Sunday, September 25, 2022

Language of the Land

Wagon Ruts was taken on a photo safari down US 285 which crosses New Mexico from the Colorado line in the northwest to the Texas border in the southeast. I was approaching Cline's Corners near I-40 when I saw these tracks heading east to the distant foothills. The contrails top right made the difference on December 3 , 2010.
This post kind of writes itself. As you probably know I’ve been a contributor to the online photography magazine, Shadow and Light, for four years now. I’ve been proud to be part of it and it’s helped me hone my writing chops and learn to meet a deadline.

Heading west on my annual wine country jaunt I caught a glimpse of these amazing cliffs and billowing clouds east of Gunnison, Colorado. I got off at the next exit, flipped a U-turn and meandered through a housing development to the height of land next to I-70 where I got this shot. It was August 11, 2013. It's called Book Cliffs because that's their name.

I was caught in a sandstorm with gale force winds near Shiprock, New Mexico this spring. I braced myself against the car and photographed Band of Sand on May 11, 2022.

Walking Rain on the Navajo Nation taken on August 19, 2013.

This Vanishing Point is on the Pine Ridge Reservation near Wanblee, South Dakota on July 5. 2013

I had written my article, What’s Left, for the September-October issue of Shadow and Light only to discover that publisher Tim Anderson was introducing a special issue, Language of the Land. So he would run the September-October story in November-December instead. “You should submit to the landscape issue” he told me, “Some of your stuff could be a fit.” So, it wasn’t a lock, and I knew the competition would be fierce.

When the initial results were published, I didn’t think I’d made the cut and was mighty disappointed. No, the real word is embarrassed. Then I was relieved to find out it was an oversight, and a small portfolio of my black and white images would be included in the issue. If these babies weren’t good enough, I’d have had to resign my commission or commit hari-kari whichever is worse.

Here are the entries Tim’s panel of experts selected from the eleven I submitted. Getting to eleven from many dozens was in itself a dizzying task.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Canyon Stories

As we wind up our fourth visit to the Grand Canyon in the past three years, I’m faced with three possibilities for my Monday post. One is the obvious, landscapes of the Canyon, the others are more thought provoking and deserve more attention than I can muster Sunday night. I’m running on fumes. So, I’m leaning toward a passel of Canyon shots.

The deeper stories that must be told are, one, about a friend of 60 years and his incredible journey, I visited him for the first time in 20 years last week. Jim’s life is even more stunning than I remembered. If you read his life story as a novel, you’d call it overwrought and implausible. I suggested that he write an autobiography since he has perfect recall of his highs and lows including the dialogue from every juicy encounter. He’s the best storyteller I’ve ever met.  

The second story idea two fits my nascent series Encounters of the First Kind like a glove. These are the profound occasions when you meet, connect, and know a fellow human in a few precious moments.

Peter Larlham is my old friend’s equal as a storyteller. He grew up in Tanzania and South Africa where he met Margaret at Nadal University in Durbin, South Africa. It was during apartheid, and it was apartheid in part that drove them to America. Though white they couldn’t abide the realities of that racist time, especially for their children. Earlier when they honeymooned in New York City they fell in love with the freedom and opportunity they saw in America and swore they would move to the States. Making that happen was a protracted struggle and when they finally made their way to our shores, they were poor and jobless. But once here they created their own American Dream. Peter told me they were lucky. I say they made their own luck. He and I became fast friends over good conversation and beer. He declared that “I don’t usually talk to people like this. It’s really been a pleasure.” The pleasure was mine.

I hope to flesh out these stories but for now here’s a handful of sunsets from the mother of all canyons.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

What's Left, Part Three

Taiban, just east of Fort Sumner which is best known as the place where Billy the Kid was plugged, lies on the empty flats that are indistinguishable from West Texas. Ahead lies Clovis, NM where Buddy Holly recorded his early hits including “Every Day.” The ribbon of two-lane US 60 slices through the arid steppes with only the residue of tiny railroad towns like Taiban to relieve the sameness. In the ghost town that was Taiban is a shuttered Presbyterian church crying out to be remembered. On this day the sky was heavy with sweeping clouds that made a dramatic backdrop for the proud church standing sentinel over the vast nothing. The scene is a showstopper that has corralled many a photographer driving the backroads to somewhere, in our case Dallas. 

In 1906 Taiban was a small ranching community blessed with newly laid railroad tracks. In anticipation of the railroad and the opportunity to own land settlers arrived from across the country. But Taiban fizzled. The 1920 census claims a population of 312 souls and thirty years later in 1950 the number was 206. When the Great Depression hit the railroad station closed and hopes for a robust future in the big empty were dashed. There were two competing factions in Taiban. The teetotaling Presbyterians and the rowdy patrons of the Pink Pony Bar symbolized the divide. The Pink Pony was still serving in 1969 while the church closed its doors in 1950. 

Patterns repeated themselves throughout the West. Communities blossomed briefly and soon fell to earth. The causes varied and often more than one blow brought the place to naught. There was no more water or the water was fouled. The gold or silver petered out. The railroad or the Interstate bypassed the town. Or it was a double whammy. In Keeler the Owens Lake went dry and the Cerro Gordo Mine across the highway went bust. 

On the walls of Taiban's handsome church one of many lines of graffiti tells us, "The sun will rise tomorrow and we'll try again."

Sunday, September 04, 2022

What's Left, Part Two

The availability of water made settlement possible in the first place. Then came the promise of riches beyond imagining and the railroad opened the West to seekers from across the nation. Where abundant water exists so can man. When the water has been depleted and not replenished settlements are left to desiccate in the sun. The Mormons brought irrigation to the Four Corners. And as the Mormons gave life to swatches of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado much earlier the Spanish Conquistadors brought irrigation to New Mexico. The first irrigation ditch was dug in 1598 in Chamita just west of EspaƱola and about 50 miles from where I’m sitting. Their formula was a simple one. Find a water source like a river or lake. Then dig a ditch or acequia to access the water and build a church.

Standard Oil of Rice

Railroad Siding, Rice, California

Rice, California at the southern tip of the Mojave Desert began as a Santa Fe Railroad siding. Rice, formerly Blythe Junction, sits at the junction of the dusty road from Blythe and Highway 62 which connects 29 Palms to the west with the Colorado River to the east. What’s left of Rice is long-closed Standard station, railroad tracks and a line of decommissioned cars, that and a well-known Shoe Garden. Rice enjoyed its short zenith when its municipal airport (why there was one baffles me) was acquired by the US Army’s 4th Air Support Command in 1942. During WWll the field employed as many as 6,000 troops and employees.  It lasted about a millisecond in historical terms. It closed and was declared surplus on October 31, 1944. Accordingly, Rice withered and died. Its claim to fame is being the second choice for the world’s first atomic bomb test. It was well worthy of that use.

Yacht Club, Desert Shores

Beautiful Bombay Beach

Just south the Salton Sea once boomed as a playground for the rich and famous. Billed as Palm Springs by the Sea restaurants, shops and night clubs sprung up along its western shore. Frequented by Sinatra and his Rat pack, Jerry Lewis, and the Beach Boys in the Sixties the inland sea claimed the fastest water in the world due to its salinity. During its halcyon days Bandleader Guy Lombardo piloted his 40-foot monster to a world speed record of 118.22mph on a one-mile course. Then two tropical storms in 1976 and 1977 poured so much rain into the sea that it overflowed into all the towns on its shores. And when the water finally receded the salinity level was so high that nothing could live in it. The runoff of chemicals and fertilizers from surrounding farms accumulated to toxic levels. The algae fed on the rotting matter floating on the surface and suffocated most of the fish. Now the poisonous blowing dust from the shrinking sea means that 22.8% of the Imperial Valley’s school children have asthma. The national rate is 8.4%.

Grain elevator, Landergin, Texas

Standing watch on the prairie

Graveyard of discarded semis

Landergin, Texas was founded by the Irish brothers John and Patrick Landergin whose father escaped Ireland’s Potato Famine of the 1840s. It began as a cattle ranch and when the Chicago Rock Island Line came to the Panhandle in 1908 the brothers founded Landergin. Then the nearby town of Vega was founded, and John Landergin opened the First State Bank there. John and Patrick bought more ranch land and in 1912 built a mansion in Amarillo. John Landergin was the brains of the outfit, so the cattle company floundered after his death in 1923 and was sold at auction. There never was much to Landergin. It peaked in 1936 when it had one store and 15 residents. There never was a boom and its demise went unnoticed. Its fallow grain elevators stand like sentinels on the prairie. They tower over miles of flat nothing. The elevators and an unexplained graveyard of dead semis lured me off I-40 one November day. They introduced me to what’s left of Landergin.

More dismissed and discarded next time.