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.


Anonymous said...

Can’t wait to read and see more of this series.

Blacks Crossing said...

This is a fascinating series. The desert, naturally, without human intervention, holds massive interest. But with human interaction, the stories are endless, and I am glad you are telling them here, punctuated by your wonderful photographs. I have always loved the Yacht Club, Desert Shores, and, of course, beautiful Bombay beach. I do believe there is a book here! Thanks, Esteban!

Steve Immel said...

I'll need to travel more to collect stories. Book shmook.