Close Encounters of the Chopstick Kind

by Richard Rossner

I fell in love with my wife, Rahla, when I realized how much we had in common, including the name George Van Tassel, the grandaddy of UFO-ology.

I remembered hearing him interviewed on a radio show about encountering aliens when I was growing up. But Rahla actually met him in the California desert near Twenty-Nine Palms. He showed her an alien landing site, which included a structure he built called The Integratron where aliens rejuvenated after a long interstellar trip; a UFO library and bookstore carved into the earth under the world’s largest freestanding boulder; and a luncheonette. She learned that Van Tassel had been Howard Hughes's partner, and they were going to build a landing strip for Hughes’s giant Spruce Goose fleet -- until the aliens showed up. They named the site Giant Rock Airport in honor of the aforementioned boulder.

Along with our wedding vows in Los Angeles, Rahla and I promised that one day we would visit the Integratron and Giant Rock Airport. 

We moved to Scottsdale after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, but were forever driving back to Los Angeles. On one trip, we decided to leave early and fulfill our Van Tassel vow.

We headed out of Phoenix at 5:20 a.m. with our seven year-old son.  After the usual, “Daddy, can we get something to eat?” stops along the way, we rolled into the Desert Center exit off Interstate 10 at about 10:30 a.m.

A paved road with no traffic took us deep into the Joshua Tree National Park. The “trees” are actually short, scrubby palm-like things that provide no shade.

We drove deeper and deeper into the empty, unwelcoming desert. Our son started the  “When are we gonna be there?” chant.  Rahla and I kept our best face forward (so as not to miss a potential bend in the never-ending, straight road).

We finally made it to a highway that showed promise.  Abandoned shacks littered the desert like garbage after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We wondered who lived here?  Why did they all leave?  Or was everyone suddenly beamed up?

The drive dragged on. My logical “Dad Brain” was obsessed with the thought that it would take us at least this long to get out!

We eventually pulled into a dusty little town named Yucca, a self-described "oasis of murals.” No one knew anything about Giant Rock Airport, so I absent-mindedly picked up a local tourist brochure. An odd notation caught my eye: a drawing of a big UFO.  Site number 9 was the Integratron. Site number 10 was Giant Rock Airport.  The Yuccans should read their own tourist material.

We raced to Van Tassle-land.  We rejoiced when we found the odd white domed Integratron. It had a locked fence around it with a sign warning against trespassing. But where was Giant Rock Airport?

Our car shuddered, bounced and vibrated as we drove at about two miles per hour down a rock-strewn dirt path. We came to a fork in the road and chose the wrong tine. Rahla’s spirit guides told us we should have taken the other fork.

We drove through hills that were covered with wild, oddly-shaped boulders. My son and I kept asking Rahla, “Is that Giant Rock?”  “No, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Driving around a bend, we saw three boulders in the distance. Slowly, the center boulder loomed larger and larger.  With a collective “Wow,” we took our lives and our car's undercarriage in our hands as I sped up to seven miles per hour.  We followed the road to a clearing where we beheld the world’s largest freestanding boulder.  It had the appearance of a giant molar, or perhaps a gargantuan butt with scars of graffiti art and countless campfires.  Broken bottles and spent bullet casings littered the ground.  Rahla and I had the eerie sense that satanic rituals may have been performed here.

Rahla thanked her spirit guides and the ET’s for leading us there. I whipped out our video camera as Rahla went from site to site, telling the story of meeting George Van Tassel. She pointed out the remains of a now-sealed entrance leading down to what had been the UFO library. We found the remains of a concrete pad that once held the luncheonette.

About 200 yards away was a large, round, empty dirt space surrounded by scrub brush. Tour-guide Rahla matter-of-factly explained that alien spacecraft take off and land vertically; they don’t need a runway.

We left Giant Rock Airport and headed about an hour down I-10 to Hadley’s Fruit Orchard for a date shake.  It was there that Rahla discovered one of the chopsticks she used to hold her hair was missing.  Our son said he thought he saw something fall from her head while she was giving us our tour. We asked why he didn’t say something then. He gave what to him was a logical answer: “I don’t know.”

A couple of days later we were lounging in Los Angeles, watching the video I had shot, when I saw Rahla’s cherished chopstick slowly inching its way out of her hair.  In a moment of “UFOric” exuberance, Rahla had whipped her head around, and the chopstick had plopped to the desert floor. Naturally, Rahla wanted to go back to the site to pick it up.  It was her favorite chopstick, and obviously the aliens wanted another chance to meet us. 

I decided to be the perfect husband. On our way back to Scottsdale we went to Giant Rock, but didn’t find the chopstick or the aliens. I prided myself on my willingness to make the schlep in the name of love, and accepted that no one is really perfect.

A week later, Rahla and I were packing for a trip to New York. Suddenly, I heard Rahla yell, “Richard!  Come here, quick!!”  I ran in to see my wife standing over a mass of chopsticks strewn across the bed. “The missing chopstick…it’s back in my collection.”  Our conclusion was clear:  there is intelligent life in the universe. They visit earth, they are friendly, and they understand the importance of good fashion accessories.


Richard Rossner is a writer who has written for television and film.  When he isn’t writing, he is working with his wife, Rahla Kahn, teaching Adaptive Applied Improvisation to cancer patients, corporations and private clients who want to experience the healing benefits of laughter, joy and creativity through their experiential program, The Power Of Play (


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