Garth Bowles Remembered and Celebrated

Written by Jane Pojawa


here’s a magical land to the west of Pioneertown peppered with giant granite boulders, caves, and freshwater springs. Garth Bowles, beloved patriarch of Garth’s Boulder Gardens Sanctuary, passed from this world on Saturday, July 22, 2023, shortly before 6 a.m. His end was peaceful, and he was attended to by loved ones. He died, as he lived for the last 40 years, in a concrete tepee on 600 acres of an earthly paradise.

His property was both a refuge and a destination. There is a saying, “No one comes to Garth’s by accident.” If you were there, you were meant to be there. You were called by Spirit. Many came for a drum circle or dance party, only to find that there was some unexpected enlightenment to be found as well.

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Garth was born on October 25, 1943, to Clyde Henry Bowles, a farm equipment salesman and real estate investor, and Verda Roberta Hawker, a nurse, in Riverside, California. He was the third of four children, named Clyde after his father, but always called by his middle name, Garth, meaning “keeper of the garden.” He graduated from Ramona High School in 1961, and went on his LDS Mission to Grimsby, England shortly afterward. Garth did not do well in school due to what was undoubtedly undiagnosed dyslexia; he read with difficulty and struggled with numbers. But he excelled at art and won several local competitions including first place at the Indio Art Festival in 1961.

Some elements resonated with Garth as a kid that would remain in play throughout his life. He was an accomplished builder, and he enjoyed the finer things in life. He revered Jesus Christ and sought to emulate His teachings. He loved birds, peacocks in particular. He loved gems, eventually amassing a gigantic collection and an encyclopedic knowledge of rocks and minerals. And he was gay. The path forward was not abundantly clear, and Garth struggled to find direction.

He had a short-lived gig at his father’s business and had a couple of attempts at college including Woodbury University and Brigham Young University. Garth was ill-suited for office work and academia. But he was strong as an ox, a diligent worker and had a flair for construction. Mormon life was not for him, and his mission experience only underscored that realization, but he did feel deeply connected to Christianity in a more esoteric spiritual manner. His “chop wood, carry water” approach to employment dovetailed with his simple and experiential path to enlightenment, and in the meantime, the world around him was changing.

He owned a property in Pedley, with a chicken coop he remodeled into his house. He also settled briefly in Lake Arrowhead. During a thunderstorm one winter night, his crush suddenly had a premonition that one day Garth would don white robes and wander the country barefoot with only a bowl.  It took many years for that vision to become reality… but it did. Garth was in his late 30s, and after witnessing a series of miracles, he was persuaded to give away all of his possessions and join the Christ Family. This was something of a theme with Garth: terrible storm, moment of gnosis, discarding of worldly possessions and temporal thought, taking a spiritual leap forward. For four years, he traveled the country subsisting on handouts and preaching the Word. He walked much of Mexico as well. His life of simplicity gave him a deep understanding of “the grace of God,” but he became disenchanted with the organization as he realized it was a cult and decided to move on.

Around this time, Garth’s friend Victor Pahl sent him a newspaper clipping. It would change his life and the course of many, many other lives. It was an advertisement for cheap desert land and offered Garth the chance to start a spiritual off-grid community. This was a dream come true, and with financial assistance from his parents, he was able to make that dream a reality.  In 1981, Garth Bowles moved onto the undeveloped land that would become Garth’s Boulder Gardens Sanctuary. Victor gave Garth a tepee to live in, and it remains the hub of the community. After 10 years, a storm shredded the canvas, so Garth covered the lodgepoles with chicken wire and spread concrete on top. A wood stove provides heat in the winter.

In many ways Garth’s Boulder Gardens sanctuary remains a place untouched by time, a throwback ‘80s hippie commune where UFOs and tie dye are welcome. In other ways, it is a radical experiment in minimal-impact land stewardship. The property is entirely off-grid. There are a few solar panels now, but they are recent. For decades there was no electricity, hauled water, no phone, no internet, no television. He had a well dug, then lay three and a half miles of pipe himself. He bartered with neighbors to grade roads. He planted trees and dug ponds. He raised peacocks and chickens and other animals. It was not an easy life, and he worked odd jobs to finance it. People came to the land seeking the radical simplicity he afforded, and a community of truth seekers gathered. It is said that they are called by Spirit. He based his community on one simple tenet: All are welcome.

And all spiritual beliefs are welcome as well. Garth never tried imposing structured religion on any of the community members. Yet when Spirit is everywhere, so is faith. Garth was asked how he could love everyone so much, and he answered that there is surely something about each person, even those whose behavior is so problematic that they are asked to leave, that is deeply lovable. And even if that quality is indiscernible, then there must be a potential in that individual that is worthy of love.

Garth’s health has been failing in recent years, beginning with an untreated hernia sustained while moving a boulder. Eventually he succumbed to congestive heart failure, but he died comfortably under hospice care in his favorite chair as members of his chosen family expressed their love and gratitude. He was 79.

He is preceded in death by his mother, Verda Roberta Hawker (1917-2009), his father, Clyde Henry Bowles (1917-2010) and his sister Linda Lee Whitehead (1942-2005). He is survived by his sister Sharla Ann Dahlke and brother Greg Bowles, as well as numerous nieces and nephews, and countless friends. He did not have biological children, but he was a father figure to many. Although Garth built the Boulder Gardens by himself, he did not do it alone. Many hands have helped carry this load, notably Kyle Martin, but Rick Russell. Rick Van Cour, Greg Bagnell, Dave Bricker, and countless others assisted Garth in his mission. The stewardship of Garth’s Boulder Gardens Sanctuary has passed to Robert Peterson, who Garth entrusted with the preservation of the land and the spiritual life of the community. In accordance with his wishes, his remains have been cremated. A memorial is scheduled for Saturday, October 28, the full moon following his 80th birthday.

Photo by Jay Dubular 2018

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