Come to Mt. Carmel!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Mt. Carmel is now CLOSED SATURDAYS to honor the Sabbath, and the survivors have put up a gate.

Amo Roden is suing to have the gate taken down as an undue hindrance on her ability to come and go. She would also like visitors to be able to come on Saturdays. So the situation could change, but it will probably take a long time for all the disputes to move through the courts. (Charles Pace is cooperating with the survivors on the gate, and has his own key.)



For those who have never visited Mt. Carmel, I can tell you that the ruins bring the tragedy home, even if you think you already care about the lost lives. As I walked up that long driveway for the first time towards the ruins, I could feel the weight of history growing with each step. You pass the grove of crepe myrtles planted in memory of the dead, you read the memorial headstone, and finally you reach the site of Mt. Carmel Center and realize you are trodding on the very ground where scores of people lost their lives for their beliefs. I can describe it, but you won't feel it unless you visit.

While I first visited Mt. Carmel during an anniversary memorial, there are those who find Mt. Carmel even more powerful when it is deserted.

Where...

While Mt. Carmel is out of town, it can be found without too much trouble as long as you have a clear set of directions beforehand. At least in my experience. There are already a couple of websites that have put up directions and maps, including:

http://www.dantobias.com/davidian.html
http://www.spacetowns.com/mtcarmel/visitor/index.htm
http://www.easy.com/thebranch/visit.html 404

I myself used the MAP from Sinister Twilight to find my way to Mt. Carmel, which proved sufficient for my needs. I should note that the map does not run on a straight north-south axis; Highway 84, which runs straight east on the map, actually runs east-northeast.

Elk Road (FM 2491) and EE Ranch RoadI myself will take a stab at giving directions. I will assume that people can find Loop 340, the beltway circling Waco, without too much trouble. If at the north end of Loop 340, you will be going east and south (clockwise) and looking for FM [Farm-to-Market] 2491 (Elk Road) on the left. Remember the number, there are a couple of FM roads in the area. Once on 2491, stay on it. When the road splits, and another FM road forks to the right, stay left; but you're getting close. The road you will turn off on is EE Ranch Road, on the left. There is now a big highway sign for "Double E Ranch Road;" before, visitors were advised to look for a pair of blue water tanks across from EE Ranch Road. Once on EE Ranch Road, the Mt. Carmel property will be coming up shortly on the right. The long driveway for Mt. Carmel will be on the right, across from the pair of houses on the left. Also, the road turns to gravel soon after you pass Mt. Carmel, so if you hit gravel, you will know to turn around.

(My only wrong turn my first time was that after I'd seen EE Ranch Road, I suddenly spotted EE Ranch on the left, and turned there. But as I suspected, I was on the EE Ranch road, not EE Ranch Road, the next left.)

Other Information

In 1998, the survivors built a modest Visitors Center near the entrance to Mt. Carmel. Here you can peruse displays, a chronology of the siege (unfortunately based on official reports), and most movingly, photographs of the Branch Davidians taken before the tragedy. You can also sign their guestbook. While it is open irregularly, it is open on most days. One day that it is not open is Saturday: because there are books and videos that they sell inside the Center, the survivors believe that would break the Sabbath.

Last year, some of the survivors began living on the property again, in the double-wide near the Center, while anti-Koresh Branch Davidians continue their occupation as well. The previous situation naturally confused some visitors, who weren't all aware that there were anti-Koresh Branches, and certainly weren't expecting them to be in control of the property.

The following is not intended to be a "tour" or full description of the property, but an outline of changes to it that could be misunderstood.

A couple of months after the fire, Amo Roden, ex-wife of Koresh rival George Roden, moved onto the property; she is now living in the tent-shaped shack near the base of the driveway. Later, Charles Pace and his family moved onto the back of the property, and converted the former dairy barn into his church. Feel free to talk to these anti-Koresh Branch Davidians, but understand that what they have to say about the tragedy is different from what the survivors would say. For instance, Amo Roden is a big fan of Linda Thompson's "The Big Lie," which the survivors are not, and they also ridicule her tales of escape tunnels.

Walking up towards the ruins, you will notice a grove of crepe myrtles to the left. These were planted on February 28 and April 19, 1995, one for each of the dead.

As you near the bend in the path, a burned-out bus comes into view. It might be natural to assume that its condition has something to do with the April 19th fire, but actually it was set afire by vandals a couple of months later.

Continuing up the path, you will see a headstone at the top of the tree garden. This was dedicated in April 1995. Across from that stone, there are a couple of markers in the name of "the Branch," one dedicated to the victims of Oklahoma City. These were actually emplaced by Charlie Pace's group following the memorial service in 1997.

[When you reach the former site of the building, you will see a concrete slab. This used to be the floor of the gymnasium. The comments painted on the slab were put there by Amo Roden; she also had a number of lectern-like posts with more comments about the site, but the survivors took these down. Only one of these stands survives, without the sign it once hosted.]

The above passage has been rendered out of date by the building of the new chapel.

The shelter the Davidians were building, at which the FBI fired those pyrotechnic canisters, is now underwater. Similarly, the swimming pool they were constructing has also filled with water.

In the distance, you may see the old dairy barn, which was occupied by ATF snipers during their raid, and now serves as a church for Charlie Pace.

In late 1999, a project began to rebuild a chapel for the survivors on the site. Accompanying the rebuilding effort is a cleanup and beautification effort on the property.

However, I stress again that there is no substitute to seeing the site for yourself. I only want to alert potential visitors to aspects of the site that might be misinterpreted.

Another note: if you have the chance to avail yourself of facilities before reaching Mt. Carmel, go ahead and take it. While a portable facility is available at the site, given its inherent unpleasantness, it is better if you can deal with those needs elsewhere.


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