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UFO Conference CONTACT in the DESERT: Notes From the Battleground
A massive heat wave that hit Southern California the first weekend of June didn't stop thousands of people from attending the biggest UFO shindig of the year, CONTACT in the DESERT.
For those who've never been to a UFO conference, imagine a lot of purple hair, sacred geometry tattoos and crystal pendants. Imagine scorching desert heat reminiscent of Native American sweat lodges. Imagine people of all ages and walks of life, but mostly the older folk. Finally, imagine diverse speakers - from alien "contactees," self-proclaimed gurus and fringe historians to esteemed scientists and Harvard-educated lawyers.
The amount and the range of information offered here surpasses any conventional knowledge, so prepare for a mind-blowing experience. Or a mildly curious experience, if you're a seasoned UFO buff.
The Conference: Then and Now
CONTACT in the DESERT in Joshua Tree, CA is not the only UFO event offered each year, but it is unique for several reasons.
For example, the 400-acre Joshua Tree Retreat Center is a known paranormal site, situated atop 17 energy vortexes, and in close proximity to the 33rd parallel north. Most UFO sightings occur on that parallel, which is also where the Bermuda Triangle is located and where the Phoenix Lights were seen. So it's a perfect location for this kind of event.
Besides, spiritual seekers of all walks of life identify with the pilgrimage of the soul into the desert to experience enlightenment, which is a known archetypal theme.
In 2013 I attended my first CONTACT in the DESERT, and by the end of the weekend I was hooked. Even though a lot of the information was familiar and even mainstream at that point, I remember a cluster of speakers who just blew me away - David Sereda, Carol Rosin, William Henry, Mark "Dr. Dream" Peebler...
Aside from the group meditation sold to the attendees as the alien contact experience with Steven Greer ("CE-5 Initiative"), there was very little nonsense and the whole thing did feel like a UFO Woodstock: unscripted and chaotic at times, but authentic and powerful. I left recharged with new knowledge and re-committed to my spiritual evolution. I promised myself to return.
In 2016 I attended my second (and annual fourth) CONTACT in the DESERT.
This time the experience is more rigid and disconnected. The speakers are less original and less captivating in general. Many sound like a broken record. One actually declared Hillary Clinton a messenger of the Cosmic Federation of Light, leaving some attendees to wonder: are they just spinning government propaganda by using the UFO angle?
You get your usual "talking heads" - Georgio Tsoukalos, David Wilcock, Jim Marrs, James Gilliland promoting their latest books, shows, courses - but take away the hype of seeing a "UFO celebrity" in person, and all you're left with is a recital of an old episode of "Ancient Aliens," or as one vendor called it, "UFOlogy 101." Tsoukalos was particularly shameless with self-promotion, selling t-shirts depicting aliens with "Giorgio Hair" and other "Tsoukalicious" merchandise.
Overall, the event felt overly commercial. Many lectures are basically teasers for paid "workshops" (slang for lectures with a Q&A section at the end). A lot more vendor booths than 3 years ago, selling everything from pizza to crystal skulls. And in case you felt like the price of admission wasn't high enough, at the end of the weekend the organizers offered a full DVD set of all the lectures and workshops for a whopping $400.
Still, the number of attendees (I heard the figure 3,000) and how far people come to attend this event is astounding. I've met people from Washington, Vermont, Arizona, Florida, New York, Texas and even Montreal. My scenic 2,5-hour drive from San Diego wasn't much of an effort, but the enduring heat and the lack of adequate air conditioning inside the lecture halls was a challenge (especially when you're 5 months pregnant).
With multiple lectures and workshops offered at the same times, surfing a UFO conference becomes the game of separating the wheat from the chaff.
What are you interested in the most - space science, ancient astronauts, alien technology, UFO disclosure, or perhaps the emerging spirituality paradigm?
It may come as a surprise to those who associate UFO conventions with tinfoil hats and blurry photographs of flying saucers, but not all talks are in fact UFO-focused. Those of us who see the UFO phenomenon through the lens of the evolution of consciousness can find discussions regarding co-creation, ascension, the new 'cosmic' human, multidimensional awareness etc.
But they are few and far between. I enjoyed Sherry Wilde's "A World in Transition" lecture, Richard Dolan's "The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis: A Fresh Understanding for a New Century" and "UFOs and Spirituality" panel.
But to my quiet disappointment the majority of lectures were focused on old-and-tried alien lore as opposed to what's happening now, intellectually and spiritually. Part of me was waiting for someone to announce: "Wake up people, this isn't about little green men in ships, this is about consciousness," but the conversations kept coming back to ancient civilizations, Roswell and the Annunaki.
No wonder a number of experienced UFO buffs lamented that the conference was dominated by disinformation, and geared towards "amateurs." By contrast, the newcomers I spoke with were delighted and impressed with the lineup.
As someone who falls somewhere between the veterans and the amateurs, at the end of my weekend exploration I walked away with mixed feelings. I wouldn't call it disinformation or government propaganda, but the information presented felt...filtered, superficial and largely irrelevant. In fact, I got more from talking to people at the event than from the speakers.
If there's one thing I took from this conference, it's that our reality is vastly more complicated than it appears.
As Jeremy Corbell, one of the refreshing highlights of the event, pointed out, the UFO problem is: we don't know anything.
So as far as I'm concerned, the truth is still out there.
And maybe not next year, but I will be coming back for another conference. If for no other reason than that sensational view of the Milky Way strikingly bright against the dark velvet sky of the desert.
© 2016 Lana Adler