You wouldn’t expect to find philosophical musings or political insults aimed at Herbert Hoover carved into a cluster of desert boulders. But here, that’s exactly what you’ll find. And the only thing stranger than stumbling upon these statements is the story of the man who created them.
John Samuelson, an immigrant from Sweden, etched his musings onto the rocks while living on a homestead in what would later become Joshua Tree National Park. Not much is known for sure about the mysterious man’s early life. Pulp fiction writer Erle Stanley Gardner happened to meet Samuelson in the late 1920s and though believing his life story was likely false, bought the rights to Samuelson’s story and published it in the magazine Argosy.
According to the tale Gardner told, Samuelson, once a sailor, was shipwrecked on a strange island off the coast of Africa. He was then kidnapped and held captive by tribe of natives that spoke to monkeys and even had a “monkey-man” among them. Samuelson also supposedly encountered a trove of gold guarded by intelligent killer ants and made a tribal chief’s daughter fall in love with him. But his jungle adventures soon came to an end after he caused trouble with the tribe’s elders. Samuelson was forced to eat the “bread of forgetting” that nearly wiped his memory and caused him to fall ill with sleeping sickness whenever it rained.
It was this sleeping sickness that apparently caused Samuelson to head west to the parched desert, where a lack of rain would keep his ailments at bay. While living on the ramshackle homestead he and his wife established, he spent his free time recording his thoughts on several large rocks strewn about the arid land.
Just a couple years after he began carving the rocks, Samuelson discovered he was unable to buy the property his homestead was on because he wasn’t a United States citizen. Frustrated, he packed up shop and moved to Los Angeles. While there, he got in a fight with two men at a dance and wound up murdering them. Instead of being arrested, Samuelson was declared insane and sent to an asylum. He then escaped and worked as a logger until he was killed in a logging accident.
The rocks are among the few concrete pieces of Samuelson’s history. It’s possible to hike to them, though there’s no official marked trail. One of the boulders even has a bench conveniently placed right in front of it.