If you were to drive about two hours east of Santa Fe, watching from your car as the sagebrush desert rocked past and rose into wooded hills, you might just find yourself near the faded ranching community of Trementina, a little town that—despite being home to more than two hundred people, its very own post office, and a gripping history full of pine oil harvests and the making of turpentine—doesn’t really seem to have too much going on.
However, if you were to fly over that exact same area, you might just see something interesting—something, according to certain locals, like men with guns staring up at your plane—or like an enormous symbol bulldozed into the side of a desert mountain. Here, two epic and overlapping circles, over a third of a mile long from end to end, seem to drape like Daliesque clocks over the bulging New Mexico landscape, each with a sizeable diamond shape cut into its middle.
Just about a mile southwest of these symbols lies a private, concrete, mesa-top runway, and if you were to fly overhead with the right people, you might just be able to land there. From there, after exiting your plane, you could move on to one of at least three multi-million-dollar homes in the surrounding hills—or you could make your way toward the circles, near which a vault-like steel door guards a network of subterranean, steel-lined tunnels. These tunnels have been especially designed to withstand a nuclear blast, and if you happened to be allowed to enter them, as the news show “20/20” was in 1998, you would find hundreds of titanium boxes. Inside those boxes you would find hundreds of thousands of stainless steel plates engraved with jargon-filled writing, along with tens of thousands of playable records made of nickel—records containing the spoken words of a mediocre science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard’s imaginative interest in science fiction, combined with his earnest involvement in certain occult groups in 1940s Los Angeles, led him in 1950 to write the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book suggested that almost all human problems—whether mental or physical—are caused by past traumas inflicted on people’s souls. Such traumas, Hubbard claimed, can only be overcome with the help of an “auditor”—a highly paid spiritual counselor skilled in using an “E-meter,” a device that gently shocks its users while allegedly measuring the extent of the negative energy in a person’s soul. In 1952, Hubbard developed the ideas of Dianetics into a complex philosophy he called Scientology, and in 1953 he reinvented this philosophy as a religion—the Church of Scientology.
Referred to by curiosity-seekers as Trementina Base, and by Scientologists as San Miguel Ranch or “The Ranch,” the Church of Scientology’s over-four-thousand-acre property in New Mexico’s San Miguel County was selected over two decades ago, according to a January 23, 1994 story in the Albuquerque Journal, because of the low likelihood of its ever being nuked and because of its notable distance from the corrosive effects of big city pollution.
The sprawling design that marks the ranch is the official symbol of a Church of Scientology-owned corporation called the Church of Spiritual Technology and, according to a November 27, 2005 article in the Washington Post, marks the property as a place for Scientologists of the distant future to return to from other planets in the universe.
Jessica Weed, a one-time roommate of two New Mexican Scientologists, said the mansions on the property also serve as a sort of retreat for many of the group’s members.
“During their stay with us, they would sometimes go get dinner and a movie without telling anyone from the Albuquerque chapter of Scientology where they were going,” Weed said. “When they did this, the phone would ring off the hook for them with different people from The Ranch or people from the Albuquerque chapter. They wanted to know where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, when they were going to be back, et cetera. When our roommates came home and heard about the ten-plus phone calls in a four- or five-hour period, they always acted like, ‘What is wrong with us going somewhere without all of them for a few hours? Can’t we have a life?’”
Such paranoia and invasiveness have become hallmarks of Scientology. The group has become infamous for its eagerness to file lawsuits against anyone who speaks out against them, has encouraged its members to completely avoid all friends and family who are at all critical of the group, and has seen its top-ranking officials convicted of attempts to frame its critics for a wide range of serious crimes.
With such behavior, with the way the group aggressively solicits money from its followers, with the blind adoration its followers give the memory of L. Ron Hubbard, with its increasingly strange beliefs, and with the myriad times it’s been sued over the neglectful deaths of its followers—as result of the group’s notoriously strong disapproval of medicine and psychology—the Church of Scientology has made it very difficult for people to discuss them without the word “cult” coming screaming into mind.
They may, however, have given us a legacy.
When archeologists of the distant future sift through the remains of what we are today, perhaps one of the only things they will find intact will be the nickel records of the San Miguel Ranch. Perhaps they will pull a stack from a titanium case, set one on a solar-powered turntable—beneath a large, engraved sign reading “Record Player”—and the voice of L. Ron Hubbard will begin to drone.
Seventy-five million years ago, his voice will say, Xenu, evil alien ruler of the universe, drugged and kidnapped billions of treasonous galactic citizens and brought them to Earth in spaceships—spaceships remarkably similar to airplanes. Xenu then had their immobilized bodies piled up all around the volcanoes of Hawaii, bombed the volcanoes until they erupted, and, using the lava, massacred almost everyone. The souls of these victims were then captured in the air using extraterrestrial technology, forced to watch confusing movies about such things as God and Catholicism, and eventually released to gather in hordes inside the bodies of the few individuals not destroyed. Eventually, all of humankind evolved from these soul-choked finals few and, the voice will say, the dead alien souls have remained trapped within us, troubling us, to this day.
Imagine then, that these tales are all that survive us into the distant future. Imagine that these are just about all that remains for people to learn from us, to figure us out, to recall us by. Imagine.
Perhaps our descendants will think, “So this is what they all believed.”
And perhaps they will think, “So this is what they all were like.”
…Oh, dear God, please no.