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5,000 'teeth' in desert puzzle Baker

5,000 ‘teeth’ in desert puzzle Baker

The old prospector claimed a UFO blew up, scattering thousands of pieces – all standing upright – in the middle of Silver Dry Lake. Residents of Baker, Calif., didn’t buy that explanation – but the mystery remained. Who or what left 5,000 objects standing in the dry lake?

Staff writer Charles Hillinger explained in the Jan. 19, 1975,  Los Angeles Times:

SILVER DRY LAKE, Calif. – It looks like a miniature Stonehenge.

Or like 5,000 giant sharks’ teeth standing upright in the middle of the remote 7 1/2-mile-long, 2 1/2-mile-wide dry desert lake.

Whatever it is, it has the 600 residents of Baker baffled and buzzing.

“We have a real mystery on our hands,” reports Brian Booher, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management desert ranger.

“At first we thought the 5,000 tooth-shaped objects were cast from a mold.

“But on closer observation they look like each one has been formed individually by hand. There are impressions of fingers on some of them.

“Some are three-sided. Some are four-sided. They vary from 7 to 13 inches in length.”

The strange objects appear to be made of clay and talc.

“It’s weird. I’ll tell you,” says Maggie B. Ware, 48, a waitress at Pike’s Watering Hole in Baker.

Maggie calls herself “the oldest and slowest waitress in the Mojave Desert and the biggest gossip.”

“Nobody in town knows what it’s all about,” confided Maggie as she jotted down a dinner order.

One of the diners kept feeding quarters into the jukebox to play over and over country singer Billy Swan’s “Let Me Help.”

“Maybe we ought to get Billy Swan out here to help,” sighed Maggie B. Ware.

An old prospector, who had been staying in a camper on Silver Dry Lake 10 miles north of Baker, was the first to spot the mysterious objects.

The old man drove in Baker recently and told townspeople, “There was one helluva explosion over the dry lake bed around midnight.”

The prospector believed a UFO blew apart and all the pieces from the spaceship landed standing on end.

Some of the townspeople believe the odd-shaped objects did, indeed , come from outer space.

“Others think it may be some type of college art project,” noted Arne Jacobson, 40, who runs the Royal Hawaiian Motel.

“One guy is convinced it’s a directional for airplanes bringing marijuana in from Mexico.”

“Others believe a movie studio may have left them there, but no one can recall anyone making a movie there.

The 5,000 giant “teeth” are scattered half a mile long and a block wide on the dry lake bed.

“We thought maybe the kids in high school (Baker has 71 high school students) stood them on end. Kids here don’t have a lot to do.” said San Bernardino County Dep. Sheriff Ron Mahoney.

But the high school students deny knowing anything about the objects.

“Why should anyone make the mysterious figures in the first place?” mused desert ranger Booher.

“And if they were a bad run of molded objects instead of hand cast and were brought out here to dump, that wouldn’t make much sense. Why come this far?”

Baker is 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

At first it was thought the “sharks teeth” had something to do with a commercial Peter Fonda filmed recently for a Japanese TV company on Silver Dry Lake.

But Arne Jacobson squashed that theory.

“Fonda and that bunch stayed at my motel,” explained Jacobson. “They filmed a sequence with a sailboat on the dry lake.

“If they used those strange objects I would have known about it.”

Whatever the strange objects are the people of Baker will be talking about them for years.

Nearly everyone in town has at least one of the “sharks’ teeth” standing upright on a mantle in his or her home.

Once Hillinger’s story appeared, a simple phone call from Cal State L.A.’s art department cleared up the mystery.

Hillinger explained in the Jan. 21, 1975, Los Angeles Times:

The mystery of those 5,000 giant “shark teeth” standing on end on a desert dry lake that have puzzled the people of Baker for weeks has been solved.

It’s a one-man art show by Alhambra artist Donn Jones, 31.

Jones formed the 7- to 13-inch figures from 10 tons of clay and talc.

“It took me two months to scrounge up the scrap clay and mix it with talc,” said Jones, who has red hair and a foot-long full red beard.

“Another four months to mold each figure individually.”

The figures, the artist said, represent candle flames.

He calls the half-mile by 200-yard creation “Symphony One – Opus One.”

“I am very fond of music,” Jones said. “Since this was my entry into art art world, I called it ‘Opus One.’ And since it was such a large undertaking, I called it ‘Symphony One’ as well.” …

It was created by Jones to fulfill a requirement for his master’s degree in art at California State University, Los Angeles.…

“I rented two trucks. Six friends helped me load the more than 5,000 clay candle flames,” the artist said.

“Then the seven of us went out to the dry lake. We worked from sunup to sunset, standing each figure on its base.

“I was trying to create a feeling of a primitive emotional Stonehenge.” …

Jan. 20, 1975: Artist Donn Jones, 31, of Alhambra, displaying photographs and models of the rock-like creations. Jones created 5,000 of the seven to 13 inch tall models for an art show on a dry lake bed near Baker. This photo was published in the Jan. 21, 1975 Los Angeles Times.

Jan. 20, 1975: Artist Donn Jones, 31, of Alhambra displays photographs and models of the rock-like creations. Jones created 5,000 of the 7- to 13-inch tall models for an art show on a dry lake bed near Baker. Credit: Art Rogers / Los Angeles Times.

Assembled in September 1974, “Symphony One – Opus One” survived until the November discovery by the old prospector.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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3 Comments

  1. November 8, 2015, 9:05 am

    What is the fine for littering in Baker, California?

    By: CrapArt
  2. November 8, 2015, 9:01 pm

    Does the land of fruits and nuts seem appropriate?

    By: pcallicoat
  3. November 9, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Since the “ranger” had no clue about the “objects”, I imagine the artist got a failing grade for trespassing. (Today, that art installation would be called vandalism.)

    By: bruno marr

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