pilgrimage to an old drive-in movie theater before now.

But somehow the "swap meet" part of Sky Village's name turned me off... I've never been much of a fan of antiquing...

...or hunting for treasures that somebody else once owned.

But I didn't know about the old ticket booth...

...which, as of its 1994 closure (with showings of The Lion King), you can no longer drive through...

...or even walk through (safely).

I didn't know about the cafe (or snack bar, circa 1973) with the giant saguaro cactus out front...

...and the sleeping cat in the back.

I wasn't aware of the vintage (and presumably broken-down) bus...

...or the rusted metal horse...

...or the tiki totem pole...

...or the blooming cactus flowers...

...or any of these other things I'd been missing out on at this drive-in, which first opened in June 1959.

And, most of all, I somehow had never heard of The Crystal Cave...

...a legendary piece of folk art made primarily out of foam.

It gets its unique texture from the type of foam used, which is that insulating stuff that you spray out of a can (and the only way I was able to keep mice from coming into my Manhattan apartment).

And it's all the brainchild of Bob Carr, who has owned Sky Village Swap Meet since 1994 and designed and built The Crystal Cave almost singlehandedly.

I was lucky to arrive when I did and find Bob there, because there's usually no guarantee of it—and if he'd been elsewhere on the property, I would've been locked out of the cave and only able to peer in through windows.

But when I saw Bob, he asked if I would like to go inside, and I wholeheartedly said yes. "Stay in there as long as you like..." he said, and shut the door behind me.

The Crystal Cave hasn't always been like this. The water features are relatively new, though I consider the sounds of the babbling creek essential to the meditative experience you get inside, while you inhale fumes of paint and foam and glue.

In fact, this is sort of the second version of The Crystal Cave, the original one having been partially bulldozed by Bob himself in 2008, when he thought he was losing the swap meet property to the City of Yucca Valley under eminent domain.

In 2010, a rebuilt version of The Crystal Cave reopened with the additional fanfare of being part of High Desert Test Sites, whose hipster art status has introduced the now ever-evolving folk art to a new, younger set of visitors.

"I'm just so lucky I get to share this with people. I cry every day," Bob told me. He shook my hand several times, placing the other hand over the top of mine, saying "God bless you."

I felt like I should say it back—and if there is a God and blessings can be wished upon someone, Bob is one who sure does deserve it.

But it wasn't until our final goodbye, when he said, "Have a blessed day," that I was able to respond in kind.

"You too," I said. And I meant it.

Update: Bob Carr passed away in January 2019 at the age of 80. The Crystal Cave is currently open by invitation only. 

Related Posts:
Remembering Salvation Mountain's Leonard Knight, RIP
Photo Essay: Noah's Art
Is It Art, Or Is It the Desert?

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