Desert Dispatches: Blog https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog en-us (C) Christopher Langley & Osceola Refetoff info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:18:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:18:00 GMT LAND ARTIFACTS: A DIDACTIC OF RUINS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/7/land-artifacts Boarded-Up Farm House with Watchful Horse - Bishop, CA - 2016Boarded-Up Farm House with Watchful Horse - Bishop, CA - 2016Infrared Exposure
 

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow,
A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more….

Shakespeare – Macbeth (c. 1605), Act V, Scene 5, Line 23

 

We are all going to die—every last one of us.

We leave everything behind as a kind of tally of how we lived. We leave our children, our thoughts, our possessions, our garbage, our beliefs, and especially our bodies: the blood, gristle and bone.

 

Three Crosses - Mojave, CA - 2013Three Crosses - Mojave, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure
Three Crosses - Infrared Exposure - Rosamond, CA - 2013
Image above: Boarded-Up Farmhouse with Watchful Horse - Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

We leave everything we had, made, earned, or stole behind. If judging is called for, we are judged by what we leave behind. We will never know just what that is for we will be gone. If there is awareness after we die, our attention will be on where we are going, not where we have been.

Those before us: individuals, families, communities, tribes, states, nations and even empires have also left everything behind. Then the question while we are still alive is what can we learn from what has been left behind from before us? Nowhere are these instructive legacies and endowments more exposed than in the California deserts.

 

Grave of Rafael Diaz d 188? - Infrared Exposure - Pioneer Cemetery - Lone Pine, CA 2013Grave of Rafael Diaz d 188? - Pioneer Cemetery - Lone Pine, CA 2013Infrared Exposure
Rafael Diaz Grave - Pioneer Cemetery - Infrared Exposure - Lone Pine, CA - 2013

 

Our lives are short. When compared to the landscape around us – the mountains, rivers, rocks, sand, volcanoes, and earth fault disruptions – we are the proverbial mayfly. Given the brevity of our mortality, we swell with pride or shutter from embarrassment about what we have done to our home. The global impact of our human endeavors has been given a name: the Anthropocene.

For our purposes we will consider six categories of bestowal from our immediate lives and long-gone ancestors: ruins, memorials, wastelands, artifacts, garbage, and restored landscapes. There could be more, many more.

 

Lone Tree & Posts #2 - Abandoned Alfalfa Farm - Cinco, CALone Tree & Posts #2 - Abandoned Alfalfa Farm - Cinco, CAInfrared Exposure
Lone Tree & Posts - Infrared Exposure - Abandoned Alfalfa Farm - Cinco, CA - 2012

 

We begin with ruins. The deserts of California are filled with ruins. They are usually industrial ruins, left behind from failed human enterprises or projects whose economic value was eclipsed or eroded. These are generally not like the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome, or even the Middle East – meant as mnemonics or prompts to help in remembering events, people, and group identity. Once, remembering for a culture was important as David Gross argues in Lost Time. Now memory and remembering are questioned by psychology, psychiatry, even history as creating fake and specious memories. Forgetting helps in getting a fresh start, removing impediments to creativity that stand in the way of the future.

 

Community Park - Valley Wells, CA - 2012Community Park - Valley Wells, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure
Community Park - Infrared Exposure - Valley Wells, CA - 2012

 

These desert ruins are often ignored and forgotten, their lessons unappreciated. When money and time permit, it’s best to tear them down, but often they are left to the ravages of wind, scouring sand, vandalism, and rust.

Examples in the desert are the soda ash plants that formed an industrial necklace around Owens Dry Lake in Inyo County, California, now a gigantic reclamation and dust mitigation project undertaken by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). From a ruin perspective, the former Kaiser plant is perhaps the most fascinating.

 

Wind Blown Sand - Infrared Exposure - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013Wind Blown Sand - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure
Wind Blown Sand - Infrared Exposure - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013

 

From a distance the Kaiser Soda Ash ruin is diminutive. Its angular and geometric silhouette entices the inquisitive vision of the attentive traveler speeding by on Highway 395. At high speeds, seeing the turn off is tricky. When you come up to the ruin, the stillness of the concrete forms, varied in size, shape, and unknown in purpose, beguile the imagination. The setting spreads out to the east in a gaping vista. The playa of the dry Owens Lake, not far from Cartago, California, dances and shimmers in the heat, its mineral crust of trona effervescent like diamonds in the refracting desert light.

The Kaiser soda ash factory remains enthralling because the workers were inexplicably drawn away before the structure was fully demolished. The ruin has eight rhomboid concrete prisms in two rows of four each. Two of these forms are molded together, poured separately but abutted. They have buttresses, which support the last two prisms, for unknown reasons. Holes pierce these prisms for either steel or wood supports or pipe connections.

 

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns - Owens Lake, CA - 2013Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns - Owens Lake, CA - 2013CA Hist Landmark #537 - Infrared Exposure
Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns - Infrared Exposure - Owens Lake, CA - 2013


There are four cement frames filled with broken bricks marked by mortar. To the north are what appear to be giant pedestals - geometric mushrooms with square, thick caps, and substantial stems. Some are upright as intended. Others have fallen on their side and can't get up. Octagonal holes are cut into solid walls. Everywhere rests rebar, like twisted bones once coupled to the machinery now long gone.

Is Kaiser more a ruin or a wasteland? We celebrate ruins and denigrate wastelands. I would argue that wastelands are the denigrated ruins of modernity. With horror or despair we stare at the wasteland, matching within us our loss of hope, faith, and love. The wasteland mocks and reflects the futility of our failed cultural, social, and economic endeavors. Today, we watch as disintegrating trailers and transitory dwellings inevitably make way for massive solar utilities, themselves undoubtedly becoming ruins in turn as our energy economy evolves.

 

Resting  Place - Abandoned Kaiser Plant - Owens Lake, CA - 2016Resting Place - Abandoned Kaiser Plant - Owens Lake, CA - 2016Infrared Exposure - First printed: 2018 Land Artifacts – Solo Show – Museum of Art & History (MOAH) – Lancaster, CA – 2018
Resting Place - Abandoned Kaiser Plant - Owens Lake, CA - 2016

 

I kneel before an automobile grill of a totally imploded, rusted car that now grins like a lipless death head at the Kaiser ruin. The teeth are metal, sunk into the jaws. They are long, sickly yet arrogant. It is a Cubist Picasso sculpture of a head. Can a photograph conjure meaning from the wastelands, the mines, the dead factories, and the weathered crosses all drained of vitality by the cruelty of life in the desert?

Besides our feelings of wasted resources in these wasteland landscapes, an additional source of anxiety is the sense of decay of our cultural heritage. The landscape evolves from ruins that show cultural balance and continuity to rust that announces waste and disillusion. Any aware person is worrying about the limited future of natural resources, the expansion of pollution, and the instability of social and political structures. As with car wrecks we drive by on the freeway, it is difficult to overt our eyes from the wasteland. We are ineluctably drawn there, our staring eyes at least. There is a macabre beauty that sings to our soul of our true situation. So, it is with the wasteland. It is about hope, and the loss of hope. We fear we are in decline. It is a personal and a collective fear.

 

Falling Down House on the Hill - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014Falling Down House on the Hill - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014Infrared Exposure
Falling Down House on the Hill - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014


In the desert things are left behind to tell the story of change, impermanent success, and the total failure of human enterprise. Crews began the take down of the superstructure but gave up at the cement forms, rectangular prisms, pyramids, and blocks with pre-made apertures. Exactly why they stopped could have been the difficulty of dealing with so much cement, or because the salvage of materials was of little or no value.

I sit in the ruin until nightfall. The yellow golden light rusts to red, and then slowly fades to dark beige as the Milky Way appears, growing stronger in the darkening sky. The stars wink and twinkle. It is very peaceful.

 

Our Churches (Sierra Wave) - Trona, CA - 2011Our Churches (Sierra Wave) - Trona, CA - 2011Infrared exposure
Our Churches (Sierra Wave) - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2011

 

Looking from these ruins, I see the strange beauty of this opalescent yet desolate landscape that has been savaged because it harbored minerals, water, and game. We have been an animal that sacrificed our homeland for what we wanted or what we thought we had to have. We use and plunder the earth without much thought to the repercussions. Yet now we want to restore the damaged landscape, forced by laws, public opinion, and the wavering intention to do what’s right as long as it doesn’t unduly erode the bottom line.

Kaiser has set the scene. Now we move on to memorials. The desert is dotted with plaques commemorating events and famous or infamous folks. Although I would argue today we are drawn to forgetting, there is still some allegiance to history, especially if it is odd or unusual, but teaching few lessons.

As you near Trona, a once vibrant mining town, there is a memorial plaque celebrating the brave souls who ventured out of Death Valley looking for water in Searles Lake. The water is so brackish as to be undrinkable. For one of the groups traveling to the gold fields, it is a kind of Donner Party in the desert: no snow, no cannibalism, but significant death.

 

Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011Infrared Exposure
Haunted Landscapes - Art Share LA - 2015

Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011

 

The memorial states:

NO. 443 VALLEY WELLS - In this area, several groups of midwestern emigrants who had escaped from hazards and privations in Death Valley in 1849 sought to secure water from Searles Lake. They turned northward and westward in despair when they discovered its salty nature, and with great difficulty crossed the Argus and other mountains to reach settlements of Central and Southern California.

In those days the deserts were a terrible place that had to be endured. Now they are seen as harsh but beautiful, rich in resources and not just made for toxic chemical dumping and nuclear testing. But as the plaque commemorates, the desert can be bitter. It defeats through economic and social factors towns such as Trona, once a thriving settlement extracting valuable minerals from the saline waters.

 

Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Trona, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure
Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010

 

While some of the remaining residents don’t see Trona as dying, many more have relocated. Nearby Ridgecrest is a prime area with most of the amenities modern life affords. In Trona, a desert wasteland is invading and will eventually swallow up the town, if not the mining operations. Abandoned, now burned out residences stand as warnings that economics is one of the biggest challenges in the deserts. Fiscal concerns are greater than natural forces. Budgetary acumen is as important, more important, than proper clothing, housing, food, and water. We learn that from the wastelands and memorials as well as the ruins.

The mining industry has left many kinds of bones and industrial structures, some old and useless, others still working. A complex of pulleys, conveyor belts, and machinery at the Red Hill cinder mine reminds me of an alien parasite sucking at the earth. Up at Cerro Gordo silver camp in the Owens Valley a mining structure becomes a giant praying mantis. The huge factory at Trona reminds one of a rag-tag town devoted to processing soda ash from the lake brine. Carrying borax out of Trona, a train curves out towards the desert horizon.

 

Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure
Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012

 

Infrastructures are laid bare in arid lands. A cylindrical water tank holding the small town of Lone Pine’s water contrasts with the rounded foothills of the surrounding mountains. Of course, water is usually the number one topic in these areas. The big city to the south long ago absconded with the valley's water to quench its thirsty hordes. Silos now scar the landscape, agricultural tombstones marking the dead farms.

Still there are many signs of faith that local residents rely on to get through the dark desert nights. A sign in Trona says “Prayer Changes Things,” just as the modern angular Catholic church seems to await the faithful’s return. Three crosses near Highway 14 in Rosamond proclaim someone’s theological idea, perhaps of the Trinity. Near the Salton Sea, a dead tree is festooned with giant stick nests of lesser egrets and other marsh birds that land, breed, and migrate on, reminding us that nature can still prevail.


Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure
Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

The arid lands of California are littered with personal artifacts from pioneers, developers, businessmen, and tourists. It may start as abandoned garbage or structures, but given fifty years, it can become a protected artifact. Cans and bottles are a collector’s treasure and their market and trade are easy to find on eBay. Also left behind to become artifacts and gain a new kind of repurposed value are tools for mining, ranching, and building. These artifacts tell stories, have a rusted yet bemusing lost purpose, and a distinct rustic beauty. They are now collectibles.

Often groups of people are known through archaeological analysis of dumps and abandoned work areas, understood primarily by the refuse thrown out. The Tropico Gold Mine outside of Rosamond, California has one of the biggest time capsules around. It was purposely assembled and sealed in one of the mine’s tunnels. However, the sign on the metal door was stolen. It is to be opened in a thousand years.

 

St. Madeleine Catholic Church - Trona, CA - 2010St. Madeleine Catholic Church - Trona, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure

Notes on Limited Edition Prints

St. Madeleine Catholic Church - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010

 

It is not uncommon to see areas of the desert littered with broken glass, rusted tin cans, garbage, refuse, and trash. Those are some of the names for abandoned material that is deemed to have little or no value. Piles of household objects are left abandoned, particularly useless, scarred, vandalized, and discarded furniture that no one would give household room. Particularly common are broken and ravaged recliners, sofas, and over-stuffed chairs. They sit in the desert decaying as if waiting for someone to come, pause, sit, and watch the desert fill with light, or be concealed in the growing darkness of sunset. But the chairs wait for no one, for that’s who is coming.

Every great society or empire has left behind a network of roads. In time, however, the roads lead to places no longer populated or profitable. Even the best laid routes will eventually succumb to the dust.

 

Boxcars - Searles, CA - 2010Boxcars - Searles, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure
Serpentine Boxcars - Infrared Exposure - Searles, CA - 2010

 

Edward Humes, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, gives us lots of facts about our world in his book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. He reports that in a year we throw out collectively 390 million tons of rubbish, or “municipal solid waste.” Statistics abound, and they are scary. Many persons carelessly or purposefully dispose of garbage because the desert is seen as a vast, useless dumping ground. Much of our project High & Dry works to prove otherwise. Hume’s comments, “Landfills are usually thought of, when they are thought of at all, as out-of-the way places. Nobody really wants to think about what they contain… The material that seeps out of (them), a noxious brew called ‘leachate,’ is so toxic that it has to be contained by multiple clay, plastic and concrete barriers.”

The good news is significant strides are being made from various quarters to address what these brief facts threaten. Just one example in the desert is the giant waste “mountain” called the Lancaster Landfill and Recycling Center. Lancaster is striving to be a “net zero” city with energy saving, green energy production, organized recycling, education, and cutting-edge strategies for dealing with garbage. More and more cities across our land are following suit. Meanwhile the mountain of trash remains the highest land feature in the area.

 

Small House with No Doors - Infrared Exposure - Argus, CA - 2015Small House with No Doors - Argus, CA - 2015
Small House with No Doors - Infrared Exposure - Argus, CA - 2015

 

Continuing research and education on buying less, limiting packaging, and eliminating food waste can greatly reduce garbage production by individuals and their families. But carelessness, ignorance, and greed in our consumer society push back.

Next to the issue of “garbology” are destroyed landscapes due to waste products from various military/industrial processes. Often ignorance and budgetary needs are responsible. Slowly, ways to clean the desert areas are being found through human ingenuity. The cleanup is expensive, and many companies have not made proper funding preparations to fix the damage they have caused. Solar plants will need to be torn down or totally rebuilt. These costs need to be built in as construction begins. Many county administrations just see the positives of development and fail to take in the eventual costs of deactivation, reconstruction, or dealing with toxic landscapes.

 

Water Tank - Infrared Exposure - Lone Pine, CA - 2013Water Tank - Lone Pine, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure
Water Tank - Infrared Exposure - Lone Pine, CA - 2013

 

One example of the good news is the cleanup of the Whittaker-Bermite Gunpowder Company, a location in the center of Santa Clarita, CA. Through the years, this private company developed military armaments as well as fireworks. Not realizing until too late the poisoning aspect of dumping perchlorate waste products in the canyons, the pollutant worked its way into the groundwater, ruining the wells in the center of this growing desert city.

Scientists developed practical ways of cleaning the soil using anaerobic (non-oxygen dependent) bacteria to break down perchlorate in sealed cells activated by sunlight. Ultimately chlorine gas is left to almost harmlessly dissipate into the air, leaving the soil not in a pristine state, but to a quality commensurate with future intended uses for the land.

 

Sky, Desert, Truck - Infrared Exposure - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012Sky, Desert, Truck - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure<br/> Haunted Landscapes - Art Share LA - 2015
Sky, Desert, Truck - Infrared Exposure - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012

 

Studying what we leave behind in our desert areas of California reveal many negative consequences, but life there is not without hope. We see by looking at ruins, memorials, wastelands, garbage, personal artifacts, and restored landscapes that what we leave behind, while discouraging, also challenges humans to rise to their very best natures and develop solutions for previous destruction. The biggest impediment then is greed, expense and the lack of will to address the challenges in today’s deserts.

All of this calls forth individual responsibility. For in the end it is the single person whether working alone or together in groups that have the final duty of learning from what we leave behind and acting accordingly.

The California desert remains at the forefront of the ecological challenges that face our country and the world. With the de-watering of California’s Salton Sea, we confront an immense dying ecosystem that threatens the health and livelihood of the Los Angeles area and beyond. While a roadmap for its rehabilitation has yet to come into focus, sites like Whittaker-Bermite and Owens Lake offer a glimmer of hope and suggest a path towards redressing the mistakes of past. The land, we are told, is on loan to us by our grandchildren. Today, we are creating its future for generations to come. Our children’s children will read of our success or failure in the traces we leave behind in the sand.

 

Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Infrared Exposure - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Infrared Exposure
Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Infrared Exposure - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix altered landscape black and white photography california desert christopher langley desert landscape photography desert ruin digital infrared photography environmental issues high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace kcet artbound lancaster ca land management los angeles county moah museum exhibition museum of art and history osceola refetoff usa www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/7/land-artifacts Mon, 09 Jul 2018 17:00:00 GMT
HIGH & DRY: MOAH! https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/5/moah2018

 

High & Dry is proud to announce our latest exhibition:

 

High & Dry: Land Artifacts

665 West Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster, CA 93534
(661) 723-6250
lancastermoah.org

May 12 - July 15  Opening: May 12, 4-6pm
Artist talk: Sunday, June 3, 1pm

 

The exhibit represents a full realization of High & Dry’s long-term, multi-platform exploration of the California desert, encompassing Osceola Refetoff‘s black and white, infrared photographs, words by writer-historian Christopher Langley, and a video presentation created in collaboration with KCET’s Artbound. The photographs, text, and video go live on Artbound this Monday, May 7.

 

Water Tank - Lone Pine, CA - 2013Water Tank - Lone Pine, CA - 2013
Water Tank - Lone Pine, CA - 2013  (First printed: 2018)


Land Artifacts is the first art exhibit to incorporate historical objects in MOAH’s permanent collection, from a First Nations metate to modern detritus collected from a desert lot just a few hundred feet from the museum.

All these elements come together to create an immersive survey of the things humans leave behind in the desert, and what these artifacts reveal about us as a society. Visitors are invited to bring a small item of personal significance to include in a time capsule as part of their legacy for future generations.

 

"High & Dry: Land Artifacts" installation Museum of Art and History (MOAH) - Lancaster, CA - 2018"High & Dry: Land Artifacts" installation Museum of Art and History (MOAH) - Lancaster, CA - 2018High & Dry: Land Artifacts – Solo Show – Museum of Art & History (MOAH) – Lancaster, CA – 2018 Photo left: Water Tank - Lone Pine, CA - 2013 Photo right: Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010
"High & Dry: Land Artifacts" installation detail – Museum of Art & History (MOAH) - Lancaster, CA - 2018

 

Speaking of legacies, MOAH is publishing a catalog for High & Dry: Land Artifacts that will include more infrared images, installation photos, and examples of time capsule contributions to be unearthed in 2050.

Land Artifacts is part of MOAH’s new cycle of exhibitions opening on May 12 with additional solo installations by artists Robert Dunahay, Sant Khalsa, Constance Mallinson, Greg Rose, and Timothy Robert Smith. An artist talk is planned for June 3, 1pm.

 

Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Trona, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure
Abandoned PPG Plant - Infrared Exposure - Bartlett CA - 2012  (First printed: 2018)

 

In the meantime, check out the Land Artifacts listings in Artillery and Fabrik, as well as a preview by Billy Bennight for Cartwheel Art. Additional press information is available from Laura Grover: LDG@anet.net

 

MAKE A VISIT TO MOAH A PART OF YOUR PERSONAL LEGACY!

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix black & white photography california high desert christopher langley desert landscape photography digital infrared photography high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain kcet artbound lancaster ca land artifacts moah moah lancaster museum opening osceola refetoff photography exhibition solo show www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/5/moah2018 Sun, 06 May 2018 19:56:33 GMT
WHITTAKER-BERMITE PART 2: ENVIRONMENTAL REDEMPTION IN SANTA CLARITA, CA https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/2/whittaker-bermite-part-2 Building K – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Building K – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

The administrative building is long, compartmentalized, encapsulated by larger and smaller rooms now of indeterminate purpose. At its high point, 400 workers were employed here. All of the structure has been vandalized over the years, which gives the movie people free rein to adapt it to their needs. Some rooms have enormous gridded panes of glass in large windows illuminating the interiors in shabby grandness. Bathrooms with mirrors left in hanging shards, shattered commodes, and impressionistic wall painting are bedaubed indiscriminately about.

Most startling are the movie squib stains (a small exploding firework used to simulate gunfire in movies) and bullet holes from one production or another. One room has a shoddy baby crib which seems ready for the “devil’s baby.” Lying on the floor there is a 4 by 8 foot piece of ravaged plywood that says “Dead inside.” It turns out it isn’t from The Walking Dead. The light comes into the various rooms through weathered windows that make the place look eerie and haunted.   Ghosts of this landscape’s past incarnations hover about. Most atmospheric of all are the large sheets of torn, opaque plastic that contrive specters. Silently they gently sway in the breath of stale air that drifts in.

 

Room with Chair – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Room with Chair – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Room with Chair – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017
Photo top: Building K – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

There are several mysteries in the life of this decimated landscape today. The biggest riddle remains: can a landscape be reawakened to new life?

This is a good place to rest through the hottest part of the afternoon waiting for what photographers think of as “magic” hour. With eyes closed, there is the renewed sense of the presence of the landscape’s many lives.

 

Room with Crib – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Room with Crib – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Room with Crib – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

It is 1915, and the indigenous peoples and Spanish missionaries have given way to pioneer settlements and oil wells. There are also gold mines in the area since gold was discovered near here six years before the “49er” gold rush that begins at Sutter’s Mill.

Jim “Boilermaker” Jeffries arrives on the scene. He is an undefeated heavyweight champion of the world from 1899 to 1905. He takes the helm of The L.A. Powder Company, which starts there in 1906, first manufacturing fireworks. That quickly transmogrifies into gunpowder for the Allied Forces fighting in World War I. Jeffries is also drilling oil wells by 1920, but it is not clear how successful either venture is financially.

 

Whittaker-Bermite Site & Santa Clarita View – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Whittaker-Bermite Site & Santa Clarita View – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Whittaker-Bermite Site & Santa Clarita View – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017


The Torrance Herald announces on November 29, 1934, that Halifax is going to build a munitions plant on site. It will be a $250,000 plant financed by Erle P. Halliburton, an Oklahoma oil tycoon. His company will become one of the biggest multi-national oilfield service providers. It will be a large job producer and once the second world war breaks out, it is perfectly positioned to start manufacturing a full menu of flares, fuses, and bombs.

This area takes on a new life, and a face is fashioned by the gravity constrained nature of the production line. Raw materials are warehoused at the highest point on the hills. The Torrance Herald reports, “From separate material storage to dry batch, thence to explosive mix, shell pack, and on to final pack house, through successive stages, the product is carried by gravity until it is delivered to the lowest point in the plant, the site of the magazine.” The paper also reports that because of challenges to the design of the industrial site, “The Halifax factory contains many plant methods and equipment new to the industry.”

 

Bermite Powder Co AdvertisementBermite Powder Co Advertisement

Bermite Powder Co Advertisement

 

The new Halifax plant comes online on April 22, 1935. In 1939, Patrick Lizza establishes the Golden State Firework Company nearby, and when Halifax defaults on their tax payments, Lizza is there to gobble everything up for the tax money owed. This is in 1942 when the business is at the top of its profitability, or should have been. It becomes the Bermite Powder Company. The next year it wins an “E” award for productivity and worker safety.

More land is needed because of the war; it is made available inexpensively through tax-deeded lands. From 1942 to 1967 Bermite Powder Company produces detonators, fuses, boosters, coated magnesium, stabilized red phosphorus, flares, and photoflash bombs for battlefield illumination. The most widely used air-to-air missile in the West, Raytheon’s AIM-9 Sidewinder starts production at China Lake and uses a Hercules/Bermite MK-36, solid-fuel rocket engine that will have been tested and manufactured at the Saugus plant. Bermite becomes a major developer of the town of Newhall, building bedroom bungalows for employees along Walnut Street.

 

Abandoned Buildings & Tires – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Abandoned Buildings & Tires – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Infrared Exposure

Abandoned Buildings & Tires – Infrared Exposure – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

All this time they are disposing waste from their manufacturing in what they think is an appropriate manner, choosing areas in which to dump potassium and magnesium perchlorate (from flares) and ammonium perchlorate (from solid rocket fuel). There are also industrial solvents such as trichloroethene (TCE) and tetrachloroethene (PERC) used for cleaning parts in manufacturing and operations.

Then it happens on August 27, 1969. There is a giant flash but no sound, which indicates magnesium is involved, at a disposal site. Kenneth Chow, 21, suffers third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body and after a day succumbs. Nine other workers are injured. In a separate explosion the same day there is another fatality at the Northern Flare Company of Saugus. Someone reports seeing a spark before the accident. A dark angel is hovering over the area. It is a very bad day and perhaps an unremarked turning point for the munitions operation.

 

Windows & Debris – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Windows & Debris – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Windows & Debris – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

As the landscape’s munitions life begins to age, the face of Bermite also weathers and decays slowly year after year. Lives have a way of winding down so gradually at times it is almost imperceptible. They have been plagued over these years with accidental explosions, hazardous waste disposal, and a deteriorating market.

Whittaker Corporation purchases Bermite in 1969. Slowly the country experiences an awakening environmental conscience.

The munitions and fireworks leave more than 275 known contaminants, some of which percolate into the groundwater below the property. By 1986 the operations are exposed to steadily closer environmental scrutiny. Operations cease in 1987 and the munitions plant is decommissioned. Immediately the city makes plans for a 2911-unit residential community called Porta Bella.

 

Analysis of Perchlorate Containment by CH2M HILL – 2004Analysis of Perchlorate Containment by CH2M HILL – 2004

Analysis of Perchlorate Containment by CH2M HILL – 2004

 

But the housing community is never to be because of the significant and mobile nature of perchlorates. Finally, scientists find the chemical to be damaging to human thyroid function. Positive testing results for perchlorates presence lead to the closure of several wells in Santa Clarita. So begins awareness of the poisoned life of the Whittaker Bermite Property. The property is sold in 1999 to a group of Arizona investors, just as Whittaker suffers a hostile takeover bid.

More than a decade of litigation follows but one outcome is the long-term chemical cleanup project managed by the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

 

Movie Set Exterior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Movie Set Exterior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Movie Set Exterior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

Cleanup and dismantling of buildings begin. That is when the Santa Clarita LLC purchases the site for a planned mix-use development. When they default Whittaker is forced to take on the financial responsibility of the cleanup. The company insurance runs out in 2019, so that is now an end date in everyone’s mind.

The approach to cleaning up the landscape of perchlorate is multi-faceted. Wellhead treatment facilities are installed for the wells registering unhealthy amounts of perchlorate. As replacement wells are drilled, water services are in the process of bringing cleaned wells back on-line.

 

Movie Set Interior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Movie Set Interior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Movie Set Interior – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

A pump and treatment system has been installed to capture and clean up contaminated groundwater. Eight extraction well clusters are installed to multiple depths along the western border of the site to capture contaminated groundwater as well as 24 performance-monitoring wells. More than 15,000 feet of piping is installed to convey poisoned water to the brand new, recently brought on-line Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant. It is equipped to remove the site chemicals from this extracted groundwater. A pilot-scale permeable reactive zone is installed in subsurface along the northwestern boundary of the site near the Metrolink station.

The goal has never been to bring the life of this landscape back to the pristine condition before human habitation and engagement. The goal is to bring it back to match the needs presented by the goals for the site. It is to clean up sites where past waste handling operations resulted in chemical releases to soil and groundwater that present an unacceptable risk to human health. The plan includes two strategies: on-site vapor extraction to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and levitation, and off-site bioremediation of the soils impacted with perchlorate.

 

View of Santa Clarita from Atop Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017View of Santa Clarita from Atop Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

View of Santa Clarita from Atop Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

The contaminated soil is dug up and moved to where water and amendments are mixed with the soil and then placed in 67 treatment cells. The cells must be covered to keep out oxygen and promote natural soil microorganism (bacteria) growth. The perchlorate-eating bacteria require energy to grow. This comes from the biological break down of the perchlorate leaving the resulting chlorine in the soil to slowly dissipate. There must be and is appropriate monitoring of this progress in soil samples.

That process takes 20 to 30 days in warmer summer months and 45 to 90 days during cooler winter months. After drying the soil, it is used to backfill excavation sites. The soil is required to be cleaned down to ten feet. An additional thirty feet is added so if developers dig deeper, the soil will be clean. Of course, they will be hesitant so that they don’t become liable should more clean up be necessary.

 

Light Patterns on Floor – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Light Patterns on Floor – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Light Patterns on Floor – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

That brings up the final nature and characteristics of the next life of this landscape once it has been given a clean bill of health. Time will tell the reason this landscape has been given a new lease on life. It could be for recreation, road construction connecting severed thoroughfares like Via Princessa, wildlife preserves, or whatever human creativity can dream, as long as it is within the remaining limitations of land use. Another possibility, considering it is used regularly as the film location is developing the area for a back lot for a studio location. Its location, varied landscapes and remaining buildings, and film history suggest this is an idea with possibilities.

It is almost a Hollywood happy ending as Whittaker Bermite takes on still another, happier, cleaner, safer life. We hear many stories of lands turned to wastelands, or worse by overuse, thoughtless use, and destructive chemicals abandoned behind. This one offers real, significant hope for a new wonderful life for Whittaker Bermite with careful thought, investigation and creative design as decisions are made.

 

Corrugated Wall with Holes – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Corrugated Wall with Holes – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Corrugated Wall with Holes – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

NOTE: The Whittaker-Bermite site is privately owned and NOT open to the public. The property can be rented for motion picture production: DevenChierighino@gmail.com 

See Part 1 of the Whittaker-Bermit Story HERE.

 

Please enter your email address to receive future Dispatches via email:

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix altered landscape california desert christopher langley color photography desert landscape photography digital infrared photography environmental issues high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace kcet artbound land management los angeles county osceola refetoff santa clarita ca small town suburban urban sprawl usa whittaker-bermite site www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/2/whittaker-bermite-part-2 Wed, 28 Feb 2018 17:45:00 GMT
THE MANY LIVES OF WHITTAKER-BERMITE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/2/whittaker-bermite-part-1 Canyon View – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Canyon View – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

In the sultry heat and dusty surroundings of this southern California industrial site, the desert landscape wears its ravaged face for all to see. It is a countenance scarred, wrinkled, marred by blackheads of refuse, industrial detritus, and debris. Yet there is something intrepid, even aesthetic below the well-worn surface of dry grass once verdant from last year’s winter rains.

Exhaustive landscapes have lives, history, and stories to be read. This scarred landscape especially has had many lives, which help guests understand better the condition of our world now. These histories can be read with acute observation and practice.

 

Building & Rubble – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Building & Rubble – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Infrared Exposure

Building & Rubble – Infrared Exposure – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017
Photo: top: Canyon View – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

Groupings of buildings have the look of a dream-like, faded foreign land. It has an exotic mask of faded pastel signs and plaster reminiscent of a Spanish village or depression era services. In other locations, adobe walls resemble a terrorist ruin outside Jerusalem. A warehouse is rife with bullet holes pierced by narrow shafts of afternoon sunlight. In this harsh disturbed landscape, there is a professed sense of an invented Hollywood patina. Is this the abandoned ruins of the Bermite Powder Company or a recently abandoned movie set?

Various work trucks, tankers, and flatbeds move along in a perfunctory manner on the winding dirt roads that connect deserted manufacturing sites across the rolling hills. Someone likens these serpentine canyon walls on almost one thousand acres of California hillsides to a “donut,” a hole around which the modern city of Santa Clarita exists demonstrating how powerfully a landscape’s look inspires human metaphor.

 

African Village Set – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017African Village Set – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

African Village Set – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

Scattered mosaic-like grids of cells are positioned in at least three different locations. Guide Deven Chierighino explains this is where the soil is cleaned. Having spent decades working here, he is to the point of becoming totally bonded with this slowly changing scene. The site is contaminated with perchlorates. But instead of a rejected area left to fester, something entirely different is going on. The quandary of another poisoned landscape is now injected by human ingenuity of hope and the possibility of redemption.

Here the land reveals a varied history lived hard. An altered landscape, exhibiting one distinct visage on top of another, gives proof that there are land lives that still show through history. This is the Whittaker-Bermite in Santa Clarita, California; a decommissioned site of munitions testing, bomb building, perchlorate dumping and now serious, deep, and effective detoxification. These hills of Soledad Canyon ache from overuse and varied human destruction. Now they wait for a clarion call to arms that give both import and promise to the severely trashed area.

 

Explosives Containers – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Explosives Containers – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Explosives Containers – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

Once geological forces lifted up hills. Once indigenous people lived off the dry land. Once Missionaries – destroyers of populations and cultures in the name of God – were here. Then came a world-class pugilist, fireworks, and munitions to feed a hungry war machine.

When one stops, looks, and meditates on what truths are really here, layers of human habitation, land use, misuse, and human exploitation are discerned. These are the “lives” of a particular landscape. How did something once so proud and natural become so damaged and in need of fixing?

 

Window with Shadow – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Window with Shadow – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Window with Shadow – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

The San Gabriel Basement Complex dates to 1.7 billion years. Sedimentary rock from 30 million years ago to a mere 1.8 million years lay down a foundation. But it is the last 5 million years that formed the first face of the land even though no human was here to see it.

From that period the region was under an ancient sea, filled with life but now fossilized in the rock like notes to help us remember. Starting 50 million years ago mountains push up as the sea retreats. These great blocks of rock are pressured from the earth movement along the San Gabriel fault system, an offshoot of the infamous San Andreas Fault, fifteen miles to the north. It is still alive, stretching then compacting, waiting its turn. In the last couple of million years, the mountains in places reach up 5000 feet and shape a ring. This face is stone, seldom smiling or grimacing, just a geological snap of the fingers in its existence.

 

Hilltop View Facing Northwest – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Hilltop View Facing Northwest – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Hilltop View Facing Northwest Whittaker-Bermite Site Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

Then human faces appear and are mirrored in the land’s second serious countenance. A small group of Shoshone-speaking Indians comes into the area, driven there by Chumash insistence. According to Paul Higgins, Environmental Educator in Old Town Newhall Gazette, January- February 1996, the Kitanemuk are already here and call them the Tataviam for “people facing the sun,” or “people of the south-facing slope. 

”A dark skinned man steps from the shadows and begins harvesting and collecting food. His muscles glisten in the sun that shines down today as he cuts into the hearts of the young shoots of Hesperoyucca whippeli. This desert plant has many soubriquets including “chaparral yucca,” “our lord’s candle,” or “Spanish bayonet.” These people are enigmatic today, for little of their culture and language survive beyond their encounter with Spanish Catholicism. The man and his son hunt or gather deer meat, rabbits, squirrels, birds, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, caterpillars, acorns, yuccas, toyonberries, chia seeds, and buckwheat. Life is good and they live peacefully.

 

Room with Billowing Plastic – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Room with Billowing Plastic – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Room with Billowing Plastic – Administration Building – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

This man and his children and their mother realize their way of life is now ending, and they find a cave high up above Chiquita Canyon landfill. With the villagers help, they bring a time capsule of their very best: woven baskets, axe heads, obsidian knife blades, crystals, deer bone whistles, headdresses and capes made from iridescent condor and flicker feathers and ceremonial scepters. They want their life and culture to be remembered.

According to John R. Johnson and David D Earle in “Tataviam Geography and Ethnohistory” published in Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 12, No.2 (1990), these people lived with the landscape, which remained rich with food and natural materials. They built lodging with a cone-shaped framework of willow poles, covered with grass or brush all tied in place. From contact with Francisco Garces in 1769 to being taken to Mission San Fernando Rey de Espanza (1799) to being “saved” through baptism, ready to work for these priests and devout believers, the Tataviam population is decimated by disease and loss of identity.

The anthropologists perhaps writing outside their discipline remark that there had been no bad spirits before white contact, no concept of hell or the devil. The Tataviam did not change the land but adapted themselves to it. Then a conquering culture changed all that. But as also with landscape faces, nothing lasts for too long. Found by McCoy Pyle on May 2, 1884, the Tataviam “time capsule” is sold to Stephen Bower who breaks up the collection of cultural artifacts. He markets the items piecemeal across the world. It is now lost, like the culture the collection reflected.

 

Wall with Motel Sign – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017Wall with Motel Sign – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

Wall with Motel Sign – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – 2017

 

The indigenous face of the land is soon gone, and the Spanish missionaries remain until the 1830s when the missions are disbanded. Yet, except around these missions, the face of the land is only very mildly altered. Even the Tataviam’s twenty villages left little evidence they ever existed. The last full-blooded Tataviam, Juan Jose Fistero, died on June 30, 1921.

Today the entrance to Whittaker Bermite is through a one-lane cement conduit over which trains run regularly. When you pull in, there is an area that the signage says is not for location or film crew parking. In the late 1980s after the plant was decommissioned, many of the buildings were torn down.

 

Carnivale (Production Still) – Photo: Deven ChierighinoCarnivale (Production Still) – Photo: Deven Chierighino

Carnivale (Production Still) – Photo: Deven Chierighino

 

It would make a great movie studio location because there are now few open parcels of land so perfectly situated for southern California’s film industry within “The Zone,” a forty-mile circle drawn around Downtown L.A. There are also constructed remains from the HBO series Carnivale that worked here. The struggling traveling carnival masquerades as a religious revival at one point. The fictional company struggles against depression era economics and the environmental disaster of a “black blizzard,” a monumental dust storm. It is art resembling life. It is not dissimilar to what could have happened here at Whittaker Bermite without human intervention.

Things are changing, and out of the environmental cleanup can come a whole new life for this landscape. Still, the issue of perchlorate hovers like a dark cloud. Can this poisonous curse brought by human industry be finally lifted? Stay tuned.

 

The Unit (Production Still) – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – Photo: Brianne BrozeyThe Unit (Production Still) – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – Photo: Brianne Brozey

The Unit (Production Still) – Whittaker-Bermite Site – Santa Clarita, CA – Photo: Brianne Brozey

 

NOTE: The Whittaker-Bermite site is privately owned and NOT open to the public. The property can be rented for motion picture production: DevenChierighino@gmail.com

See Part 2 of the Whittaker-Bermit Story HERE.

 

Enter your email address if you wish to receive future Dispatches via email:

 

Click here for information on Limited Edition Prints

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix altered landscape california desert christopher langley color photography desert landscape photography digital infrared photography environmental issues filming location high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace kcet artbound land management los angeles county motion picture production osceola refetoff santa clarita ca small town suburban urban sprawl usa whittaker-bermite www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2018/2/whittaker-bermite-part-1 Tue, 06 Feb 2018 17:00:00 GMT
KING JOEY OF TRINITY STREET https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2017/8/king-joey-of-trinity-street Stop-Liquor Jr Market – Mojave, CA – 2016Stop-Liquor Jr Market – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

Trinity Street in Mojave, California is short. It runs three blocks from Highway 14 (Sierra Highway) to the Mojave High School football field. The football field has grass, unlike most of the yards on Trinity Street. Dirt yards are good for saving water, bad for a sense of suburban decorum and manicured gentility.

Trinity Street has bland architecture trending towards cream-colored stucco and unadorned fences. It is nearly eight o’clock in the morning and no one in the three blocks has apparently left for work. The residents appear generally unemployed. There is no headlong rush out the doors to be on time for work. Fifteen minutes later two mothers, one in pajama pants, both in slippers, are herding children to the family cars to drive them to the elementary school three blocks away. The parents are unwilling to let the children walk to school. A few people stride by from other streets, neither rushing nor dawdling. They appear to be on errands or on their way to work, but they have allowed enough time.

 

Trinity St & L St Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016Trinity St & L St Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016

Trinity St & L St Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016
Photo top: Stop-Liquor Jr Market – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

Otherwise, Trinity Street is empty, although most houses show signs of habitation. There feels like something is wrong on Trinity Street. Is it the unemployment rate over ten percent when the rest of the country is approaching five percent? Looking down the street, large green energy projects, both windmills marching into the wind and large tessellations of solar panels announce that once there were jobs here. They required trained technicians and construction workers not just uneducated day laborers. Now, minimal teams are left to maintain, monitor and inspect these cutting-edge industrial projects.

Our original goal had been to capture the sign in front of the Liquor Jr. Store that advertised “Ice Ammo” the evening before at the “golden hour.” Photographers love the light of the hour just at dawn and then again at dusk. The CalTrans sign hovers next to the highway, bracing as the periodic pulses of traffic signal the after-work stampede to somewhere else. The sign says “No Parking Any Time” but somebody, presumably the store owner, has posted larger, distracting Rockstar billboards there. Our debate is always how much to alter the composition to perfect the image.

 

ICE/AMMO – Mojave, CA – 2016ICE/AMMO – Mojave, CA – 2016First printed: 2016

Captured off Highway 14 in the remote desert town of Mojave, California, the iconic "ICE/AMMO" sign was displayed for what seemed like forever before suddenly disappearing from view shortly after this image was captured.

ICE/AMMO – Mojave, CA – 2016
 

Customers are constantly coming and going. Each time there is a shrill, annoying din as if some warning was needed to announce each person’s presence. They are happy, at times almost joyful, as if they are picking up party refreshments. They are generally people of color. There is a strong, if superficial, sense of sociability. Is that an indication of a more durable community or just an ingrained protocol of strangers crossing paths and asking “How’s it going?” For some imperceptible reason, they don’t manifest as embedded in the local economy. Nothing and no one is really connecting here on the street corner. Other customers are morose, sullen with eyes downcast. America has an alcoholic culture where booze is necessary for relaxing and having a good time. Alternatively, people use liquor for self-medication or to kill the pain of depression, a sense of uselessness, and isolation.

A woman comes by as the photographer continues to work and asks, “Are you taking it for the Mojave page?” She wants to be in the picture.

 

Charred House on Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016Charred House on Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016Color Infrared Exposure

Charred House on Trinity Street – Color Infrared Exposure – 2016

 

“My lonely desert” the photographer whispers as he waits for the vehicle traffic to subside before shooting. 

A rumbling train starts to move past Mojave in tedious, onerous passage. It is determined by sheer force of weight and locomotive power to deliver its freight to market. A potpourri of exhaust fumes, effluvia, and industrial flatulence mix and ooze up Trinity Street to where the shell of a burned-out house remains. A whiff of BBQ drifts down from somewhere on the next block. But a feeling of waiting for some unnamed, absent person permeates the stillness. In fact, he never comes.

The torched house has the anthropomorphic dark grin of a toothless meth addict, the empty windows are lifeless eyes, the burned door a deadpan nose, and the mouth formed from stairs blackened with debris and decaying fire ash. A black man comes out of a similar house and, when asked, says the structure burned about a month ago. The curious passerby might wonder who once lived here.

 

Address Marker – 2223 Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016Address Marker – 2223 Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016

Address Marker – 2223 Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

The sooty roof beams enclose the skeleton with a rib cage. Inside the charcoal smell is persistent. Piles of blackened ash and cinder litter the floors and pile up as the setting sun shines bravely through the window facing west. A sullen sadness of the ruin of one of the many banal buildings that line the street marks the vapid life of the low-income family in our rich country. As darkness falls, a fuller understanding of this neighborhood requires a return in the morning.

The golden hour in the morning necessitates an early rise. Somehow this day it is not nearly as persuasive with the beauty illuminated by lemon light that one might expect. In the daylight, there are intimations of humble lives poorly kept. One yard is a diminutive junkyard full of objects saved in the name of recycling that unlikely will get used again. There is the junk car cliché, hard to imagine it will ever move again. It is stored for the future nonetheless. Plastic toys have weathered in the scorching desert sun of summers past: a pink scooter, a multi-colored play set, a red trike with a yellow basket behind. The gate chain is secured with three padlocks.

 

Charred House at 2223 Trinity Street – Interior – Mojave, CA – 2016Charred House at 2223 Trinity Street – Interior – Mojave, CA – 2016

Charred House at 2223 Trinity Street – Interior – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

A car pulls up and parks on a worn-out lawn. In an area swept perennially by desert winds, the trees have been bent permanently towards the east. While most of the houses have recent roofs, they still have the look of rentals and impermanence. With each block – the closer to the Mojave High School, home of the Mustangs – the houses and yards are better maintained. In three short blocks, we pass from one economic class up the ladder to the next.

Back by the Economy Hotel, providing a place to crash for twenty-five dollars a night, a man comes out of the liquor store carrying the familiar paper bag, a reward for making it through another day. Then he pauses at the green dumpster of the motel, sets down the square bag and hitches himself up on the edge, sliding gently in for a “dumpster dive.” In America, with one of the richest standards of living, people still go hungry. Living off the cast-off food, articles, and rejected or unneeded items of the rest of population is a skill honed by the poor. The money saved is something they become adept at finding, giving the term “the art of the deal” a very different, ironic meaning to living a subsistence life among the relatively wealthy.

 

ICE/AMMO –  Night No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016ICE/AMMO – Night No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016

ICE/AMMO –  Night No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016
After many years in this spot, the iconic ICE/AMMO sign was destroyed in a windstorm.

 

Kris Kristofferson sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” His pessimistic view is only half the story. We are enslaved as much by the things we don’t have but crave to own, as by the objects we possess. The poor keep on living side by side with us but they are no freer than those deeply embedded in an American culture subjugated by materialism.

Now a large beer truck pulls up and parks. A rangy man with a wife-beater t-shirt and complex shoulder tattoos sidles up and nonchalantly asks about us. His skin is brown, either from the desert sun or his Aztec ancestors. We do not suspect that we are in the presence of the street’s royalty. Soon he has agreed to pose for photographs but asks for a dollar so he can buy a beer to recover from last night’s drunk. He is “King Joey B” he says, and he has come here from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Atwater Village to be nearer to his two daughters and wife in California City. He disparages his parenting as an “f’d-up dad.” He loves his daughters though. “I’m a good dude, not crazy,” he assures. He has an aura of someone lost that no one much notices.

 

Budweiser Truck & Stop Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016Budweiser Truck & Stop Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016

Budweiser Truck & Stop Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

King Joey is 41 and says his end is near. He is dying, that’s what it comes down to. “I’ve lost everything and everybody from alcoholism. My uncle is an alcoholic too. I’m a stone cold drunk. Nobody took me down but myself. From 1996 to 2006, I was in prison. I was in Tehachapi for 8-years solitary and was on meds. I was the phantom. I stay out of the way and nobody sees me.” He speaks with street-honed words yet clear enough articulation.

Gradually, his self-diagnosis of desert dementia begins to manifest. He pauses and wonders to himself if these men (us) are just hallucinations. He shakes his head. “My father was Thomas Hewitt, the father in the real-life Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You know the movie. I never got my dad. I have a tattoo of him.” He pulls back his wife-beater and a gruesome face reminiscent of Frankenstein becomes visible. That is his father he says. “I was abused as a child and my mother was a heroin addict. I’m just 41 and a drunk. Not that much time left. My trailer has black mold. It is a 25-footer. The mold caused a two-headed child. I’m not delusional. At night, I dream and zombies and monsters walk Trinity Street. They are real.” 

 

King Joey of Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016King Joey of Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016

King Joey of Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

A man saunters up. King Joey turns over the dollar he is holding to the guy to buy them both beers. Neither the man nor the beer ever shows up again. King Joey poses to look tough, but his alcohol-racked body is emaciated and he reiterates he’ll soon die. No one in the world, not even on Trinity Street, will notice his passing nor acknowledge he was ever there.

The high school, the scattered churches, and the shopping areas at both ends of town present that people can find, construct, and live happy American lives. Many complex social, economic, and psychological issues play into the success of living here, just as they do in the desperation and misery we also see. Mojave is a major transportation hub and many people are merely passing through. With those who settle, individual hard work, persistence, learning, luck, and spirit leads many to find their way. Sadly, still others falter and ultimately are lost. 

 

Charred House on Trinity Street No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016Charred House on Trinity Street No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016Infrared Exposure

Charred House on Trinity Street No.1 – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

Trinity Street makes me want to better understand the people of poverty living in the context of a country of wealth. I am white, raised upper middle class. I have never been poor, never even known others caught in poverty until I joined the Peace Corps in Iran.

King Joey appears mentally unstable and delusional. His self-diagnosis could be right on target. He has no hope now. Others here may have made poor personal and economic decisions that led them down dead-end streets. The new economy may not offer enough jobs, or jobs for which these workers are qualified. They live a day-to-day life and suffer from the inability to make plans and implement them. Life then is wherever the day takes them.

 

King Joey & Liquor Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016King Joey & Liquor Sign – Mojave, CA – 2016

King Joey & Liquor Sign – Trinity Street – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

Must I be satisfied with the idea that the poor are always with us? If they can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, will they have no profitable future? My moral compass dictates I should address the poverty around me. Yet, I don’t know what to do that would have a marked positive effect. Today after Trinity Street I ache for a better promise, a better way, a better community.

As the sun sets, it envelops this world in golden light. The hustling crowd fresh from work abates. A kind of provisional peace from the long day’s journey into a partial acquiescence of one’s fate settles on Trinity Street. All too soon the cycle will begin again with the promises of a new day. Then passing time and human ennui will again erode the hope for something better.

– C.L.

 

Window View from Charred House at 2223 Trinity St – Sunset – Mojave, CA – 2016Window View from Charred House at 2223 Trinity St – Sunset – Mojave, CA – 2016Color Infrared Exposure

Window View from Charred House at 2223 Trinity St – Sunset – Mojave, CA – 2016

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix alcoholism arson black & white photography california desert christopher langley color infrared photography desert landscape photography desert ruin digital infrared photography economic distress fire damage high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain kern county mojave california osceola refetoff rural small town unemployment usa www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2017/8/king-joey-of-trinity-street Thu, 24 Aug 2017 16:15:00 GMT
TOMBSTONES OF THE GHOST FARMS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/11/tombstones-of-the-ghost-farms Twin Silos and Collapsed Farm Building - Bishop, CA - 2016Twin Silos and Collapsed Farm Building - Bishop, CA - 2016Infrared Exposure

Twin Silos and Collapsed Farm Building - Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

The past speaks to us in a thousand voices, warning and comforting, animating and stirring to action.
Felix Adler

 

Across the dead fields and arid wasteland of northern Inyo County there are ringed silos standing straight, desolate and empty. They are now tombstones marking a way of life gone by. These cement cylinders were for silage during the beginning of the last century. They were a symbol of owner-pride. These were farms and dairies that have since blown away with the dust of many windy days.

Once there was plentiful water, human greed, and the lamentations of the pioneers taming a beautiful, harsh, and hostile land made of sand, soil, and stone. I hear mournful voices whispering under the winds as we ponder lives turned barren and lost on Highway 6 just north of Bishop, California.

The winds today are brutal, shaking the giant, ancient and gnarled cottonwoods that were planted when farmers came to this land to break the earth to plant. Today the sky is electric blue, with fair-weather cumulus gamboling across the azure firmament above our gale-sanded eyes. These clouds tantalize the photographer waiting for them to form the composition he wrestles to create.
 

 

Boarded-Up Farm House - Bishop, CA - 2016Boarded-Up Farm House - Bishop, CA - 2016Color/Infrared Exposure

Boarded-Up Farm House - Color/Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

We walk to the milking barn, whose looming, warped profile summons us to enter. With its breached roof creating complex, striated light patterns all about us and across our upturned faces, at first we hesitate to intrude on the memories here. Woven into the whining wind I hear the whispering, disconsolate ghost voices of those who came before. They tore the land, built the barn, erected a farmhouse, and finally hired a local man to pour the cement jackets, ring upon ring, to fabricate the twin silos.

There is so much I am seeing that I don’t really understand. Is it just a matter of the City of Los Angeles taking the water south? I go back to study the history, economy and practice of farming here to fully understand. In my mind there is a dialogue of what I see and what I learned late after my visit, a dialogue of experience and later research. I share this dialogue that continues in my head as I reread my writing:

 

A.O Adams built twin silos at the bequest of this nameless farmer. The paper said Adams had built a few dozen across the area. These twin structures that reached from the earth straight up towards the heavens were a source of swelled virile pride for this farmer.
 

 

Silos and Shadows - Bishop, CA - 2016Silos and Shadows - Bishop, CA - 2016Infrared Exposure

Silos and Shadows - Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

I study the dairy landscape through a time-vandalized window as the wind rustles litter nearby. The pasture, pocked by cow patties (although there are no cows today) glistens green with energy from the sun. The variegated light through the expiring roof marks our faces, creating both hesitation and uncertainty whether we belong here.

 

In the 1870s settlers set out with friends in a small wagon train from Fort Scott, Kansas. The wife and husband stalled out in Laramie, Wyoming waiting for their young son, grown sick, to get well. Although they were hopeful, he did not survive. They finally made it here on this land just north of Bishop.

All around them was the promise of the land. Not only how to grow, but how to sell and find new markets, even though they lived in the middle of an arid, rural nowhere. They incorporated the Inyo Creamery just before the century turned.

 

The story being told by these shadows permeates my conscience. I think about how hard life was in the 1870s. When these pioneer farmers got here from the mid-west, most of them had to master a new way of farming in arid lands. Since the seasonal rains were both severely delineated and often unfaithful, these farmers learned irrigation techniques, and ultimately built two hundred miles of unlined canals.
 

 

Window View of Twin Silos from Abandoned Barn - Bishop, CA - 2016Window View of Twin Silos from Abandoned Barn - Bishop, CA - 2016

Window View of Twin Silos from Abandoned Barn - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

The photographer shoots the two silos to the west through the same window I use to imagine the historic dairy landscape. He masters the challenge of lighting as I listen to the wind-torn silence all about. No vocalization rises above the pulsating howl of the wind. Do I hear the troubled mumbling of relocated farmers?

I ponder what other signs remain of this agrarian way of life in this spectacular landscape, with Sierra Nevada Mountains on one side and the White Mountains on the other. I later learn that by 1891 there were 22 separate ditches. Today these dry watercourses still meander like scars across the land, but only visible to the vigilant.

I leave the barn and walk over to the cement cylinders. A rusty ladder clings to each of their rough poured sides. The forms were two and a half feet high when poured, then hitched up to the next level. Gin pole and mule lifted the cement forms.
 

 

Twin Silos, Collapsed Building & Pink Foliage - Bishop, CA - 2016Twin Silos, Collapsed Building & Pink Foliage - Bishop, CA - 2016Color/Infrared Exposure

Twin Silos, Collapsed Building & Pink Foliage - Color/Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

Weeds dance in the wind around the bottoms of the silos. The tops are spiked with exposed rebar. I struggle to understand how they used these silos, imagining getting the forage to the top to fill the cement jacket.

 

W. R. Ford in Round Valley first experimented with the practicality of silage. For those non-farmers reading this, silage “is grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.”

Ford showed the top only spoiled down to ten inches, eighteen on the sides. The first silo was built in 1892, and in the next twenty years, anyone who could afford one, wanted one or two for their farms. Then after a depressed period, the new century gave way to prosperity. But these inexperienced arid land farmers – through their carelessness, inexperience, or incompetence – were creating a major disaster.

 

I wanted to argue with this voice. As a loyal Owens Valley patriot, I knew it was only Los Angeles taking the water that caused the collapse of agriculture here. The abandoned silo ruins and boarded-up farms gave undeniable evidence to the main cause: water extraction by “flatlanders.” Now it seemed the responsibility must be shared.
 

 

Boarded-Up Farm House with Watchful Horse - Bishop, CA - 2016Boarded-Up Farm House with Watchful Horse - Bishop, CA - 2016Infrared Exposure

Boarded-Up Farm House with Watchful Horse - Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

But it was Mulholland and Eaton who masterminded killing the Federal Reclamation project in order to bring water to Los Angeles. The project would have saved agriculture here and there would still be working dairies and farms.

 

These pioneers bear the onus of being careless and ignorant with the water. In high rain years the water was left to stand. The seepage from the unlined canals created marshes. The poor drainage took its toll and the best lands became spoiled with alkali deposits, laid down year after year.

 

The wind rises in a sibilate whine as I poke around the collapsed building to the north of these silos. White enamel ghosts leer out at me in the wreckage of the storage shed. Old stoves, refrigerators and antique appliances, all broken down, are salvaged because on the farm everything has potential use down the road.
 

 

Collapsed Building with Hoarded Appliances and Tires - Bishop, CA - 2016Collapsed Building with Hoarded Appliances and Tires - Bishop, CA - 2016

Collapsed Building with Hoarded Appliances and Tires - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

There is no proof that the reclamation project in the valley would have paid for itself with agricultural profits. These farmers ruined the best lands and filled the young men and women with bitterness. It was easy to blame the other, the City of Los Angeles. From more than 500 farms the number dropped to a little more than 200. A quarter of the population left. The drought of the early 1920s did bring the City back with a vengeance to buy land for more water for the aqueduct. We joke still, “Flush your toilets, L.A. needs the water.”

 

I am arguing with a disembodied voice in my head. I smirk with a sudden conscious embarrassment and return to the barn. The photographer works to frame the boarded windows of the farm house, a now blind domicile, in a weathered window frame. He frames his desert visions with abandoned architecture. At his feet are more disowned machinery and appliances, detritus of our consumer age.
 

 

Window View of Boarded-Up Farm House from Abandoned Barn - Bishop, CA - 2016Window View of Boarded-Up Farm House from Abandoned Barn - Bishop, CA - 2016Color Infrared Exposure

Window View of Boarded-Up Farm House from Abandoned Barn - Color/Infrared Exposure - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

My inner argument continues. But it is the flatlanders, the lack of water storage, their profligate waste of water in swimming pools and washing off decks and walkways. It is too little too late. It is easy to understand the faults of others, especially impersonal, heartless utilities that crush our farms, dairies, and creamery.

 

Before the end of the 1800s Owens lakeshore had shrunk 200 feet. If there never had been L.A., still the lake could have become dry. A somewhat pointless speculation involves what this land would look like today without the City? Like San Jose or Riverside? True the City used nefarious means to buy land. Appeal to local greed and pay top dollar for one central piece of land, then pump down the groundwater and buy several surrounding pieces for much less.

But at every turn the City outsmarted the people living in its water-rich colony until, drained by embezzlement the collapse of the Watterson banks brought almost everyone to poverty. The water wars were over, and all that remained was tallying the accumulating dead farms.


View from Atop Silo onto Naturally Irrigated Pasture and Snowcapped Sierra Nevada - Bishop, CA - 2016View from Atop Silo onto Naturally Irrigated Pasture and Snowcapped Sierra Nevada - Bishop, CA - 2016

View from Atop Silo onto Naturally Irrigated Pasture and Snowcapped Sierra Nevada - Bishop, CA - 2016

 

Yet the pastoral beauty of our land does remain. The continuous planted fields from Laws to Bishop, the trees along the highway, the flowers and the pasture, rich with nutrients for bovine stomachs are now gone. It feels to me that this lost land is a floating dream world. All that remains besides community and personal family gardens are alfalfa fields.

Yet, we live well here in Inyo County. The loss has been acknowledged and we move on. Still in my heart is a bitterness that is slowly being healed by all the good people I meet here and in the City.
 

 
Traffic on Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016Traffic on Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016

Traffic on Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016  (approximately one mile from silos)

 

This farmer on whose land I stand lived a full life and died in 1929. He saw so much. There was a contradiction between the farmers’ deleterious misuse of irrigation on the land, mostly through ignorance, and their wish to farm the lands for their bountiful crops. Just as their lives on the farm were dying, voices of the past were stirring the people of the City of Bishop towards action. They still love and use the land respectfully, but now they have created an industry of recreation. Exercise, becoming one with nature, hiking, fishing, hunting, and biking: the list of recreational opportunities goes on.

This new way of life depends on the people who took the water, and the first farmers who did such a mediocre job with our fertile valley. There is a kind of peace born in acceptance. Bishop High School once had dances in the old barn, and now occasional weddings take place outside its weathered face. It’s funny how things change.
 

 

Kevin Mazzu – Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016Kevin Mazzu – Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016

Kevin Mazzu – Main Street (Highway 6/395) - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016
Kevin is a Bishop resident, local businessman, and civic leader. A
ctive with local projects and charities, he has led the committee to gain National Scenic Area status for the Alabama Hills in nearby Lone Pine, CA.

 

We head into downtown Bishop, where farming has been replaced by another landscape-based economic engine: recreational tourism. I stop and talk to Karen Schwartz who owns Sage to Summit. She is rushed to get home to cook dinner for her family, but stops to say her business is on an upward curve. She assures me life is good on Main Street, no matter how many challenges are presented. I realize from adversity on our land the meaning of life is born. Still I hear the murmuring of restless voices. However, the bitterness from damage done to the land in the past is mitigated by local acceptance of some responsibility for the demise of the farms. The rancor of the past is also balanced by a new sense of optimism in the residents today for the hope of an improving future tomorrow.

We still shape the land and it continues to shape us.
 

– C.L.

 

Window Display of Ultralight Adventure Gear – Sage to Summit Store - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016Window Display of Ultralight Adventure Gear – Sage to Summit Store - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016

Window Display of Ultralight Adventure Gear – Sage to Summit Store - Downtown Bishop, CA - 2016

 

Almost all the black & white images presented on High & Dry are infrared exposures, likewise the strange-colored images captioned as "Color/Infrared Exposure" above. I've been experimenting with a "hot sensor" camera that allows exposure of the entire continuity of light energy from infrared, through the visual spectrum, to ultraviolet. Since the human eye can only perceive radiation in the visual spectrum, the infrared and mixed visual spectrum/infrared exposures capture ghostly forms detected only by the camera sensor and re-interpreted as colors we can see. A dispatch that includes "spirit" voices seemed like the ideal place to introduce this color infrared technique that I'll be incorporating into my general photographic practice.

– O.R.

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix california high desert christopher langley desert landscape photography high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain osceola refetoff www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/11/tombstones-of-the-ghost-farms Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:30:00 GMT
OF MIRACLES AND BURNING PALMS: THE GREAT FIRE OF THERMAL, CA https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/8/of-miracles-and-burning-palms-the-great-fire-of-thermal-california Charred Property at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015Charred Property at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015

“All things are possible, if only you believe.”
Gospel song sung by Elvis Presley and others


The rumor went around that the fire in the fan palm grove belonging to the Jesus Is Salvation Church began with a lightning strike. Pastor Ruben Martinez tells me it may have been an electrical short in a work shed on the property. So the fire wasn’t caused by a vengeful God from the Old Testament to punish the unfaithful. On the contrary, evidence suggests that it was the faithful.

The scene is apocalyptic with the rooms, walls, and floors of the burned house intact. As Osceola goes through his normal contortions of composition, I struggle to understand the architectural design of one of the destroyed buildings. Fire ruins take on a desultory, chaotic impression. Melted and twisted steel, Daliesque chairs and furniture, blackened-face tile, and now useless intention obscure their utility of structure.

 

Remains of the Fruitland Fire - Dawn - Thermal, CA - 2016Remains of the Fruitland Fire - Dawn - Thermal, CA - 2016

Remains of Fruitland Fire - Dawn - Thermal, CA - 2016
Top photo: Charred Property at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015

 

Osceola shoots the rising sun and cloud bank through a window that frames the torched desert scene. Then he scampers into the ovoid swimming pool that stares like a blinded Cyclops from the flame scorched earth. There is a beauty here, a disaster porn element that seduces through its purposelessness of consumption, an intense oxidation. There is no god of fire here. There is the peace that is attained through exhaustion and destruction. Human hope has disappeared in depletion then impoverishment. Can faith bring back hope? 

The palms are now green on top; the other trees remain dead except for a few oleanders that line the road.

 

Burnt-Out Buildings Viewed from Empty Pool - Thermal, CA - 2016Burnt-Out Buildings Viewed from Empty Pool - Thermal, CA - 2016

Burnt-Out Buildings Viewed from Empty Pool - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Talking with Pastor Ruben, he made the origin of the fire as being mundane not supernatural very clear. He also explained that he bought the property with the palms to make a value of 20 million dollars needed to build a new house of worship. 

As I walk through the grove of fan palms (Washingtonians), there is a stately beauty about the planting. These are mature trees. The fire has burned off most of the detritus that palm trees accumulate. Now instead of the rough outer covering of the trunks, they are smooth, tessellated with fire-caused soot intensifying the contrast on the surface. This will probably disappear with time and the palm trees will be returned to health and salability.

 

Pastor Ruben Martinez of the Christ Is Salvation Christian Church - Thermal, CA - 2016Pastor Ruben Martinez of the Christ Is Salvation Christian Church - Thermal, CA - 2016

Pastor Ruben Martinez of the Christ Is Salvation Christian Church - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Cal-Fire Captain Lucas Spelman said at the time of the fire, “It’s dry out there, the trees got less water this year. The palm trees are dry and they’re carrying the fire.” It had been first reported as half an acre but spread quickly in the record 119 degree heat. One nearby neighbor, Francisca Berdugo, stated, “I see a big mushroom in the sky and flames.” Eventually roads in the area of Grapefruit Boulevard and Avenue 58 were affected and traffic was diverted.

Pastor Ruben meets me at the site. The initial evaluation determined that the trees were gone and his church suffered a loss of $4 to $5 million. Now there is peace in the grove, the birds are happily chirping, and all is right with the world. The palm grove is full of life. At first Pastor Ruben is reticent, evaluating my motivations. He does tell me his story with calm yet steadfast enthusiasm.

 

Entrance to Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015Entrance to Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015

Entrance to Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015
 

He and his wife Margarita are the senior and founding pastors. They have been married more than 40 years. In 1985 his mother was dying of tuberculosis and the doctors were unable to heal her. He got down on his knees in the restroom and prayed, promising God that if he saved her, he would follow him and his teachings the rest of his life. His mother lived another twenty years. 

Pastor Ruben has been a child actor in movies, business owner, auto mechanic, and investor. He is now retired, working full-time for the Lord. He and his wife were moved to start the Jesus Is Salvation Church in 1996. It started small but now has a building on Harrison Street in Thermal, and also another site. Ruben dreams of a big, new church.
 

 
Partially Intact Building at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015Partially Intact Building at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015

Partially Intact Building at Grapefruit Fire Site - Thermal, CA - 2015

 

“We bought this with a purpose to sell the palm trees and make over $25 million to build our new church on Church Street here. And now these trees were gone, and you can’t insure palm trees. Usually when crisis comes in, that’s when we pray to God and we see the glory of God manifest and he’ll calm the storm.”

Pastor Ruben prayed and had his congregation most strong in their faith pray. The palm trees were assumed dead, but the pastor had them watered anyway even though the farmer watering them said it was hopeless and a waste of water. The decision to water was an act of faith in itself. Palm trees are watered through flood irrigation, although drip irrigation is coming into fashion. The palm trees are now obviously coming back, while most of the other trees on the property remain dead.

 

First Light On Dead & Recovered Trees - Thermal, CA - 2016First Light On Dead & Recovered Trees - Thermal, CA - 2016

First Light On Dead & Recovered Trees - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Pastor Ruben says his church will cling to its faith and find a way to rebuild or more exactly build. The property also had two other single-family homes, both of which belonged to the church. The residents were provided with shelter, food, and clothing.  On the church website the Pastor posted, “All of us at Christ Is Salvation Christian Church thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers as we continue to assess the damage from the fire at our palm nursery in Thermal. The church continues to provide clothing and rooms for those families displaced by fire.”

“We especially thank all the Cal-Forestry fire fighters, Riverside County Sheriff deputies, Riverside County Hazmat, the Red Cross, and other organizations who have provided round the clock protection, provisions and updates. We pray in Jesus’ name for speedy and full recovery for those precious servants of Cal-Fire who suffered injury during the fires.”

 

Sunrise Over Burnt-Out Building - Thermal, CA - 2016Sunrise Over Burnt-Out Building - Thermal, CA - 2016

Sunrise Over Burnt-Out Building - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

It is a simple story. The suspicious, cynical, or pragmatic will say that the palms would have come back, like the oleanders, from their roots. It didn’t take prayer or faith, but nature’s resilience. The faithful will testify that it was God’s steadfast love. 

Standing at the edge of the scorched palm grove, the belief of this man and those he pastors have certainly empowered their wills to act, to keep the faith, and to make it through another day as the trees recover. One thing is certain: I am assured by the faithful that the new church will get built.

–C.L.

 

Sunstar and Resurrected Palm Grove - Thermal, CA - 2016Sunstar and Resurrected Palm Grove - Thermal, CA - 2016

Sunstar and Resurrected Palm Grove - Thermal, CA - 2016

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches abandoned structure california desert charred property christopher langley coachella valley color photography dawn desert dispatches desert landscape photography desert windows series desertscape domestic drought faith fire damage forsaken dreams grapefruit fire high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain hope human activity human enterprise jesus is salvation church magic hour mojave desert osceola refetoff palm tree pastor ruben martinez riverside county rural sunrise sunstar thermal ca www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/8/of-miracles-and-burning-palms-the-great-fire-of-thermal-california Tue, 30 Aug 2016 16:00:00 GMT
ONE THOUSAND AND ONE CULTURAL ILLUSIONS: ORIENTALISM IN THE COACHELLA VALLEY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/7/one-thousand-one-cultural-illusions Coachella Valley High School Mural with New Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016Coachella Valley High School Mural with New Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016

 

God, she was beautiful - my first image of the Orient - a woman such as only the desert poet knew how to praise: her face was the sun, her hair the protecting shadow, her eyes fountains of cool water, her body the most slender of palm-trees and her smile a mirage.

  Amin Maalouf

 

Our attitudes about the Orient and Middle East have changed significantly from the 1930s when movies, books, and marketing nurtured a popular fantasy of harem girls at your beck and call. Even earlier, Hollywood fed dreams in the audiences of Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik taking you to his Bedouin tent to show you his etchings. With a Middle East rife with geopolitical hatred and religious bigotry, riding off into the Saharan sunset has lost its romantic appeal. 

 
Statue & Sunstar - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016Statue & Sunstar - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016
 
Statue & Sunstar - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016
Top photo: Coachella Valley High School Mural with New Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Our racial stereotypes of dark skinned terrorists have erased what was once a romantic distortion that was labeled Orientalism by academic Edmund Said. Much serious work now examines this study of our views of Asian peoples. In 1947, it was a different world when several business people of Indio coupled marketing their excellent and growing date crop with Oriental fantasies borrowed from Hollywood and One Thousand and One Nights to create what was at the time culturally insensitive, yet “dressing-up” fun. It became a very successful marketing ploy. 

It was in these years that the International Indio Date Festival took shape and for the next thirty years had a musical pageant, a kitschy theatrical set, camels galore and everywhere you looked waitresses, townspeople, doctors, and lawyers dressed in faux Arabian Nights costumes.

 

Vintage National Date Festival Brochure - Indio, CAVintage National Date Festival Brochure - Indio, CA

Vintage National Date Festival Brochure - Indio, CA

 

Many people who do not know deserts first hand mistakenly think: “a desert is a desert is a desert.” Certainly the Mojave Desert of California is different from the Sahara, Gobi, and Iran’s Sarhad. But think of palm trees, sand dunes, colorful clothes, and engaging characters and you have stereotypes that cover all our desert fantasies, regional or international. Seventy years ago they added the pastiche of half naked belly dancers in halter-tops. Stir in seductive and mysterious, darkly handsome men, magicians, sadistic rulers, and you have sexual fantasies that have been loosed on the shopping land. Today this vision is quite anachronistic and we easily recognize it as such. We see women from different Muslim cultures in chadors, hijab, yashmak, or at least conservatively veiled in scarves, walking down our streets.

In the date market of the 1940s into the 1960s, sellers and consumers were seduced by the “Oriental” fantasies that Hollywood, Middle Eastern literature, Romantic paintings, and graphic arts in general had inculcated into our imaginations. But that was then, and now only the remnants remain in street names, business mottos, and gimcrack Muslim architecture at the Riverside County Fairgrounds located in the city of Indio, CA.

 

Arabian Mobile Home Park Entrance - Indio, CA - 2016Arabian Mobile Home Park Entrance - Indio, CA - 2016

Arabian Mobile Home Park Entrance - Indio, CA - 2016
 

Perhaps it is best reflected in the early date merchandiser and farmer Mr. E. Floyd Shields in his small pamphlet with the long title “Coachella Valley Desert Trails: The Salton Sea Saga and the Romance and Sex Life of the Date.”  Chances are you were reading along casually until you got to “sex life.” The book had a picture of Mr. Shields in a pith helmet looking like your grandfather with a caption “Mr. Shields Holding Female and Male Date Blossoms.”

University of Chicago Professor Edward Said’s work on Orientalism, and in his book of the same name, has deeply interested me after my two years in Peace Corps Iran before the Islamic Revolution and as a film historian researching Oriental Hollywood films made in the American high desert. I experience both fascination and repulsion at the prejudices, distortions and negative attitudes about Arabian, Iranian and other Middle Eastern cultures that are prevalent now. Violence spawned by geopolitical tension and colonialism on the part of the West has exacerbated the fear of the “other” foreign culture.

 

Mural - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016Mural - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016

Mural - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016
 

The heyday of this ersatz pop culture adoption to sell dates was in the period of after WW2 into the 1960s. By then, international diplomacy and travel, increased cultural sensitivity, and now anti-ISIS and Muslim feelings have undermined the love of the Arabian fantasy. Other forces as well may be at work. Perhaps the images have lost their appeal and been stripped of innate sexual fantasy. The iconography is exhausted in the public mind. Indio is also developing a strong Hispanic culture and population, which now is filling in for the retreating Oriental one.

One stronghold remains for the by-gone Arabian infatuation and that is the annual Indio Date Festival, now the National Date Festival and now also the Riverside County Fair.

 

Sign - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016Sign - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016

Sign - Riverside County Fairgrounds - Indio, CA - 2016
 

I cross Arabia Street and walk up to the gates, where the architecture is faux Oriental, actually influenced by many Eastern nationalities, and yet reflecting none. There are domes of no particular era, muqanas or miniature, pointed arches and simple patterns derived from geometric, arabesque, and floral designs. The security was extreme and all I could think of was the airlines security that followed 9/11, a modern artifact of Middle Eastern geopolitics today.

Inside the Festival it was row after row of food booths. Various rides outlined against the sky, many spinning and jerking attempts to extract what had recently arrived in each rider’s stomach. Off in the distance I could see several giant construction cranes working on a major project. Indio means to move on from its Middle Eastern pandering to a modern developing desert city. Among other projects, construction is proceeding on a prison.

 

Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival Sign - Indio, CA - 2016Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival Sign - Indio, CA - 2016

Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival Sign - Indio, CA - 2016

 

I pass so many booths offering food: Texas doughnuts; Italian ices, Thai, Chinese, and more. You name it; they have it.  There was only one thing involving dates and that was an Indio date dog. Nearby there was a “deep fried snickers” sign competing for my gastronomical attention. Many years ago I had one. That fulfilled a lifetime of curiosity.

On the near horizon there is silhouetted the minaret and eastern roofs of Arabian architecture. It is actually a large and engaging set for the nightly musical pageant that has been playing in one version or another for nearly seventy years. There is wonderful stage equipment and feeling you aren’t in Indio anymore. I walk by three camels nearby that are there to give rides. Two were working while the third was lounging around on his belly. It looked like fun but my legs began to ache with the memory of an all night camel ride up an active volcano named Taftan that crowns the Sarhad, a southern desert of Iran where I once lived.

 

1001 Natchts Ride - National Date Festival - Indio, CA - 20151001 Natchts Ride - National Date Festival - Indio, CA - 2015

1001 Natchts Ride - National Date Festival - Indio, CA - 2015 (Photo: Christopher Langley)
 

Earlier in the day these humped “ships of the desert” had been part of a camel race and that night they will be on stage in the pageant. In the distance I could see a whirling ride, one end of a giant pendulum with a long bench for about ten or twelve people. On the other end was a giant sign that stated “1001 Nacht.” The One Thousand and One Nights classic literature had greatly influenced the dreamers and fantasists in the 1940s. Still the Queen of the fair is called Scheherazade. 

The Holy Lands are one other area where this affectation of Orientalism persists. The Shields Date Gardens have paths for walking through the date palms. Recently they obtained larger-than-life statues from a closed Bible garden illustrating the most famous events of Jesus Christ’s life. For the devout it is engaging; for the rest it is mere simulacra and a synthetic imitation of a universe far, far away and long, long ago.

 

Coachella Valley High School Sign with Old Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016Coachella Valley High School Sign with Old Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016

Coachella Valley High School Sign with Old Mascot - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Yet one cultural insensitivity often takes the place of another. What is it in human nature that attracts us to negative stereotypes of other cultures for mocking and animosity? Using sex to market dates has been done before, and it can be done again. It is a common strategy today in our culture. Health is another marketing game plan that is being used, although many are stumbled by something so sweet with natural sugars being healthy. The new marketing tactics for dates have yet to be tested, proved, and finalized.

Indio is now up and coming; in spite of dropping groundwater in some areas, it is straining to be a modern desert city. The date crop ranks at the top, making the area the date capital of the United States. Now the marketing strategy is health and nutrition rather than romantic fantasies.

 

Coachella Valley High School Mural with Genie Mascots - Thermal, CA - 2016Coachella Valley High School Mural with Genie Mascots - Thermal, CA - 2016

Coachella Valley High School Mural with Genie Mascots - Thermal, CA - 2016
 

Indio has developed a Mission Statement and built a strategic plan for the future: Self-study, goals, and objectives. The will to move ahead, with the money to do it, points to a very different future than a faux Arabian one for the town, and its companion towns on the Highway 10 corridor. 

-C.L.

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches california desert christopher langley color photography dates desert dispatches desert landscape photography desertscape domestic drought high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace indio ca mojave desert muslim culture national date festival orientalism osceola refetoff riverside county riverside county fair shields date garden www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/7/one-thousand-one-cultural-illusions Fri, 15 Jul 2016 17:00:00 GMT
MR. AND MRS. DATE PALM ARE MOVING TO THE COUNTRY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/6/mr-and-mrs-date-palm-are-moving-to-the-country Palm Grove off Airport Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015Palm Grove off Airport Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015

 

An old Arabic legend tells of the Date palm's creation: "After God had finished molding Man from Earth; He took the remaining material and shaped it into a date palm which he placed in the Garden of Paradise."

As we drive around the Coachella Valley towns of Indio, Thermal, Coachella, and even Mecca, we see full-grown, beautiful date palms being cut down, or pulled-out violently by the roots. I feel a terrible loss at seeing these stately, valuable trees being wantonly destroyed. The lots are cleared and then put up for sale. 

Eventually the land will be filled with cookie-cutter homes. I ruminate on the fact that neither the date palms nor the homes are natural to this area. One might surmise this destruction spells the end of date agriculture in the area.
 

 

Newly Constructed Homes Alongside Palm Grove - Indio, CA - 2015Newly Constructed Homes Alongside Palm Grove - Indio, CA - 2015
Newly Constructed Homes Alongside Palm Grove - Indio, CA - 2015
Top photo: Palm Grove off Airport Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015

 

Are you kidding? It is the crop that makes Indio the date capital of the United States, producing 95% of American dates. Several factors are in play, but in actuality the date gardens are simply being relocated out of town. First, the land within the growing town is too valuable. Developing it for housing and business can make a profit. Second, as the trees grow older, their production drops off, and harvesting from the ever-higher crowns becomes more difficult, and thus more expensive and dangerous. 

So Mr. and Mrs. Date Palm are moving out to the country where land is relatively cheaper and not likely to be developed any time soon.
 

 

Palms, Ladder & Sunstar - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016Palms, Ladder & Sunstar - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016
Palms, Ladder & Sunstar - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016

 

From the East Coast originally, I remember vividly when I saw my first palm tree. We were on a spring break road trip from college in winter bound New Hampshire to my roommate’s hometown of Sarasota. It was predawn and the palm was on the northern edge of Georgia, the burgeoning steel-blue light silhouetting its strange, prehistoric, scaly trunk and exotic fronds. Slightly crazy from driving all night, all I could think was dinosaurs will be next.

Dates are not native to the Coachella Valley. But as it turns out, the rare desert climate here is perfect for growing them. In 1898, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent their “Agricultural Explorers” to travel the globe looking for new foods unknown in the West to grow back in the United States. The story of the Biblical date is one of the romantic visions coloring this crop in the Coachella Valley. The Shields Date Farm actually has a Biblical garden with stations-of-the-cross sculptures from Jesus’ life.
 

 

"The Baptism of Jesus" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016"The Baptism of Jesus" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016
"The Baptism of Jesus" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016

 

David Fairchild went to Bagdad to study date palms because of the seductive stories in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. This book and the whole flavor of Arabian culture and romanticism were very popular at that time. Fairchild’s co-worker Walter Swingle went to Algeria and brought back several bundles of date palm offshoots. They flourished in the Coachella Valley climate. Fred Popenoe then sent his two sons Paul and Wilson around the world risking their lives. They stopped in Iraq for date palms. However, Paul nearly succumbed to typhoid fever in the tropical climate, and Wilson contracted malaria but survived.

Wilson reported that in the Red Sea, a lot of the precious cargo of date cuttings was lost in an ocean squall, threatening the entire mission. Short of drinking water for the crew, the ship’s captain was resistant to using any on the remaining offshoots. Wilson exchanged a new technological wonder at that time, his typewriter, with the captain for water. The plants survived the arduous journey.

Today all the date palms in the Coachella Valley are descended from these early gathering trips. 

 
 

Strange Palms with Baby Carriage and Homeless Encampment - Indio, CA - 2015Strange Palms with Baby Carriage and Homeless Encampment - Indio, CA - 2015
Strange Palms with Baby Carriage and Homeless Encampment - Indio, CA - 2015

 

As we stand near the center of town, this evening the sun is a red, burning eye setting in the murky, dust-infused evening air. Osceola is struggling to create a photograph capturing the eleven palm trees standing in broken posture in an abandoned parking lot.

Palm trees are everywhere in the Coachella Valley, but it is Indio that most readily identifies with their reptilian solemnity. The ones we are studying for their aesthetic fatigue have an orphaned baby carriage, a one-person homeless camp, and other urban detritus all about them. The trees, some broken off and mere posts, are infused with elements of entropy, echoing timeless regrets in this harsh land. Sun-blasted gravel spreads at their feet. Their necks are bent in anthropomorphic tilt as if listening, waiting to hear something about their meaning. Is it just the traffic on the busy street nearby? Do date palms here in the Coachella Valley have ulterior or metaphysical significance beyond just an agricultural crop? They do have important allusive meaning, embedded in several major religious texts from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. 
 

 

Sandstorm Approaching Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015Sandstorm Approaching Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015
Sandstorm Approaching Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015

 

These sacred writings are rife with symbolism, but here these trees seem to be commenting on whom we are, and what we have left behind that now defines us. Even the practice of growing date palms is idiosyncratic, labor-intensive, and nearly unparalleled. This process does limn human determination and tenacity. 

Palm trees are not propagated from seeds in most cases. The palms are cultivated by harvesting the dozen offshoots around the lower trunk when the tree has reached full maturity. The offshoots are planted and watered and up to 80% survive and grow. 
 

 

Sandstorm at Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015Sandstorm at Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015
Sandstorm at Bermuda Palms Mobile Estates - Indio, CA - 2015

 

We see new palm gardens, often on the edge of town. I remember the violence their immediate ancestors have suffered and wondered if these trees will eventually have a violent end as well. After a few years they will start to flower. Date palms can take 4 to 8 years after planting before they will bear fruit, and 7 to 10 years to produce viable yields for commercial harvest.

Propagating dates is labor intensive and requires skilled workers called palmeros who also work in humidity and 120 plus degree heat at certain times of the year. They are often Mexican nationals, and because of their extra skills and the harsh working conditions are paid more than other farm laborers. These palmeros tie up the male flowers until they are dry and the pollen can be shaken out onto the female blossoms. This is done by hand, working high up in the boughs of the palms.


 

Flood Irrigation - Date Palm Grove off Grapefruit Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015Flood Irrigation - Date Palm Grove off Grapefruit Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015
Flood Irrigation - Date Palm Grove off Grapefruit Blvd - Thermal, CA - 2015

 

I stare up at the dagger-like spines that are ready at a moment’s notice to tear into human flesh, eviscerating the farmer’s arteries from his forearms. During the first few months of the year, the palmeros take very sharp curved knives and cut off the stiff sharp thorns. 

While there are several types of dates, in the Coachella Valley most dates are of Deglet Noor variety. It is a semisoft date, with firm flesh and a color range from light red to amber. Blonde and brunette dates were developed by and sold exclusively at the Shields Date Farm in Indio. Mr. E. Floyd Shields was an authority on the life of the date and how to promote interest and tourism and as he proves in his original film with the provocative title, “Coachella Valley Desert Trails: The Salton Sea Saga and the Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” 
 

 

"Don't Miss It!" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016"Don't Miss It!" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016
"Don't Miss It!" - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016

 

These dates came all the way from the Middle East originally; now their new restlessness has resulted in a much shorter trip. The culture of the date is a conundrum of contradictions.

The process of growing date palms and harvesting dates is still labor intensive. The process combines ancient ways with modern technology. Often people who are fans of dates are fans of the famous date shake. Sweet to the point of cloying, still it is popular with the tourists who visit the area, as long as they are not on a diet or diabetic. I am not a fan of the shake but love dates used in main dishes and baked goods. This crop is unique, rare, difficult, and yet lucrative when handled professionally. It has marked, molded, and shaped Indio and the Coachella Valley since propagation there beginning more than a century ago. You’ll know that almost as soon as you arrive.
 

 

Caroline Castillo - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016Caroline Castillo - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016
Caroline Castillo - Shields Date Garden - Indio, CA - 2016

 

By the way, before you go out to explore any of the shady, cool palm gardens of Indio, or even the new ones, put on tough calf-high boots. Rattlesnakes are also attracted to the tepid temperatures and don’t take kindly to being stepped on.
 

–C.L.

 

Palm Trees & Irrigation Pond - Thermal, CA - 2015Palm Trees & Irrigation Pond - Thermal, CA - 2015
Palm Trees & Irrigation Pond - Thermal, CA - 2015
 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix christopher langley color photography desert landscape photography high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy osceola refetoff www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/6/mr-and-mrs-date-palm-are-moving-to-the-country Wed, 15 Jun 2016 16:30:00 GMT
APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/4/april-is-the-coolest-month  

Hot off the press, the Whole Life Times' feature story High & Dry: L.A.'s Tug-of-War with its Neighbors (beautifully written by Genie Davis) explores the city's historic relationship to the surrounding desert and the challenges we face in an era of increased water scarcity.

 

Whole Life Times - High and Dry: L.A.'s Tug of War with its Neighbors - April/May 2016Whole Life Times - High and Dry: L.A.'s Tug of War with its Neighbors - April/May 2016by Genie Davis, photos by Osceola Refetoff
LINK TO ARTICLE

by Genie Davis, photos by Osceola Refetoff

 

Meanwhile, High & Dry's adventures on KCET's Artbound continue with Lancaster, California: From Alfalfa to 'Net Zero' City. Stay tuned! High & Dry is the featured project all week, with a brand new Dispatch rolling out each day.

We invite you to visit ChristopherLangley.org, a shiny new showcase for Chris' books, news, and upcoming events. Discover what lies behind the "shadowy" moniker he's chosen for his publication outfit.

 

 

Osceola's photography can be seen through this Saturday at Muzeumm. The intriguing, must see, exhibition Abstract Never Is closes April 9th, 1-6pm, with a panel discussion from 3-5pm that includes art luminary Peter Frank.

 

"Walk" - Downtown Los Angeles, CA - 2010"Walk" - Downtown Los Angeles, CA - 2010Pinhole Exposure Abstract Never Is - Curated by Juri Koll - MuzeuMM - Los Angeles, CA - 2016

"Walk" - Downtown Los Angeles - 2015 - at Muzeumm thru April 9th

 

Be a part of history! Check out our new Sponsorship Page to find out more. And a big, high desert thanks to our newest contributors from the Lone Pine, California community, where it all began.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff california high desert color photography desert landscape photography domestic high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human habitation human legacy human trace kcet artbound www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/4/april-is-the-coolest-month Tue, 05 Apr 2016 17:00:00 GMT
THE DESERT SALT PAN: EMPTY AND FULL; SENESCENT AND REBORN https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/3/the-desert-salt-pan-empty-and-full-senescent-and-reborn Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.1 - Death Valley, CA - 2015Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.1 - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

“I said nothing at the time, just ran my fingertips along the edge of the human-shaped emptiness that had been left inside me.”

  Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

 

Standing at the edge of the salt pan on the floor of Death Valley I think of sugar frosting, chocolate foam and chocolate chip ice cream. I reach down and pop a very tiny piece from my fingertip to my lips.  It tastes like table salt, and it tastes surprisingly good. The sweetness I briefly imagined was mere ephemeral wish fulfillment.

I am poised expectantly at Badwater, the most popular tourist attraction in Death Valley National Park. Couples and small groups stroll with casual curiosity along a well-worn white boulevard of packed salt out towards a glimmering horizon. Is it five hundred feet or five thousand or five miles or fifty? The great epic landscapes of the desert often play havoc with our ability to estimate distance.  Here people simply give up and turn back when they see others ahead do the same. This inability to understand how far things really are can be deadly in the desert wilderness.

 

Tourists at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015Tourists at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Tourists at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015
Top photo: Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.1 - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

I watch these casual pedestrians and hear their voices, sometime serious, sometimes just chatty. Some folks talk about the geology before them, others about mundane events, office politics last week, or their children who have scampered ahead. One couple, hand in hand, ponder the look of the salt pan on a night illuminated by a full moon. A few couples walk in silence, either deep in personal thought or enraptured by the immensity of what lies all about them.

I crouch with my journal trying to capture my thoughts, and then sit on my small portable writer’s chair and listen. Few are speaking English and I think many of the travelers are from other countries, yet drawn to this unique park with the prospect of the landscape swathed in a light of unknown depth. The photographer struggles with the light and with his tilt-shift camera lens. Later he remarks on the same thing I noticed. He thinks that many of the people are visiting from older countries. Their infrastructures have filled the land before the idea of public lands was birthed in the United States a hundred years ago.

 

Osceola Refetoff Photographs Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015Osceola Refetoff Photographs Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Osceola Refetoff Photographs Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015 (Photo: Christopher Langley)

 

There are parks, but few protected lands of this size. Even more atypical for these visitors is the wilderness of the American West. Parks in Europe are tamer, more manicured, having been altered with the intention of improving upon nature. The parks of the world, now part of the Anthropocene Age, have human-disturbed landscapes, roads, even lawns and interpretive kiosks and centers. They do have exhibits of pristine nature contained within, but most parks are primarily modified for human interaction.

Telescope Peak’s shadow sweeps suddenly across the land, with the darkness moving as a land-devouring murkiness. We are both unprepared for the precipitous onset of dwindling light. We will return again tomorrow, a little earlier this time to extend the “magic hour” of light photographers celebrate.

We are back to the saltpan again. The photographer is striving to capture the unnamable that is before him, as I struggle to understand my compelling feelings. It is all about emptiness. Yet the desert is empty only at first glance. Although there are great sweeping vistas here that my mind struggles to understand, interpret and explain, I cannot capture in words this deep abiding sense I have upon our return to this area.

 

Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

Edward Abbey warns against searching for meaning in the desert. He fears, I think, bringing meaning to the desert beyond what is eventually there. The desert is neither empty nor full. The meaning is constructed not of the desert itself. The desert is there to be cognized and perceived, devoid of meaning. It could be argued it is empty of meaning.

Yet I cannot achieve this idea, grasp it and hold it to me. I crave meaning; struggle to capture it with words. The desert is in ways as no other landscape. I carry a Christian culture deep within me, molding my thoughts and behavior. In that religion there is the concept of kenosis: the emptying of the ego that opens one to God. Rune Grauland in “Contrasts: A Defense of Desert Writings” states, “For Abbey, too, the desert is a silent, solitary, contemplative place in which one often looses one’s self yet gains something in return.”

I am not alone, surrounded by strangers, but really alone as only humans can be in a crowd. It is a quandary, an emptiness of soul.

I turn to the facts of the “bad water.”

 

Standing Water at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2005Standing Water at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2005

Standing Water at Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2005

 

The Badwater Basin is a marvel of surprise. First there is the pool with water collecting year round. But in the summer it is empty, because evaporation is so great it exceeds the water collecting at the end of its long, tedious journey. The salt pan is constantly changing, as if it were reaching teleologically to satisfy the biologist’s definition of life itself.

Salt crystals expand, pushing the crust of salt into rough, chaotic forms. Newly formed crystals ooze between mudcracks, sketching strange patterns on the surface of the salt flat. Passing rainstorms wash off windblown dust and generate a fresh layer of blinding white salt. Floods create temporary lakes that dissolve the salts back into solution, starting the process all over again.

 Death Valley Interpretation Kiosk (on site)


More astounding is the origin of the water. Once ice age snow, now melted, it mixes with present day rain falling on mountains hundreds of miles away in Nevada. It then seeps through porous limestone bedrock and begins a long underground flow through the regional aquifer. It emerges along the fault line of the valley floor, and is fresh until it mixes with the salts that have been deposited in the basin over eons.

 

Facing North from Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015Facing North from Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Facing North from Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA - 2015 (Photo: Christopher Langley)

 

Yet instead of an empty barren wasteland, the pool supports diverse life forms. In the area there is Salicornia (pickleweed), several species of aquatic worms and insects, and the Badwater Snail (Assiminea infirma), which has adapted and now can only exist in these extreme conditions.

I feel now a vacuity within as my skin’s sense of touch focuses on the small flies murmuring about me. They must be seeking sustenance on my salty sweat. An intense realization strikes me that my old skin matches the skin of the saltpan: splotchy, rough and worn.

I and the salt pan are one. I await the sound of silence here that explains it.

Flies, how do you make it out here? You ignore the earth’s salty skin and tickle mine instead. What is there on either skin to nourish you? The skin of the salt pan is a skin of extended patience yet subtle sensation. My skin is old and wrinkled yet still able to respond to the erotic touch and painful attack.

 

Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.2 - Death Valley, CA - 2015Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.2 - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Patterns on Badwater Basin Surface No.2 - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

It is my skin that breaths and heals and holds this bag of water and bone together. My fluids are salty reminding me that we crawled from the sea long ago. The salt pan can heal and reform with water and sun. All this leaves the emptiness that surrounds me now within me. I am one with the desert, with the salt, with the small life of flies on my skin.

I realize it is not the desert that is empty. I am empty and in that emptiness awaits a new fullness. For a passing moment I am the desert salt pan: empty and full; epic and intimate; senescent and reborn.

Then I am back to me.

C.L.

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix badwater basin california desert christopher langley color photography death valley ca desert landscape photography desertscape desolate disturbed landscapes drought dry lake bed high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human legacy human trace kcet artbound national park osceola refetoff salt pan www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/3/the-desert-salt-pan-empty-and-full-senescent-and-reborn Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:00:00 GMT
OF DESERT CASTLES AND HUMAN HUBRIS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/3/of-desert-castles-and-human-hubris I think natural disasters have been looked upon in the wrong way.
Newspapers always say they are bad. a shame.
I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience.
For one thing they are impersonal.
I don’t think art can stand up to nature.
Put the best object you know next to the grand canyon, niagra falls, the red woods.
The big things always win.
Now just think of a flood, forest fire, tornado, earthquake, Typhoon, sand storm.
Think of the breaking of the Ice jams. Crunch.
If all of the people who go to museums could just feel an earthquake.
Not to mention the sky and the ocean.
But it is in the unpredictable disasters that the highest forms are realized.
They are rare and we should be thankful for them.

 Walter de Maria, On the Importance of Natural Disasters, 1960
(writer’s original spelling & grammar)

 

Road Closed - 20 Mule Team Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015Road Closed - 20 Mule Team Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Road Closed - 20 Mule Team Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

Nature has always created altered landscapes. Through disruption and construction, nature recreates and thus renews the landscapes of our home planet constantly. With the naming of our present period the Anthropocene, the realization is dawning on us that humans also create altered and disrupted landscapes. Some even argue we are the primary movers in that domain. It is a constant process and ineluctable. Some times human agents work quickly, other times it is a slow, almost imperceptible process. Humans are constantly and ever more persuasively changing our world.

This begs the question then “Was the flood at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley a natural or human event?” It was both. Just because we are in the Antropocene, does not mean natural forces have ceased. No doubt several millennia ago, before human enterprise touched the area, there were floods. Once human activity impacts the area, each natural event was to a greater or lesser degree affected, even transformed.

No one was there to see or feel or watch this flood.

 

Scotty's Castle and After Thousand Year Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015Scotty's Castle and After Thousand Year Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Scotty's Castle After Thousand Year Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

The conundrum of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is upon us. We are saved from this consideration simply by our imaginations.

This flood lurks in our imaginations as we stand before the ravaged landscape nearly a month later. The history, presence, destruction, and rearrangement of the rampaging water are very real in our minds none-the-less because it lies before our gaze. At this point we do not think about the human causal element in the natural disaster. I imagine the flood event:

 

Overhead Power Lines Left Hanging After Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015Overhead Power Lines Left Hanging After Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Overhead Power Lines Left Hanging After Flood - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

The surging water roars angrily down the canyon as the storm cell stalls over Grapevine Canyon. The downpours pulse with the intensity of the pushing fluid through a narrow, channel made of compacted yet pliant soil. Then begins the frozen battle with bullets of ice the size of quarters, beating down where thermals usually rise heated from the desert floor. The sound is deafening and the water and ice tear at the underpinnings of a mobile home a few miles from Grapevine Canyon where the nearest human huddles with her husband, fearing the land holding her home safe from the raging waters is eroding away.

The cacophony of crystalline projectiles builds to a crescendo that just won’t cease. On and on it goes unabated. What could possibly survive in the darkness? The war turns to a rout as the waves of mud, boulders, and silt rise like a wind-driven tide, mixed with grinding teeth of talus dragged down the incline. Gravity pulls irresistibly at this flow of slurry: mixing debris, dust, and expectation of total destruction. Soon a moving landscape of creation and natural destruction is sweeping on irresistibly in its seduction of the land before it. Human enterprise whether castle, asphalted road, swimming pool, or Hacienda appear no match for this churning current of fluidity.

 

Blue Pipe Unearthed by Flood at Grapevine Canyon - Death Valley, CA - 2015Blue Pipe Unearthed by Flood at Grapevine Canyon - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Blue Pipe Unearthed by Flood at Grapevine Canyon - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

The storm cell seething with moisture as it rises higher and higher into the atmosphere, pumps precipitation out as it sits, a meteorological machine on a decaying, leaf-layered wreck of desert countryside. The mud now has the distasteful odor of fecund and life-giving decomposition.

A dead tree trunk, killed in the fire a few years back that ravaged two hundred more on the hill, is uprooted where the rampaging flood gathers strength. As the outflow takes shape, riding over its banks, the gnarled tree crashes through and turning with desultory movement snags on the edge of a building in its rush to freedom. The wood alcove of the structure, aesthetic in its simple repeated designs, catches the heavy trunk and swings it around as if suddenly animated with conscious intention. The water and increasing soggy refuses crashes over it, cascading on down into Grapevine Canyon, but in its madness saving the structure from sure destruction. The buildings are hydraulically blasted empty, and the furniture shredded to kindling.

 

Interior Flood Damage at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015Interior Flood Damage at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Interior Flood Damage at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

At first the schizophrenic current whacks away at the creosote bush, white bursage, brittlebrush, Parish goldeneye, desert tea, and rubber rabbitbrush from high up. Then as the water drops lower, it pulls up catclaw mesquite, desert willow, burrobush, Mojave rabbitbrush, bladder sage, and adventurous riparian communities. Nothing stands in its way; no matter how determined the roots cling to the eroding soil. Sodden detritus begins to snug up on corners and crevices. Trees, leaves, branches, brambles, and general wreckage stall like the storm itself. The scoured rooms slowly fill with the filth, broken branches, trash and splintered bones of everything built and grown above.

Eddies in the new riparian chaos turn from whirlpools to giant gyres of land eating whirlpools of waste. Piles of silt and mud and mysterious viscous batter accumulate, move, and insinuate into corners, cracks, and abutments. Slowly the mixture settles and thickens, finding a permanent home on the new surfaces. Suddenly a surge of angry fluid rips at the deposits and releases them. The flood is again loose upon the land. The inundation of water again worries the resistant pieces of human enterprise, weakens them until they resign to the liquid insistence.

 

Flood Damage to Scotty's Castle Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015Flood Damage to Scotty's Castle Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Flood Damage to Scotty's Castle Road - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

This is clearly the grandest of the floods, a thousand year flood, and the maximum flood event possible here. There have been other floods. In recent times, lesser floods visited in 1976 and 1983. Much erosion and damage was done to the Bonnie Clare Road, but the damage now boggles the mind with the channel taking over, undermining, and even consuming the asphalt ribbon. My photographer/collaborator climbs then clambers over the destroyed road past Scotty’s Castle. It makes the flood rerun in our imaginations as we see the power of he water.  It cannot be defeated or discouraged and certainly never turned away until it has done its thing, run its course, and followed its gravity-driven course to the destination on the valley floor.

 

Ranger-Guide Isabelle Woodward - Death Valley, CA - 2015Ranger-Guide Isabelle Woodward - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Ranger-Guide Isabelle Woodward - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

We stop and look at the destruction, at how nature rather than human intention has altered the landscape the way nature has for millions of years, using water, or wind, or volcanism.

As we listen to the sweet soft voice of Ranger/Guide Isabelle Woodward, still in shock from her disrupted life lived peacefully a few miles away. She has been relocated away from her home, threatened that hideous night of thrumming hail. We wonder at the damage and marvel that the Castle itself, situated through engineering knowhow, or protected by luck. It has survived this most terrible desert flash flood with only minor damage.

 

Mud-Filled Pool at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015Mud-Filled Pool at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015

Mud-Filled Pool at Scotty's Castle - Death Valley, CA - 2015

 

Environmental/land artist Walter De Maria compares and contrasts art and natural disasters with, in his mind, the disasters coming out on top. He suggests as well that there is a beauty in the altering process that forever changes the land before us. Are there natural aesthetic principles and processes accessible here? What of human caused floods, mutations, and transformations of the land before us. Are there equally powerful aesthetic principles that we (call us Anthropos, residents of the Anthropocene) can discover, operate, perceive, and even touch? This question teases our curiosity, sense perception and conceptual cognition. The two of us travel back to this world, more or less untouched by the thousand-year flood, to explore these tantalizing ideas, questions, and speculation to find new insight.

This desert castle, misnamed “Scotty’s Castle,” may be a human created interloper in this beautiful, deserted landscape, but it clearly has survived the thousand-year flood. It may even last another thousand years, still just the blink of an eye in geological time. Hopefully the human race can say the same.

C.L.

 

Return of Lake Manley After Hundred Year Rain - Death Valley, CA - 2005Return of Lake Manley After Hundred Year Rain - Death Valley, CA - 2005

"Return" of Lake Manly After Hundred Year Rain - Death Valley, CA - 2005
 
 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff altered landscape california high desert color photography death valley CA desert landscape photography disturbed landscape flood damage grapevine canyon CA high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain historical landmark human legacy human trace isabelle woodward kcet artbound mojave desert mud flow national park national register of historic places natural disaster on the importance of natural disasters road damage scotty's castle thousand year flood walter de maria water damage www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/3/of-desert-castles-and-human-hubris Tue, 01 Mar 2016 18:00:00 GMT
ALTERED LANDSCAPE OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/1/altered-landscape-of-the-human-spirit Any landscape is the condition of the spirit.
 Henri Frederic Amie

 

Looking around the severely disturbed countryside, the mine foreman sees beauty in the landscape. He is harshly altering and deconstructing it with giant land-moving trucks chewing away at what’s left of several, now indistinguishable, small cinder cones. The “product” is excavated, moved, sorted, piled, sized, bagged, and shipped to be used in cement bricks and baseball fields among many other things. It is a versatile product.

 

Main Production Pit & Maintenance Shop - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Main Production Pit & Maintenance Shop - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Main Production Pit & Maintenance Shop - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Ben Boyd is the manager of Twin Mountain Rock Ventures, LLC that oversees and runs the mine at Red Hill, the cinder cone volcanic area off Highway 395 between the Owens Valley and Indian Wells Valley in California. He is a lively, roughly handsome man with a shaved head, muscular features and a vital personality with off color jokes to match. He calls his crew of miners the “Dirt Boys.” They look up to him. Mining cinder is a dirty job. This summer when Osceola and I stop by, it is a very demanding, overheated, physical job. We both like him. We are comfortable with him.

We are now living in the Anthropocene: the era of the human-transformed world. No landscape is untouched by human intention; unaffected or unaltered no matter where you look. The guys who are in charge of determining geological eras, the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London, are slow in moving, although this idea of the Anthropocene has been kicking around more than two decades. Author James Purdy writes, “It is still pending: stratigraphers are well acquainted with geological rates of motion.”

 

BLM SE100 Marker & Puffy Clouds - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015BLM SE100 Marker & Puffy Clouds - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

BLM SE100 Marker & Puffy Clouds - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Even in the national parks like nearby Death Valley National Park, there is little pristine land: that is land unlived in or undisturbed by human enterprise. What landscape aesthetic do we use to find the beauty in these new human-altered landscapes? Boyd is clear: “Other guys try to get around MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration). I do just what they want. These miners just create more trouble for themselves by trying to get around these guys.” Looking around, he continues proudly. “This is a beautiful area.”

Osceola and I see large piles of sorted cinder, a long serpentine set of connected conveyor belts with erector set (or maybe tinker toy) superstructures carrying the product for processing. Boyd indicates this is much better than the giant loaders with all their polluting flatulence that periodically scrape, transport, and push the material at the far end of the clanking conveyors.

 

Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure

Splitter & Finish Product Screens - Infrared Exposure - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Osceola is scouting to match an active crater in Fiji that will be part of a big commercial. They will need a volcanic area to portray a base camp. It cannot have any plants for two reasons. One reason is that active volcanic areas are generally barren, devoid of even the hardiest vegetation. Second, the desert brush will not match any of the tropical plants in Fiji. Matching shots from a tropical island with desolate high desert landscapes in the Mojave is somehow ironic to me. Osceola has been doing this business for a long time. It’s what the landscape can be made to look like rather than what characteristics and context it actually has that counts.

As he works, I sit on the edge of the pit that drops down several hundred feet below my dangling feet to a small oval floor. The land here is torn, ripped open, gutted. The walls are made of reddish brown rock laced with finer cinder. The area has been totally desecrated by mining processes. That word “desecrated” is rife with judgment however. I wonder what one hundred observers from nations and cultures around the world would say on the subject of this landscape’s “beauty.”

 

Old Excavation Pit & Sierra Nevada - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Old Excavation Pit & Sierra Nevada - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Old Excavation Pit & Sierra Neveda - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

I am struck by the color, the rough, sharp lines of rock. My eye traces the contrasting curvo-linear edges of the moving cinder “dunes.” The pattern of a cyan sky pocked with tropical cumulus clouds moving in seduces my perceiving brain with tantalizing iterations. A traditional southwestern monsoonal flow is coming in from Mexico. Thunderstorms are likely to rise out over Death Valley. Philosophers are struggling now to define and understand ways to evaluate the beauty of these landscapes of the Anthropocene. Many points-of-view and systems are being proposed to understand the aesthetics of the altered landscape.

Ben assures us Red Hill itself is protected from being dissected and hauled off. Is that because it has a “beautiful” symmetry attractive to the human eye that it should be protected? If the Anthropocene landscape is totally identified as being altered by human action, then a new and different aesthetic is coming into play. Aesthetic evaluation of what constitutes a beautiful landscape is complex and now, as most landscapes become “altered,” aesthetic analysis must come up with a new set of criteria.

 

Dry Lake Bed with Sunset Behind Red Hill (Location Still) - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Dry Lake Bed with Sunset Behind Red Hill (Location Still) - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Dry Lake Bed with Sunset Behind Red Hill (Location Still) - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Terry C. Daniel writes in the abstract for his essay “Whither scenic beauty?” about visual landscape quality assessment in the 21st century. The “history of landscape quality has featured a contest between expert and perception based approaches…. Both approaches generally accept that landscape quality derives from an interaction between biophysical features of the landscape and perceptual, judgmental processes of the human viewer.”

As I look out on these sanguine red-textured dunes, the sweeping, extended land forms, the deep jagged black and rough surfaces (malapai) and white, ragged cliffs (pumice surfaces), I see the beauty that Ben has indicated is here. This land has been ecologically raped, but done according to government regulations. However I see an amazing deep aesthetic beauty created by human interaction with the natural landscape.

 

Dirt Road & Power Lines (Color) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Dirt Road & Power Lines (Color) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Dirt Road & Power Lines (Color) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

I am stunned, even shamed that I see beauty here even as I saw it in the Salton Sea’s opalescent light. I realize an Anthropocene altered landscape aesthetic will be enormously different from the pristine, virgin landscape that American photographer Ansel Adams fixated on as the pinnacle of environmental beauty. “Whither scenic beauty?” indeed.

What does this altered landscape truly say about the human spirit that abides here? High & Dry is embarking on an on-going investigation into the connections between humanity and the altered landscapes that are our legacy.

C.L.

Hydraulic Shovel & Utility Pole - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Hydraulic Shovel & Utility Pole - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Hydraulic Shovel & Utility Pole - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff altered landscape anthropocene ben boyd black & white photography ca highway 395 california high desert cinder cone color photography desert landscape photography desertscape desolate digital infrared photography fossil falls CA high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace lava flow mine mining mojave desert quarry red hill CA sierra nevada CA twin mountain rock ventures volcanic www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2016/1/altered-landscape-of-the-human-spirit Tue, 12 Jan 2016 11:00:00 GMT
WALKING THROUGH TIME: THE LAYERED PAST OF RED HILL'S VOLCANIC VIEWSCAPE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/12/walking-through-time  

Sunset Behind Sierra Nevada - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Sunset Behind Sierra Nevada - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

“Sometimes, when one is moving silently through such an utterly desolate landscape, an overwhelming hallucination can make one feel that oneself, as an individual human being, is slowly being unraveled. The surrounding space is so vast that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a balanced grip on one's own being. The mind swells out to fill the entire landscape, becoming so diffuse in the process that one loses the ability to keep it fastened to the physical self.”

 – Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

 

The sound of time whistles in my ears as I step on the landscape, stop, and look around.

 

Dirt Road & Power Lines (Infrared) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Dirt Road & Power Lines (Infrared) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure

Dirt Road & Power Lines - Infrared Exposure - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015
1st photo: Sunset Behind Sierra Nevada - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

I am embedded in a time machine of lava flows, pumice silt, and scoria sand as I walk about the landscape between Red Hill and Fossil Falls near Highway 395 in the California desert. The temperature withers above 100 degrees. Heat percolates off the red surfaces and fractured, jagged outcroppings left behind by a half a million years of heaving, melting, and ejection of the wine russet basalt.

Time is malleable and the air mellifluous with zephyrs as I climb the side of a crater, the walls of tiny grains moving beneath my feet with a muffled grinding sound. The tracks of an animal that passed this way before are melting back into the sanguine skin surfaces of an ever-metamorphosing beast of a million parts. The wind, an incline beyond the angle of repose, and the shifting of the crater’s walls have been active for more than ten thousand years. The cinder cone called Red Hill was created at this time as well.

 

Great Cloud Over Red Hill - Fossil Falls, CA - 2012Great Cloud Over Red Hill - Fossil Falls, CA - 2012

Great Cloud Over Red Hill - Fossil Falls, CA - 2012

 

The Red Hill’s cone itself rises in almost perfect symmetry to a flattened bowl at the top. An old man once told me there are Indian legends that go back seven hundred years which mark the last activity of this geologic behemoth by nicknaming it “The Growler.” The growling was mere mumbling of the earth falling dormant. These last gasps of activity through the chambers and tunnels deep within the earth were heard, felt, and remembered by the local native residents.

The eye dances with the soft lines of the cone against the bursting, cutting cerulean of the desert sky it is outlined against. My eye knows four basic patterns in nature: spirals, meanders, branches and explosions. Here in this tortured and once fiery landscape, patterns abound as my brain struggles to comprehend it all. This complex tangle of neurons searches out the patterns and finally, as it pauses, my aesthetic seeking soul understands the beauty before me.

 

Cinder Product Abstraction - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Cinder Product Abstraction - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Cinder Product Abstraction - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

I am standing on the lip of a cinder crater. As I look down, I see its ivory colored floor, with branching and cracking created through desiccation. In the not too distant past, the bowl held water. This silt was captured there and dried to cracking. Craquelure in old paintings are now reflected in nature’s process. A basic principle is “pattern follows process,” although some times in nature it can be reversed. Process has led to the art term craquelure in painting and to an astonishing beauty. Weak humans sometimes imitate the effect in modern work. This is disparagingly called cracking. Here it is the nature’s master process working without aesthetic motive and it stands as natural art.

On the incline of this crater there are small isolated plants, cushion shaped, fiercely announcing their persistence in the harsh environment. On the branches of these saxicoline plants are small BB sized buds. They are tight against the arid air, and I do not know if they will ever open or ever were intended to. But the plants are decorative and repeated green balls remind me of tiny elfin necklaces. I wonder if there are such things as desert elves or are they just found in northern German hard wood forests.

 

Volcanic Rock (Close Up) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Volcanic Rock (Close Up) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Volcanic Rock (Close Up) - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Off to the east there is Volcanic Mountain nestled into the Coso Range, a once very active fire range, now tattooed by cones, obsidian domes, and lava flows. I close my eyes and, travelling back, smell the sulfurous smoke and hear the exploding mountain now weeping red burning lava down across this land. Are my feet melting? Are my shins aflame? This geological time travel awakens deep fears. No, now it is ossified rock, sharp as knives. These waves of molten rock poured south and covered granitic detritus left from eons before by alluvial deposit. Then fast forward to one hundred thousand years ago; just snap your fingers and you’re there.

Again a giant sizzling wave of super heated liquid rock makes its way down towards the south and west. It exudes through the Little Lake Gap. One geologist jokes “It is where the Coso Range and the east base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains ‘shake hands.’” This wave makes it to just under four miles from modern day Pearsonville before it slows and cools. So viscous and vesicular is it that it forms a towering cliff to almost five hundred feet.

 

Fossil Falls Unimproved Campsite - off CA Highway 395 - Fossil Falls, CA 2015Fossil Falls Unimproved Campsite - off CA Highway 395 - Fossil Falls, CA 2015

Fossil Falls Unimproved Campsite off CA Highway 395 - Fossil Falls, CA 2015

 

I walk through the malapai fields beyond the unimproved (read primitive) BLM campgrounds. There is no water but there are bathrooms not too far away. The lava chunks appear to rise from deep beneath its lithic mother’s breast. But in fact they have ridden on the ineluctable flows to where they now reside. Explosively ejected granitic material frosts these fields of Vulcan.

If I stop and drift back through one hundred centuries, I can hear the roar of a double cascade, and smell and feel the vapor plume of cold mountain streams, recent snow and ice, rising above the tumbling thunder. The upper fall is irregular and meandering through potholes and whirlpools down across burnished basalt. Two hundred feet below is the second falls, shining like a sheet of slippery silver. The water in the upper falls, wears away indentations that gradually become vortices, turning water to grinding at the rock with grit, sand, pebbles, and cobbles.

 

Basalt Flow from Atop Fossil Falls - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Basalt Flow from Atop Fossil Falls - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Basalt Flow from Atop Fossil Falls - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 

Now the red to brown to black lava shines like a treasure filled lair. It is possible to slide, inch, and stretch your way through a labyrinth of these eroded twists and turns. I am entering another world entirely. In this case, the Falls are the fossils themselves. I drop away through jagged passages, here and there a scrape on an arm or elbow. The fossil falls canyon is the end of the journey through time.

The desert landscape is an open book to read like an ancient tome with page upon page each holding a layer of our land’s life story.

C.L.

 

Product for Baseball Diamonds & Overcast Sky No.1 - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015Product for Baseball Diamonds & Overcast Sky No.1 - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

Product for Baseball Diamonds & Overcast Sky No.1 - Red Hill Quarry - Fossil Falls, CA - 2015

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff black & white photography ca highway 395 california high desert cinder cone color photography desert landscape photography desertscape desolate digital infrared photography fossil falls CA high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise lava flow mine mining mojave desert quarry red hill CA sierra nevada CA volcanic www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/12/walking-through-time Wed, 16 Dec 2015 17:00:00 GMT
VIDEO & THE RADIO STAR https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/11/video-the-radio-star  

VIDEO & THE RADIO STAR

 

Eric Minh Swenson's documentary on High & Dry premieres today, after this weekend's acclaimed premiere of Christopher Langley's original radio play You Are There: The Water Picnic, performed by Metabolic Studio's IOU Theater in Lone Pine, CA.

 

High & Dry: a collaboration between Christopher Langley & Osceola Refetoffa film by Eric Minh Swenson This 8-minute film outlines High & Dry's long-term collaboration and compares the Mojave Desert to the LA River, two highly undervalued land resources.

 

Osceola's images will be on view in the When Jupiter Aligns with Mars show dawning this Saturday, November 7th, 7-10pm, at the SugarMynt Gallery in South Pasadena. The stars remain aligned through December 5th.

 

Desert TV - Cinco, CA - 2011Desert TV - Cinco, CA - 2011'Magic and Realism: Photographs by Osceola Refetoff & Bill Leigh Brewer' Curated by Shana Nys Dambrot, Chungking Studio - 2015
Desert TV - Cinco, CA - 2011

 

And have you ever wondered why three of the world's prominent religions came forth from the desert? Prayer Changes Things: Desert Faith in Trona, CA explores this question in the current issue of ARID Journal.

 

Arid: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology - Prayer Changes Things: Desert Faith in Trona, CA - Oct 2015Arid: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology - Prayer Changes Things: Desert Faith in Trona, CA - Oct 2015by Christopher Langley, photos Osceola Refetoff
LINK TO ARTICLE

ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology

 

Limited edition fine art photographs by Osceola Refetoff are available for saleHigh & Dry is also seeking sponsors and creative partnerships with outdoorsy and environmentally-minded companies. Email us!

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix ARID: A Journal of Desert Art Design and Ecology - Prayer Changes Things: Desert Faith in Trona CA Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff arid black & white photography california high desert christian color photography desert landscape photography desertscape desolate digital infrared photography domestic editorial faith feature story fine art photography forsaken dreams high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace press published religious trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/11/video-the-radio-star Wed, 04 Nov 2015 09:30:00 GMT
HENRY JONES: STUMBLING ON WHERE HOME IS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/10/henry-jones It's a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn't even know you were aiming for.

Lois McMaster Bujold

 

Meeting Henry Jones was a serendipitous event. We were photographing the “throttling” installation in the Trona water system in Poison Canyon when, after several calls from passersby that “some guys were messing with our water system,” he thought he better get out there and investigate.

 

Henry Jones at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Henry Jones at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

Henry Jones at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 

Osceola had posted an Instagram only three minutes before. He wrote, kidding me as I sat writing about the water system, that I was wearing my “cloak of invisibility.” That is the term we have for our neon yellow vests, the same that are worn by most construction workers for safety. A large white pick-up pulls up and we know we are in trouble.

Henry Jones, Water Technician for the Searles Valley Minerals Company, the domestic water division, saunters up slowly. I think he is sizing us up. What he sees is a photographer crouching low, toiling to capture the twisting pipes and rust-spotted valve stems lying in the wash by the side of Highway 178. By now, after 38 years here in Trona, Jones is probably used to city folks who want to photograph the “damnedest peculiar” things. Here is a bald writer, but with a sun hat, sitting on a very small folding chair, typing away on his MacBook Pro in the bright noonday sun. And you thought, according to Noel Coward, that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. Rocker Joe Cocker referenced that too, even on a record cover I think.

Immediately Osceola is explaining our project, sharing our postcard and business card and the latest issue of The Sun Runner: Journal of the Real Desert containing one of our stories. He is the very epitome of the ad man selling our project to prove we’re on the up and up. Henry, it seems, is interested in what the photographer is saying. The more we talk the better we communicate with each other.

 

Henry Jones & Christopher Langley at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Henry Jones & Christopher Langley at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

Henry Jones & Christopher Langley at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 

Soon, at our inquiries, Henry is telling us his story. He was born in Louisiana many years ago. After moving to San Diego, he needed money fast and found temporary employment at the Trona plant.

There is something about Trona that he likes immediately. Those were very good years for the town. He thinks it would be great to stay and call it home. He has plans for college though. When he discovers he can pursue his studies at night at Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest and still continue to work in Trona, he stays. Thirty-eight years later he still works here, though now he lives in Ridgecrest where he is raising his family. These days Trona is hurting, but Henry doesn’t seem to like it any less.

Henry has an easy-going manner, friendly and articulate about his life. He accidentally found where he was going to live the rest of his life. Somehow he recognized it as home, and it has remained that ever since. He knows he is just lucky that all this has worked out. He seems happy and he looks young for having already spent thirty-eight years in the harsh desert climate.

Henry explains that the throttling area that fascinates us is where they control the water pressure in the long pipe as it brings water from the wells near Ridgecrest, fully twenty-five miles away. Last year, during the Trona Centennial, a “local” told me that in the summer the sun beating down on the pipes heats this water. “You don’t have to heat the water for your shower. It arrives pre-heated.”

 

Water Throttling Valves & Power Lines - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Water Throttling Valves & Power Lines - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure

Water Throttling Valves & Power Lines - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 

Henry agrees that is true. “People from Ridgecrest talk about how bad the Trona water is. It’s kind of funny because it basically originates where theirs does. It is the same water.” But he explains there is now a water filtering plant in Trona that addresses various dissolved minerals and biological matter that come with the water. “There are some very powerful chemicals involved, that are removed before the water leaves the water plant. The water does seem to have an added taste now,” he reports reluctantly.

Henry is a handsome man. He removes his sunglasses so Osceola can shoot a portrait. When he does so, I am surprised how large, kind and gentle his eyes are. This is a good man who found his home by luck when looking for temporary work. Luckily, he recognized it as his future home. Henry has spent the rest of his life making it so. Finding home in our busy, transitory, and ever-changing modern lives is harder than ever.

All three of us have found our homes, albeit very different ones: Osceola’s, the giant modern metropolis of Los Angeles; mine, the severely rural, very small town of Lone Pine; and Henry, an area beset by economic, ecological and industrial complexities. Can we know what will become home before we see it? Or is home where your heart discovers its own true and unique nature? What of those who never discover home at all?

Our future work in Trona holds many mysteries to be contemplated, questions to be asked, and answers to seek over the course of our on-going investigation of the town and its citizens.

-C.L.

 

Water Pipes at Bend with Truck - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Water Pipes at Bend with Truck - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure

Water Pipes at Bend with Truck - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california high desert color photography desert landscape photography desolate drought economic failure henry jones high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain mining community small town trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/10/henry-jones Tue, 06 Oct 2015 23:30:00 GMT
HIGH & DRY RECENT FEATURES https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/9/high-dry-recent-features-2015 Compass Magazine - Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They AreCompass Magazine - Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They AreLMGA - Location Managers Guild of America
Cover Story - Summer 2015

LMGA Compass Magazine - Cover, Feature Article and "Martini Shot"

 

Compass Magazine's article Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They Are features Osceola's infrared photo on the cover, as well as the "martini shot" on the last page, referencing the final shot of the day on a film shoot. Click on either image to read the full story by Shana Nys Dambrot.

 

Compass Magazine - Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They AreCompass Magazine - Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They AreLMGA - Location Managers Guild of America
Cover Story - Summer 2015

"Martini Shot" - Sky, Whitecaps, Earth, Halobacteria - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

And Framing the Desert is featured in the current Boom: A Journal of California. Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin says, "Boom is a long overdue addition to the conversation regarding the state and its cultural life, a benefit to readers and writers alike." In the article, High & Dry's Christopher Langley explores how the "window" functions as not only a literal/architectural, but also as an optical/aesthetic and narrative/symbolic structure in framing the story of our desert landscapes.

 

Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015by Christopher Langley, photos Osceola Refetoff
Boom Magazine "Framing the Desert" by Christopher Langley, photos by Osceola Refetoff

 

Coming up in the Fall, High & Dry will have an piece on in Arid: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology. To keep up with all things High & Dry, please "like" our Facebook Page and subscribe below.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015 Christopher Langley Compass Magazine - Cover Story - Osceola Refetoff: The Authentic Character of Things as They Are - Summer 2015 Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff black & white photography california high desert color photography desert landscape photography desertscape digital infrared photography feature article fine art photography high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy human trace magazine cover press published shana nys dambrot window series window view www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/9/high-dry-recent-features-2015 Tue, 15 Sep 2015 23:30:00 GMT
JEFF NEWMAN: HOME IS WHERE THEY HAVE TO TAKE YOU IN https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/9/jeff-newman  

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

– Robert Frost
 

The people who are born in a place that calls them back are lucky people. For if it is truly home, as Robert Frost assures us, then they have to take you in. For many, Trona is one of those places. But you can only decide to return if you left in the first place and for an extended time. You tried the world out there and it was found wanting. Born in Trona in 1955, Jeff Newman is back. He expresses an unemotional satisfaction about it, even if at the moment he is unemployed. Being temporarily unemployed is no big deal for him.

 

Jeff Newman - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015Jeff Newman - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015

Jeff Newman - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015
 

Jeff first left home when he was 19. It was 1974 and he hitchhiked around the country for two years, in search of America. It was only five years after the film Easy Rider (1969) had set the life quest for every kid like Jeff. He doesn’t say if he found America or not, but he does mention a commune in the Panamints. He said the winter there was just too cold. He came back home to Trona. His mom and dad took him in.

Now he candidly begins cataloging his two marriages. When he met his first wife, it was love at first sight. They eventually left Trona to go to Montana. They had 12 happy years before the marriage failed. He remains good friends with his first wife to this day. She lives in Trona still. She found a permanent home here as well. Jeff does not mention having any children.

When he found himself alone again, he travelled around the country for two years like he had as a young man. He speaks in a matter-of-fact staccato tone about it. Changing the subject, he talks about the vistas he sees every day now that he is back home. “I love the grand view, the quiet and the view of the mountains. The Slate Range with the different shades of brown. Then it goes to purple, then to dark purple. I remember one of those super moons when it started to rise.” He pauses as he remembers the beauty of the Trona landscape that night. He recollects wistfully the beauty of the super moon rising above the peaceful Searles Lake and surrounding desert.

His second wife and he live here now. They feel at home. A sister lives here and another in nearby Ridgecrest. He is one of those people in Trona who incontrovertibly belongs here.

When he works, he is well paid. Jobs are not that difficult for him to get because he knows a lot of people. He talks about when he offered help and it went on to become a job. “I volunteered at the Elks Lodge as a bartender, then went on to get paid.”

He worked at the plant with the boric acid crystallizer. “Here in Trona, the boss will hire local; you may be a little less qualified worker but if you come from here, or live here already, you are in.” Jeff continually references the advantages to being from here when you come back home, especially if you need to work.

“My father and mother came here in the late 1940s, after my dad Grady got out of the Navy. His sister already lived here.” There was a dirt road from Kramer Junction (Four Corners) then. “He was on his way to San Jose actually, but when his car broke down, he went up to the plant looking for a job. They called him back. My mother spent the first ten years crying because she wanted to leave, and the next twenty years crying for fear she was going to have to.” He smiles just at the corners of his mouth, and very tentatively.

His mother passed away a few months before. He had calmly mentioned it to Delores Hudson in the restaurant, but she already knew. His mother's name was Mary Ellen, and she was 80 years old when she passed. Born in Central City, Arkansas, she had lived in Lavaca, Arkansas before coming to Trona. She was a long-time member of the First Baptist Church of Searles Valley and spent many years volunteering as an EMT with Searles Valley Ambulance.  She is buried in the Trona Cemetery. That is another marker of where your home is. Her obituary in the Ridgecrest paper said she had nine grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.

“Living here is like living in a soap opera,” Jeff continues. “San Bernardino County is moving people here and life is easy, so they don’t have to work.” One wonders if that is an urban legend, or something to believe. Many people here are sure of it.

“There are burglaries every once in a while, but since you know everyone, it is easy to figure out who did it,” he says in a non sequitur. Jeff uses non sequiturs frequently.

In fact, Jeff’s life has been a kind of non sequitur; he is always searching for what he thinks he is missing. He now recognizes it. It is right under his feet. He has been looking for it elsewhere all this time.

The meaning of one’s life rests in the details of every day living. We dismiss these things as just ordinary and common. Suddenly John Lennon’s wisdom is clear: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” With the perspective of time we recognize how much more satisfying mundane events actually are than the unique, rare and sought after experiences we often seek in vain.

Jeff concludes, “There will be a Trona as long as there is a plant. They say there is enough brine for at least one hundred years of work.” He sounds like this time he means to stay home.

-C.L.

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california high desert color photography desert landscape photography desolate drought economic failure high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain jeff newman mining community small town trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/9/jeff-newman Tue, 08 Sep 2015 17:00:00 GMT
CA 395: THE HIGH ROAD HOME FROM BURNING MAN https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/8/after-the-burn-regaining-balance-down-highway-395  

You just spent a week at Burning Man on a playa in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. You even loved the dust, but now you’re done with the dust. You loved the desert, but you’re done with the heat. You loved not showering as much as you would at home, but you’re tired of your sweat smell. You loved going without sleep but now your body is bone tired.

Most of all, you loved the overpowering sense of freedom, love, community and ecstatic self-expression, but now you’re…well, actually you are NOT done with that. You want more. The transformative power of all the positive human values you were immersed in is exactly what you do want to bring back with you to the default world (Burner speak for where you spend most of your time). “Welcome Home” is the standard greeting at Burning Man.

 

Curve at Horizon - Garlock, CA - 2012Curve at Horizon - Garlock, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure
Curve at Horizon - Infrared Exposure - Garlock, CA - 2012

 

Leaving the playa, at first you’re exhilarated, but now a sense of fullness is being balanced by a sense of loss. You’re headed back to the real world.

Having served as "Spiritual Advisor" in the Snow Koan Solar camp, Bishop resident Jon Peterson is also traveling back from his pilgrimage home. His advice is to bring the 10 Principles of Burning Man, written by co-Founder Larry Harvey, back with you. Jon loves Burning Man because he sees the young people “taking on community responsibilities and working hard.”

Having been on the playa for at least a week, many people take time to re-enter the world, or decompress. It was at the Saline Valley Hot Springs that Peterson first started meeting Burners. He was forced out of being a National Park Ranger in Death Valley because he contracted a sarcoma cancer, which he has battled for the last ten years. “I have to balance my every three-week treatments and being at top physical condition with Burning Man. My doctors cooperate with that and two of them keep threatening to come.”

 

Jon Peterson - The Ten Principles of Burning Man - Bishop, CA - 2015Jon Peterson - The Ten Principles of Burning Man - Bishop, CA - 2015
Jon Peterson - The Ten Principles of Burning Man - Bishop, CA - 2015

 

The journey south on the 395 from Burning Man goes by the hot springs at Travertine just outside Bridgeport, and the Keough’s Hot Springs Resort and Keough’s Hot Ditch, both just south of Bishop. They are great places to wash off the dust. They also take care of the aches, pains and stress of the road, and are great places to nap and dream.

As Jon talks about traveling home and re-entering the default world, I think back to when I served two years in the Peace Corps in Khash, Iran. The first year I resisted living like the “host country nationals,” certain our western culture was the way life is “meant” to be. Then the second year, I realized cultures as a way of life are basically artificially constructed. I began living the way the Iranian people did. When it came time to return to the U.S., I faced severe culture shock leaving my adopted culture behind to return to the one I was raised in. In a parallel way, Burners experience a transformative experience in the desert through acceptance, love and support. They learn the default culture they are returning to is equally constructed and can be changed to be more like what they are leaving.

 

Cottonwoods - Olancha, CA - 2013Cottonwoods - Olancha, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure
Giant Cottonwoods - Olancha, CA - 2013

 

I have never been to Burning Man, but I know the area these pilgrims are traveling through on Highway 395. These pilgrims, or Burners, are changed. Many report a “culture shock” of leaving the playa behind. Post-Burn depression is not unusual. I have come to admire the ideals of the Burning Man Principles that include: radical inclusion; radical self-reliance; radical self-expression; communal effort and civic responsibility. If these can be brought back and, more importantly, implemented as a way of life, then a societal transformation will begin.

You’re pretty dehydrated when you leave, so water is good, all the better to splash and play in. The lakes outside Bishop (North, South and Sabrina) provide pleasantly cold, refreshing water. They can be reached by driving a half hour out of Bishop on West Line Street. Parcher’s Resort is an option, and there are many camping areas on the way to the lakes. There are also Whitney Portal Falls and campsites, at about 8300 feet out of Lone Pine, and for the more adventuresome, Darwin Falls, out by Darwin, about 40 miles east on Highway 190. Klondike near Big Pine and Diaz Lake just south of Lone Pine offer both camping, swimming, birding and fishing (Diaz only).

 

Trees with Striped Clouds - Ancient Bristlecone Nat'l Forest, CA - 2009Trees with Striped Clouds - Ancient Bristlecone Nat'l Forest, CA - 2009Infrared Exposure
Trees with Striped Clouds - Ancient Bristlecone Nat'l Forest, CA - 2009

 

For those struggling with re-entry, they might follow some of Hannah “Meow” Masius’s suggestions in “How to Work through Feeling Weird After Burning Man.” These can be found on the Burning Man Blog. She suggests: 1) Let yourself feel; 2) Write it out; 3) Go outside; 4) Do something wonderfully absurd; 5) Spend time with friends and loved ones; and 6) Give yourself some love.

Desert highways have their own secret lives, at once isolated, slowly arching and curving through the stark landscape, then going on straight to the horizon of unknown possibilities. High & Dry has explored these in an essay entitled Dark Desert Highways. After being settled on the Black Rock Playa for a week, driving down the desert highways can be freeing, even tranquilizing; the solace on being in a small metal container is a beautiful thing at seventy miles an hour with beams of light illuminating your way forward. As you travel, you can enter a kind of altered state, but with full alert consciousness that allows you to process all the intense experiences you have just had.

 

Green Streaks - California City Blvd - CA Highway 14 - 2011Green Streaks - California City Blvd - CA Highway 14 - 2011
Green Streaks - California City Blvd - CA Highway 14 - 2011

 

Timothy McTaggart emails, “For me the three days on the road getting home wasn’t a bad transition back to the default world.… A year later I’m still trying to figure out what to make of the trip and what I’m going to do with my life from this point forward. I’m hanging in there well enough for now. I do some intermittent strange and wonderful things now with art and music.”

Many returning Burners report also having an unusually intense and active period of dreams. Many scientists and lay practitioners believe this is a natural way that the brain processes and orders experience. Dream yoga takes rigorous practice, but promises rewards. Keeping a dream journal by the bedside and recording dreams upon awakening is a good idea. The strategy keeps the dreams from slipping back into the unconscious. Writing the dreams down in a dream journal also brings out meanings you were not immediately aware of upon awakening.

 

Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011Infrared Exposure
Haunted Landscapes - Art Share LA - 2015

Leaving Trona - Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 178 - 2011

 

Friend, Debbi Anne, will be at Burning Man again this year. She is one of the Black Rock Rangers who tend to the needs of the Burners on the playa: physical, mental and answering just about every question ever asked by a Burner. She advises, “Simply find places that nurture your soul on the way home.” There can be many. For instance, you may want protein, so find a good fresh food restaurant along the way. Your skin is very, very dry, so moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Vaseline in your poor nostrils and vinegar for your feet is always good.

Shaya emails in response to Hanna Masius’ blog, “My personality and the core of who I am have changed dramatically (for the better and the stronger) since I entered the Burner community and began my annual pilgrimages to the Playa. If you have the blessed luxury of being able to take time off from work, take a few extra days off after the Burn. Instead of driving all day and all night to get home, stop along the way somewhere… Find a safe place to sleep outside under the stars. Stay there for a night or two if you can. Do ‘nothing’ except prepare the food you need to eat. Contemplate the stars each night—the vastness of the Milky Way overhead. I have found that this truly helps me deal with re-entry. So much so that I make it a priority as part of my Burning Man experience.”

 

Fossil Falls Campsite - off CA Highway 395 - 2015Fossil Falls Campsite - off CA Highway 395 - 2015
Fossil Falls Campsite - off CA Highway 395 - 2015

 

The Owens Valley is rich with campgrounds that are great in early September. I like the many camping areas up by the lakes outside of Bishop. The creeks, placid lakes and wind soughing through the pines are soothing. I also like the Whitney Portal campgrounds, and the Lone Pine campground, literally in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. The Grandview Campground out of Big Pine on the way to the ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a place of humbling relaxation. These last areas are about forty-five minutes from Highway 395.

The Fossil Falls area has thirteen “unimproved campsites” located in a stark, meditative desert landscape that encourages decompression in the willing. They are just off the highway. You will see Red Hill, a volcanic structure after leaving Olancha and driving into the ancient caldera. Just after passing Red Hill, is Cinder Road. There have been major active volcanic periods here 400,000, 100,000 and 10,000 years ago. They place the length of our lives and our place on earth in perspective. There is good interpretive material here and an interesting BLM hike through the lava fields.

 

Moon Over Best Motel - Mojave, CA - 2011Moon Over Best Motel - Mojave, CA - 2011
Moon Over Best Motel - Mojave, CA - 2011

 

Jon Peterson mentioned the art as being one of his favorite parts of Burning Man, especially the focus of one of the 10 Principles on radical self-expression. He is an artist and for the last five years has brought art projects to the Burn. He laughs all through our interview. It must be part of why he has been so long a cancer survivor. Burning Man art has a built-in appreciative and non-judgmental audience. He comes back home with new inspiration and energy. 

Some places with art for Burners to see on the way home are the murals and galleries of Bishop and Lone Pine. The provocative social media mural by Vin Leal on the Bonanza Mexican Restaurant in Lone Pine is worth seeing, followed by a meal inside.

On the way south of Olancha, artist Jael Hoffmann has a sculpture garden with many wonderful metal figures. She loves company and will welcome Burners who stop by. Her place and studio are dominated by a towering female hitchhiker representing a woman’s journey through life.

 

The Hitchhiker by Jael Hoffmann - Olancha, CA - 2011The Hitchhiker by Jael Hoffmann - Olancha, CA - 2011
The Hitchhiker by Jael Hoffmann - Olancha, CA - 2011

 

Jael writes her directions to stop by her garden. “What a cool idea… Would be wonderful to have Burners show up at the garden; I could provide them with some free Kombucha. 

Although you can turn into the sculpture garden from the highway, the two lane road makes it somewhat unsafe. Another option is to take the dirt road south of the Mobil gas station, then make a left on the second dirt road, and another right on the following dirt road, leading all the way to the sculpture garden.

Or turn into Walker Creek Road (pass the sculpture garden), then take the first dirt road north (after about 10 feet) towards sculpture garden.” Jael Hoffmann Sculpture Garden

I admire what I have learned about Burning Man, Burners and the transformational experiences to be had there. I am so impressed that I can imagine actually spending a week next year as a “virgin” Burner. Well, time will tell.

C.L.

 

Sky, Desert, Truck - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012Sky, Desert, Truck - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure
Haunted Landscapes - Art Share LA - 2015

Sky, Desert, Truck - infrared Exposure - Highway 395 Near Coso Junction, CA - 2012

 

High & Dry is writer/historian Christopher Langley and photographer Osceola Refetoff's long-term, cross-platform collaboration exploring the deserts of the American West and the people who live there. High & Dry is syndicated on KCET's Artbound and the Sun Runner: Journal of the American Desert, amongst other venues. To see new dispatches, sign up to below to receive them by email or 'Like' our Facebook page. We'd appreciate if you'd do both. Thank you!

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix 10 burning man principles Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff black & white photography burning man california high desert camping color photography dark desert highway decompression desert landscape photography digital infrared photography dream yoga fossil falls high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 395 jael hoffmann sculpture garden post burn depression sierra nevada travertine hot springs welcome home https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/8/after-the-burn-regaining-balance-down-highway-395 Thu, 20 Aug 2015 16:45:00 GMT
THE HUDSONS: AT HOME IN A LASTING LOVE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/the-hudsons Sometimes you just look into someone’s eyes and know those are the eyes you want to get lost in for the rest of your life.

 Fad Ibra
 

After a first meeting, you won’t know all the details of a couple’s life together, but you will know with conviction if they have been in love. Joe and Delores Hudson in a few months will celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary. They are at the Esparza Family Restaurant in Trona just finishing lunch. A shared confidence radiates from this couple. It transmits to any bystander they still are in love.

As they tell us their story, I soon learn that they married when she was nineteen and he twenty-one, after knowing each other two months. Delores tells me she interrupted the wedding ceremony three times with hysterical outbursts. She was opposed to marrying this man because she barely knew him. Her brother and his fiancé had joined the couple to make a double wedding. Instead of marrying in the local Foursquare Church, they had travelled to Las Vegas for the wedding. Delores’ brother lowered the boom and told her she was behaving like a spoiled child. “Of course you will marry Joe.” Almost sixty years later she knows it makes for a good story.

 

Joe & Delores Hudson in Front of Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015Joe & Delores Hudson in Front of Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015

Joe & Delores Hudson in Front of Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015
 

Joe ended up working at the Company (now Searles Lake Minerals) for fifty-six years. Delores leans over the table to me, confiding that Joe “never missed a day.” That makes him an “iron man,” the likes of Cal Ripkin.  Both born in Kansas, they didn’t meet until they landed in Trona.

Joe’s initial employment in Trona was interrupted by service in the Armed Forces from 1952-54. Coming home to Trona from the service, in those days without a car, was a real challenge. Over-heating battery smells on the plane forced his Army transport to land unexpectedly in Salt Lake City. When he finally got to Fort Ord, he bought a bus ticket to Bakersfield. Then he travelled on to Four Corners, California where Highway 58 crosses Highway 395. By hitchhiking, he reached Red Mountain where he slept by the side of the road. Cars averaged only one an hour on Trona Road but he finally did get to Trona. The couple met soon after.

Today, Delores is wearing a popular local hat: “End of the world 10 miles, Trona 15.” She seems to truly love this place she still calls “home,” even though she and Joe now live in nearby Ridgecrest.

Delores insists that Trona was once a fun town, with entertainment often created by the Tronites themselves. Austin Hall, built by the Company in 1913, had most of the services, such as a phone connection, a barber, and a restaurant. It was where they showed movies under a flapping canvas cover.

While I thought the heart of Trona was destroyed when the company tore down Austin Hall, Delores disagrees. “They took that down slowly piece by piece. The services and products offered there migrated to privately owned stores.”

 

Valley Wells Reservoir (Formerly Valley Wells Pool) - Trona, CA - 2015Valley Wells Reservoir (Formerly Valley Wells Pool) - Trona, CA - 2015

Valley Wells Reservoir (Formerly Valley Wells Pool) - Trona, CA - 2015

 

She insists it was the Company closing Valley Wells swimming pool that killed the town’s fun. Valley Wells was a reservoir for holding brackish water, to be used eventually by the plant. Not potable water, it was great for swimming on star-filled hot summer nights.

Delores remembers, “There had been the Rec Hall, the Trona Tigers baseball team, and the bowling alley was big.” She also cites archery and tennis. “When the Kerr McGee Company bought the plants, they slowly killed the town. Then there were the strikes which saw one person killed and many of the strikers jailed.” Trials had to be held. When Delores was called to jury duty, she said she wouldn’t serve. “I was prejudiced,” she had explained emphatically to the court at the time. The Company’s covenant with the townspeople had been broken. She sided with the town.

When a grandson was struggling in school, given straight F’s, Delores said it meant the school was failing, not the child. That eventually led Joe and Delores to move to Ridgecrest where the schools were much better. The child flourished, but Delores missed her home on Benton Street in Pioneer Point. Now they come back all the time to see friends and to drive by her house. She tells Joe she wants to buy it and move back, but Joe remains silent. It’s not going to happen.

They lost a grandchild, and buried him in Ridgecrest, and do not want to leave him behind. They visit Trona often. Today, they come here in their ’71 Mustang convertible. Joe makes clear it is Delores’ car. It is a beautiful blue, one of several classics the Hudsons own. Joe has them around Ridgecrest, stored in garages out of the harsh desert sun.

 

Hearts Graffiti Detail - Trona, CA - 2015Hearts Graffiti Detail - Trona, CA - 2015

Hearts Graffiti Detail - Trona, CA - 2015

 

Delores wistfully looks at me. I realize how much she loves and misses living in Trona. I ask how come so many Tronites that I meet are so closely bonded to this struggling, rundown town. “It’s the people,” she says. “They hang together. All of us are here for each other when we have needs.”

Osceola takes them out to have a portrait taken. Delores hesitates. This photographer can be persuasive. As they stand before their classic Ford, Delores slowly cuddles in to Joe’s neck and smiles slightly. She looks safe and smitten.  He looks proud and very certain of how he feels.  These lovers could be posing for their high school prom.

They wave and leave. Joe peals out for our benefit. We stand, a bit envious of this couple. The good feeling they leave behind envelopes us. These two people have found love and true happiness beyond the turmoil of modern life.

In this day and age where people change relationships, we wonder how these two have done it. Were they perfect for each other at the beginning, or has their marriage been a day-by-day affair created lovingly and patiently over time? Has living in or near a place you love helped? The answers must be here. We simply need to know how to read them. Perhaps, in time, we will come to know more about their relationship and why it has endured, like the town they still call home.

-C.L.

 

1971 Ford Blue Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 20151971 Ford Blue Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 2015

1971 Ford Blue Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 2015

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california high desert color photography desert landscape photography desolate drought economic failure high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain joe and delores hudson mining community small town trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/the-hudsons Tue, 04 Aug 2015 08:00:00 GMT
TRONA HOME SERIES: HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/home-is-where-your-heart-is High & Dry spent a recent weekend doing immersive field research in Trona, CA, a 100-year-old mining community just south of Death Valley. While that sounds very studious (and it was informative), we enjoyed our work immensely and were given a hearty welcome by the citizens of town, who are determined to stand their ground despite difficult economic conditions.

― Osceola Refetoff - Facebook, May 2015

 

 

Delores & Joe Hudson with Christopher Langley - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015Delores & Joe Hudson with Christopher Langley - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015

 

Delores & Joe Hudson with Christopher Langley - Esparza Family Restaurant - Trona, CA - 2015

 

Delores and Joe Hudson are finishing lunch when we come into the Esparza Family Restaurant. After ordering hamburgers, we sit down. Soon Osceola has engaged Delores and Joe in conversation. I am drawn into the story of their lives together. This year they are coming up on their sixtieth wedding anniversary. I think about my wife’s recent death after 46 years of marriage, and the loss makes me feel closer to Joe and Delores. I am envious they will have the company of each other in old age. After a long time together, the emptiness from the death of a partner leaves you feeling no ground beneath your feet and your future unknown.

They once lived in Trona, but moved to nearby Ridgecrest for family reasons. Delores aches to return.

Later, Osceola captures Joe standing by his blue convertible Mustang, but the photographer knows a better portrait would also include Delores. She has her newly washed hair covered by a scarf, but is still willing to stand by her husband, partner and lifelong friend. She positions herself close behind him for the picture, her head slowly nestling into his neck.

 

 

Joe Hudson with Blue Ford Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 2015Joe Hudson with Blue Ford Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 2015

Joe Hudson with Blue Ford Mustang Convertible - Trona, CA - 2015

 

We wonder what is the secret to staying in love while married for almost sixty years. We mean to learn more.

Earlier, Delores had recognized Trona native Jeff Newman as he entered the restaurant. Now in full beard and long hair, he was in school with one of her daughters. He was born in Trona and recently has returned. We wonder why someone would come back to a town that many outsiders think is dying.

Jeff counseled us to find Andy Ledezma. He is the oldest living person who was born in Trona and still living here. We wonder what advantages are in Trona for someone who was born there.

Late the next day, Osceola and I return to an old abandoned house. He has already photographed it on another Trona trip, but wants to reshoot it.

 

 

Small House with No Doors - Argus, CA - 2015Small House with No Doors - Argus, CA - 2015Infrared Exposure

Small House with No Doors - Argus, CA - 2015

 

I am walking up the street, my hands full with my tripod, camera and journal. A big SUV coasts by slowly, turns around, and comes back. The suspicious driver, at first, seems to think I might be shooting a porn movie (apparently people actually come here to do that.) It is Andy Ledezma accompanied by his sister. This is another serendipitous Trona event.

Andy knows the history of every house, every block, and the town in toto, not to mention every one living there. When I say he is the “mayor” of Trona, he says no that would be Lit Brush. He is the “assistant mayor.” A twinkle of pride and fun crosses his face. He loves this town and almost every one there. His story will have to wait, as he has to be on his way to visit another sister.

Earlier in the day, we have a brush with security and small town suspicions. The tangle of valves on the pipes that control the pressure, or “throttle” the water from Ridgecrest to Trona has caught Osceola’s eye. We are parked by Trona Road (Highway 178) in Poison Canyon. I get out my small folding chair, my project journal and my laptop, the simple tools of the professional scribe.

 

 

Christopher Langley on Laptop at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Christopher Langley on Laptop at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

Christopher Langley on Laptop at Water Throttling Valves - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 

Osceola takes a break to make a photo of the writing half of our project actually working. We both are wearing neon yellow safety vests. He instagrams the photograph with the following commentary:

High & Dry’s Christopher Langley captured in the field near Trona, CA. The writer sports his “Cloak of Invisibility,” which helps him to blend into the terrain, discouraging interruptions from law enforcement and utility personnel when working near electrical and hydraulic infrastructure.

I comment that he is calling down security as soon as they see the post. A few minutes later he posts his next photo of me working and a man approaching with the gait of someone in charge.

 

Henry Jones Approaches Christopher Langley on Laptop - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015Henry Jones Approaches Christopher Langley on Laptop - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

Henry Jones Approaches Christopher Langley on Laptop - Poison Canyon, CA - 2015

 

Cut to 3 minutes later: Apparently Christopher’s “Cloak of Invisibility” is defective and there were calls about suspicious characters tampering with Trona's water supply. After making sure we are on the up and up, company employee and 38-year Trona resident, Henry, fills us in with some interesting stories about the town's history.

We are now Facebook friends with Henry Jones, the Water Technician at Searles Valley Minerals. When he is off duty, we intend to come back and hear all the details about his years working for the company and living in Trona and Ridgecrest. How did these places become home for him?

The people of Trona love living here. Luckily for us, they also love talking about their lives in colorful detail. High & Dry agrees that coming back to Trona is like coming home. The people of Trona are the ones who make that feeling real.

We will explore in future dispatches why this town elicits such loyalty in its citizens. Is it because of the sense of familiarity, safety, or the feeling of belonging? Trona is a town facing severe economic, social and geographic challenges. Why do the people here remain stalwart in the face of such adversity?

C.L.

 

 

Christopher Langley & Osceola Refetoff at Austin Hall Marker - Trona, CA - 2015Christopher Langley & Osceola Refetoff at Austin Hall Marker - Trona, CA - 2015

Christopher Langley & Osceola Refetoff at Austin Hall Marker - Trona, CA - 2015

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff andy ledezma california high desert color photography delores & joe hudson desert landscape photography desolate drought economic failure esparza family restaurant ford mustang convertible high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain mining community small town trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/home-is-where-your-heart-is Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:00:00 GMT
HIGH & DRY RECEIVES MULTIPLE AWARDS AT OWAC https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/high-dry-receives-awards-at-owac  

"Best Outdoor Media Website"
"Best Outdoor Feature Photograph"

"Best Nature Photograph"
"Best Overall Photograph"

 

Los Angeles, Calif. (June 23, 2015) - The Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) honored High & Dry: dispatches from the land of little rain this week at their spring conference in Big Bear Lake in the "Best Outdoor Media Website" category of their annual Craft Awards competition.

In addition, High & Dry's work was honored with the First Place award for "Best Outdoor Feature Photograph" going to "Call of the Wild," by Osceola Refetoff. The photo appeared in the October 2014 Palm Springs Life Magazine, accompanying an article written by Christopher Langley. This follows last year's win at the 2014 OWAC conference, when Refetoff received the "Best Feature Photo Series" award for One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a High & Dry collaboration with Langley on KCET's Artbound.

Refetoff was also honored for "Big Bear Lake Vista from Pacific Crest Trail" in the "Shirley Miller Memorial Photo Contest" (a one-day, on-site challenge). The photo took First Place "Best Nature Photograph" and the "Judges' Choice" Grand Prize for "Best Overall Photograph." He had previously won in these categories at the 2011 OWAC conference.

The website, desertdispatches.com, is an on-going collaboration between writer/historian Christopher Langley and photographer Osceola Refetoff, exploring the California deserts and the people who live there.

 

Call of the Wild - Palm Springs Life Magazine - October 2014Call of the Wild - Palm Springs Life Magazine - October 2014Call of the Wild - Palm Springs Life Magazine - October 2014

Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Red Hill Marina (Salton Sea), CA - 2014
2015 OWAC 1st Place Award: Best Outdoor Feature Photo: Osceola Refetoff/High & Dry

 

MORE ABOUT HIGH & DRY:

The project investigates the issues facing the California desert, and how economic and environmental challenges affect residents and visitors of the desert today. Deserts have traditionally been viewed as a wasteland for mining, military exercises, and waste disposal, and are now attracting interest from energy corporations in search of "renewable" resources. High & Dry strives to create compelling stories that draw attention to the value of these arid lands, their communities, and their history. The website and its "dispatch" format are designed to be visually appealing and accessible to a diverse audience, in a busy world fragmented by social and political divisions.

Beginning in February of 2014, Langley and Refetoff's observations have been collected in the form of integrated essays and images and disseminated via the website desertdispatches.com. The content is re-syndicated through a variety of online and printed media, including a regular feature on KCET's Artbound, The Inyo Register, The Sun Runner; as well as social media, gallery exhibits, panel discussions, and other venues.

Some of the topics that Langley and Refetoff have investigated are a three-part series on the Salton Sea, dispatches on Trona, a struggling mining town on the southern edge of Death Valley, and pieces evaluating the merit of industrial-sized, Mojave-based, green energy projects.

 

Big Bear Lake Vista from Pacific Crest Trail ­- Infrared Exposure - 2015Big Bear Lake Vista from Pacific Crest Trail ­- Infrared Exposure - 2015

Big Bear Lake Vista from Pacific Crest Trail - Infrared Exposure - 2015

 

MORE ABOUT THE HIGH & DRY COLLABORATORS:

Osceola Refetoff's interest is in documenting humanity's impact on the world - both the intersection of nature and industry, and the narratives of the people living at those crossroads. He holds an MFA from New York University's Graduate Film Program, where he earned the "Paulette Goddard" and "Warner Bros" Fellowships. His films have been broadcast in France (TV1), Spain (Canal+) and the United States (PBS), receiving numerous awards.

Refetoff's photography is featured in The Los Angeles Times, Hemispheres, and WhiteHot, amongst other publications. He has exhibited at Photo LA, the San Diego Art Institute, and numerous Month of Photography Los Angeles and Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 solo and group exhibitions. In addition, he operates Chungking Studio, a portrait studio, commercial production and exhibition space on historic Chung King Road in Los Angeles' Chinatown.

Refetoff's directorial background informs his approach to photography in a variety of ways. His parallel careers as a location scout and as an editorial and fine art photographer are each characterized by an evocative, cinematic understanding of how scale, point of view, architecture, and motion can be expressed as both information about and experience of a given place. His current focus is an expansive set of portfolios surveying the human presence in the deserts of the American West. His fine art photography can be viewed at his website ospix.com.

 

Mule Train Winds through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 2013Mule Train Winds through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 20131st Place Award- Best Outdoor Photographic Series

Outdoor Writers Association of California - 2014

Mule Train Winds through Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 2013
2014 OWAC 1st Place Award - Best Outdoor Photographic Series

 

Christopher Langley, a life-long educator, has lived in and studied the Mojave Desert for over forty years. Achieving his BA in English-History at Dartmouth College, he first encountered the desert landscape teaching as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Khash, Iran. After teaching in the isolated New Idria, CA, mining camp's public school for 3 years, he went on to teach for 29 years in Lone Pine, CA.

A History-Geography Fellow at UCLA, teaching educators during summer sessions, Langley was appointed an American Memory Fellow at the Library Congress and worked as a Fulbright Fellow in Japan. This research and practicum focused on teaching history with primary sources, the suffrage movement, and women's rights, both in the U.S. and Japan. He is currently President of the Inyo Co. Board of Education and helps run an innovative program in "entrepreneurial education" at 24 L.A. Charter High Schools.

Langley works as a film historian, and is the founder of the Museum of Western Film in Lone Pine. He is also the Inyo County Film Commissioner, where he focuses on the desert's complex relationship with cinema and the story of our lives. Some of his publications include a history of Lone Pine, CA, a cultural history of Mount Whitney, and From Jayhawkers to Jawas: a Short History of Filming in Death Valley. As the founder of the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group, Langley's environmental advocacy won commendations, including a "National Conservation Cooperation Award" and a "Sierra Nevada Business Council 20/20 Vision Award."

 

Benny Eldridge - Argus, CA - 2014Benny Eldridge - Argus, CA - 2014

Benny Eldridge - Argus, CA – High & Dry Dispatch Sept 17, 2014

 

MORE ABOUT OWAC:

The Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC), is an association of media professionals who communicate the vast array of outdoor recreational opportunities and related issues in California and the surrounding western region. The membership includes newspaper and magazine staffers, freelance writers, radio broadcasters, video producers, editors, photographers, lecturers and information officers.

OWAC was founded in 1986 to expand public information on outdoor recreation and conservation, provide professional craft improvement, and increase recognition of outdoor media as a specialized field. The annual Craft Awards recognize and honor the finest work in outdoor communications.

High & Dry's dispatches are available for syndication. For details and inquiries, please email the contact below.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff alabama hills CA argus CA benny eldridge best nature photograph best outdoor feature photograph best outdoor media website best outdoor photographic series best overall photograph big bear lake CA california high desert color photography craft awards desert landscape photography desertscape digital infrared photography drought first place award grand prize green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain kcet artbound lone pine CA mining town mojave desert outdoor photography outdoor writers association of california owac pacific crest trail palm springs life magazine renewable energy salton sea CA trona CA wasteland www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/high-dry-receives-awards-at-owac Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:45:00 GMT
LANCASTER, CALIFORNIA: FROM ALFALFA TO "NET ZERO" CITY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/lancaster-from-alfalfa-to-net-zero-city  

The weed-infested fields of West Lancaster, California were once perfect for growing alfalfa. They might still be if it should become economically advantageous again. Complex irrigation systems took care of the desert water needs for the seasonal crops. The fields today show the mottled patches and striated scars of past tilling.

These fields are no longer cultivated though. This agricultural past is memorialized by large concrete pillars dotting the flat land. These cement cylinders are monuments to the past, when the irrigation grid spread its life-giving liquid to the quilted fields of alfalfa. Now glistening sheets of solar panels, rigidly aligned to maximize the sunshine, are beginning to spread across the abandoned fields in dark, shiny linear arrays.

 

Storm Over Irrigation Towers - Lancaster, CA - 2014Storm Over Irrigation Towers - Lancaster, CA - 2014 Storm Over Irrigation Towers - Lancaster, CA - 2015

 

These fields are waiting for more solar arrays to be built there. Lancaster intends to become the net-zero city of the future. Driving along the rectilinear road system marked by numbers and letters, some of the straight-to-the-horizon roads are posted with crosses, plastic flowers and the names of traffic victims. They announce these undeviating roads and intersections are not that safe.

Here is the home of a man who collects old airplanes and jets. They are strewn about his front and side lawns. It is a desultory collection, the seeds to a private aeronautics museum he dreams. Rather than artifacts of a noble life in the air, they seem sad, patiently waiting to age and decay.

 

Roadside Crosses - 10th Street E & Avenue G - Lancaster, CA - 2014Roadside Crosses - 10th Street E & Avenue G - Lancaster, CA - 2014 Roadside Crosses - 10th Street E & Avenue G - Lancaster, CA - 2015

 

Between the wide-open fields there are occasional “McMansions.” They announce a form lacking any architectural style other than a grandiose, multi-storied, bold and ugly braggadocio. They stand to brag about their owner’s wealth. The neighborhood in between is wild, empty and succumbing to weeds and loose dirt. The sun beats down ready to be harnessed to meet the city’s goal of total energy self-sufficiency.

This dusty, flat land is subject to mudflows. You drive up into the low hills to the west where lakes have dried to hexagonal tiles with arching edges. The indigenous turtle population is gone. Two drought-tortured lakes, one stone dry, the other with some moisture and still mud-delicious, can no longer provide the fish sustenance or dissolved oxygen. These inhabitants are dead or have managed to move on in time. The lips of the lakes are marred with salt. Nearby a hesitant housing development regrets it chose this land for settlement.

 
SC Edison Neenatch Substation - Lancaster, CA - 2014SC Edison Neenatch Substation - Lancaster, CA - 2014 SC Edison Neenatch Substation - Lancaster, CA - 2015

 

In this near no-man’s land, forgotten and ignored, a city of the future lies spread across the Mojave plain. Lancaster dreams big dreams of its energy future. The Swinerton solar array is black, sleek and geometrically classic. The panels shine with the promise of industrial magic, converting sunbeams to dancing electrons through arcane practices. Now they are engineered to be scientifically disciplined: more obedient, reliable and predictable. A sign with an etched image in some voguish way shows engineers in hardhats pointing up towards the future. The figures are rigid in a faux Stalinist style of 1950s Russia. The Stalinist style is undoubtedly accidental. The image hopes to capture the spirit of this solar plant and of the city of Lancaster.

The panels all lean together to maximize their exposure towards the moving sun. They are a glassine chorus line with choreographed yet steadfast dancing moves as the sun passes overhead. Only an engineer or technician might find these dancers sexy, but they are seductive in their technological elegance.

 

Swinerton Renewable Energy Sign - Lancaster, CA - 2014Swinerton Renewable Energy Sign - Lancaster, CA - 2014 Swinerton Renewable Energy Sign - Lancaster, CA - 2015  -  Photo: Christopher Langley

 

Ordinance No. 997, written and approved by the Lancaster City Council, carries the dreams and vision of this populace. They are inspired and guided by Mayor R. Rex Parris, a political showman, to make Lancaster the first Net Zero city in the nation. They intend to produce more energy here than is consumed. The ordinance proclaims, “The City of Lancaster has been actively investigating options to procure and provide electric power to citizens with the intent of achieving greater local involvement over the provision of electric services and promoting competitively priced renewable energy.”

Partnerships are the way of the future in solar. In 2010, in partnership with SolarCity, Lancaster began a project to make solar installation for homes and businesses more affordable and more efficient. This is a major component in becoming the first Net Zero city in the world.

 

First Solar NRG Alpine Project - Lancaster, CA - 2012First Solar NRG Alpine Project - Lancaster, CA - 2012 Flagpoles - First Solar NRG Alpine Project - Lancaster, CA - 2012

 

Now the alfalfa fields are tessellating into solar arrays. Instead of obfuscating the view, or inspiring cries of “not in my backyard,” the dusty plains are now the engineered tablelands of the future. Lancaster is in a constant competition with its neighboring city, Palmdale, promoting industry to the point of absurdity with debatable business incentives.

Yet with solar, the path is clear and the conviction strong. Now green energy costs about fifteen percent more than traditionally generated electricity, but the future promises a price balance setting in.

In the meantime, Lancaster locks in this Net Zero development vision, tiling across their dusty desert with silvered dark panes of glass, covering the roofs of the city buildings with panels, and the homes of Lancaster with solar capacity.

Look upon this place. Here will rise a Net Zero city of the future.

-C.L.

 

Edison TTRP 3 & 9 Antelope 500kW Expansion - Lancaster, CA - 2014Edison TTRP 3 & 9 Antelope 500kW Expansion - Lancaster, CA - 2014Infrared Exposure Edison TTRP 3 & 9 Antelope 500kW Expansion - Lancaster, CA - 2015

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix 10th street east Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff SC Edison agriculture avenue G california high desert co2 emissions crosses crossroads desert landscape photography desertscape digital pinhole photography east lancaster CA freeway grave markers green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 14 joshua tree lancaster landfill & recycling center mojave desert power lines renewable energy roadside memorials roadside monuments sign solar energy sun power transmission wires www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com yucca brevifloria https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/7/lancaster-from-alfalfa-to-net-zero-city Thu, 02 Jul 2015 11:30:00 GMT
THE SALTON SEA - PART 3: THERE’S LITTLE “THERE” THERE IN BRAWLEY ANY MORE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/6/theres-little-there-there-any-more The smell of smoke still lingers in areas of downtown as a reminder to local merchants of the emotional and physical healing process still underway following a rash of structure fires months earlier.

 “It has really devastated Brawley,” American Beauty Academy owner Jeannie Jongeward said. “It’s going to take a long time if Brawley ever will be able to recoup from it.”

― Celeste Alvarez, Imperial Valley Press, Brawley Still Rising From the Ashes - August 4, 2013

 

Ropa de Calidad - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014Ropa de Calidad - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

Ropa de Calidad - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

 

The road curves around the Salton Sea, now hidden in the dark. A powerful locomotive rumbles nearby, paralleling the nearly empty highway. The engine is dragging an endless line of flatbed cars loaded with containers. This is a major shipping route going east and west.

Towards the horizon, a thermal plant steals heat from the molten core of the planet. It turns it to steam to turn the turbines. A plume of escaping vapor is illuminated like a ghost caught by a paranormal investigator’s camera. It is “free” energy. There are nearly 80 generating plants in the area suckled to the earth's cracks that ooze heat. In the night they are illuminated cities that promise excitement and nightlife. They deliver only rumble and steam clouds and the turning of cylinders to agitate electrons.

 

Freight Train - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Freight Train - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Freight Train - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

The Salton Sea lurks in the dark: moist, poisoned and yet ever fecund at its edges. Much grows and much dies here. Everyone but the locals focus on the bad news.

Nyland goes by, then Calipatria but all is silent in the darkness. The Brawley Inn appears. Large truck-tired drivers have already de-cabbed for the night, but one motel room remains. There is a wet chemical smell in the wind. The air is fetid; life’s excretions are layered with decay and salt.

When the morning dawns, the air is still, pastel beautiful, with a gentle wind’s caress. By afternoon the landscape is one hundred degrees, heat exhausted and wind weary but still seductive. Main Street Brawley is obsessed with the past. Both Main Street and the side streets are lined by colonnades with a Spanish memory; sidewalks are edged by tropical plants like banana, bougainvillea and birds of paradise.

 

Medical Equipment Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014Medical Equipment Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

Medical Equipment Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

 

The historic bustle of shopping groups have been silenced. Everyone now owns a car. Avid consumers drive out to the strip malls. Once there were women in rebozos carrying parasols to avoid the sharp-edged sun rays, children in hand, out to meet other similar women for a chat.

The White Cross Pharmacy has Edward Hopper windows with white plaster and cream color stucco. The windows are full of walkers, rollators, potty chairs and crutches. Is the town full of failing elders? The sky is full of wispy waves and mares’ tails, and towards the sea to the west milky skies prevail.

Once this town knew exactly what it was, but now it engages in a desultory search for any identity that passes by. A man comes down the street. He is slightly overweight dressed in T-shirt and jeans. As he moves cautiously along, he puts a garbage can top back in place, picks up pieces of litter, and looks at the blackened walls of a fire ruined building and dreams. This is his town. He was born in Brawley, went to school here, but dropped out. He alludes to a run-in with the law, but goes no further to explain.

 

Main Street Market - Brawley, CA - 2014Main Street Market - Brawley, CA - 2014

Main Street Market - Brawley, CA - 2014

 

Off to New Mexico, he gets his life together, has two children, but things fall apart again. He returns to Brawley. His mother and brother die in car wreck down by the river. His grief still flickers across his eyes and lips.

Questioned, he says things are not that good but thinks they will get better. He points to the burned buildings where once a cosmetology academy did business. Smoke damage has marred the other businesses nearby. On either side of the Valley Medical Pharmacy there is a boarded up business. The street scene smiles like a meth addict missing teeth. The front of the pharmacy is particleboard. False brick paneling has been nailed to the plywood front, a cheap Fifties knock off. Farmacia Del Puebla is down the street. Across from there are the Cuindad Plaza Adult Apartments.

The man emulates optimism and says he will be getting a business going here, but never explains what that will be. He looks over at Christine’s Restaurant. A banner “Mexican and Seafood: Orders to Go” drapes the front. It is newly rehabbed and painted ochre with a green stripe. A rich brown color outlines the windows and doorframe. Next door an H & R Block office services humble taxpayers. In our egalitarian democracy even the poor get to pay income taxes.

 

Furniture Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014Furniture Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

Furniture Store - Main Street - Brawley, CA - 2014

 

The man pauses in his meanderings down the street to talk general business outlook. “There are no jobs,” he emphatically reports. He discounts gold mining at Glammis, and the thermal plants, and the sugar factory, which he thinks is about to close. When queried about the huge agricultural fields, he sullenly reports that there are many farm jobs if someone would stoop to do that kind of work.

Yet, he thinks things will turn around soon. The tenacious people of Brawley and the Salton Sea have not given up. They do not want your pity or sympathy. This is home. They will stick it out, wait and, if they are lucky, work. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein of Oakland, there is no there there,* but that’s still plenty for these people.

 

Main Street Arcade - Brawley, CA - 2014Main Street Arcade - Brawley, CA - 2014

Main Street Arcade - Brawley, CA - 2014

 

*Author’s Note on Gertrude Stein and “No There There.” When Stein returned to her hometown of Oakland in 1935, nearly 45 years after she lived there, she could not find any of the places of her girlhood memories. Her childhood home and all the places around it were significantly different from her memories. She had grown up in a rural area of orchards and farms. Now it was urbanized. So when she wrote in Everybody’s Autobiography about there being “no there there,” she was not putting Oakland down. She was reflecting that nothing she remembered was still there. It was the painful nostalgia of loss that she was remarking. You truly can’t go home again.

There is a newly coined, semi-scientific word for that emotional feeling of loss associated with environmental change. It is called “solastalgia.”

C.L.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff abandoned arcade brawley CA business district california desert colonnade color photography commercial zone desert landscape photography desolate drought economic failure environmental issues forsaken dreams geothermal power plants gertrude stein green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise imperial valley CA imperial valley press kcet artbound main street medical equipment store no there there salton sea CA small town solastalgia unemployment www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/6/theres-little-there-there-any-more Mon, 08 Jun 2015 21:00:02 GMT
THE SALTON SEA - PART 2: A TSUNAMI OF NEGLECT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/5/tsunami-of-neglect Poles and Dirt Circle No.1 - Salton Sea CA - 2014Poles and Dirt Circle No.1 - Salton Sea CA - 2014Infrared Exposure

 

It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements. Ruins pose a direct challenge to our concern with power and rank, with bustle and fame. They puncture the inflated folly of our exhaustive and frenetic pursuit of wealth.

Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

 

Two ruins of the Salton Sea area still haunt my memories. One is plain and simple, easy to understand. The other is strange and mysterious. That one is something left over from an unknown use from a time not long ago.

The Red Hill Marina has a careless seashore. The tentative wind and desultory tide spring to action according to the winds. It is early morning and the light is still lemon meringue smooth. It is not for long though for the dawn chill is fast evaporating in the onrush of another one hundred degree day.

 

Waves off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Waves off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Waves off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014
Top photo: Poles and Dirt Circle No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Salton Sea CA - 2014

 

The photographer is out on the spit trying to capture upbeat images for an editorial piece. The land is littered with the detritus of neglect. I am standing on small dunes with gyres of water, flat, serene but slowly starting to turn. Bird noises announce the first feeding is well underway. In the distance a thermal power plant releases a pronounced plume of steam rising straight up. A very distant rumble of machinery can just be heard. A few waves lap on a temporary bank further out towards the sea.

As I walk along I am reminded of bathtub rings as if a tide had left debris and retreated back to its lair. There is a smell: both chemical and as if a loaded cattle truck had just passed by. Plaited reeds and sticks are frosted with ochre silt and salt. Dead plastic bottles, bent and dented, their surfaces opaque with the same powdery residue, lie abandoned by a tsunami of neglect.

 

Abandoned Mobile Home off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Abandoned Mobile Home off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Abandoned Mobile Home off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

We go to an abandoned trailer on a bank above the shifting sand, the snow of this inland sea. Curving linear ridges with ripples and twists provide landscaping where once there may have been a driveway. Jagged rocks stick through the salt and clay surfaces that sit silent, frozen at the edge of the water. 

Large clouds of pulverized dust are rising from the other shore, powered by growing thermals. This is a Salton Sea dust storm!

The trailer he wants to capture is old with rusted edges and pink, pasty, sun bleached surfaces. Where there once was a window that framed the view of the sea, now there is weathered plywood. Plexi-glass is dusted and burned to filmy opaqueness. A wave of passing time has swept this domestic scene up and left it to slowly decay while staring blindly at the landscape before it. Time is not fast. There is a great relief in that. Things will continue to change, but quite slowly. All is as it should be.

 

Window View - Abandoned Mobile Home - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Window View - Abandoned Mobile Home - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Window View - Abandoned Mobile Home - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

The second ruin tickles the mind’s eye with patterns of leaning logs, missing shade netting clinging in rags to drooping cables, and a giant empty pit. What is this location? What service did it provide? Whatever the answer, it is for sale. The realtor will know what he is selling. At the entrance off of Highway 111 there is a sign with a red box at the top announcing “FOR SALE” in white letters. Below on a white background is the name “PAT SEAY” and the number 760 562-1436. The sign is somewhat weathered. I make the call. After many rings, there is a recording that basically says to leave a message. Somehow it felt like the phone was ringing in an empty office where the machine is seldom checked. I never hear back.

 

Desert Ruin with Train Passing - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Desert Ruin with Train Passing - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Desert Ruin with Train Passing - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

The location is raised on sand berms visible from a ways off. The ruin is made up of several major elements. As you enter you first follow a raised dirt road that takes you in a gentle curve to an eight-foot high wood fence. It faces toward the Sea. The wood appears to be treated with creosote and could be railroad ties. There is a two-segment box that appears to be either a chicken coop or rabbit hutch. If you stand on the roof you can boost your self up and thus get a better view. To the west are rows of leaning poles. The first row of poles lean towards the fence. To the north a row of wood poles leans north, and to the south a row likewise leans south.

Cables dangle from the tops of each pole, and tatters of netting, perhaps for shade, dangle down. Additional cables connect to the other poles. A set of short poles, perhaps fence posts, line straight across the flat salt playas. A dirt road leads through to very tall poles, around the outside of the pole array and into the next section.

 

Dirt Circle with Poles No.1 - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Dirt Circle with Poles No.1 - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Dirt Circle with Poles No.1 - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

The road is narrow, and raised and continues around a large pit that is more than fifty feet deep in the middle. The pit is rectangular, with slanted sides to a narrower bottom. This flat area has the same shape as the pit’s upper edge. The pit seems like it must have once been for holding water or liquid. If you continue around the pit it eventually leads back to the fence. Then you could exit. So the major elements are a high solid fence of creosote treated planks, an array of tilted poles that at one time may have held a shade canopy, and a large rectangular dirt pit.

With late afternoon shadows, the whole ruin with the various rhythmic patterns of poles, planks and cables, not to mention the graveled pit, fascinates the eye and tricks the brain into seeing meaning and purpose where none exists.

 

Desert Ruin with For Sale Sign - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Desert Ruin with For Sale Sign - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Desert Ruin with For Sale Sign - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

The desert has many mysterious ruins that cry for explanation and pity. There were forsaken dreams here in these ruins as the previous owners walked away. There are now only unknown dead dreams, and bitter disappointment.

The Salton Sea, the Colorado Desert, in fact, all the deserts of California are full of questions. What happened here? What economic forces created these artifacts, then abandoned them to ruin? Most importantly, what do these things mean for those who love the desert today?

-C.L.

 

Photographer on Desert Ruin - Salton Sea, CA - 2014 - Photo: Christopher LangleyPhotographer on Desert Ruin - Salton Sea, CA - 2014 - Photo: Christopher Langley

Photographer on desert ruin capturing image like one at top - Salton Sea, CA - 2014 - Photo: Christopher Langley

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff abandoned home abandoned trailer agricultural area alain de botton california desert desert landscape photography desert ruin digital infrared photography drought environmental issues high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain imperial valley CA red hill marina CA salton sea CA the pleasures and sorrows of work tsunami of neglect www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/5/tsunami-of-neglect Tue, 12 May 2015 13:00:00 GMT
THE SALTON SEA - PART 1: A DISTILLATION THE WEST’S PROBLEMS IN SEARCH OF SOLUTIONS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/4/the-salton-sea-a-distillation It is at best a rather cheerless object, beautiful in a pale, placid way, but the beauty is like that of the mirage, the placidity that of stagnation and death. Charm of color it has, but none of sentiment; mystery, but not romance. Loneliness has its own attraction and it is a deep one; but this is not so much loneliness as abandonment, not a solitude sacred but a solitude shunned. Even the gulls that drift and flicker over it seem to have a spectral air, like bird ghosts banished from the wholesome ocean.

                                    Joseph Smeaton Chase, California Desert Trails - 1919

 

Sky, Whitecaps, Earth, Halobacteria - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Sky, Whitecaps, Earth, Halobacteria - Salton Sea, CA - 2014These red species of archaea form in salt-rich environments like the Great Salt Lake. 'Magic and Realism: Photographs by Osceola Refetoff & Bill Leigh Brewer' Curated by Shana Nys Dambrot, Chungking Studio - 2015
Water Works 2 - Porch Gallery - Ojai, CA - 2015 Water Works 2 - The Art Gallery at GCC - Glendale, CA - 2015

Sky, Whitecaps, Earth, Halo Bacteria - Bombay Beach, CA - 2014


The Salton sink in California’s Imperial Valley is a giant geological laboratory retort into which most of the problems challenging the West have been distilled. Now residents, officials, and scientists work to find the right combination of chemicals, strategies, apparatus, and protocols to identify workable solutions.

It is fashionable for journalists to write of the Salton Sea and nearby communities in post-apocalyptic terms. While not inappropriate, this is only half the story. The area, as it struggles with water problems, the border, chemical and air pollution, Native water rights, geothermal green energy repercussions, pesticide toxicity, unskilled labor force, climate change, and exploitive development, is mirroring California and the West’s growing trials as they confront the future. It is a depressing landscape, yet seen from a neutral perspective, aesthetically beautiful in varied ways. It sets the bar high in search for human solutions to mostly human-caused problems.

We come to the Salton Sea knowing its history of too much and too little water. Ancient Cahuilla Lake left bathtub rings high up on the cliffs at Travertine Point. It filled and drained over the eons as the Colorado River wobbled and changed course, creating a complex delta of ever changing braided waterways without access to the sea.

 

Arrows - Cochella Canal Near Salton Sea, CA - 2014Arrows - Cochella Canal Near Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Arrows - Coachella Canal Near Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

We stand at the edge of the Coachella Canal, watching the aqua blue water from the river, now encased in a cement jacket, placidly make its way across the desert land of Imperial County. The startling blue water channel, full of promise for irrigation, snakes majestically around the brown hills. Yet water has been overpromised to the various areas whose metaphoric lips are draining this beautiful source to quench a growing thirst.

Pacific Institute’s September 2014 report Hazard’s Toll: The Costs of Inaction at the Salton Sea summarizes the future of water here. In the years ahead, the amount of water flowing into the lake will decrease by about 40%. The surface will drop by twenty feet and its volume will decrease by more than 60%. The lake’s salinity will triple. The shrinking lake will expose 100 square miles of dust-generating lake bottom to the region’s blowing winds, worsening the already poor air quality in the region.

Each day as we travel back and forth on Highway 111, we pass through an inspection point run by the immigration system, checking for undocumented aliens. We do not look like we are foreign we think, but still they seriously inquire if we are American. We answer with the assurance we belong. The maps show borders and lines that determine who belongs where, but this landscape does not. The border area has a growing sense of distress, fear, and death as those searching for a better life must challenge the harsh and barren desert all about.

 

Dead Tree, Bird Nests & Shadow - Red Hill Marina, CA - 2014Dead Tree, Bird Nests & Shadow - Red Hill Marina, CA - 2014

Dead Tree, Bird Nests & Shadow - Red Hill Marina, CA - 2014

 

We walk over the mud flats towards two dead skeleton trees. Even from a long distance in this opalescent light we can see large empty nests of twigs that belong to lesser egrets and other large marsh birds. These bird nests wear iridescent white feather cloaks, but the avian nomads have moved on. The glutinous brown mud coated by slimy water sucks at our feet as we walk tenaciously out to these snags. Beyond there are thermal power generating plants emitting plumes of steam. Their rumble mars an otherwise totally silent environment.

The Salton Sea is a significant stopping point for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway. This water body currently provides tens of thousands of acres of shoreline and near-shore habitats to hundreds of thousands of birds. More than 400 species of birds rely on the Salton Sea, including a large number of special status species. As the lake deteriorates, the size and quality of habitat will diminish, reducing its value to the resident and migratory birds that depend upon it. In other areas of California, surveys show people have a willingness to pay to preserve similar values.

 

Birds off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Birds off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

Birds off Red Hill Marina - Salton Sea, CA - 2014

 

Walking along the shores near Red Hill Marina there are small dunes. In the Salton Sea’s “best” days, thanks to agricultural run-off, the area was once an island. Beyond, turning gyres of shallow water, slightly agitated by the morning breezes, shimmer in the morning light. A melodious cacophony of bird songs signals the morning feeding time that will in five years turn silent. As the salinity of the water passes the point able to support marine life, dying life will break the food chain.

The water movement builds and deconstructs false shores, leaving lines of dead fish skeletons, brush and slat frosted water bottles and a crushed folding plastic chair. The familiar smell reminds me of the common passing of a cattle truck back home. It teases my senses as I breathe in the ever-present, corrupted odor of decay and the fecund promise of bacterial life.

 

Halo Bacteria Pool - Bombay Beach, CA - 2014Halo Bacteria Pool - Bombay Beach, CA - 2014

Halo Bacteria Pool - Bombay Beach, CA - 2014

 

As soon as the Colorado River flood was dammed in 1907, the Salton Sea began to evaporate and shrink, Then relatively recently in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s it began to refill with the toxic run-off of pesticides, fertilizers and other assorted chemicals from the growing agricultural industry next door. As this pollution was restricted, the water source diminished and the lake began to contract again, its water distilled into a soup of toxicity. The water that fed the landlocked sea also brought die-offs of plants and animals.

Geothermal plants suck at the earth’s heated heart. Earth tremors scientists link to the presence of these energy factories shake the surface above the thermal source. Estimates of 1500 to 2900 megawatts of power reside here and some see the hope of the future of the Salton Sea buried under an the ocean of bureaucratic red tape.

 

Irrigation Canal Near Thermal Plant - Niland, CA - 2014Irrigation Canal Near Thermal Plant - Niland, CA - 2014

Irrigation Canal Near Thermal Plant - Niland, CA - 2014

 

In the afternoon we see a growing giant cloud of dust rising over the lake to the west, opaque yet misty, occluding the view. Particulates measured as PM10 and PM25 are free within this fugitive dust storm. Air pollution standards are violated triggering many rules, regulations and agency responsibilities. Monitoring of ozone (03), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM10 and PM25), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and lead (Pb) all spell increasing air pollution with various sources and solutions.

We drive straight roads through verdant fields, thirsty crops sucking water. Some irrigation canals move with the swishing and swinging tails of large fish, on leave from the saltier water. Many workers are condemned to the fields, uneducated, and disrespected. The water from these crops carry chemicals. They used to flow steadily to the sea. Now that the water has been diverted to address water pollution, the life of the sea has also been shut off.

 

Fish in Irrigation Canal - Niland, CA - 2014Fish in Irrigation Canal - Niland, CA - 2014

Fish in Irrigation Canal - Niland, CA - 2014

 

At the Salton Sea, ideas, plans and projects abound but intention and financing still falter. The future action can only become more expensive as problems grow worse and problem solvers study and study. Even a perfect solution requires human determination to make a difference.

Standing on the shore as the late afternoon sun struggles to shine through the growing dust clouds to the west across the sea, I am struck by the beauty of the light filtered through this toxic miasma. How can something born of man-made industrial corruption still be so beautiful to my eyes? Now the blushing sunset spreads across the horizon and I am transported to an ephemeral world of wonder. I realize in some way I have as yet not identified I am this sea, and it is I. We know each other: our strengths, our beauty and our desolation. We are one.

C.L.

 

Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Salton Sea, CA - 2014Infrared Exposure

Dead Tree, Nests & Thermal Plants - Infrared Exposure- Red Hill Marina, CA - 2014

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff air pollution bombay beach CA california desert climate change coachella canal desert landscape photography digital infrared photography drought environmental issues environmental solutions geothermal power plants green energy habitat preservation halo bacteria high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain imperial valley CA irrigation canal migrating birds pesticide pollution red hill marina, CA salton sea CA water rights www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/4/the-salton-sea-a-distillation Tue, 21 Apr 2015 13:00:00 GMT
HIGH & DRY SALTON SEA FEATURE ARTICLE IN PALM SPRINGS LIFE MAGAZINE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/1/salton-sea-feature-palm-springs-life

 

Palm Springs Life Magazine assigned Christopher Langley to write a feature about the significant beauty that exists around this mysterious, little-known resource. Following editorial direction, the story focuses on the history of Lake Cahuilla going back to the Pleistocene, leaving out less savory details about the lake's current condition.
 

The lead photo by Osceola Refetoff hints at a more complex story about the significant ecological challenges facing the region in the years to come. The dead trees are home to double-breasted cormorants, and what look like factories belching smoke are in fact thermal energy plants. Meanwhile, a toxic dust problem of epic proportions threatens on the horizon.
 

In the weeks to come, High & Dry will publish three new Dispatches that cover a more nuanced view of the area and it's steadfast inhabitants. For the sunniest outlook:
 

www.palmspringslife.com/Palm-Springs-Life/October-2014/Call-of-the-Wild/

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california high desert desert landscape photography desertscape double-breasted cormorant nest drought environmental issues green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain palm springs life magazine pollution thermal energy plant toxic dust www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2015/1/salton-sea-feature-palm-springs-life Tue, 06 Jan 2015 15:00:00 GMT
GHOSTLY TALE FEATURED ON KCET'S 'ARTBOUND' https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/ghostly-tale-on-kcet-artbound Our bone-chilling account of a week spent babysitting the ghost town of Cerro Cordo is the Halloween feature story on KCET-TV's Artbound. High & Dry is delighted about our long-term association with Artbound, Southern California's premier platform for arts and culture journalism.

www.kcet.org/arts/artbound/counties/inyo/ghosts-of-cerro-gordo.html

 

Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure

Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure- Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff abandoned mining town cerro gordo CA digital infrared photography ghost town high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain kcet artbound www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/ghostly-tale-on-kcet-artbound Fri, 31 Oct 2014 20:30:00 GMT
CARETAKING THE GHOSTS OF CERRO GORDO https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/caretaking-the-ghosts-of-cerro-gordo  

They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

                                                          ― Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot

 

The old Yellow Grade Road (dust storm on Owens Lake below) - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014The old Yellow Grade Road (dust storm on Owens Lake below) - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014

 

No wonder Spiritualism, séances, mediums and visits with the dead took place in the dark of the 1800’s. In the days when the streets, houses and buildings were not well lit, it was easy to experience the night full of spectral creatures, boogie men and things that go bump in the night.

In the daylight I found Cerro Gordo, a mining camp that dates back to the mid 1870’s, a charming rustic collection of period houses and weathered wood skeletons on the verge of tumbling in on themselves.

Ah, but the night is quite different. Darkness envelopes me, as I caretake the ghosts here. As the sun drops over the hills to the west and the Sierra Nevada crest behind, the landscape transforms into shadows of beasts and other phantasmagoria. It is peaceful as the thermal winds drop. The stars come out and satellites glide across the firmament. The Belshaw house cools. Footsteps cross on creaking floor planks in the house, tickling my over-active imagination. Mortimer Belshaw and Victor Beaudry were the first partners to own these mines. I know the silver from Cerro Gordo kick-started Los Angeles, as it was shipped out of San Pedro Harbor to be processed at the San Francisco Mint.

I think, life is good if isolated at 8200 feet. Then comes Wednesday night, and the first night of wind. The dark world here and days without visitors have made me sensitive to the environmental sounds I otherwise never hear in the noise of my every day life. The darkness makes me more able to hear each grate, rasp, creak or complaint of dry boney limbs of the desiccated trees tapping at the window. There are the gusts that shake the old house, and the whistling, whining, grumbling, moaning, groaning gasps of the high desert winds. The world is alive with other worldly spirits.  

 

Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure

Tramway Ramp Remains No.1 - Infrared Exposure- Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012
Above: The old Yellow Grade Road (dust storm on Owens Lake below) - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014

 

Cerro Gordo can easily be filled with wanton regret of all those who lived and worked here. There are the prostitutes in the cribs, the starving Indians whose pinion crops were destroyed for firewood, and the miners who broke their spirits on hard rock and unfulfilled dreams.

I dismiss the suffering, the whining of those phantoms long dead and instead think, Isn’t this all so cool to be spending a week caretaking a ghost town? But in the cemetery where the dead residents are buried, there are subtle signs hinting to me that nearly 300 forgotten souls are interred there in unmarked graves.

When the living departed after the mines played out, they took everything they could. They left only these decaying memories behind.

On the second night the sun starts to set, and shadows grow long. The mysterious deep shadows hide the entrances to the underground; I think about something. Suppose I have angered the ghosts by not truly remembering them and their lives, respecting their loves and losses. Tonight they will be about, and perhaps, just perhaps, come knocking at the door of the Belshaw house. What then?

Now the night wind keens my name. The only real corpse is the town itself. The wind soughs through the trees whispering to me. Loneliness creeps into Cerro Gordo softly on slippered feet following the shadows of the sun’s dwindling rule.

 

Falling Down House on the Hill - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014Falling Down House on the Hill - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014Infrared Exposure

Falling Down House on the Hill - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014

 

Light a candle and wait for the ghosts and tommy-knockers to come calling, I laugh. Now I will welcome their humorless grievances murmuring in my ears, as long as it doesn’t sound like the unsympathetic wind.

Earlier today, the second day of agitated weather, the south wind thundered in the eaves of this old house, but with the cooling evening, the hard gales are dropping temporarily to zephyrs. It is quieting down and my loneliness is filling my heart with the remorse of living too long without the assurance that loved ones will not die or fade away. The silence allows for thought, which cajoles remorse and disappointment instead of victory.

Deep in my past there is the ghost of a little boy who wasn’t loved enough. I got him to come out and play with me but still he walks in the lonely dank alleys of the human heart. I now begin to think I have nothing to offer others: nothing to offer myself.

I feel a great personal sadness in this place of much human suffering. The winds return. I hear a knocking at the foundation in a gust of wind. Is that a lonely child who was murdered in his ancient bed? Is it a young man forced to walk the dusty streets, stumbling on hidden rocks, condemned to never have but temporarily what he needs continually. Loneliness can breed selfishness. I have lived well with many blessings. Bitterness is unwarranted yet must be constantly vanquished.

 

Hanging Chains - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014Hanging Chains - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014

Hanging Chains - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2014

 

There are chains rattling in the veiled night. Are they the ones I saw earlier, looped over the desiccated fence posts, now clanging in the dark? Or are they moldy bones loosely attached by dried sinews scrambling from the stony graves in the ancient cemetery on the hill? Have they come to mock my night of loneliness when they are condemned to an eternity of solitude?

Faith and hope are lovely in the daylight but seem wan and pale this windy tortured dry night. Now I hear the wind again, thumping at the shingles, asking coldly to come in and bring me comfort. The dead bring no comfort to the lonely. Nor do they bring the succor of faith or peace of tranquility.

It is a crowded night, filled with the ghosts of my long life. Some are people I loved and lost, some are people I failed to love enough. There is scraping, like the scourging of flesh from bones. Or is that simply leaves fluttering nervously against the windowpane? I am forlorn, but not totally alone for in the wind are other friendless spirits, forsaken and abandoned, unremembered by the living. These heartless phantoms can only bring cold comfort.

Tomorrow life will return to normal. The people I know will signal their allegiance and just maybe their love. But tonight the desert wind has vacuumed my heart empty of the solace of any other living human being with a warm and comforting touch nearby.

C.L.

 

Robert Desmarais No.1 - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Robert Desmarais No.1 - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012Infrared Exposure

Robert Desmarais No.1 - Infrared Exposure - Cerro Gordo, CA - 2012
Robert is Cerro Gordo's sentinel on the hill, guarding it 24/7 almost 365. He and his wife Sandy are the permanent residents of this desolate remnant of California history. His 'ghostly' appearance is due to the infrared exposure.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff abandoned town california high desert cerro gordo CA desert landscape photography desert wind digital infrared photography eastern sierra ghost town high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain historic landmark human activity human enterprise human legacy inyo mountains loneliness mining camp cemetery mortimer belshaw samuel beckett specters tommy-knockers victor beaudry waiting for godot wind www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/caretaking-the-ghosts-of-cerro-gordo Mon, 27 Oct 2014 07:00:00 GMT
GARY CARTWELL - A LIFE IN TWO PARTS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/gary-cartwell-a-life-in-two-parts Gary Cartwell - Trona, CA - 2014Gary Cartwell - Trona, CA - 2014

 

He knows where he’s at now. There is certainty in his voice when he states emphatically, yet gently, “God is on the move here.”

Gary Cartwell has a large presence, his beard announcing a patriarchal, almost Biblical, confidence that he knows about faith and God. He leans against the old wall of Austin Hall in downtown Trona. His wife of just a few years is prim and proper and seemingly tired. She does not want to stand on the corner talking about her faith. They have just come from the Trona Four Square Church’s Sunday service. They live in Ridgecrest now but keep up their connection to Trona. She is a retired Trona High School English teacher where she served for 36 years. It is starting to get warm. She retires to the car.

Gary is feeling gregarious. A loquacious person by nature, he doesn’t mind talking about his life these days. He is ready to testify to how he “once was lost but now is found” to quote the old popular hymn. Back when he was a hard working, hard drinking, philandering man here in this company town, he was lost. In his first marriage, he lived with another woman for twenty-three of the thirty years of the marriage. He was either working at the Westend plant or drinking and carousing at the local bars in town.

He lived in Pioneer Point, an upstanding place, but eventually sold his house and changed his life. He mentions coming to Trona, but having a chronically sick son who drove his life of drinking, carousing and being a lot of trouble to his friends. Finally he got religion.

How God crashes unbidden into peoples’ lives is a mystery. Theologians say that you cannot even create a space for God in your soul because that means the eternal and infinite Divine must fit into a small human-made “box” within a lost soul. Psychologists and sociologists offer tepid explanations of “reaching bottom” and sudden “psycho-spiritual” transformations of human personality.

Gary, along with millions of other Christians, places faith at the center of becoming saved. The mystery then involves faith or belief in something through apprehension rather than proof. That is counter to how our modern rational world is supposed to work.

He and Janice now live on the outskirts of Ridgecrest where they maintain their own kind of animal reserve, giving sustenance and a home to a lot of animals. They faithfully come back to Trona on Sundays for church. They return on Tuesdays to have lunch at the Senior Center. He now dedicates his life to one of service, helping other seniors in any way he can, including picking up their trash.

Gary’s life divides neatly between a self-centered, dissolute one and the later one of faith, service and loving his fellow man. The role of spirit and faith for the residents of this desert town is complex and always in a process of becoming.

He remains the living incarnate of God on the move here. Whatever doubts about his faith he might have, he is steadfast and sure of God’s love. He is also certain he is part of God’s simple calling to do good for others less fortunate. He knows he is a very fortunate man to have survived his first life.

I believe there is no greater calling than to live your life for others. This call to service comes when it does, not when you want or expect it. When it does,  all else in your life is just preamble.

-C.L.

 

Janice & Gary Cartwell - Trona, CA - 2014Janice & Gary Cartwell - Trona, CA - 2014

Janice & Gary Cartwell - Downtown Trona, CA - 2014
ABOVE: 
Gary Cartwell - Trona, CA - 2014

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Gary Cartwell Osceola Refetoff american dream california high desert desert faith high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy mojave religious salvation trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/10/gary-cartwell-a-life-in-two-parts Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:00:00 GMT
BENNY ELDRIDGE - ARGUS, CA https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/9/benny-eldridge-argus-ca-2014  

Benny Eldridge - Argus, CA - 2014Benny Eldridge - Argus, CA - 2014

 

It is 1:46 pm and 101 degrees. That is rather temperate by Trona standards, especially for the beginning of August. He is standing out working in the yard under a steel grey sky. There is smoke in the air. Is it from the Argus or Westend plant or from somewhere else? Both plants are belching rolling clouds of vapor.

Benny Eldridge looks up with interest. Upon being asked, he tells how to find the Argus Cemetery, which is not far. He is very friendly for a life-long resident of a town that now could be dying.

He has his shirt off. Benny is a handsome man about 70, in good shape with the fading muscles of youth still visible. He needs to talk. He soon reveals that after several surgeries he is out of shape. He has kept himself in good shape for most of his seventy years. Benny intends to exercise to get back in shape once his joint surgeries have healed.

When he finds out he is talking to someone from Lone Pine, California, he says he knows Melvin Joseph who lives there. He competed against this rival in various sports. He immediately wants to send a friendly challenge to Melvin about their high school competitions. Benny loves to talk about his sports career.

Benny has spent most of his adult life in Trona.

He was born in a small town in Oklahoma. Then his family moved to Tulsa, a much larger town where they hoped to find work. They were always in search of jobs. From there they headed west because they learned of work at the Trona plants. At Trona High, he achieved many sports accomplishments.

Benny came to Trona in 1955. When it was time, like almost everyone else he knew, he went to work in the plant. That didn’t last for too long. He had other jobs, through which he supported his wife and children.

His wife never appears outside. He says she is talking on the phone. They were married in 1963. They began dating when they were 13 or 14 and have been together since then. Staying married, raising his children and now enjoying his grandchildren makes him a good family man.

He moved to his present house in June of 1983. It is large and could be located in almost any middle class neighborhood in America. It is actually in Argus, next door to Trona. When many neighborhoods in the area are disintegrating, Benny’s is a good family neighborhood street. The house has beige shingles and a stucco stone front. An old wooden wagon wheel accents the otherwise stark entrance. He has been working on the front yard today. He is very house proud.

When it is time for a portrait, he puts on his shirt. He mentions again he needs to get busy working out after his shoulder heals. He also puts on a cowboy hat. His face is ruddy from years of sun. His no-nonsense expression shows he has diligently worked for his family, his home and his community all his life. He has withstood some very challenging economic times during that lifetime.

He knows exactly how he wants to stand. It looks like a stance he might have chosen for the yearbook team pictures he undoubtedly posed for in the day. He stands showing his physique to its best advantage. His face is chiseled and stern, a pose that belies his age. There is a man of simple honor hiding just below the bravado.

Benny helped found the Baptist Church over near Pioneer Point.

Benny admires the minister of his church, “because he really knows his Bible.” Benny hopes the man of God will stay. He admires those who stay the course. He has tenaciously stayed the course for he knows that is what real men do.

C.L.

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Argus CA Benny Eldridge Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff american dream california high desert high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain human activity human enterprise human legacy mojave trona CA www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/9/benny-eldridge-argus-ca-2014 Wed, 17 Sep 2014 17:00:00 GMT
SENTINEL OF THE DESERT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/7/sentinel-of-the-desert First Day of Summer 2014

The Joshua tree is the sentinel of the Mojave Desert. It stands alone or shoulder-to-shoulder with other yucca trees in the primeval forest, waiting and watching, decade after decade. The Joshua’s true nature, origin and thousand-year life cycle are veiled in the mysteries of eons past. The human emotional response to an encounter with this tree creates layers of imaginative expectation. It is a sentinel. They dream, waiting and watching.

The twisted shapes and handicapped limbs raised high, as if in praise, invite personification. The branches wear wooly coats of dried blades from last year’s growth. The porcupine armor it dons is that of a fierce spirit. At the end of most branches are dried flower plumes, now stripped of seedpods. These symmetrical stems are not weapons to ward off predators, but landmarks of the passing maturity that signals where next year’s new branching will occur.

 

Overlooking Yucca Valley - 2011Overlooking Yucca Valley - 2011 Overlooking Yucca Valley, CA - 2011

 

The seedpods explode and spread the potential of new plants across the ground. Few will germinate in this arid land. Even fewer seeds will ever take permanent root. They must fall within a nurse plant like a creosote or spiny hop sage. A tough perennial bush will repel predator herbivores by the bitterness of the protective plant. Most new Joshuas will be clones grown off of rhizomes that root out from the clump.

This Joshua tree is old and grizzled, covered by spine-like leaves of the past, sharpened to a biting edge by desiccation. They lie flat on the surface of the limbs and swollen trunks of the tree. The first sunbeams slice mechanically over the stone hills to the east, announcing that the hot long summer days are now upon the desert. The coolness, captured within its four bulky trunks of the tree, struggles to survive in the shadows. A northern flicker suddenly takes to wing and is gone.

At the bottom of the multiple trunks are smaller trunks of clones that use the protection of the tree’s trunk clump. All too soon these determined children turn to the defeat of their mother source in the competition for nutrients and water. Beyond the shrinking shade of the tree’s canopy, additional baby clones collect in groups like kindergartners on the playground during recess. Still further from the tree are the dead bodies of those children that have not made it, rolled about in the changing winds. Some of the rhizomes that have been growing for decades are now thick and peeling dried flesh.

The bark that is not really bark starts a few feet above the ground and embraces the trunks down to the sandy hillock which the wind has built around the roots. This is the third year of another drought. The tips of their limbs remain green, but all else on the trees are pastel brown. This ancient survivor tree is patient always. In the face of another hot summer of drought it is ready to standby and sit tight. This tree survives through perseverance. Drought insists the survivors be tenacious and indefatigable. As it is with Joshua trees, so it is with people of the desert as well. They must exhibit a dogged persistence and day in and day out be resolute in the determination to make it through the heat to the coolness after dark.

 

Paved Road #1 - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011Paved Road #1 - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011Infrared Exposure

Paved Road #1 - Infrared Exposure - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011

 

This tree is a sentinel, a guard. Just east rests an abandoned concrete block building that probably was once a gas station and garage along the highway. The silence of the day is now syncopated by the whine of speeding cars on their way to somewhere else. Between our Joshua and the building rests a large pile of soda ash, left there by some derelict truck needing repair in the long past. There are piled cement block chunks from who knows what.

The back wall of the grey brick garage has windows with metal frames where shards of vandalized window glass still cling. Our tree is a soldier defending the workshop that smells of heavy lubricating oil. Inside glisten black bodied beasts, shiny in the reflected light of new day. There is an older ATV, a VW bug and two very new and beautiful motorcycles, stored there in an area protected by the tree as much as by the heavy lock on the door in front.

Today there is no threat, no criminal set on ravaging the building. The tree is a resolute sentinel none-the-less. It watches guard on its little piece of desert, the abandoned building full of new motorcycles and old equipment, and the highway beyond. Like Poe’s purloined letter, these treasures are hidden in nearly plain sight within the ruins of the old service station on the highway full of flashing cars and trucks on their way to somewhere else. The sentinel stands by, mute, enduring every challenge nature throws at it. Life in the desert takes a great amount of time and waiting.

The motorcycles come from a consumable society. They are treasured while the Joshua tree is devalued, unnoticed and nearly invisible to passersby. In fifty years the motorcycles will be abandoned, rusting piles of junk. If no one has knocked down this aged plant, this Sentinel of the Desert will continue with some growth, imperturbably watching the slowly changing scene.

C.L.

 

Lone Tree - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011Lone Tree - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011Infrared Exposure

Lone Tree - Infrared Exposure - Joshua Tree National Park - 2011

 

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/7/sentinel-of-the-desert Thu, 24 Jul 2014 18:00:00 GMT
SECOND CHANCE: THE OWENS LAKE PROJECT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/second-chance-the-owens-lake-project High & Dry is fascinated by Robin Black’s photographic study of Owens Lake and its ecosystems. The lake is located just south of Lone Pine, CA. The photographer hiked the 45-mile perimeter of this now, mostly-dry lake exploring its history, surrounding environment and threatened status.

Owens Lake was once serviced by steam ferries, but since the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, much of its water has been diverted to quench the needs of 38 million people living in the Los Angeles area. As we mention in The Hundred Names of Desert Wind, Owens Lake is the largest single source of particulate pollution in the United States.

The lakebed is already the site of a court-mandated dust mitigation project by the L.A. Department of Water & Power. Black has focused her attention on finding solutions to the complex problems exacerbated by the current drought. “If we don’t commit to working with LADWP and do so now, all we have left is the same stalemate we’ve had for years. And that would undoubtedly mean more decades of litigation with no real progress."

Her thought-provoking work is on exhibit through July 27.

Second Chance: The Owens Lake Project

G2 Gallery 1503 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
Hours: Mon-Sat 10-7, Sun 10-6

 

Black’s work can also be explored on her website robinblackphotography.com and The Owens Lake Project.

 

California Gull Feeding on Brine Flies / Second ChanceCalifornia Gull Feeding on Brine Flies / Second Chance

Robin Black: California Gull Feeding on Brine Flies - image courtesy of the photographer - All Rights Reserved

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry California Gull Feeding on Brine Flies G2 Gallery LADWP Lone Pine CA Los Angeles Aqueduct Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Owens Lake Owens Lake Project Owens Valley Robin Black Robin Black photographer Second Chance: The Owens Lake Project barren ca california complex problems current drought desert desert dispatches drought dust mitigation project eastern sierra ecology high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain land management land use decisions landscape photography nature photography photographic study photography sierra nevada water conservation www.desertdispatches.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/second-chance-the-owens-lake-project Thu, 26 Jun 2014 10:00:00 GMT
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN: THERE’S GOLD IN SOLAR WINDFALLS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/go-west-young-man-there-s-gold-in-solar-windfalls The myth of cheap fast wealth still drives the rush to the West.

There are an epidemic of green energy projects supported by government incentives, expanding housing developments, environmental impact reports to be written, the monitoring for federal and state business and natural resource regulations and much more. The land is still open for economic opportunity.

When Horace Greeley borrowed “Go West, young man, go West” from John B.L. Soule who used it first in 1851, Greeley was identifying one of the most pervasive myths associated with the American West. This legend carries many pseudonyms and alternate personalities like “the Frontier Myth,” “Strike It Rich” and even “Manifest Destiny.” They all say find your destiny and your fortune in the West.

 

Solar Farm Viewed from Silver Queen Mountain - Mojave, CA - 2013Solar Farm Viewed from Silver Queen Mountain - Mojave, CA - 2013

Solar Farm Viewed from Silver Queen Mountain - Mojave, CA - 2013

 

Greeley went on to add, “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” This sentiment is heard in the comments of Westerners still. Individual success was based on “honesty, thrift, self-reliance, industry, a cheerful whistle and an open manly face.”

Another cheerleader for entrepreneurialism and the achievable American Dream was Horatio Alger, Jr. The Horatio Alger Myth has been nicknamed “from Rags to Riches,” but more accurately it was to “middle class respectability.” Gold Fever also contributed to the rush to the West that happened in 1849.

The faces going west now are new but something feels familiar. Engineers, land developers, construction workers, moneymen and hucksters are all migrating west to get the easy money. Easy money is seldom easy in the end. The target for the compulsion to find rapid wealth lies out there in the empty desert lands ripe for green energy development. They are often right next to the played out mining claims, which once seduced people to think wealth lay about the ground ready to be picked up.

This land rush is fueled by federal renewable energy incentive programs and get-rich-quick dreams. When Obama took office in 2009 there were no approved projects on public lands. Since then 17 utility-scale solar projects have been approved for public lands by the Department of the Interior.

There were no government subsidy programs when the Forty-niners set out for California. Extracting gold at the beginning took elbow grease but not much financial investment. On July 24, 2012 when the Obama administration announced their “roadmap” to spur renewable energy development in the country, especially on public lands, a major target became the California deserts. California has 2-1/2 times more acreage labeled for solar development than any other state. There are 154,000 acres of public lands in California that have been so designated. They were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural and other conflicts. More "variance” areas have also been selected. These lands are less appropriate for development, but can be used for Solar. The federal government, however, offers fewer incentives in these areas. California has 750,000 acres of variance areas.

 

Windmills - Near Palms Springs, CA - 2011Windmills - Near Palms Springs, CA - 2011Infrared Exposure

Windmills - Near Palms Springs, CA - 2011

 

The Los Angeles Times (October 13, 2012) states, “Some conservation groups fought to prevent approval of utility-scale projects in the region, contending that the desert—home to scores of endangered plants and animals—was not capable of absorbing industrial scale projects.” Reporter Julie Cart further comments, “Many of those (over 300 applications being process by the BLM) are for land in California’s Mojave desert, where counties have seen the cost of private land soar and the desert given over to thousands of mirrors.”

The various historic rushes to achieve fast easy money did enormous environmental damage to the land with the development of hydraulic extraction systems. This in turn poisoned the streams and lakes bringing the Indians into conflict with white settlers who wanted the land. While women were given some opportunities to work and achieve economic freedom, more commonly they were condemned to work as prostitutes. The influx of the money into the economy definitely jump-started California and had positive effects in the national and world economy.

Much work has been done by historians in the last thirty years, debunking our beloved Myth of the West. This complex legend included the promise of personal freedom, economic advantages and a suggestion that personal problems would be solved easily there. Only about half of the people who worked in the West actually broke even or prospered. The rest lost money. There was great suffering and many families were separated or destroyed. Failed miners switched to agriculture, which created a wealth of new product for the California economy. One hundred years ago there were few real cowboy heroes. Today most of the workers seeking their fortunes are simply guys trying to make a living.

 

Sunset/Windmills/Railroad Tracks/Lens Flare - Palms Springs, CA - 2011Sunset/Windmills/Railroad Tracks/Lens Flare - Palms Springs, CA - 2011Pinhole Exposure

Windmills/RR Tracks/Sunset/Lens Flare - Palms Springs, CA - Pinhole Exposure - 2011

 

Solar projects bring little permanent economic advantage to the areas in which they are located. At times they can even bring disadvantage, marring the viewscape that once attracted tourists. Additional workers are brought in from the outside to build the facility. While there, they spend additional money locally. In most cases few local workers are actually employed. When the plant is completed, the workers leave. The solar arrays are primarily automated and few new permanent jobs are created.

The rush to economic gain fosters villains and con men attached to it. We know, generally speaking, green energy is good for our planet and points the way to a better future. Is it too much to hope for a new legend for our children? Will they and their children and children’s children look back and talk about a “Green Revolution” when things changed? Can this period become a win/win for everyone involved and the planet too?

C.L.


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Osceola Refetoff american dream b. l. soule blm bureau of land management california high desert desert landscape photography desertscape digital infrared photography digital pinhole photography endangered species entrepreneurialism environmental conflicts forty-niners go west young man green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain horace greeley horatio alger jr human activity human enterprise human legacy julie cart land management land use decisions lens flare los angeles times manifest destiny mojave desert obama administration energy roadmap public lands rags to riches renewable energy scenic resource solar array solar energy solar farm solar incentive program solar ranch viewscape viewshed wind energy wind farm windmill www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/go-west-young-man-there-s-gold-in-solar-windfalls Thu, 19 Jun 2014 09:00:00 GMT
HIGH & DRY ON KCET'S ARTBOUND https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/high-dry-on-kcet-artbound High & Dry is thrilled that our project has been picked up by KCET's award winning cross-platform arts journalism program Artbound. Our Dispatch William 'Burro' Schmidt & His Tunnel to Nowhere is currently a featured story:

kcet.org/arts/artbound/counties/kern/william-burro-schmidt-his-tunnel-to-nowhere

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William 'Burro' SchmidtWilliam 'Burro' SchmidtPhotographer Unknown
William 'Burro' Schmidt – framed photo above the bar at The Joint in Randsburg, CA – Photographer Unknown
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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry Artbound Burro Schmidt Tunnel CA California Chris Langley Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches High & Dry High & Dry: Dispatches from the land of little rain High and Dry KCET Mojave Desert Osceola Refetoff William Burro Schmidt William H. Schmidt black & white black and white desert featured on KCET Artbound gold mine high desert mine tunnel tunnel to nowhere www.desertdispatches.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/6/high-dry-on-kcet-artbound Fri, 13 Jun 2014 20:00:00 GMT
"ABANDONMENT CHIC" AND THE MODERN DESERT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/5/-abandonment-chic-and-the-modern-desert Mojave mining towns come and go. They burst upon the scene, prosper and grow for a few years. Then the mines play out. The towns dwindle and eventually blow away. Their ruins fill with ghosts. Their memory entices the desert enthusiast from the city to come and visit.

Randsburg is one of those towns. Once it was the Queen of Rand District. It dominated the western mining news and gold fever rumors. It had companion communities of Johannesburg and Red Mountain. There was a train. Red Mountain laid claim to servicing miners with brothels, cribs and sin. Things are quite different now.

Today Randsburg is recreating itself. After its heyday it was known as a ghost town. Now it strains to straddle the worlds of tourist destination, motorcycle Valhalla, and a peaceful isolated town in a diminished landscape where civilized specters remain. Some residents who live there like the area just the way it has been for a generation or more. Most days it is still quiet and isolated. The only action is the wind whistling through the closed antique shops, crumbling buildings and quaint faded signs. But things are changing.

 

Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

 

Call the style of the new Randsburg abandonment chic. This design requires a delicate balance between the charm of the past and an ironic modern sensibility. Chic denotes “up-to-date, contemporary, au courant, trendy, snappy, happening.” Now ironic is often misused in common discourse so let’s nail it down. The New Oxford American Dictionary opines: “happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.” The modern copy of the past is ironic as it never existed in the way it is being represented today.

New businesses with fresh-painted signs are popping up on main-street. The businesses are located in old, often distressed buildings from Randsburg’s raucous past. There are all the attendant inadequate plumbing, electrical and structural challenges. The appearance of the past is seductive though. Abandonment chic requires facing down these challenges without obliterating the abandoned town mystique. The citizens there are determined to fight to save their town.

 

The Joint - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014The Joint - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

The Joint - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

 

Visitors want to rub shoulders with the restored past, but without the black widow spiders, splinters, lead paint and asbestos from the abandoned past. Comfort is a focus of these entrepreneurs as they recreate an ersatz century old mining camp. They mean to market this historic conceit of the romance of the West that many Americans harbor deep in their hearts.

Antique stores have great appeal for the tourists, if not for the bikers. There is no sissy shopping in cute boutiques for them. These leathered riders spend their weekend attacking the arid land, hills, gullies, arroyos and trails of dust and rock. The general store offers meals of simple hotdog and hamburger fare, great ice cream sodas, and relief from the dry cold winter winds or suffocating summer heat. The store is quaint and friendly, matching the sense we have of a once welcoming vibrant community of the past. There’s no room for social problems and civic discord in this fantasy.

 

Moon Rising/Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014Moon Rising/Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

Moon Rising/Vulcanizing - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

 

Many business owners live in the nearby economic center of Ridgecrest. The struggle for Randsburg is to keep the town open during the week. The real entrepreneurial visionaries want the town to flaunt its abandonment chic seven days a week. “Keep your doors open” might be the Chamber motto, if there were a Chamber.

For the Randsburg merchants of Butte Street it comes down to a survival choice. They hope for marvelous prosperity like the miners of yore. The jury is out. The town markets itself as a mining camp where the gold now lives not in the hills but in the pockets of the travelers passing through. Extracting that gold is as arduous yet delicate a task as ever the mineral presented miners.

On a Saturday this spring the serenity of town is split by the rumbling of Harley hogs, 4 wheel drive rhinos, the quiet scuffing of footsteps and gentle talk between tourists wandering through the dusty art galleries and shops. They have nothing particular on their shopping list. They like the changing scene for different reasons. For the bikers, it is a welcoming spot of shade, refreshments and camaraderie with other riders on weekend desert rendezvous. For those passing through, disembarking from their air-conditioned cars to find the true romance of the old West, it is a trip into nostalgia with credit cards to bring a piece of the past back home.

 

'Post Office' - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014'Post Office' - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

Post Office - Butte St - Randsburg, CA - 2014

 

The past remains safely encumbered when locked in a quaint artifact.

Abandonment chic courts the lost and useless past for profit and gain today. It doesn’t always work, but life in small forsaken Mojave mining camps is all about the quality of the journey on the way to survival.

 

C.L.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry 4-wheel drive Abandonment Chic Butte Street Chris Langley Christopher Langley Desert Desert Dispatches Desert" Harley Davidson Harley hogs High & Dry Johannesburg Mojave Mojave mining camp Osceola Refetoff Rand District Randsburg Randsburg merchant Red Mountain Rhino Ridgecrest arid lands bikers chic desert entrepreneurs desert tourist destination drive ghost town mining camp motorcycle restored restored past up-to-date https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/5/-abandonment-chic-and-the-modern-desert Wed, 28 May 2014 11:00:00 GMT
VIEW FROM A MULE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/5/view-from-a-mule At five foot six, I am shorter than most people. That means I have short legs, always have. Getting on a mule for me is questionable.

So when I start to get up on Blackie, a wrangler stands by ready to help. Luckily, I am able to scramble up onto her back, ego intact. Once I get my feet in the stirrups, the wrangler tightens them so I can push up on them. That will relieve the pressure on my backside and back during the eight-hour ride ahead. I can also kick the mule gently or not so gently and say giddy-up if need be.

I am impressed by how high I sit. I can easily imagine myself tumbling off at some point, but vanquish the image immediately. It will be brought back vividly to me later in the 18 mile ride. I am glad I refused my morning coffee because I don’t see a urinal on the mule’s back. I am sure we will not be getting off often during the day because the schedule is tight.

 

Dawn View from Atop Hay Bale Campsite - Eastern Sierra North of Manzanar, CA - 2013Dawn View from Atop Hay Bale Campsite - Eastern Sierra North of Manzanar, CA - 2013

Dawn View from Atop Hay Bale Campsite - Eastern Sierra North of Manzanar, CA - 2013

 

We are about to ride along the Los Angeles Aqueduct and through the Alabama Hills to Lone Pine, the invited guests of Lauren Bon as part of her art action “100 Mules Walking the L.A. Aqueduct.” I am excited and expectant about the experience.

The view from the back of a mule is from about five feet higher than we normally experience from a car or on foot. The pace is slow and rhythmic, part of nature. It is  different from travel by the more familiar motorized transportation. I can smell Blackie’s animal odor. It is rich and soothing. I feel good, if a little nervous. Can I actually do this? I ask myself.

The pace begins with a marked energized rocking. I eventually grow comfortable enough to spend more time looking around. My body and the mule’s walk bring me into being unified with the landscape. I begin to experience the landscape as a complex interconnected pattern. I am now just another connection in the whole. History and time’s record spreads out about me as I ride. All things start to connect across the land as a story told in a new and different way.

 

The Ride Begins, White Horse Leading - 2013The Ride Begins, White Horse Leading - 2013

The Ride Begins, White Horse Leading - 2013

 

We leave in a long winding line of mules. There are only a few guest riders. To make a total of one hundred, several wranglers are leading groups of ten, tethered in teams. We leave from Zack’s alfalfa field. Zack Smith is a local rancher whose feed grass is one of the few agricultural crops still produced in the Owens Valley since the City of Los Angeles built and opened the aqueduct. It extracts and carries the water to the ever-growing metropolis. It has had water flowing for one hundred years now. This mule walk marks that event.

At this point historically the water has been diverted from the Owens River to flow through a large dirt lined ditched. Only down the road does it become cement lined and then eventually disappears underground. The fields here are large rectangular patches of green, unnatural in shape compared to the granitic brown hills and sharp ragged rock faces of the mountains.

Manzanar, the historic WWII Japanese Internment Camp, now a National Historic Site, slowly appears ahead. A rebuilt guard tower, with its penitentiary look, reminds me that once this camp was a prison. This is serious stuff. It was a place of imprisonment, a concentration camp for American citizens who happened to be Japanese and were illegally stripped of their constitutional rights.

 

Passing Manzanar National Historic Site - 2013Passing Manzanar National Historic Site - 2013

Passing Manzanar National Historic Site - 2013

 

As we follow a winding trail west toward the Sierra, I pull a bandana over my mouth and nose because of the rising dust from the drought stricken land. Paths with archaic bridge crossings move north and south here. They were once used for the flocks of sheep Basque shepherds moved seasonally acrss the valley. Mary Austin beautifully describes this life in her books The Flock, Lost Borders and Land of Little Rain. She may have one day hiked along our same trail for she lived both in Lone Pine and then in Independence and loved the land and feeling it dusty under her feet.

Before coming to Hogback Creek and a brief watering stop for the mules, the long line of animals passes silently by a corral nestled in trees. It was once used to brand the range cattle that still graze here from local ranches. The winding line of animals slowly crosses the running water of the creek, but Blackie would rather grab leaves of bushes nearby to eat than drink. I am told not to let the mule get distracted and the moving tug of war begins as I keep her from wandering to greener forage.

The mule train moves to Moffat Ranch Road, named for a pioneer ranch that has been vandalized to the ground. Life was hard here with isolated cattle ranches scratching for desultory water sources. It’s always about water in this high desert. Where the creek flows, a line of green wanders towards the mountains, whose rain shadow, the maker of deserts, reaches west from the crest. This is now filming location land. As the designated film historian I start to recount movie stories as we move slowly south. King of the Khyber Rifles’ fort was then used as a building in The Adventures of Hajji Baba that became the great house of Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson in The Violent Men. It was burned down at the end of that picture but then was replaced by the station of Comanche Station. Hollywood comes here still. I am soon where Iron Man and then Django Unchained filmed on Movie Road. The history lesson gives way to silence.

 

Author Christopher Langley rides along Movie Ranch Road - Alabama Hills, CA - 2013Author Christopher Langley rides along Movie Ranch Road - Alabama Hills, CA - 2013

Author Christopher Langley rides along Movie Ranch Road - Alabama Hills, CA - 2013

 

We get to a location where John Wayne made his last appearance before the cameras, a commercial for Great Western Bank five months before he succumbed to cancer. Trucks have brought water for the mules. I stumble off my mule to find a large rock behind which to relieve myself. I am not certain my legs are going to work, but they do and great relief ensues. Returning to my perch on the Blackie’s wide back is more challenging. As we head into the heart of the Alabama Hills we pass a mine, one of the few that produced significant ore there. I know below that is the rock walls of the huts for the Chicken Ranch, where a Mormon family lived in the forties. This ranch supplied fresh eggs to the town of Lone Pine then.

The beautiful sunlight has warmed me. My aches and pains lessen. I become almost somnambulant but startle to full alertness at a commotion just ahead of me. A mule has decided to turn over to scratch its back, forgetting the rider on top. I silently beg Blackie not to choose to deal with any itches. The wranglers give us a crash course in how to recognize a mule is about to rotate to upside down. Strategies based on human will versus mule stubbornness are shared but my friend Blackie behaves herself like a lady the rest of the trip.

 

Mule Train Winds through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 2013Mule Train Winds through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 20131st Place Award- Best Outdoor Photographic Series

Outdoor Writers Association of California - 2014

Mule Train Winds through the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA - 2013

 

I am riding steadily for now the wranglers are pushing us to get to Whitney Portal Road. We are coming to the time allotted by the Inyo County Road Department to descend back into Lone Pine without traffic. The syncopated clop clop of the mule hooves, the sense of the end of our journey drawing near, lift my spirits even as we are driven steadily. The landscape is now gravel and boulders, moraines deposited by flash floods and the moving alpine glaciers from fifteen thousand years ago.

Quickly we pass over the giant fault line of the 1872 earthquake that propelled the California Geological Department to start to link fault movement causally with earthquakes. A quarter of Lone Pine’s population died that early morning. All the fifty plus adobe buildings were damaged or destroyed. As we cross the cement ditch of the aqueduct flowing south, I realize we are living here, simply waiting for the next big one. Denial assuages the fear. Lone Pine was rebuilt of wood within two years and once again celebrates the 4th of July in the Plaza now occupied by the Carl’s Jr. Restaurant.

I am becoming elated by the end of the journey. I have this beatific lash of all the history of the area connecting to make the landscape I am experiencing first hand from mule back. This land can be read as a history text, seen not sequentially but rhyzomatically like a pasture of intertwined grass roots. It is a vision of completeness that allows me to see history as one complex net, and my personal history connecting to all of it.

As I ride into the corrals behind the Lone Pine Film History Museum where once rodeos played out, I am filled with enormous joy. It is the joy of success, of meeting the challenge of doing something I thought impossible for me. But more than that, it is a vision of being at one with where I live. It is where I have raised my sons, prospered with my wife, and been part of a complex and historic community.

 

A Mule's View - Riding Party Arrives in Lone Pine, CA - 2013A Mule's View - Riding Party Arrives in Lone Pine, CA - 2013

A Mule's View - Riding Party Arrives in Lone Pine, CA - 2013

 

I slide from Blackie’s back, and hope my legs will hold me. My friends and fellow Lone Piners are there to greet me, thrilled I have done something so outside my comfort zone.

I love this land. Now I am so anchored in it from the view from the mule this day, I know exactly who I am.

C.L.

 

Artbound’s 100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct will screen on KCET - Thursday, May 8 at 9PM

 

This series of images earned the 2014 Outdoor Writers Association of California 1st Place Award – 
Best Outdoor Photographic Series.

 

OWAC - Outdoor Writers Association of CaliforniaOWAC - Outdoor Writers Association of California1st Place - Best Outdoor Photographic Series 2014

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry 100 mules 1872 California earthquake 1st Place Award Best Outdoor Photographic Series Outdoor Writers Association of America Alabama Hills Artbound California Geologic Department Chris Langley Christopher Langley Desert Desert Dispatches High & Dry Japanese internment camp KCET L.A. Aqueduct Lauren Bon Lone Pine Lone Pine Film History Museum Los Angeles Aqueduct Manzanar Manzanar National Historic Site Mojave Movie Road OWAC One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct Osceola Refetoff alfalfa field aqueduct fault fault line internee mule mule ride https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/5/view-from-a-mule Wed, 07 May 2014 08:30:00 GMT
PATRICIA CHIDLAW: AN UNCANNY DISCOVERY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/patricia-chidlaw-an-uncanny-discovery Santa Barbara-based painter Patricia Chidlaw recently grabbed our attention with her vivid depictions of California landscapes. Her work includes evocative images of downtown bridges and rail yards along the Los Angeles River and desertscapes of the Mojave and Owens Lake - all areas of great interest to High & Dry.

On closer inspection, I made an uncanny discovery. In 2010-11, Ms Chidlaw and I were capturing the same scenes - perhaps within days or hours - from virtually the same angles. And while her realist paintings bare a striking resemblance to photographs, my pinhole exposures might easily be mistaken for watercolors.

 

Patricia Chidlaw - Riverbed and Freight - Oil on canvas - 2011 24x48"

Patricia Chidlaw - Riverbed and Freight - Oil on canvas 24x48" - 2011

 

LA River Facing North Towards Fourth St Bridge (Purple & Gold) - Pinhole Exposure - Los Angeles, CA - 2011LA River Facing North Towards Fourth St Bridge (Purple & Gold) - Pinhole Exposure - Los Angeles, CA - 2011Pinhole Exposure
Downtown: Incomplete LA - Featured Artist - Terrell Moore Gallery
Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) - 2011
Water Works 2 - Porch Gallery - Ojai, CA - 2015

Los Angeles River facing north towards Fourth Street Bridge - Pinhole Exposure - 2011
Similar water flow and graffiti re-painting on the channel walls indicate the proximity of image dates.

 

 

Patricia Chidlaw - Twilight, Tank Cars
Oil on canvas - 2011 20x52"

Patricia Chidlaw - Twilight, Tank Cars - Oil on canvas 20x52" - 2011

 

Tank Cars - 2011Tank Cars - 2011Pinhole Exposure

Tank Cars, Facing South towards Sixth Street Bridge - Pinhole Exposure - 2010
 
 

I reached out to Ms Chidlaw via email to find out why we were haunting the same sites. Turns out one reason is that a location scout friend brought her to these two, somewhat difficult to access areas near downtown Los Angeles. I was not surprised since I discovered these vantage points working as a scout, returning later to explore them on my own time.

For a more nuanced conversation about our approaches to landscape interpretation, we've decided to meet and discuss the similarities/differences between rendering a scene on canvas vs film (digital sensor sounds so much less romantic!) We may also explore the reasons we are drawn to similar subjects and compositions.

 

In the meantime, we heartily encourage you to explore Ms Chidlaw's exceptional work, currently on exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, and on her website: patriciachidlaw.com

 

–O.R.

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry 4th St Bridge 6th St Bridge California Desert California landscape Desert Dispatches Fourth Street Bridge High & Dry High and Dry Los Angeles River Mojave Mojave Desert Nevada Museum of Art Osceola Refetoff Owens Lake Patricia Chidlaw Riverbed and Freight Sixth Street Bridge Twilight, Tank Cars desertscape downtown bridges landscape photography pinhole exposure pinhole photography realist painting viewscape https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/patricia-chidlaw-an-uncanny-discovery Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:15:00 GMT
EMERALD CITY OF THE SALTS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/emerald-city-of-the-salts Trona shimmers in the March morning light across the salts-encrusted Searles Dry Lake. This company town is a beautiful if dystopian Emerald City. Condensed vapors from chemical processing pour from towering smoke stacks. Production looks full-tilt. The facts are different.

The town is dying. One hears a death rattle down most of the residential streets. These streets have many abandoned houses or burned ruins nestled between the still occupied but rundown buildings.

 

Market Street - Downtown Trona - Dawn - 2011Market Street - Downtown Trona - Dawn - 2011

Market Street: Post Office, Sheriff Station - Downtown Trona - Dawn - 2011

 

This town is rapidly shrinking from economic pressures over which it has no control. Many of the services it once had, a cinema, worker barracks, recreational community centers, are closed or repurposed. Part of the movie house is a restaurant and theater. The downsized theater remains useable but without any films. The other half is now storage for the Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. The Tornado’s high school is too big for the dwindling student population. Classrooms and facilities go unused. The town uses these buildings like a boy forced to wear his bigger brother’s clothes.

Arson is a regular occurrence. Many streets have burned ruins scarring the otherwise suburban setting. People leave everyday to relocate in nearby Ridgecrest, which has the many services and recreational opportunities American children and adults expect. Workers still commute in for work at the plants. Other families have left the area completely, on to greener pastures, their optimism depleted from the failure that hovers on every street corner.

 

For Sale by Owner - Residential Street by Mineral Plant - Trona, CA - 2012For Sale by Owner - Residential Street by Mineral Plant - Trona, CA - 2012 For Sale by Owner - Residential Street by Mineral Plant - Trona, CA - 2012

 

At a local church fundraiser, a member sits and says,” It is nothing like it used to be.” He works at one of the three plants, which are still producing chemical product. He and another Tronan have a discussion of “four-nines and five tens.” They are talking of their work schedules at one of the plants, complaining about the long hours they are working now. They both agree that when next year they don’t have as many hours, how happy they will be they had the work now. The lay-offs of 1980’s and the relocation of workers to other company owned plants in Oklahoma City have badly hurt this company town. The population has gone from 6000 to under 1500 in the last few decades.

However, again, these facts do not capture Trona’s full story

The residents, and those who once lived here, are determined to celebrate the town’s centennial 1914 to 2014. Most of small town America has a sense of historic pride, yet Trona is looking failure in the face.  These town loyalists have manufactured enormous community pride and spirit none-the-less.

The all-day Trona Centennial Celebration History Symposium put on by the local Searles Valley Historical Society turns out to be a masterfully organized and run 12-hour marathon event with regular ten-minute breaks. It is convocation of passionate historians of the area reporting back detailed and fascinating vignettes of the history of the area from multiple perspectives.

 

Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Trona, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure

Searles Valley Minerals Plant - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010

 

Most of the presenters want to go on for an hour or more, but the organizers have limited them to twenty minutes. A timekeeper holds up warning signs about how much time remains. The speakers are obedient and quickly move off stage. What follows is a ten-minute break where people jump up to talk to each other, greet old acquaintances and talk about their memories of times past. It is a love-fest from these rough-edged, hardworking people who have endured all kinds of physical and emotional challenges living in this severely rural, isolated area.

Periodically, a speaker will reference the nostalgic loyalty of the people who live or lived here. One speaker ends with a slide of a road sign that says: “End of the World 10 miles; Trona 15 miles,” provoking loud laughter and applause. It is an old joke for them. They know the irony of this sign is mocking but also describes why they are so bonded to this industrially corrupted landscape. The good memories, hard work and determinations keep them connected to the land.

There exist competitions and jealousies among the different communities: Trona, Argus, Westend, Pioneer Point, and Borosolvay. “Growing up in Borosolvay, now almost totally erased from the land, we were ‘free-range children,’” one speaker remarks.  The crowd laughs and nods. From the stories he tells about playing in forbidden cement bunkers below the desert sand, he makes his point. Concluding his talk, another asks all the “Westenders” to stand up. Twenty or so people do that. Everyone applauds.

 

'Never Say Never' - Katlynn & Alyssia - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014'Never Say Never' - Katlynn & Alyssia - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014

'Never Say Never' - Katlynn & Alyssia - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014

 

Another speaker claims that Westend had the best basketball team, and reminisces about his life during that period. A past resident remembers when a local war veteran named Pat Develan came to his birthday party. The boy, now a grown man, has had this hero to admire all his life. Among other things, Develan has seven purple hearts from the Korean and Viet Nam wars.

These folks love Trona. This bond with a desert industrial site defines who they are. They find true meaning in their lives all bound-up with the land. Desert people through pain, sweat, bone-grinding hard work, heat and cold anchor their lives in the land.

High & Dry intends to tell the story of Trona from the inside, using the stories that these people tell about living there. We will remain forever outsiders, but we respect and now seek the Tronans’ personal stories. We hope to bring them to you in the months and years ahead.

It will take time and work to capture the multi-faceted story of Trona through the spirited people who lived there during the last one hundred years. The goal is high. No less determined effort is acceptable.

 

Nadine Ramey - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014Nadine Ramey - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014

Nadine Ramey - Trona Centennial Weekend - 2014

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry Argus Borosolvay Chris Langley Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches High & Dry High and Dry Mojave Desert Osceola Refetoff Ridgecrest Searles Lake Searles Valley Historical Society Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. The Tornados Trona Trona Centennial Celebration Trona High School Trona Historical Symposium Tronans Westend arson borax company town dying town ghost town infrared photography landscape photography mining mining town soda ash vandalism https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/emerald-city-of-the-salts Mon, 21 Apr 2014 06:55:00 GMT
VIEW FROM A HOLE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/view-from-a-hole It is surprising how many people, when choosing a cemetery plot, evaluate the view. In Lone Pine, some people have their heart set on an eternal view of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight states. I work with the Mt. Whitney Cemetery, so I know this happens.

Lone Pine, on the eastern side of the Sierra, at the cusp of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, has four cemeteries, five if you count the flu epidemic cemetery of the early 1920’s. Keeler and Darwin have their own cemeteries, but the locals pretty much take care of the burials themselves.

People in the area have many thoughts about death. Some have very clear visions of the after-life as life eternal based on their Christian faith. Other people have more general spiritual views and do not consider where and how things they experience will be after death. Others believe in  reincarnation and being born in a new body. There are those who take great comfort in knowing they are going back to the earth. Then some have no belief at all in life after death.

For people in the area around Mt. Whitney, the mountains present comfort. The peaks are always there, as if a barrier against the outside world and its evils. People feel the mountain escarpment is there “to hold them up.”  The Sierra Nevada often looks different from day to day. They are snow covered or bare, veiled in storm clouds, or decorated with puffy cumulus cotton balls. The mountains are always awe inspiring and beautiful.

Maybe people who are concerned about the view from their hole want bragging rights, as do their heirs. “You can see Mt. Whitney from the plot” as if it was something significant to brag about.

One time a man, who lived most of his life in Saline Valley to the east, spent his last years as an old man in the Owens Valley. When he died, his family wanted him to be buried facing Mt. Whitney. His friends argued he should be buried facing east towards the Inyo Mountains and Saline Valley, which lay beyond. It was an area the dead man had once loved more than anything except women, it was argued.

Because there was growing hostility in the community, the man was buried without anyone being sure which way he faced. Only the undertaker knows, and he isn’t saying.

C.L.

 

Grave of Rafael Diaz d 188? - Pioneer Cemetery - Lone Pine, CA 2013Grave of Rafael Diaz d 188? - Pioneer Cemetery - Lone Pine, CA 2013Infrared Exposure

Grave of Rafael Diaz d 188? - Pioneer Cemetery - Lone Pine, CA - 2013
Infrared Exposure - Mt Whiney in background far right

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry California Desert Chris Langley Christopher Langley Desert Dispatch Desert Dispatches High & Dry High and Dry Land of Little Rain Lone Pine Mojave Desert Mojave history Mount Whitney Mt. Whitney Cemetery Osceola Refetoff Pioneer Cemetery arid landscape cemetery desert desert landscape photography desert photography desertscape grave gravesite infrared photography landscape photography writer https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/view-from-a-hole Mon, 07 Apr 2014 04:50:57 GMT
THE DESERT OF DEFINITION https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/the-desert-of-definition Most Americans who talk about the problems of “the desert” are talking about the Mojave. It is the best-known, most visited, and most studied of American deserts; but it is also, in an important historical sense, the most reliably typical of American deserts, the national standard… No wonder it is the desert of definition for so many Americans—studied, loved, quarreled over.

–Reyner Banham, Scenes in America Deserta, 1982

 

Ocotillo in Bloom - Joshua Tree Nat'l Forest - 2011Ocotillo in Bloom - Joshua Tree Nat'l Forest - 2011Pinhole Exposure

Ocotillo in Bloom - Joshua Tree National Forest - Pinhole Exposure - 2011

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry American desert California Desert California landscape Desert Dispatches High & Dry High and Dry Joshua Tree National Forest Mojave Mojave Desert Ocotillo Osceola Refetoff Reyner Banham Scenes in America Deserta The Desert of Definition arid landscape desert desert landscape photography desertscape landscape photography pinhole exposure pinhole photography https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/the-desert-of-definition Thu, 03 Apr 2014 06:45:00 GMT
THROUGH A WINDOW DARKLY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/through-a-window-darkly Desert Vista - Cinco, CA - 2009DESERT WINDOWSNormally such a flat, empty horizon would be difficult to find in the Mojave Desert. This view is from an discarded trailer home on an abandoned farm where the earth had been stripped clear for alfalfa production. Things grow slowly in arid climes, so the landscape had yet to be reclaimed by creosote bushes and other drought-resistant flora.

Click here for more info about this series.

Desert Vista - Cinco, CA - 2009

 

They didn’t bother locking the front door when they left for the last time. The alfalfa farm failed because of economic challenges. When there was not enough water, the grass shriveled to a crisp brown. These were tough times for the families. They left the provided furnishings behind.

Now these trailers that had once been filled with family noises: laughing, squabbling, and snoring were silent. Walking inside the trailer you could feel the loneliness as the home waited for residents. None came.

The view from the windows remained the same day after day except for the subtle changing of the desert seasons. The winds gnawed and picked at the roof sheeting. They found imperfections in the outside corners of sun warped paneling and the desiccated shrubs that constituted landscaping. It worked on every snag as the screws and nails grew loose. Slowly this skin was peeled away from the house.

Everything was cheap, flimsy and meant for the poor migrant worker. No one expected it to last very long. The transformation to waste and ruin was slow but steady. The desert is a persistent agent of dry decay.

 

Window with Creosote Bush - Dunmovin, CA - 2010Window with Creosote Bush - Dunmovin, CA - 2010First printed: 2014

Three miles north of Coso Junction off California Highway 395, Dunmovin served as a rest station for mule trains carrying silver ingots from the Cerro Gordo mines to Los Angeles in the late 1800s. Over the years, the town had a post office, service station, store, cafe, and tourist accommodations, but when I captured this image from an abandoned cabin, the businesses were all closed and NO TRESPASSING signs were posted along the perimeter.

A couple of years later I had the opportunity to meet the town’s owner, Robert Ray, who lived in a doublewide trailer towards the back of the forlorn property; this despite owning several valuable mining assets. Robert told me the town was named Dunmovin because, by the time he settled there, his wife was “done movin.” I suspect the statement may, in part, be apocryphal.

Museum Tour (Solo Show) - Venice Institute of Contemporary Art/Gypsy Trails Gallery - Torrance Art Museum - 2015
New Landscape Photography - Sept 2015
Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015
West Hollywood Lifestyle Magazine - Premiere Issue - Winter 2014
The Life of Things - SCA Project Gallery - Pomona, CA - 2014
Solo Exhibition - Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 - 2014

Window with Creosote Bush - Dunmovin, CA - 2010

 

The photographer was drawn to these ruins in some irresistible way. All about the trailers lay ruin that testified not to millennia, centuries, generations or decades. These ruins were made from material not intended for durability. With the crumbling of these homes, the memory of them was also passing quickly away. The photographer intended to create a permanent record of what was before him.

When he went into the house through the flapping door, he became silent in respect and focus to recreate in his imagination the people who once iived here. He wanted to ponder who they were, how they lived and what was left behind. He wanted to consider what they saw looking out through the windows.

He began to apply his visual skills, his photographic technique and his sense of presence in these wasted homes. Determined to fully realize what was before him in permanent images, Osceola Refetoff visited many of these impermanent homes that infect the stark beauty and abandoned communities that dot the Mojave. He used the same process, developing it slowly to make each image more realized. He revisited sites on different days, in different light, the skies and even the view constantly transforming as he re-photographed the subject.

He would stand before the windows and take in the view of the ruins and bleak views that now monopolized the landscape outside these houses. As he illuminated the interiors around the window, the scene took on a symbolic power.

 

Love, Faith, Hope - Cinco, CA - 2010Love, Faith, Hope - Cinco, CA - 2010First printed: 2014

Like many images in this series, this composition features a layered series of focal planes, this one alternating between ordered and disorganized, natural and man-made environments, ending in a freeway, mountains and cloud-capped sky. The message "love, faith, hope" is seemingly lost on the former inhabitants of this abandoned home, but it speaks to the spirit required to survive challenging conditions in the remote, rural deserts of Southern California. Possible interpretations of this particular image are explored in greater depth in the articles listed below:

Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015
KCET Artbound: High & Dry - Through a Window Darkly - Aug 27, 2014

Round Em Up - SugarMynt Gallery - S. Pasadena, CA - 2016
Oculus Clamantis in Deserto: Splendor and Disaster in the California Outback - Curated by Peter Frank - Palm Springs Fine Art Fair - 2016
Museum Tour (Solo Show) - Venice Institute of Contemporary Art/Gypsy Trails Gallery - Torrance Art Museum - 2015
Compass Magazine - Summer 2015
The Life of Things - SCA Project Gallery - Pomona, CA - 2014
Solo Exhibition - Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 - 2014
Pop Uber Alles - Curated by Timothy Potts, Director J. Paul Getty Museum - Gallery 825 - 2014

Love, Faith, Hope - Cinco, CA - 2010

 

All through the history of art and photography, the window has had various and even parallel meaning in individual works of art. Carla Gottlieb has described many of these secular symbols exhaustively. They include “splendor of light;” “death and the darkened window;” “cosmic dynamism;” “photographer’s eye;” ”surrealism: sex and ax;” ”the vanity of knowledge;” “pictorial dialectic;” “the play upon words;” and so forth.

Refetoff focuses his camera on the view through the window. For instance, he focuses on the window over the sink and imagines the dishwasher staring outside as he or she works. He also illuminates the frame, the walls, and the sink and gives the view important and meaningful context. He builds up several layers of meaning: the inside of the view, the window and its frame, the outside view and the high and dry desert beyond. The images then are complex, multi-leveled and ironic. The view is one of ruins and wastelands, and the transitory nature of memory and even human presence in the Mojave Desert.

Three powerful images in the series are worth examining briefly. The first is “Love, Faith, Hope;” the second one “Desert Kitchen;” and the third is “It’s a Mess Without You!”

The first on a vertical plane shows a two part white sink in a faux white and black marble setting. The window has a rust red frame, clean glass without wood pane separators and a view of a decayed wooden fence, a dried short grass covered desert flatland with barren hills beyond. There is also a weathered structure reminiscent of a covering for a patio. The sink is half full of detritus and there is broken plaster to the left.

The words of “Love, Faith, Hope” have the look of an embroidered, old fashion sampler, and the muted light of the entire picture reflects a mannered look of a tapestry. The window frame stands in for a frame for the scene outside, and symbolizes the artificial presentation of this view. Again the words ironically express positive attitudes that everywhere are undermined by waste, ruin and loss of hope. If the resident in the house retained faith it must have been a courageous act of will.

As to the words themselves, Refetoff posits they were art directed for the purpose of being somehow recorded. An empty can of red paint was found discarded just outside that matches the color of the window frame. He speculates that the scene is an art project or perhaps the abandoned set of a film or music video. If true, this adds another ironic layer of meaning. Everything here has been repurposed. Thus these are not true ruins now, but transformed into “ruin commodities” to be sold. A postmodern transition from real to ruin to commodity is discerned. We are left with a copy of something that no longer exists, and may never have, technically called a simulacrum.

 

Desert Kitchen - Cinco, CA - 2010Desert Kitchen - Cinco, CA - 2010First printed: 2011

An abandoned alfalfa farm in the Mojave Desert. Standing in the shell of an abandoned dwelling fills me with both curiosity and sorrow, for indeed, my primary subject is necessarily absent: the former inhabitants long gone and forgotten. What hardy souls inhabited these structures, and what events caused them to abandon their homes? I find the views above kitchen sinks are particularly poignant. For countless hours, lost souls stood in these exact spots and gazed upon the same timeless vistas. When they finally walked away for the last time, did they bother to lock the door?

Oculus Clamantis in Deserto: Splendor and Disaster in the California Outback - Curated by Peter Frank - Palm Springs Fine Art Fair - 2016
Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015
Realities and Concepts -Lucie Foundation - curated by Meredith Marlay - 2015
Uniting the World Though Art - LA Art Show/Arts District Alliance - 2015
The Life of Things - SCA Project Gallery - Pomona, CA - 2014
Solo Exhibition - Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 - 2014
KCET Artbound: High & Dry - Through a Window Darkly - Aug 27, 2014
The Art of Photography - San Diego Museum of Art - 2012

Desert Kitchen - Cinco, CA - 2010
 

The second photograph is again through a kitchen window. This time the outside image of another trailer, torn by the wind, and vandalized by passersby is seen. It appears like a mirror image of where the photographer’s camera has been placed. The view then appears a self-referencing image to a “Home Sweet Home” picture hanging on the wall. It is not a picture pasted on the glass in the window, as if everything is all right. In fact, things are not alright. The light is unromantic and one cabinet is without a door and empty, the other veiled by a wood front. The appearance of the kitchen has less artifice or presumption. The peeling wallpaper, the sink full of junk and even the window frame are basic to the point of plebeian.

The third photograph in the series is of the same kitchen and window, but is taken a year later from an angle to the left. Now we see the crudely spray-painted black words: “It’s a mess without you.”

 

It's a Mess Without You! - Cinco, CA - 2011It's a Mess Without You! - Cinco, CA - 2011First printed: 2014

I had been photographing the abandoned trailers at this site for four years before capturing this image. The same room appears in an earlier photograph Desert Kitchen - Cinco, CA - 2010, before the sink was pried out and some unknown person or persons were moved to add this memorable inscription to the scene. As a documentary photographer, I can only bear witness to the aftermath of such events, wondering like you, who may have spray-painted the note, in what circumstance, and for what intended audience. Whatever the author’s intention, this image has caught the imagination of a wide range of people on a personal level, leading to rampant, engaging speculation as to the full story. The large-size print edition is on its way to selling out, but a smaller-size edition is available as well.

Museum Tour (Solo Show) - Venice Institute of Contemporary Art/Gypsy Trails Gallery - Torrance Art Museum - 2015
Boom: a Journal of California - Framing the Desert - Summer 2015
West Hollywood Lifestyle Magazine - Premiere Issue - Winter 2014
The Life of Things - SCA Project Gallery - Pomona, CA - 2014
Solo Exhibition - Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 - 2014
KCET Artbound: High & Dry - A Collaboration Surveying the American Desert - May 21, 2014

It's a Mess Without You! - Cinco, CA - 2011

 

The words are poignant. The window here might announce death, or the loss of relationship or the terrible passage of time as illustrated by the scene through the frame. The symbol of loss of some kind is persuasive. It could be a simple apology for bad housekeeping habits, yet much more loss is evident. The window and its view of desolation and loss are enhanced by the words haphazardly sprayed on the wall.

These three photographs are both ambiguous and a reflection on the loss of memory and the passage of time. They remind that much of our culture and economy are transitory, unsustainable and leave only wind worn wastelands behind. We will soon forget the trailers, but not Refetoff’s photos of them.

By the way, the trailers are gone, wiped from the land to make way for the Beacon Solar project off Highway 395 north of Mojave, CA. Even now, their memory is all but gone.

C.L.

 

 

An irony of this series is that many of the interior spaces look more real than the exteriors. Since the images are not composites, they are both equally 'real.' The quality of artificiality of the exteriors came about somewhat unexpectedly while preparing the prints for exhibition.

The physics of lens optics makes it impossible to focus on both the foreground and background simultaneously. Only a single focal plain can be in focus with this type of camera. Using a small aperture, an optical illusion called the 'circle of confusion' allows the exteriors to appear in focus, while only the foregrounds are actually in focus. This illusion begins to break down when the images are printed in larger sizes.

I wanted the views outside the windows to be as sharp as possible, as the eye is naturally drawn to them. Digital prints are typically sharpened for enlargement, so I selectively applied a bit of additional sharpening to the exteriors, introducing a slightly 'processed' feel. This caused the ‘natural’ exteriors to look a somewhat ‘artificial’ while the cheap trailer interiors appear almost painfully ‘real.’

Another solution to this dilemma would have been to take two photographs, one focused on the interior and one focused out the window. A program like Adobe Photoshop would allow these images to be seamlessly combined, a technique called 'focus stacking.' Would this be a more 'honest' method of achieving the same illusion if the intent is to communicate the human experience of viewing the scene from the camera's perspective?

At that point, why not add some puffy clouds to the scene? These could easily be captured a year or so later, perhaps from the window of a Los Angeles apartment...

O.R

 

This work is seen in a solo show titled “High & Dry: dispatches from the land of little rain” running March 22-April 18 at Gallery 825: 825 N. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles.

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #high&dry #highanddry arid landscape california desert carla gottlieb chris langley christopher langley circle of confusion desert dispatches desert ruin desertscape focus stacking gallery 825 high & dry high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain high and dry it's a mess without you landscape photography los angeles art association mojave desert osceola refetoff photographer's eye photographic perspective simulacrum transitory nature of memory wasteland window photograph https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/4/through-a-window-darkly Tue, 01 Apr 2014 08:20:56 GMT
LENSCRATCH - JAMEY STILLINGS: CHANGING PERSPECTIVE: THE EVOLUTION OF IVANPAH SOLAR https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/lenscratch-jamey-stillings-ivanpah-solar Tessellations of solar panels fill geometric fields across the desert in Jamey Stillings' Changing Perspective: The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar. The Fine Art Photography Daily Lenscratch recently featured his work, which documents large-scale renewable energy projects from an aerial perspective. In Stillings' words, “I am fascinated by the visual energy created at the intersections of nature and human activity… In our inexorable quest for energy to meet the growing demands of a consumption dependent culture, we are transforming our natural, rural, and urban landscapes at an accelerating pace. The need to examine such transformations with an aesthetic and critical eye is compelling and necessary."

Sounds a lot like our mission statement!

High & Dry salutes Mr Stilling's dedication and artistry in service of this important and timely issue. We also find Lenscratch a daily requirement for perusal and deep thought about new developments in fine are photography. Our thanks to author/photographer Aline Smithson for bringing this and other important work to our awareness.
 
See the full Lenscratch/Jamey Stillings post HERE.
 
 
 
Jamey Stillings - Changing Perspectives: The Evolution of Ivanpah SolarJamey Stillings - Changing Perspectives: The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar
Jamey Stillings - from Changing Perspectives: The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar
 
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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/lenscratch-jamey-stillings-ivanpah-solar Thu, 27 Mar 2014 05:00:00 GMT
INTO THE FOREST PRIMEVAL: TAMING THE SUN; BUILDING A HILL https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/into-the-forest-primeval-taming-the-sun-building-a-hill If you take one of the alphabet avenues of Lancaster, California and drive straight east, you enter the forest primeval. The Joshua trees (yucca brevifloria) go out in all directions. Their regular spacing is cut by the straight avenues of asphalt and matching straight cross streets named by numbers and directions: 20th Street East, for instance. Civilization superimposes real grids and virtual grids upon the land wherever human activity has occurred.

Here east-west roads are called avenues and north-south roads are called streets. The city is essentially on a perfect grid. The traffic signals are coordinated by a central processing facility at the Civic Center.

 

Forest of Power Lines - Avenue K & 90th St West - Lancaster, CA 2010Pinhole Exposure

Forest of Power Lines - Avenue K & 90th St West - Pinhole Exposure - Lancaster, CA - 2010

 

The good news is that Lancaster is trying to ameliorate the lack of imagination in street naming. 10th Street East is now called Challenger Way in honor of the shuttle of the same name.

This day the air is heavy with visible dust and suspended particulate matter. The Joshua trees loom spiny and twisted out of the dismal air. It is easy to imagine a dinosaur prowling about.

One crossroad is marked with roadside memorials. Something terrible has happened here. The crosses vary in size, style and make-up but all have Hispanic names on them. Burned-out prayer candles with Our Lady of Guadalupe or other saintly figures and religious icons testify to vigils for those lost. They demonstrate that this crossing of two straight lines with extended visibility is still very dangerous. These memorials stare a defiantly from the corner hillock on which they are perched. Below them an obscene diagram has been spray-painted on the cement face of drainage pipes. The dry cistern is full of desert detritus. Old cigarette packs, plastic containers, bleached newspaper pages with forgotten headlines and all sorts of wrappers mark the area as one of discard.

Not far away the futuristic towers of a solar plant stand sentinel to this forest primeval. The sun peeks from behind the lenticular clouds that announce the wind. These meteorological signs are both spidery and shaped like piled plates in the sky. The wind has already begun. Wisps of dust blow by. At the moment the sun is insipid and offers little power to this giant solar apparatus designed to capture its energy.

There is a tower that is like an Iranian minaret in appearance. Other skeletal towers rise in a pattern around it. The project overview explains dispassionately, The Sierra SunTower facility is based on power tower CSP (concentrating solar power) technology. The plant features an array of 24,000 heliostats divided between four sub-fields that track the sun and focus the energy onto two tower-mounted receivers. The concentrated solar energy boils water in the receiver to produce super heated steam. The steam is piped to a reconditioned 1947 GE turbine steam turbine generator, which converts the energy to electricity. The steam out of the turbine is condensed and pressurized back into the receiver. It takes up 8 hectares or 20 acres of an arid valley of the Mojave Desert at 35 degrees north latitude on private land.

 

         Sierra SunTower Generating Station - Lancaster, CA - 2012

 

The Sierra SunTower, a proud green energy over-achiever, has won many awards. Its builder trumpets that it reduces CO2 emissions by 7000 tons a year, equivalent to planting 5,265 trees, removing 1,368 automobiles from the road, or saving 650,000 gallons of gasoline. Still the air smells industrial and metallic here. The plant can be seen through a sturdy chain link fence. A still pond of water reflects it all. Then the wind ruffles the surface and all shimmers out of sight.

On the near horizon looms a hill that is being excavated by trucks on roads spiraling methodically in a rising circle. Wait! The trucks are adding to the hill, not mining it for mineral wealth. This is a man made hill striving to become a mountain: the Lancaster Landfill & Recycling Center. It is a 276-acre ziggurat of garbage and waste right in the middle of our forest primeval.

Upon closer observation, the site has helpful signage. The management is proud of its modern technology. The landfill is designed to allow disposal of non-hazardous solid wastes. All collection sites are constructed with a composite liner and leachate collection system. The leachate collection system gathers wastewater that is generated by the overlying municipal solid waste.

The website goes to great lengths to assure the visitor that it is very safe. We are leaving behind us a monument to waste and garbage that grows daily taller and wider. Every opportunity is being taken to recycle, reclaim, repurpose and isolate our waste into wastelands. Here there is also a growing ruin of a landfill as a monument to how we live.

I want to stop and hike to the top. I want to plant an American flag like our astronauts did on the moon and claim it for our national pride. I don’t. Instead I circle the landfill outside the chain link fence in my car and drive into the Joshua tree forest primeval in the swirling dust of another windy day in east Lancaster.

I jump on the freeway and go home.

 

-C.L.

 

Infrared Exposure

Freeway Entrance - North of Lancaster, CA - 2012


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix 10th street east Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff Sierra SunTower avenue K california high desert challenger way co2 emissions crosses crossroads desert landscape photography desertscape digital pinhole photography east lancaster CA freeway freeway entrance grave markers green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 14 joshua tree lancaster landfill & recycling center mojave desert power lines roadside memorials roadside monuments solar energy stop sign sun power transmission wires www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com yucca brevifloria https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/into-the-forest-primeval-taming-the-sun-building-a-hill Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:12:08 GMT
IT'S A MESS WITHOUT YOU! https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/its-a-mess-without-you High & Dry is excited to announce the first material manifestation of our collaboration. An exhibition of Osceola's Desert Window Series photographs will be opening at Gallery 825 in Beverly Hills, CA on Saturday, March 22 from 6-9pm. The exhibit is open to the public, continuing thru April 18, 2014.

Both Chris and Osceola will be attending the opening reception. Come see some artwork, enjoy a glass of wine and partake in some friendly conversation about the changing face of the California desert.

 

Gallery 825 Solo Exhibition - Beverly Hill, CA - 2014Gallery 825 Solo Exhibition - Beverly Hill, CA - 2014March 22 - April 18, 2014
Opening Reception March 22, 6-9pm
Gallery 825 (LINK)


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches It's a Mess Without You! LAAA Osceola Refetoff abandoned structure arid landscape art gallery california high desert desert landscape photography desert window series desertscape gallery 825 graffiti high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain la cienega blvd los angeles art association solo art exhibition vandalism www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/its-a-mess-without-you Thu, 20 Mar 2014 05:00:00 GMT
WATER EXTREMES: TOO LITTLE; TOO MUCH; TOO SLOW; TOO FAST https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/water-extremes-too-little-too-much-too-slow-too-fast The marks of water, and its absence shape the story of human presence in the desert. I have lived in the desert for more than forty years, having been converted to desiccation.

In the desert I suffer from “rain hunger” nearly all the time. When a moisture-laden front makes it over the mountains, it is a gift from the gods, a time for a celebratory walk through puddles. In the Iranian desert, the Sarhad, where my Peace Corps site of Khash is located, it rained once in two years while I was there. It was not much but all the children had umbrellas, which immediately appeared for the short downpour.

 

Rain on Windshield - North of Osdick, CA - 2010Rain on Windshield - North of Osdick, CA - 2010KCET Artbound - High & Dry - Water Extremes: Too Little; Too Much; Too Slow; Too Fast - July 7, 2014

Rain on Windshield - North of Randsburg, CA - 2010

 

The desert suffers from extremes: too little; too much; too slow; too fast. In my hometown of Lone Pine, the summer forecast is hot day after day. The rainiest month is in the winter, often February. However the most exciting rains come in August, or sometimes July, when the monsoonal flows out of Mexico sweep across the dry valleys, filling the air with moisture. We wait for the giant thunderheads, glowing and pulsing with electricity like great translucent jellyfish in the ancient seas that once covered these lands. They pulse and glow over the Inyo Mountains to the east towards Death Valley and the high desert beyond.

The towering cumulonimbus move in, first with the cold winds that sweep down in front of the storm, then with intensifying thunder and finally a downpour that comes in sheets of driving rain. All hell breaks loose in a release from the persistent waiting for the rains that have taken several summer months to arrive.

 

Thunderstorm Gathering at Sunset - Trona, CA - 2010Thunderstorm Gathering at Sunset - Trona, CA - 2010Infrared Exposure

Thunderstorm Gathering at Sunset - Infrared Exposure - Trona, CA - 2010  (photographer about to get drenched)

 

The thunder shakes everything in front of it. The rain pounds like a stampede of racing feet ever harder and faster. I rush out to see the storm, feel the icy rain on my face. Quickly I am soaked to the skin. Later I stand mesmerized at the front window as the storm obscures the landscape to the east in veils of rain.

Slowly the storm abates. The land falls into a satiated peace. Now the land smells sweet and perfumed, by the wet sage and the more bitter rabbit brush, and invasive Russian thistle. The air has cooled significantly, and there will be a good night’s sleep.

Two storms from the past come to mind. First there was the microburst that came on a July afternoon.  It had been sultry all day, pregnant with promise, yet still as death. The sky darkened and the heavens let loose an explosion of water for half an hour. Three inches of rain, more than half a year’s worth, fell in that thirty minutes. The paved areas gave up the rush. Patios regurgitated water though sliding doors into living rooms. Desert highways flooded with brown water. Large arroyos were cut across the desert as water flowed downhill picking through the hillocks. Those marks are still there. The highway gagged and choked, and silt and boulders were left behind. These are called “debris flows.”

What was startling was that if you went a mile north or south of town, it was more like  half an inch of rain. Go further and it was dry.

One time a woman drove on the dry Highway 395 as a flash flood built up in the canyons above. The debris flow swept across the pavement without warning. They found her car rolled over and over about 400 hundred feet beyond the pavement, her drowned and abraded body even further away on dry sand.

 

Twin Trucks Heading South Towards Storm - Owens Valley, CA - 2013Twin Trucks Heading South Towards Storm - Owens Valley, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure - CA Highway 395

Twin Trucks Heading South on Highway 395 Towards Storm - Infrared Exposure - Owens Valley, CA - 2013

 

The desert here suffers from flash brush fires that sweep across the land burning the resin ripe desert plants with brilliant heat. Just after the 4th of July, the Inyo County seat of Independence suffered from one of these fires. Driven by the winds, desultory in their direction, what appeared a controlled fire suddenly raced drunkenly across the landscape. The result was a barren land burned to black ash, hidden roots, and unanchored sandy soil. Add a summer downpour high in the Sierra and it is a recipe for disaster.

A year later, almost to the day, a microburst of clouds shedding tropical water became trapped in a canyon of the Sierra just west of town. A giant wall of water, dirt and boulders rushed down Ask Creek where there were many cabins and houses. Fifteen houses disappeared or were filled with silt waist high. No one drowned although one resident was rolled a while in the cavorting water. The scars remain still from the flash flood that swept across the highway.

Matching the rain that vents its anger against the desert landscape is the rain that doesn’t fall to earth.  This is virga. It is rain falling in sheets or lines that evaporate before hitting the surface of the earth. Above the virga there is a dark bellied cumulus cloud. Rolling thunder and a flash of lightning announces the forming of virga, but it also comes without a grand entrance.

Virga has a cold heart, often beginning at high altitudes as ice crystals. The falling to earth begins slowly as these crystals slide into thickening air. Compression heating of the air first melts the ice crystals then evaporates them into vapor.

Desert water has many secrets. Most people who die in the desert suffer and die of dehydration. That is the harsh story of the desert water, and its absence. Mary Austin wrote, “To underestimate one's thirst, to pass a given landmark to the right or left, to find a dry spring where one looked for running water - there is no help for any of these things.”   

We’ll tell that tale another day.

 

-C.L.

 

Sign of Our Time - Trona, CA - 2012Sign of Our Time - Trona, CA - 2012

Rainbow After Cloud Front Passes Without Significant Precipitation - Trona, CA - 2012

 

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff arid landscape california high desert cumulonimbus death valley CA debris flow desert landscape photography desertscape digital infrared photography flash fire flash flood high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain high sierra highway 395 independence CA inyo county mary austin mexico microburst mojave desert monsoonal flow precipitation rain virga www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/water-extremes-too-little-too-much-too-slow-too-fast Mon, 17 Mar 2014 04:00:00 GMT
MOJAVE DESERT IN TRANSITION - NOW! https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/mojave-desert-in-transition---now Before and after Google Earth images show the Cinco, CA site of many images featured in the 'If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now' series. The trailers and other structures were torn down in late 2011.

The 1240-acre property off Highway 14 north of Mojave, CA was bought by Beacon Solar, LLC to install a 250-megawatt concentrated solar electric generating facility. Here is a LINK to a fact sheet about the project.

 

Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 1Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 1Screen capture Feb 2012
Trailers/Buildings appear in 'If You Lived Here' Cinco, CA images.

Site prior to 2012. Originally a farm, note the large area below and right cleared for alfalfa cultivation.

 

Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 4Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 4Screen capture Mar 2014

Trailers/buildings removed to make way for Beacon Solar Plant.

 Trailers on right were used to house farm workers. Images from the Cinco, CA trailers can be seen HERE:

Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 2Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 2Screen capture Feb 2012
Trailers/Buildings appear in 'If You Lived Here' Cinco, CA images.

Screen capture from this morning shows the buildings cleared to make way for the new solar plant.

Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 3Google Earth - Cinco, CA - Overview 3Screen capture Mar 2014

Trailers/buildings removed to make way for Beacon Solar Plant.

Many green energy projects are planned for our deserts. This one will change the face of the Mojave for decades to come.

 


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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches Beacon Solar Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california high desert cinco CA desertscape environmental impact google earth image green energy high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 14 mojave desert solar project solar ranch viewshed www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/mojave-desert-in-transition---now Thu, 13 Mar 2014 17:25:00 GMT
THE HUNDRED NAMES OF THE DESERT WIND https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/the-hundred-names-of-the-desert-wind Hard dry wind just suddenly blew up obscuring the Inyos and their setting sun blush in the billowing clouds of dust. The winds are ripping at all the young green leaves and as the skies become prematurely darkened, it is easy to imagine desert spirits rushing across the rooftops looking for an invitation to enter. The dogs draw near, coyotes howl and now a fire department siren sounds signaling a car wreck with an injury. It is a very inhospitable welcome to nightfall. 

Text to Osceola from Chris - May 16, 2013 at 4:43 PM

 

Haboob…khamsin…harmattan…simoon…aejej…Bad-I-Sad-O-Bist-Roz…samiel…sirocco…xlokk…zonda…santaana…shamal…sharav…tebbad… sukhovey…brickfielder…chocolatero…diablo…dustdevil…sand auger… dancing devil…dust whirl…foehn …katabatic…leveche…mato waminyomi…nashi, naschi…bora…

 

I realize that is not 100 names yet, but it is a measure of all the names people in the desert lands around the world have for their constant companion: the wind.

The joke here in the desert is “Well, the wind doesn’t blow from this direction all the time. Sometimes it blows from the other direction.”

 

Wind Blown Sand - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013Wind Blown Sand - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure – First printed: 2018

Land Artifacts – Solo Show – Museum of Art & History (MOAH) – Lancaster, CA – 2018
Open Desert – Palm Springs Art Museum – 2016
KCET Artbound: High & Dry - The Hundred Names of the Desert Wind - Nov 2014

Wind Blown Sand - Infrared Exposure - Highway 136 North of Keeler, CA - 2013

 

In our part of the desert, the geography forms a wind tunnel between two mountain ranges. It is the engine that begins the Santa Anas. The air slides down into the desert and then across the Los Angeles basin heating up and drying out as it goes. 

Raymond Chandler began his famous short story “Red Wind” this way: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen.“ 

The desert often has three-day winds.  For a day the wind stops and then it blows again for another three days. In my town people get on edge after the wind has blown a few days.  These are not horrible winds, not property destroying winds, although we have those from time to time. These winds are constant and a bit gusty. They nag at you like a lover you have left unsatisfied, or a friend you have failed through laziness or neglect.  They cannot possibly get what they want, these winds, but they incessantly work at you as if it might make a difference.

 

Dust Storm - Keeler, CA - 2013Dust Storm - Keeler, CA - 2013Infrared Exposure

Dust Storm - Infrared Exposure - Keeler, CA - 2013

 

We do have fierce winds, blowing off the mountains to the west. These are foehn winds, and they create rain shadows. Our rain shadow is the biggest for the California deserts because it is caused by the highest of the mountains in the contiguous states: Mount Whitney. The Mojave has been formed by these rain shadows.

A foehn wind is a hot dry wind that flows down the leeward side of a mountain range down through mountain passes. In mountainous areas like the Sierra Nevada, there can be enormous distortions in the usual expected wind flow over the rough and irregular ridges and glaciated valleys. These cause sudden unpredictable flows and turbulence called rotors. Lenticular clouds called “Sierra Waves” often top these turbulent movements. They signal increasing surface winds.

I have been bounced about on the highway by large swirling dust devils, pushed to the soft shoulder on occasion. My house roof has been stripped of shingles by a west wind howling down onto our area. I have been caught in blinding dust storms that rise suddenly out of nowhere.

On another night I thought I would write more about these terrible winds with scary names, some of which are found at the top of this essay. As I sit here a gentler wind is blowing out of the south. The wind is whistling a lonely but sweet tune. This desert wind, a gentle erratic wind, has no name.  It is a sad, empty wind, a wind that is as uncertain as the lives lived by many of the people who have chosen the Mojave as their home. This wind sounds desert lonely.

This wind touches me through the open window. It whistles through the screen, around the eaves, modulated, singing but without a melody. It is turning cold now. It makes me realize no matter how many friends I have, nor how many people love me, that in the end I will die alone. Some things we must do alone. Dying is one of them. This desert wind whispers that secret in my ear even as it caresses my cheek. It brings a melancholy peace to my life just now. Thank you, desert wind for your soft gift of comfort and a reality check too.

 

-C.L.

 

Dust Storm off Owens Lake - Keeler, CA - 2013Dust Storm off Owens Lake - Keeler, CA - 2013Largest single source of particulate pollution in the U.S.
Infrared Exposure

Dust Storm off Owens Lake: Largest single source of particulate pollution in the U.S.
Infrared Exposure - Keeler, CA - 2013

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix california high desert Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches desert landscape photography desertscape digital infrared photography dust devil dust storm foehn high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain keeler CA lenticular clouds mojave desert mount whitney Osceola Refetoff owens lake CA particulate pollution rain shadow raymond chandler red wind sandstorm santa ana winds sierra nevada sierra wave wind blown sand www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/the-hundred-names-of-the-desert-wind Mon, 10 Mar 2014 04:00:00 GMT
PHOTOGRAPHER DOCUMENTS HOPE AND DESPAIR IN THE CALIFORNIA DESERT https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/photographer-documents-hope-and-despair-in-the-california-desert Osceola Refetoff's desert photography recently caught the eye of Los Angeles Times writer Louis Sahagun. A series of Osceola's color, window photographs will be on exhibit starting March 22 at Gallery 825 in Beverly Hills.

L.A. Times - Photographer Chronicles Hope and Despair in the California DesertL.A. Times - Photographer Chronicles Hope and Despair in the California DesertLINK TO ARTICLE
Writer: Louis Sahagun
Photo: Osceola Refetoff

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches It's a Mess Without You! LAAA Osceola Refetoff abandoned structure arid landscape california high desert desert landscape photography desert window series desertscape gallery 825 graffiti high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain leica m9 los angeles art association los angeles times louis sahagun melancholy of decay mojave desert vandalism www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/3/photographer-documents-hope-and-despair-in-the-california-desert Mon, 03 Mar 2014 05:00:00 GMT
DOES A SOLAR RANCH HAVE SUN-POWERED COWBOYS? https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/does-a-solar-ranch-have-sun-powered-cowboys When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power distributes their EIR (Environmental Impact Report) for their Owens Valley solar project, they call it a “Ranch.” No doubt they think that makes it sound more palatable to the residents in an arid land where cattle are a primary agricultural product.

When first discussing it at public meetings, the possible green energy project is termed a “Park,” perhaps again trying to make it sound like something of benefit to the families and visitors of the area. This is a place that is called one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times refers to it as a ”Project,” which is more accurate, when they announce “DWP Solar Plan Moves Ahead” (12/26/13). At the public hearing held by the DWP in Lone Pine there is definite opposition to the project. It will be directly east of the Manzanar Relocation Camp, a National Historic Site on Highway 395 where nearly 10,000 Japanese American citizens were interned by the US Government during WWII.

 

'Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands''Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands'Display Manzanar Historic Site - 2009 'Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands' - Display Manzanar Historic Site - 2009

 

The opposition at the public hearing arranged by the DWP to gather input is somewhat tepid except for a few engaged residents of Los Angeles and one active opponent from Independence, the next town north of the 1200 acre site.

The Times reports, “A 1200 acre facility in the Owens Valley will harm historic site and wildlife, say opponents.” A majority of people favors the idea of green energy to save our planet. A few people simply don’t believe in the economics and efficacy of solar technology. Others are happy with it when it is placed in the desert where there is so much free energy coming from the sun and so few people. There are always the knee jerk residents who immediately say “Not in my backyard.” Others champion the pristine view, respect for the landscape, and argue that other places owned by the DWP would provide better sites.

 

Display at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar RanchDisplay at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar RanchLone Pine, CA - 9/24/13 Display at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar RanchDisplay at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar RanchLone Pine, CA - 9/24/13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Displays at Public Comments Meeting for Proposed LADWP Owens Valley Solar Ranch - Lone Pine, CA - 9/24/13

 

As with most issues facing our California deserts today, the answers to the questions that arise are complex and ambiguous and can lead to heated debate. Simply put, both sides have defensible points of view that depend on facts, fears and cultural attitudes. The debate may never end for the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch (SOVSR), just as the debate about water extraction from the same land continues to be an issue one hundred years after the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

We go out to survey the area, on foot and in car, to try to get a sense of how much this 200-megawatt array of black panels will affect the viewscape. I am, after all, a landscape and film historian; that is my number one concern. My initial answer is “not too much.” It is not benign, however, and will scar this beautiful area, more so when viewed from higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, which lie to the west.

 

Proposed Southern Ownes Valley Solar Ranch site East of Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Proposed Southern Ownes Valley Solar Ranch site East of Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Viewed from below Reward Mine - Inyo Mtns, CA. Proposed SOVSR site begins near curve in road. Manzanar Historic Site is approx 5 mi across valley at thin lines of dark trees.

Proposed SOVSR site begins near curve in road - Viewed from below Reward Mine - Inyo Mtns, CA - 9/25/13
Manzanar Historic Site is approx 5 mi across valley at thin lines of dark trees

 

As I live in Lone Pine, this multi-year $680,000,000 project now given the go ahead will be a wonderful case study for us to follow in Desert Dispatches in the months and years ahead. Stay tuned for updates and reports about this project as it moves forward.

I should mention that at first I didn’t see the plant as a terrible blight, and now wonder why here? I thought the DWP could put it in a less scenic area. Then I signed the petition against the plant. Now I find myself confused between the two sides. Studying the plant under construction and as it prepares to come on line will help me better understand my feelings about the “Ranch” as they evolve.

Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (SOVSR) beyond large rock - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (SOVSR) beyond large rock - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Infrared Exposure

Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (beyond large rock) - Infrared Exposure - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13

Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (SOVSR) beyond large rock - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Proposed Owens Valley Solar Ranch Site (SOVSR) beyond large rock - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13Infrared Exposure Proposed SOVSR Site (flat area beyond large rock) - Infrared Exposure - Near Manzanar, CA - 9/25/13

 
 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches EIR LADWP Osceola Refetoff california high desert desertscape digital infrared photography environmental impact report high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain historic site internment camp los angeles DWP manzanar national historic site mojave desert solar case study solar panels solar project solar ranch www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/does-a-solar-ranch-have-sun-powered-cowboys Fri, 28 Feb 2014 21:00:00 GMT
DARK DESERT HIGHWAY https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/dark-desert-highway The Eagles made the term “dark desert highway” iconic in their song “Hotel California.” Desert highways have unique qualities that “with the wind in our hair” call to us to embark on another life adventure.

For the pioneers, the California desert was solely an obstacle en route to the Promised Land. They saw their life’s dream waiting beyond it’s border, with no possible benefit to the wasteland before them. Highways in the Mojave were created in the name of speed and convenience to entice, mislead and shield us from the healing power of the landscape. There is a price we pay each time we seal ourselves in a car and accelerate on a two or four lane road. The highway is constructed to protect us in comfort and convenience from the land, our anchor, and sense of identity. It is a subtle but heavy price we pay on this dark desert highway journey.

 

Heading South on Hwy 14 at California City Blvd - North of Mojave, CA - 2010Heading South on Hwy 14 at California City Blvd - North of Mojave, CA - 2010

Heading South on Highway 14 at California City Blvd - North of Mojave, CA - 2010

 

According to William L. Fox, the Mojave Desert contains fifty-four thousand square miles, the smallest of the American deserts, and tiny compared to the Sahara. It also abuts Los Angeles whose population averages more than 240 billion driving miles each year, it is estimated. Ninety-five percent of the Mojave Desert is within three miles of some kind of road. Twenty-five percent of California is desert. One sixth of the world’s population lives in a desert. In 100 years some demographers state that the percent of desert dwellers could jump to fifty percent.

Fox points out, “The interstates were designed to resist attention, to be a transparent part of the landscape.” Created in the 1950s, our country’s Interstate system changed our culture and greatly affected the economic life of the land. Jumping onto any of the numbered highways in the Mojave (for instance: 395, 14, 40, or 15) and crossing the arid land, travellers hesitate to even stop long enough to walk across a hill, dune or rocky flat. They consciously resist getting dust on their shoes or sand in their socks.

 

Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Indian Wells, CA - 2012Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Indian Wells, CA - 2012

Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Indian Wells, CA - 2012

 

The desert highways give us the choice of observing the view as a flashing and changing series of landscapes vs. experiencing the land with all our senses engaged. Fox calls it “insertion of myself” into the land. Engaging our nervous, muscle and other sensing systems in walking, standing, and kneeling creates powerful memories. These in turn create attachments to the land and a kind of personal anchoring of the self.  We know we belong in this place, at least temporarily. Travelling at high speeds in the car erodes any of these memory traces, especially the personal attachment that assists building self-knowledge, identity and a sense of wellbeing.

Travelling at more than 70 miles an hour down the desert highway does permit pull-offs at “scenic points.” These scenic points have been selected based on practices of landscape artists that began four hundred years ago. Fox comments, “It’s a very nineteenth century attitude, closely related to our willingness to design an interstate that essentially ignores the terrain.” These spots are elevated to give the viewer a vista to gaze upon. At the same time they isolate the traveller from the land. Looking down at the scene also promotes a false sense of “moral domination of the wonders of nature.”

 

Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Mojave, CA - 2011Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Mojave, CA - 2011

Heading South on Highway 14 - North of Mojave, CA - 2011

 

The practices of the nineteenth century painters and photographers have framed the views of many of our national parks including Death Valley and the Mojave Nature Preserve. As we travel, we are forced to see the landscape in a predetermined way, based on dated strategies. Viewpoints, placement of trails and other “engineered” decisions have been forced to match what hangs on the walls of our classic museums. The word “landscape” contains the idea of a fixed or forced point of view frontwards, at but not into the land itself.  Just passing through the desert in a high-speed car, the view is framed by windshields, rooflines, and doorframes. When we photograph the scene, we rely on the framed view of the camera to be our memory. It is only a light shadow of what we experienced in the desert.

The Eagles characterized their desert highway as “dark.” Travelling at high speeds at night is a very different experience. The eyes focus on headlights. In the case of trucks we are dazzled by an array of different kinds of safety lights. Travelling the desert highway is “dark” in another way. We travel in denial, telling ourselves we have been to the desert. We have only been to a narrow corridor, gazed at predetermined scenes. If we have gotten out, what we perceived has been created by culture and engineered to reflect landscape photography and painting from more than one hundred years ago. Photographs taken at high speeds on the desert highways, both at night and in the burning light of noon, point this out.  Desert highways are structures calculated to miss the desert as the cars speed through, or to force prearranged scenes, though eerily beautiful, that are far from natural.

 

-C.L.

           

SPECIAL THANKS TO WILLIAM L. FOX, AUTHOR OF DRIVING BY MEMORY

William L. Fox is a writer whose work is a sustained inquiry into how human cognition transforms land into landscape. His numerous nonfiction books rely upon fieldwork with artists and scientists in extreme environments to provide the narratives through which he conducts his investigations. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

 

Heading South on Highway 395 - South of Lone Pine, CA - 2008Heading South on Highway 395 - South of Lone Pine, CA - 2008

Heading South on Highway 395 - South of Lone Pine, CA - 2008

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Christopher Langley Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff california city california high desert dark desert highway death valley CA desert landscape photography desertscape driving by memory high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 395 hotel california human trace mojave desert the eagles william l. fox www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/dark-desert-highway Thu, 27 Feb 2014 05:00:00 GMT
AN ENDLESS EXPANSE OF NOTHINGNESS https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/an-endless-expanse-of-nothingness "Deserts, accordingly, confront us with a vast horizontal edge, a horizon of emptiness into which we find ourselves absorbed and lost. The desert is intrinsically hostile to the ego, threatening to swallow it up in its endless expanse of nothingness.”

 

-Belden C. Lane

 

From The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

 

Desert Vista - Cinco, CA - 2009DESERT WINDOWSNormally such a flat, empty horizon would be difficult to find in the Mojave Desert. This view is from an discarded trailer home on an abandoned farm where the earth had been stripped clear for alfalfa production. Things grow slowly in arid climes, so the landscape had yet to be reclaimed by creosote bushes and other drought-resistant flora.

Click here for more info about this series.

Osceola Refetoff - Desert Vista (view from abandoned farm worker's trailer) - Cinco, CA - 2009

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Desert Dispatches Desert Vista (view from abandoned farm worker's trailer - Cinco, CA - 2009 Osceola Refetoff arid landscape belden c. lane california high desert desert landscape photography desert window series desertscape endless expanse of nothingness high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain horizon of emptiness mojave desert the solace of fierce landscapes www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/an-endless-expanse-of-nothingness Tue, 25 Feb 2014 17:30:00 GMT
WILLIAM "BURRO" SCHMIDT & HIS TUNNEL TO NOWHERE https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/william-burro-schmidt-and-his-tunnel-to-nowhere The desert is haunted by emptiness, dreams, false promise and greed. We stand at the entrance to one man’s personal tunnel. Our search for answers to the mysteries of the desert has begun.

 

Outside Tunnel Osceola Refetoff

 

When his six brothers and sisters had all died of consumption in his birthplace of Providence, Rhode Island, William “Burro” Schmidt escaped to the desert of California to begin his life’s work. A loner prospector living a hardscrabble life in Last Chance Canyon, Burro Schmidt spent thirty-two years single-handedly drilling a tunnel nearly a half-mile long through solid granite. Ripley’s Believe it or Not called him “the human mole.”

Schmidt explained he needed to create a short cut to bring his gold ore to market. When the effort became unnecessary because of a new road, he still continued the tedious, grueling enterprise for many years, day in and day out. There is no record that there ever was a true gold strike, although the legend continues. Soon after he broke through to daylight on Copper Mountain, he walked away, deeding his mine/tunnel to a fellow miner. 

It took thirty-two years of sweat, determination and backbreaking labor for this desert hermit to achieve his goal. Then he packed up and left Copper Mountain and the Last Chance Canyon. He lived the last part of his life in a nearby town.

 

'Burro' Schmidt Cabin (at left) and Abandoned Caretaker's House - 2011'Burro' Schmidt Cabin (at left) and Abandoned Caretaker's House - 2011Infrared Exposure

William 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin (at left) and Abandoned Caretaker's House - Infrared Exposure - 2011
First image: Entrance to 'Burro' Schmidt Tunnel - Infrared Exposure - 2011

 

It had been his life’s work. The mystery of Burro Schmidt and his Mojave Desert tunnel remains to torment imaginations and curiosity until this day. He was labeled as crazy, but was he just different from the rest of us? 

In our search to better understand what the desert means to people and how it shapes their lives, Osceola and I went to photograph and explore Schmidt’s land and work. 

On Highway 395, in our separate cars, we roar right by the marked entrance to the rutted, dirt road that leads to Schmidt Tunnel. The small weathered sign for Burro Schmidt’s tunnel is located between four large billboards, two on each side of the highway. Three advertise “cash for gold and jewels” and the fourth one the Golden Arches. This is the land of the seductive glitter of gold even today!

We do U turns. My friend tells me to park. We’ll go in his car. It is Mr. Toad’s wild ride and he is pushing hard. I am thrilled he is opening up the door to this little world of wonder. Osceola has been there twice before. When I experienced seeing Schmidt’s vandalized cabin and walking through the tunnel, I also became fascinated by his story.

The walk through the tunnel begins straight and even. After several hundred feet we can still see the entrance, not much more than a pinhole of light at our backs. I am impressed with the accuracy of Schmidt’s tunneling. To work for more than thirty years, day in and day out, to burrow into solid granite, straight, level…. This is the strange mystery of a hardscrabble life lived in the Mojave. I am not sure we can fully understand or empathize with it. Some mysteries of the desert remain impossible to understand rationally.

 

Interior 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - Last Chance Canyon - 2011Interior 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - Last Chance Canyon - 2011

Interior: William 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - Last Chance Canyon - 2011

 

Later we go to the cabin and study Schmidt’s walls, a giant collage of newspaper headlines, advertising pictures, and tea bag labels. They have all been carefully secured to the wall with small nails and handmade cardboard washers. My friend is looking up there. I see something in his expression of wonder, delight and fascination that I am experiencing also.

Schmidt had no formal training in mining technology, simply learning on the job, mostly alone. He had no access to modern tools and equipment although they were in common use at the time. He began by cracking the rock with a pick, a four-pound hammer and a hand drill. He didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to use the easy way which was still very hard physical work.  The broken rock he would carry out, first on his back in canvas bags, then later by wheelbarrow and finally with a mine car on iron tracks he installed, bowing to modern mining engineering.

Schmidt lived alone, and a very frugal life it was. He never married, one writer speculates because he didn’t want to pass on consumption to his children. It would appear he didn’t long for the company or the aesthetic or any other requirements of a life with a woman. His burros were named Jack and Jenny. The locals called him “Jackass” Schmidt originally. Later in life, his name was transformed into the more civil “Burro.” There is no record that Schimdt cared about social acceptability.

 

"Depression Era Wallpaper"- 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011"Depression Era Wallpaper"- 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

'Depression Era Wallpaper' - 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

 

His tendency to being a miser led him to mend his clothes with flour sacks and his shoes with crushed tin cans. When money permitted, he did burn kerosene but usually he burned small two-penny candles, allowing the use of only one a night. He had an old cast iron stove and cooked his simple meals, most often pancakes and beans or fish chowder made from sardines, rice and boiled onions, on it. He also relied on it to heat his one-room cabin. He would resort to dynamite in his operation but cut the fuses short to save money. They were sometimes so short that when he ran for his life to the other end of the tunnel to escape the impact of the explosion, he would be caught by flying rocks. More than once he stumbled into a neighbor’s camp, seriously injured. 

Rumors persisted about a rich ore body or vein of gold that he protected with his tunnel, but none was ever shipped. He lived a severely simple life. In the end we are only left to speculate about the “why” of Schmidt’s reasons for his life style and his hand-made tunnel because he left no written record at all.

Perhaps the work assured Burro Schmidt that he was alive and that he had purpose in his life. The aches and pains after a day of work testified to this. 

During our exploration, with a little imagination, I was there with Burro as he hammered away. I wondered if I could get inside his head.

 

Wallpaper Collage Secured with Cardboard Washers - 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011Wallpaper Collage Secured with Cardboard Washers - 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

Wallpaper Collage Secured with Cardboard Washers - 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011
 

Imagine him as a boy watching his siblings wither away, consumed by the disease that had no cure, living in a domestic nest of human decay. One sister or brother after another died. Everyone else was standing around waiting for who would be next. There was a land with the natural promise of sunshine and riches called California. He set out to escape his doom. He fled to the West. What a relief the promise must have provided this young man who didn’t want to simply die and become dust. Better to live in dust than to become it.

He had seen wealth back in Rhode Island. In Providence there were the big houses, and the fancy women and the strong men. The promise of wealth in California called to him. He only had to work very hard, prospecting every day, scratching the earth. He would survey the landscape to discover that vein of ore that would forever transform his life and remake his future. Time drifted by. The work reassured him that the big strike was just ahead, if only he stayed steadfast at his prospecting. It was something he was good at, committed to the work, everyday, getting up, and continuing to travel across the land with pick ax. What a relief when instead of travelling like a nomad, he settled and got to live next to the work and simply leave his cabin and go to work in the tunnel.

As I stand apart, while Osceola continues to walk on, I yearn to experience a oneness with Burro Schmidt and his experience of solitude. Was he drawn here to the desert like so many spiritual hermits of the past to other deserts to know himself and The Other? There is no evidence of a spiritual life.

 

Abandoned Caretaker's House Adjacent to 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

 

Schmidt’s life was posited on solitude as a choice. The early morning summer sunrises, the light flooding across the dry hills that he could watch from his cabin were a source of reassuring purpose. Then there was the silence as he trudged down the tunnel to where he was working; the only sound his footsteps on the dirt floor, perhaps a whisper of wind at the entrance. The methodical clanging of the pick against the rock wall followed. He could think all day, or empty his mind entirely of rational thought. 

Did Burro Schmidt work in the desert because the conditions were so bad? It was so hot and cold, so still and windy, so dry and occasionally wet, so unforgiving, so far from human habitation, so terrible, so inhospitable and thus so attractive to human stubbornness? Desert people embrace the desert because it is so hard. Surviving is success.

Burro Schmidt began as the treasure seeking prospector, the same kind of driven dreamer “searching to strike it rich,” which has tortured every prospector, treasure hunter, and gambler. I think it changed for him, but that may have kept him here for the first years. Somewhere along the way, his drive became an obsession.

 

Bathroom: Abandoned Caretaker's House  - Last Chance Canyon, CA - 2011Bathroom: Abandoned Caretaker's House - Last Chance Canyon, CA - 2011

Bathroom: Abandoned Caretaker's House - 2009
 

Many thought Burro Schmidt was insane, crazy, cracked, cuckoo, nuts, and so on. Were they frightened by the power of his dedication to hard work, and chose simply to disarm it by dismissing it as pointless and thus insane? They comforted themselves that he was crazy. That he would never strike a gold vein. 

Perhaps by modern psychiatric standards he was certifiably insane. I do not know anything more than the facts presented here. If he heard voices, spoke with aliens, listened to the instructions given him by coyotes, I do not know that. I admire him and want to champion his right to live his arid land life as he did.

Burro’s secret disappeared with him. I know many of the facts of his story. I know it tells something very important about the desert. The desert is a cruel cold mistress to which some men dedicate their passions and their loyalty. It is all about solitude, work that breaks you physically, and the dreams that often remain forsaken. For the people who stick around for a lifetime, to use Osceola’s words to me, “Something compels them to be in the desert.” 

As Wallace Stegner said, “We simply need to see… wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to the edge and look in. It can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of a geography of hope.” You either love the desert or hate it, but it is impossible to be neutral and complacent. Burro Schmidt was neither neutral nor complacent, but he was the hardscrabble desert loner, bar none.

-C.L.

 

View from Bathroom Window - Caretaker's House Adjacent to William 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011View from Bathroom Window - Caretaker's House Adjacent to William 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

View from Bathroom Window - Caretaker's House Adjacent to William 'Burro' Schmidt Cabin - 2011

 

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info@desertdispatches.com (Desert Dispatches) #desertdispatches #ospix Desert Dispatches Osceola Refetoff burro schmidt christopher langley depression era wallpaper desert landscape photography desertscape desolate digital infrared photography futility high & dry: dispatches from the land of little rain highway 14 human enterprise human trace kcet artbound last chance canyon CA mojave desert tunnel to nowhere william h. schmidt www.desertdispatches.com www.ospix.com https://www.desertdispatches.com/blog/2014/2/william-burro-schmidt-and-his-tunnel-to-nowhere Mon, 24 Feb 2014 05:00:00 GMT