Joshua Tree Artist Built A Crystal Cave Of Wonder With Chicken Wire, Spray Foam

Originally published on January 18, 2019 7:50 pm

Last summer, All Things Considered and Atlas Obscura took a road trip up the West Coast. Along the way, they met Bob Carr, the creator of Bob's Crystal Cave near Joshua Tree, Calif., where he welcomed visitors for 15 years.

Bob died earlier this month at age 80. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and daughter Zena. Bob "died as he lived — on his own terms and with dignity and grace," Elizabeth says.

Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura first met Bob on a family road trip and has this remembrance.


When I took my then-3-year-old son Finn to see Bob's Crystal Cave, at first it just sounded like a cool diversion.

Built from chicken wire and 1,100 cans of spray foam, the cave is just big enough so that my son and I could squeeze in and sit on the small bench and stare at the universe of miniature trees, tiny waterfalls and geological formations created out of crystals.


The cave is warm, and humid, and my son Finn was mesmerized. For Bob Carr, that was the point. To give every visitor that childlike experience of wonder.

"I've been working for over 50 years to recover my childhood naivete and innocence, and I hope when the creator calls me I go 'goo goo ga ga,'" Bob said.

With his flowing white beard and craggy face, Bob looked the part of a desert mystic. And he spoke like one, too.

"You have it all by giving it all away," he said.

In riddles, mixed with laughter.

"There's nothing out there. It's all you. The whole universe. The etherium. It's already in you. You're looking out there."

Bob could be cryptic, especially when talking about the Crystal Cave. When I asked him why he built it, all Bob would ever say was: "Just plain old unexacerbated joy."

And what does unexacerbated joy look like?

"What do you mean what does it look like? You're looking at it," Bob said.

Despite his radiating happiness, Bob had lived a hard life. He told me he grew up as one of seven kids, to poor parents who fled the Dust Bowl.

"There was never a book in the house. There's no kind of library, you know," Bob said. "We didn't have a shower or a bathtub. Poverty sucks."

So, he dedicated his life to finding happiness and sharing it with others.

"I needed to express the uncontainable joy I built up over so many years," he said. "That's surrender. When I look at you, I can see you. Therefore, I am stunned by the beauty of joy of every single human I meet."

It may seem strange to suggest that the key to happiness can be found in a spray foam cave, in the middle of the California desert. But Bob taught me that every one of us is capable of making beautiful experiences for each other. Even out of chicken wire and spray foam.

Matt Ozug and Connor Donevan produced and edited this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last year, we introduced you to a man named Bob Carr, the creator of Bob's Crystal Cave.

BOB CARR: Open the door. I ain't going to hurt you (laughter).

SHAPIRO: This was the first stop on our weeklong summer road trip with Atlas Obscura. At first glance, the Crystal Cave is just an oddball attraction - a tiny manmade cavern in the middle of a flea market in Yucca Valley, Calif. But Dylan Thuras, who co-founded Atlas Obscura, said we had to meet the eccentric, joyous man who brought it to life. Bob Carr died earlier this month at the age of 80. Here's Dylan Thuras' remembrance of Carr, who he first met on a family vacation.

DYLAN THURAS: When I took my then-3-year-old son Finn to see Bob's Crystal Cave, at first it just sounded like a cool diversion. Built from chicken wire and 1,100 cans of spray foam, the cave is just big enough so that my son and I could squeeze in, sit on the small bench and stare at this universe of miniature trees, tiny waterfalls and geological formations created out of crystals.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATERFALL)

THURAS: The cave is warm and humid, and my son Finn was mesmerized. For Bob Carr, that was the point - to give every visitor that childlike experience of wonder.

CARR: I've been working for over 50 years to recover my childhood naivete and innocence. And I hope when the creator calls me, I go goo-goo-ga-ga (ph) - (laughter) goo-goo-ga-ga.

THURAS: With his flowing white beard and craggy face, Bob looked the part of a desert mystic. And he spoke like one too...

CARR: You have it all by giving it all away.

THURAS: ...In riddles mixed with laughter.

CARR: There's nothing out there. It's all you. The whole universe, the ethereal, it's already in you. (Laughter) You're looking out there.

THURAS: Bob could be cryptic, especially when talking about the Crystal Cave. When I asked him why he built it, all Bob would ever say was...

CARR: Just plain old unexasperated (ph) joy.

THURAS: And what does an exasperated joy look like?

CARR: What do you mean, what does it look like? You're looking at it (laughter).

THURAS: Despite his radiating happiness, Bob had lived a hard life. He told me he grew up one of seven kids to poor parents who fled the Dust Bowl.

CARR: There was never a book in a house. There was no kind of library. We didn't have a shower or a bathtub. Poverty sucks.

THURAS: So he dedicated his life to finding happiness and sharing it with others.

CARR: I needed to express the uncontainable joy I'd built up over so many years. That's surrender. When I look at you, I can see you. Therefore, I'm stunned by the beauty and joy of every single human I meet.

THURAS: It may seem strange to suggest that the key to happiness can be found in a spray-foam cave in the middle of the California desert. But Bob taught me that every one of us is capable of making beautiful experiences for each other, even out of chicken wire and spray foam.

SHAPIRO: That was Dylan Thuras of Atlas Obscura, remembering the artist Bob Carr who died earlier this month. Bob is survived by his daughter Zena and his wife Elizabeth. In a text message, Elizabeth said Bob died as he lived - on his own terms and with dignity and grace.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREELANCE WHALES SONG "GENERATOR 1ST FLOOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.