In Yucca Valley, California, a ten-foot tall cement statue of Christ sits atop a hill. Hands clasped in prayer, he gazes reverently at the heavens above. His kingdom of feed stores, saloons, public shooting ranges, and mobile home parks sprawls throughout the barren landscape below. His creator was man, not God; like man, he is not long for this world. Time has whittled his nose to a stump. White paint peels from his molded mane. He is the most well-kept statue in Desert Christ Park.
The rest of Desert Christ Park's statues did not necessitate a collection of the faithful pulling them, like the steamship in Fitzcarraldo, up a 90-foot hill. One cannot tell if that is the reason why they've fallen into more decay than their enormous cohort. In spite of it all, they remain standing, concrete eroded by wind and dust, revealing the rusted steel bones beneath, flanking a three-story tall replica of the Last Supper. Statues of children, their faces apocalyptically sanded off, look up at the equally faded visages of stoic, emotionless Biblical characters. Antone Martin, their designer, hoped they would withstand the atomic threat that colored mid-century American life. They now appear as though they have, even though the bomb never hit.
Martin feared bombs because his job was manufacturing them for the military. In 1951, he molded his first Christ statue out of five tons of cement; his intent was to place it at the rim of the Grand Canyon as a "symbol of peace for mankind." After the United States Government kindly rejected his offer, explaining to him in the process the concept of this country's separation of church and state, he named his statue "The Unwanted Christ"—that is, until the Yucca Valley Church, who promised to hoist it atop the hill for all to see, wanted it. And more. He relocated to Yucca Valley and spent the last ten years of his life (he died in 1961) constructing the park's other figures.
When I last visited the park, dark, foreboding clouds hung above it, adding an even more sinister element to its decay. A car filled with teens, drinking beers and smoking pot, sat in the parking lot, listening to Top 40 radio. They were the park's only other patrons. While designed to tell the story of the Bible, Desert Christ Park now serves only to grimly predict the decline of mankind. And, if you're a high desert degenerate, facilitate it.
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