Mystery in the Alvord Desert

Reprinted with permission from Atlantis Rising
by Jeane Manning

The mystery in the Alvord desert hit TV newscasts years ago, but the story behind it contains ideas whose time may have come. Since ancient times, art has been a doorway to other levels of life. Could art now assist us toward a more harmonious level? The untold story sparks such questions.

An Air National Guard reconnaissance pilot flying over a remote part of the southeast-Oregon desert in September of 1990 spotted a huge, perfectly-made geometric design on an old lake bed. Experts identified it as a Sri Yantra, symbol for the mother spirit of nature, venerated in India. This was the first time it had been drawn at a scale of nearly one-quarter-mile across. A closer look showed no tire tracks or footprints, so some excitedly claimed that aliens made it. Newspapers from coast to coast carried aerial photos, and television stations beamed it to the world.

When the hubbub forced artist Bill Witherspoon of Iowa to come forward and set the record straight, he was met with disbelief. He claimed that he and a few friends carved the design on the salt flat with a man-pulled plow! An architectural expert said that was impossible; it would have required sophisticated surveying equipment and cost at least $100,000. Regardless, a government bureau fined Bill $100 for unauthorized use of public land. Other angry voices accused him of cultural appropriation, defacing the environment or hoaxing a crop circle. What’s the true story of why artists toiled in the scorching heat?

Mark Paul Petrick, an art teacher who helped with the project, wrote in the Fairfield, Iowa, newspaper that the group didn’t seek publicity but wanted to find out if the ancient symbol would enliven local laws of nature in some perceptible way.

Apparently it did. The next year Bill Witherspoon and helpers created larger land art — a half-mile- across, then the following year a singing-wire design with 1,111 salvaged pine poles, followed by a geometrical forest-planting, agricultural experiments and saving a town’s green space from developers. Conclusions from these experiments are relevant to today’s consciousness studies and even to an anti-corporatization activists’s combining of spirals and intent to empower protesters. (Starhawk writes about activisim and earth-based spirituality in Webs of Power, New Society Publishers, 2002.)

Bill’s interest is in new science, rather than magic. I first met him in 1997 at a gathering in Los Angeles, where he spoke passionately about the web of nature and its underpinnings in a deeper reality. He has calm intensity, and ability to juggle varied projects. Bill earlier co-founded Westbridge Research Group, a biotechnology company that develops nontoxic products for agriculture. Later he tackled the hazards of genetically modified foods, traveled the world on that mission and now is back to exploring art-as-technology.

Bill had long been attuned to the deep silence of desert landscapes. For instance as a young man he had spent months alone painting watercolors or clouds as they formed high over an escarpment that rose 4000 feet above the desert floor. It involved the physics of paper, water flow and pigments, and the artist as a joyful witness to nature’s formative forces.

The year before the Sri Yantra, he lived in his studio/bus on the high desert of Oregon while painting. One day he sketched an intriguing geometric form. Instead of inserting it into a painting, he impulsively gathered small rocks from the desert floor to build his design on the ground surrounding his bus. He tied ropes and twine for measuring, plotted directions in harmony with the sun’s passage, and placed rock cairns in exact lines among the sagebrush. The symmetrical form was about sixty yards across. Even though its totality was not visible in the bushes, Bill felt a subtle difference when inside it. The energetic effect was especially strong in its centre, where he meditated daily.

To his surprise, over the next few months, several hundred wild creatures were attracted into the rock boundaries. This contrasted with the previous year, when for six months he only saw a few kangaroo rats and birds. Now golden foxes slept by his door in the afternoon. Owls and rabbits hopped around unconcerned about each other. Water ouzels appeared, far from their habitat. Twenty or more jack rabbits at a time walked upright in the confines of the rock lines, and antelope strolled into camp to look at Bill. He wondered how much of this unusual behavior was due to the scarcely-visible rock pattern and how much to the presence of human consciousness at its center.

When he returned to the Midwest with a load of small rocks, he mounted them in concrete columns in an art gallery and added chalk lines, for a three-dimensional replica of his desert design. Visiting school children piled into the centre of the design although there was more sitting space outside it. Adults lingered and commented that the place felt good. Bill researched traditional designs and found one nearly identical to his. An obscure Sanskrit text, the Vastu Sutra Upanishad, said the design was to be put on stone blocks as a guide before carving sacred images, so the finished image would attract the consciousness of the deity.

A friend asked Bill to make a Sri Yantra. After months of library research and speaking with people from its spiritual tradition, Bill made one with gold and transparent pigments. In India the design was described as an occurrence, rather than symbol, of the deepest laws and forces of Mother Divine. This fit with Bill’s view of creation as structured in layers – increasingly simpler, more abstract and more powerful the deeper you go. In his view the surface of life is the expression of underlying subtler layers.

Back in the desert, inside his 60-yard-across design, he wondered what it would be like to live in a Sri Yantra. The central part of such a form, the bindu, is left open and said to be “unmanifest and pure, the source of creation”. A bindu large enough to live in would require a huge land area to keep proportions correct.

Undeterred, that summer Bill, a group of friends and his son drove west to a dry lake bed. They chose the Oregon site because of its beauty and remoteness, and because inscribing the alkali surface woudn’t disturb vegetation. Wind and the rare flood would eventually erase it.

The first time Bill drove to the valley to set up camp, when he stopped to open a barbed-wire gate he saw an adult golden eagle on the gate post. The eagle looked at him, swished its tail until a feather dropped, and flew away. Bill drove the backroad many times, but the eagle never reappeared until the day Bill packed up for the drive home. It sat on the same gate post, waited for the man to get out of his bus, again looked at him, swished its tail several times until a feather dropped, and flew off.

During the arduous weeks of making the Sri Yantra, the group daily walked several miles from camp to the work site rather than use vehicles. Instead of expensive surveying tools, they used sun shadows, ancient prinsiples of geometry, long wires, binoculars, flags and sharpened poles. To inscribe the lines, three crew members pulled the garden cultivator while a fourth steered. They reverently etched a quarter-mile-across Sri Yantra onto forty acres. It contained more than thirteen miles of lines, four inches deep.

As soon as they finished plowing the last line, rain clouds began collecting in the southern sky. An hour later high winds and lightning swept the area. A downpour chose that one valley, drawing envious comment from a nearby rancher who wanted rain. It dissolved footprints and left the design varnished like a completed painting.

After the crew went home, Bill stayed for several weeks, meditating in different parts of the design. His inner experiences changed consistently and repeatedly from one part to another, especially from the nine-foot center to a few feet from its boundary.

A few weeks after he returned to Iowa, the National Guard discovered the design. Days passed while Bill, immersed in preparing for an art exhibit, didn’t hear about their discovery. Later, he realized that the day the design appeared on millions of television screens was the day his plodding work pace suddenly speeded up into round-the-clock prolific painting. At the time he couldn’t understand why he felt hyper-energized. Then a friend phoned to tell him that everyone was talking about the design. Could his inner connection to it have been enlivened by the focused attention, even though he didn’t consciously know what was happening?

Bill wanted to remain anonymous, but the rapidly growing misconceptions bothered him. He paced the floor until deciding to speak out publicly. Immediately an inner nudge urged him outside. Directly above his rural Iowa home, fourteen bald eagles circled, and he recalled the eagle feathers dropped from the gatepost like gifts. A year later a Vedic scholar told him about a rare ceremony to honor the Divine Mother. It is considered successful only if an eagle appears.

The next year, there seemed to be an inverse correlation between the gradual disappearance of the Sri Yantra design and increased vitality in the desert valley. He wondered if the effect is like homeopathy, where increased dilution imparts increasing strength of subtle energies. Later he would use that principle, burying fragile paper artworks in fields when helping Iowans who wanted a ceremony to honor the life force of their land. One farmer changed afterward toward organic farming.

In 1993 the Sri Yantra was gone from the surface of the lake bed. Within what had been its boundaries and more dramatically in the center, compacted alkaline silt and salts had expanded to something more like loose, crumbly soil. Apparently a population explosion of natural soil microorganisms caused the beneficial changes.

Bill’s half-mile design that followed the Sri Yantra was on a dry lake bed on private land, and made of nine miles of trenches filled with red volcanic rocks with the help of a tractor and other loaned equipment. Although the design drew on Vedic and Native American elements, it wasn’t meant to be a cultural expression, Bill said, but rather to correspond to forces of nature that support many cultures. The host rancher and his family experienced unusual abundance for a time afterward – from triplets to a beneficial microclimate.

Does art have to be seen to be experienced? Bill once made two similar window-like paintings. On the back of one, he placed a traditional geometric design and carefully inscribed a sacred text – 1000 names of the Divine Mother – in tiny handwriting. The two paintings were hung on opposite walls along with twenty other works. He invited a group of blind people to spend a day in the gallery. They said peacefulness seemed to come from one painting – the one with the hidden design and text. Another day, school children picked various paintings as favorites. Then they were told about the sightless people, but not which painting was involved. The children were asked to sit quietly and close their eyes, and afterward choose based on what they felt rather than saw. Unanimously they chose the painting that hid the geometry and text.

When we give attention to a painting, the artist’s consciousness embedded in the artwork is recreated in our awareness through resonance or entrainment, Bill says. “The more Being was lively in the artist’s experience, the greater is the experience of Being in the observer.” Therefore an original gives the viewer a much more profound experience than even the best reproduction. Further, when you experience a work of art, the consciousness that radiates from it and the physiological state that corresponds to that consciousness are enlievened and amplified in you. It may even “take your breath away”.

The reverence with which Bill creates leads to another question. Which has more influence – the consciousness of the artist, or certain geometrical shapes?

In 1995 two people in a car near Oceanside, California, watched a double-spiral cloud rising several thousand feet into the sky. It was so unusual that they exited the freeway and drove to where they thought the cloud would touch ground. They found a barefoot group with Bill Witherspoon in the middle, completing a ceremony. It was part of a peace gathering hosted by novelist Victor Villasensor. The travelers learned that Bill had cut a fire-killed pine several months previously, polished it into a 20-foot ceremonial pole, wrote sacred text on it and glued ascending and descending spirals of gold leaf on it according to a mathematical formula. The group had buried the pole vertically in a deep hole with a nest of flake mica (an insulating material) and a six-foot diameter traditional design out of copper circling a faceted ruby on the tip of the pole. More mica, earth and new grass covered it all. Later, Bill wondered if the combination of elements could have become a transducer modulating subtle energy, perhaps producing an influence that went deep into the earth and even deeper into space.

He concludes that a wide range of man-made geometric structures could affect us. “Our cities are filled with flowing streams of energy, roads or water or electrical distribution systems that are geometrically arranged. What are the influences we unwittingly create? With deliberate design, could we have more creative places?” Hospitals and prisons could be less stressful. Parks could have a deeper silence with properly-designed plantings and sculptural elements, he says. With art and ceremony, agriculture could honor the forces of nature that enhance food production.

Bill Witherspoon’s adventures and his vision of meaningful designs, of interactions between geometries, human consciousness and the rest of nature, could fill a book.

Note: After interviewing Bill Witherspoon and associates, Jeane Manning saw his life as a compelling journey. She is
writing a book with the working title Nature Speaks.

Bill Witherspoon’s new website is



  1. I found your writing today when I was viewing my Flickr stream traffic statistics, and I saw that this article was back-linked to one of my images. I am dyslexic and AADD. So had my computer read it for me. I found your article to be well written and a wonderful inspiration! I wondered if it was the things that Mr. Whitherspoon was making that was causing the phenomenons or rather the natural energy of Bill himself. I have spoken many times over the years, to my friends and family, that I am a firm believer in the fact that inside each and everyone of us Is a math genius!The simple act of walking across the room requires, ” Trillions” of calculations per second, and we don’t really know how we do it. So it would not supersize me if telekinetic powers are real phenomenons in some people, even at a subconscious level.

  2. Margaret Bartley says:

    I’ve read several articles recently by crop circle people who say that the video they saw of Bill Witherspoon ploughing lines clearly indicated that he was not able to go three inches deep into the hard pan – that he was barely able to go one inch, except for the area where he filled in a trench with soil to make it easier to plough when making a demonstration.

    Has he addressed these observations anywhere?

  3. Mike Ackerman says:

    I’ve been studying geometry of different cultures and Tibetan led me to Witherspoon. His work sounds like pyramid power which was popular in the 70’s. In his own account he spoke of “radionics.” Let me suggest a book to read, “Magic: Science of the Future,” by Joseph F. Goodavage; 1976 Signet book. Out of date, but thought provoking. Modern science is so stuck on the physical the best discoveries are lost.

  4. bills work on sri yantra is marvelous.the lord krishna says i am beyond the 8 – earth,water,fire,air,ether-space,mind,intellect & ego.i.e.he stands as the 9th consciousness-awareness principls as-“swayambhu”-the self existing principle.also buddha talks of the 9 levels of consciousness ,the 9th being nirvana.similarly the 9 levels of the the sri yantra with 4 upward triangles represent shiva,the masculine forces & the lower pointing downwards 5 levels represent the forces of power of nature-shakti in nature,the feminine forces.the top most circlei.e the 9th is the point called bindu where both the masculine & feminine force merge into becoming one-this represents the self existing principle”swayambhu” from which arises all cosciousness-awareness,life ,nature & the universal phenomena as we & the scientists know it.

  5. Hi Jeane,
    your article and findings about Bill is an eye opening experience.
    i am thankful to you to for writing this post about Shri Yantra and its effects .I live in India , believe in GOD -Nature al mighty and its power. Bill’s experiment ,findings, its effects further boosts my belief in nature and gave me strength, inspiration to go more closer to nature….
    Thank you very much, can’t find words to describe my feelings….

  6. Zero Point Energy is probably the next big thing that will be exploited by corporations,
    using magnet motors, people already experimenting in this technology,
    have a look and see a
    step by step guide how to build magnetic generator

  7. I had an amazing coincidence about the Oregon Sri Yantra. I happened to draw the complex star the day before the news story about the Sri Yantra came out! I did not realize that until about 2 1/2 years later, when I was writing an outline article about humanity’s leap to the heart chakra. The diagram I made, by “coincidence,” represents the heart chakra!

  8. thank you, Joseph, for telling us about the coincidence and the heart connection!

  9. Wow, what a great article, well written!! Not so common on the Web. Anyway I thought it particularly intriguing about the energy it creates and how this could be done in cities and places (prisons?). You might want to check out Dr Lew and Hono opono opono. But anyway I remember people doing plastic pyramids in the 80s and now these forms are intriguing me. I think I will start using them in my garden and environment. Thanks so much for this article.


  10. Good suggestions especially the forgiveness/love insights — that Hawaiian word!

  11. Good morning, my name is Greg Lee Alvord.
    This past month I have had a recent interest in Alchemical circles and signs designs.
    Let me begin in stating that I have always been very certain that I am able to perceive things that are within the “Deep”…meaning that I can “See & and understand” the things that have been shrouded in the “Dark” or the “unseen”…as a child, could not attend school because of the daily fights that would encircle me because mainly of my ethnic background…I am Caucasian by the instead of going to school, I went to the library..
    That is when my journey began into the world I’ve always known, but became an outcast because of it…was of age 8.
    I won’t get into how I pulled into occult influence, but I am proud to say that JESUS was the Only One who carried me through this dark time in my life.
    But recently I have been guided into the Alchemical designs that I constantly am aware of being the “True” language of the angels..You “SEE” these circles and designs are but a impression left behind by sound waves, energy releases, and in all “Truth” are the basis for creation its self…If you look up, what an “atom” would look like., you would”SEE” a design much like those alchemical circles, we used to produce”Something in trade for another – but always the value of what we transmuted.” This REALLY is the the whole basis of king Solomons wisdom given as gift by god.
    Unfortunately when the temple was taken by Muslims, alot of these transmutation circles were miss copied, which led to “evoking” other things. These events were not by mishap, but under dark influence.
    I believe, if we can “Remember” how to do this again, we can make a world whose resources will never end…end point.
    To get back to your article – I was in the middle of changing my internet pass code. When it dawned on me to look my self up, to see what others would get if they had looked me up.
    Needless to say, I guess the not so common surname of Alvord is derived from the “Alder-fords” or “Elder-fords”.
    And that my blood has alot to do with the “illuminated” things we are so ever hearing alot of these days..
    I then found out…( can’t mention)..
    It sounds stupid as hell, but believe me, I am constantly being bombarded by some who would see through in that “SEE” they care not for Christ, but do dances with the devil. I remain TRUE to he who has given me this gift to allow the blind to SEE, and help those who are deaf – to HEAR.–PLEASE DON’T GET ME WRONG IN ANYWAY – I AM NOT JESUS CHRIST NOR DO INTEND THIS TO BE LOOKED APON ME AS TRYING TO BECOME.)…Oddly enough, these things were promised by JESUS to come to us by receiving his spirit….ya I know..sorry…
    Anyway the internet pulled up the “Alvord” lake in your blog, an there it was………..
    EVERYTHING AND NOTHING staring me right in the face!!… I have actually had this site saved to comment on later, but later became LATER!! MOSTLY because This all sounds like B.S., and I have been trying to gather it all, so I don’t seem crazy or something I’m not..
    But believe me, what a long strange trip it has been…oh ya I’m 39 years of age.
    Have I bored you guys yet? ..gees all about me!!…lol….But I haven’t heard anything much about you and your work..just what is readily available in the “NET”…You have my attention, and without a B.A. In anything I think that our TWO minds could come together in a unprecedented event unlike never “SEEN” OR “HEARD” before the time of soloman, masonic, illuminati proc, or anything else.
    Infact we will probably fit into that puzzle pretty good…and I don’t think this is by chance by any means…I just don’t know where I can be most useful, to be honest -I’m treading over Deep Water here, and maybe your that Boat
    to keep me from drowning….
    P.S. I really think your going to write me off as insane…….it’s ok….just sit on all this for awile, perhaps something else could part energy to different paths…who knows…..sorry…Goodwork by the way…May you be blessed in all your endeavors.
    ~G.L.A~ Greg Lee Alvord
    Pueblo, Colorado

  12. thanks for writing from the heart, Greg. I’m not available for collaboration, but perhaps someone else who visits this page will be. Best wishes, Jeane M

  13. Thank you for this article! First I was impressed looking desert ShriYantra on web, and contacted group of people who going to make a doc. movie part-2 about that. Then I read your post, found the Bill chronicles “Art as Technology” and its was Big Happy Day of Surprise for me – we have a living people who has that deep knowledge, including Vastu Sutra Upanishad! With approval of the author its republished on best web-place where I could (link on my name).

    Hope that its not the end and more new people will use this experience and follow this path, thinking and working with the questions on a last page

    “… Certainly our cities are filled with flowing streams of energy, be they roads or water or electrical distribution system that are, even if by default, geometrically arranged. What are the influences that we unwittingly create? What could we accomplish by deliberate design?…”

  14. and thank you for the work you’re doing to spread knowledge of the effects of the streams of energy…

  15. ” Hello once again;
    I gotta say going back to what I had previously blogged about on this thread , that I was completely high that Yes, this is true, as for all the wonderful unneedded information I gave you is unfortunately true also.
    ( and I apologize) lmao!!!

    Its been several minutes sence then and would like to add that mantra on the desert floor, is of the crown chraka or ( third-eye/ peanial glad) in an alchemical mantra symbol from the east.
    With the age we are in now the ( age of Aquarius ) and people right now ” waking – up”,
    from a” slumber of sleep”, and having their DNA reactivated opening this” sixth sence” to an illuminated higher intuition per say( or higher vibration) per say- And I really hope you are receiving this also( whats written here)
    that you can exspain how and why things happen on this lake and what was found.”



  1. Quora says:

    What’s the most mysterious picture ever taken?…

    Oregon and Idaho’s Sri Yanta Mandala > A very large, perfectly formed, ancient Hindu mandala called the Sri Yantra was discovered inscribed into the dry lake bed by an Air National Guard pilot on a normal training run from a base near Boise, Idaho. Th…

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