Archive for the ‘America’ Tag

Rural America: Desert SW Road-trips ~ Death Valley to Zion   11 comments

The morning sun hits Death Valley’s salt flats.

The series on rural America continues.  The goal is to give you ideas for how to make your trips into the various regions of this huge country about more than ticking off scenic wonders and tourist hot spots.  Although America’s rich rural character has been in many areas replaced by suburban sprawl, it remains in more places than you might expect.

This and one or two succeeding posts begins a look at select road trips in the amazing region of the U.S. called the desert southwest (DSW).  Check out the last post for an introduction to the DSW.  Each time I travel here I find new detours and variations.  Some lead to interesting but relatively unknown scenic splendors.  But the best thing about these routes is they all reveal rural charms that are easy to miss if you stick to the main highways.  So let’s dive right in, starting in the west and moving east.

Death Valley to Zion

Of course any trip through the Desert SW is going to focus at least as much on nature as it does on rural areas.  This one is no exception.  For the obvious reason of its harshly dry climate, ranching is more important than farming in most areas along this route.  Cattle ranching in Nevada and SW Utah takes place largely on public lands.  Once in SW Utah you are in an area of the state called Dixie.  The town of St. George is large and bustling, but there are plenty of scenic small towns in the area to explore.

Scotty’s Castle is at the center of many of Death Valley’s best stories.

Ghost Towns of Death Valley

Start by traveling (if you fly in, from Los Angeles or Las Vegas) to Death Valley National Park in California.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world.  Here you can alternate rambles across sand dunes at sunrise and hikes through stunning canyons with a visit to a ghost town or two.  They are what remains of the gold mining that took place here in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The best known example is Rhyolite, which is not in the park but very accessible just across the Nevada border.  Beatty, the town nearby, will give you a glimpse of small-town life in the Great Basin of Nevada.  If you’d visited Rhyolite in the 1990s you would have seen an operating mine, and you will see the remnants of this more modern open-pit gold mine in the Bullfrog Hills above the ghost town.

Feral burros, left over from the days of gold and silver prospecting, roam the Mojave Desert of Death Valley National Park.

A spectacular pair of ghost towns lie on the opposite, western side of Death Valley, in the Panamint Valley.  You can drive right to the first, Ballarat.  But if you’re in hiking shape I highly recommend heading up nearby Surprise Canyon, parking at the obvious end of the passable part of the dirt road and continuing on foot.

While it is a spectacular area, realize you will be trekking 10 fairly rugged canyon miles roundtrip.  But if you bring a water filter you can carry much less weight in water than usual in these parts.  You might even see waterfalls along the way depending on recent storms.  Be prepared for thick brush in the canyon bottom.  Arriving at Panamint City with its scenic brick smokestack, you’ll experience the real deal.  It has a true lonely ghost-town feel.

One of the surviving buildings of Ballarat Ghost Town, the snow-capped Panamint Range soaring beyond.

One more cool “ghost town” to visit in the Death Valley area is Gold Point, Nevada.  It is actually north of the park, but if you’re up there to visit Scotty’s Castle anyway, it’s not all that much further.  I put ghost town in quotations because a half dozen or so souls live there with the ghosts year-round.  You can not only see a historic old-west saloon, you can go in and have a beer!

The Great Basin of Southern Nevada.

Rural Southern Nevada

Traveling east across southern Nevada you’ll pass the glitz of Las Vegas.  If you stay on the freeway it is a relatively short high-speed cruise along Interstate 15 to St. George, Utah.  But consider a short detour north into the rural southern Great Basin.  So turn north on U.S. Highway 93 toward the little town of Caliente.  Turn south on State Hwy. 317 to make a loop back to Hwy. 93.

Take your time and you’re sure to see a sparsely populated part of Nevada that will make you forget all about the neon phenomenon of Las Vegas.  It’s what the Great Basin is all about, what nobody speeding along I-15 could imagine.  You can extend your detour north to Cathedral Gorge State Park, an area of badlands with cool little slot canyons.  Some of the valleys where cattle roam are surprisingly green and grassy.  Others are arid, treeless expanses, with the Great Basin’s characteristic long ranges shimmering in the distance.

On a detour through rural southern Nevada, some areas don’t look very desert-like.

And others do: badlands of Cathedral Gorge, NV.

Dixie in Utah

Not long after crossing out of Nevada you arrive in bustling St. George, southern Utah’s largest town.  St. George is still dominated by its founders the Mormons, but nowadays it’s perhaps best known as a retirement haven.  For outsiders, the town is most notable as gateway to southern Utah’s world-famous scenic wonders.  Of course you can’t miss Zion National Park once you’re this close.  But a destination much nearer to town is the compact but stunning Snow Canyon State Park.  In this part of America it’s impossible to miss nature.  But remember this series is about where the people of rural America live.

Small-scale farming & ranching survives in small towns along the Virgin River bottom: Rockdale, Utah.

There are several towns surrounding St. George that retain the rural character of Dixie.  A drive north to Pine Valley features lovely scenery and the rural charm of this part of Utah.   And even in towns just off Interstate 15, places like Leeds and Toquerville, rural character remains.  If you get off at Leeds, wander over to the west side of the freeway and up the hill to historic Silver Reef, an old mining town.  Also nearby is spectacular Red Cliffs Recreation Area.  A very worthwhile canyon hike with a pretty little campground at the trailhead. If you drive to Toquerville, turn north on Spring Rd. to visit Toquerville Falls.

On the way to Zion most visitors race in eager anticipation past the scenic little towns of Virgin and Rockdale.  The roadside scenery between Rockdale and Springdale is lovely, especially in autumn (image below).  But once in Springdale you’ve entered the chaos of a uniquely American phenomenon: the National Park gateway town.

Valley of the Virgin River near Zion National Park, Utah.

Polygamy & Canyon Hiking

You can see where some of the Mormon Church’s most devout families live if you drive south of Hurricane (on the way to Zion) on Hwy. 59 to Colorado City on the Arizona border.  Keep going and this is an excellent way to travel to the north rim of the Grand Canyon or to Kanab, Utah.  Drive around the small town, which is called Hilldale on the Utah side, and you’ll see women in very traditional dress.  Polygamy is still widely practiced in these parts.  And as Forest Gump said, “that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

If you want to stretch your legs while you’re in the Hilldale/Colo. City area, there is a great canyon hike nearby.  Are you detecting a pattern?  A nice canyon hike is never far away when you’re traveling in these parts.  Drive north of town to the Water Canyon Trailhead.  You can get directions on Google Maps, but don’t think that means this is a popular place.  It’s more of a local’s hike.  The road becomes quite sandy and rutted, but you should be able to make it in a sedan if you go slow.

Water Canyon lies south of Zion Park, Utah.

After parking continue hiking up-canyon to pretty narrows and a small falls, where as the name suggests water usually flows (image above). A short scramble up the left side of the stream takes you past the apparent blockage and on up the canyon.  The trail eventually ascends steeply out of the canyon and up onto the mesa above.  Looking north you can see the southernmost temples of Zion.  Extending the hike this far is for lovers of longer, more rugged hikes.

Thanks for reading this rather long post!  This road-trip is definitely one I highly recommend.  Plan about two weeks to do it.  I’ve met people who have raced through in one week, and that’s including Bryce Canyon!  I have trouble getting out of Death Valley in less than a week.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting everyone!

The desert mountains along Death Valley’s eastern Nevada boundary light up at sunset.

 

Rural America, Part I   8 comments

This farm, with its mossy old barn, lies at the foot of the Olympic Mountains, a truly beautiful corner of America.

After a short break I’m going to return to blogging with a change in focus.  I’m getting away from photography tips and how-to for awhile.  In all honesty I was beginning to think that most of what I could impart in terms of photography expertise I’d already set down in this blog.  Search “Friday Foto Talk” in the blue bar at left to see how many articles I’ve posted (hint, it’s a lot!).  Of course there is always more to relate, and the fact that I’ve been in a photo drought probably has the most to do with my waning interest in Foto Talk posts.

What I will continue to do is feature some of my favorite images.  I hope you enjoy them, and remember if you’re interested in hanging one or two on your wall or otherwise using any for other purposes, just contact me.  I’ll be glad to quote a good price.

Politics and the Urban-Rural Divide

Since the last election in this country I’ve been thinking often about rural America, in particular the ways in which it has changed.  If you live in another country, or are a newcomer to the U.S., you probably became quite confused when we elected Donald Trump for president (someone I usually call “Mr. Pumpkinhead”).  He obviously sold a bill of goods in order to get elected.  In some ways that should come as no surprise.  He is, if anything, an accomplished con artist.

But it goes much deeper than that.  I’ve traveled extensively through small-town America in recent years, and I’ve discovered that things have changed in significant ways.  I did a similar amount of road-tripping in the 1980s, and while some things remain the same, a lot has changed.  Of course I’ve changed a lot too.  But it’s hard to deny what has happened over the past 40 years, and especially in the last decade or so.

America is politically and culturally polarized to a great degree right now.  This divide has always existed of course, but the degree of mutual distrust along with a general inability to find common ground, or even to simply speak to each other is unusual and disturbing.  The divide doesn’t simply equate to city versus rural.  Even within metropolitan areas, a divide exists between those living closer to the center and those in the outer suburbs and bedroom communities.  This last factor had much to do with D.T. being elected president.  Without those suburban voters he would have never won.  There simply are far too few people in truly rural areas of this country to get anybody elected president on their own.

This old mill and accompanying covered bridge lies in eastern Missouri and is protected as part of a historic district.

In general the more liberal Americans live in cities and (more extensively) on both coasts.  The rural west, the southeast and (with a few notable exceptions, California being a big one), outer suburbia throughout the country is where conservatives are concentrated.  But today’s conservatism would be unrecognizable to conservatives of just a few generations ago.  Mr. Pumpkinhead was no conservative before he decided to run for president, and it was only as the campaign ran along, and especially now that he’s in office, that he played chameleon.  He is now a prisoner of stronger forces than he in the legislative branch and among the super-rich.

Politics, however, is not where I want to go in this blog series.  I find the nature of people and their communities to be of much more interest.  Rural America has traditionally been a place where people move at a slower pace; where they are more trusting and welcoming of others, including travellers and strangers.  In that way it is not much different than any other country.  For instance if you’re French or have traveled much in France, try to say with a straight face that Parisians are as friendly and easy to get along with as the people of the countryside along the northern flanks of the Pyrenees.

I’ve said enough to serve as an introduction.  Next time let’s dive into the details and look at different parts of rural America and the important ways in which they have changed over the years.  I hope you get away from work and responsibilities this weekend to have some fun.  Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

The rural Willamette Valley of Oregon was the destination of pioneers who journeyed the Oregon Trail in the1800s.

Broken Dreams   10 comments

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I’ve been working on the southern Great Plains lately away from my beloved Oregon.  I don’t know why I miss home more now.  After all, I’ve been here in Oklahoma  for no longer than I’ve been away on my long photo safaris of the recent past.  But I do miss home.

That’s why I”m writing this post at the airport waiting for my flight.  I have about a week and a half off so I decided on the spur of the moment to cash in frequent flyer miles and fly back to the Northwest.  I need a break from the monotony of treeless plains and fields, from a river-less place that gets its water from an enormous underground store created by rains of the distant past.

The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest of its kind in the world and has supported the American bread basket for generations.  Now of course it’s being “mined”.  We’re steadily depleting it, forcing us to continuously lengthen our straws, drilling deeper and deeper for precious water.

I’m posting a few photos from an old farm that I passed on the long highway that runs the length of the Oklahoma panhandle.  This stretch of loneliness juts westward between Kansas and Colorado on the north, the bulk of Texas to the south.  It seems as if it takes forever to drive far enough west to leave Oklahoma, either continuing west to New Mexico or north into Colorado.  The highway never strays.  It points west like an arrow.

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It’s inevitable that you pass or parallel a few historic pathways.  One is the old Santa Fe Trail.  Kit Carson and countless others rode horses over this trail in that golden time of westward expansion in America.  But this series of photos speaks to a more recent time.  Although the farm was abandoned sometime in the 1960s judging from the vehicles left behind, it very likely was used in the decades before that.  Maybe even during the wet years before  the dust bowl swept through in the 1930s.

John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath documents the lives of those hard-working souls who left Oklahoma during the dust bowl and traveled to California in search of work.  These are the kind of people who built this country.  The story of westward expansion has fascinated me for a long time.  It was the first historical writing that I devoured while still quite young.  At least by choice; I don’t count anything I was forced to read in school.

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It was a warm late afternoon with very sparse traffic on the two-lane highway.  A few flies buzzed around the old buildings and automobiles.  The old windmill had been stripped long ago by relentless winds.  On that day the wind was calm.

Heeding the warming someone had painted on a door (see picture), I didn’t go into any of the buildings.  I just walked around shooting pictures, stopping to picture children playing in the yard, a weather-beaten woman hanging laundry.  A man bouncing to a stop in one of those old pickups, drunk on moonshine.

I wonder why they left?  Was it one of the droughts that routinely plague this region?  Too many failed crops of corn?  Did they just up and move to California one day?  Did they start over from zero?  I look and wonder.  Did they miss home?   Now it’s time for me to go home!

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Larch Mountain   Leave a comment

An evergreen forest stretches
across the foothills west of Mount Hood in Oregon.

 

A quick break from the Africa roundup to say how great this place is, a stunning viewpoint not far from my house: Larch Mountain. It is an enormous extinct volcano that is easily visible from Portland, but often goes overlooked. People generally underestimate shield volcanoes, but they are Earth’s (and the solar system’s) largest mountains.

This particular shield volcano is only of average size, but it is still a very broad, 6000-foot mountain that takes up a lot of space. They are made from basalt, which because it is a very dense lava, and very fluid when it flows, forces the volcano to spread out as it forms. The largest one on Earth makes up most of the island of Hawaii, and the biggest one in the solar system is Olympus Mons on Mars.

Lying as it does above the western end of the Columbia River Gorge, and with a paved road to the very top, it is easy to drive up there (takes about 40 minutes from east Portland) for a sunset view. The top of the peak has a 365 degree view, including the in-your-face view of Mt Hood (above). It also allows you to look down the Columbia River towards Portland, as the sun sets in the west (below).  I saw a total of 5 other volcanoes from the summit of Larch: Mount Hood (Oregon’s highest), Mounts Rainier, St Helens and Adams in Washington, and Mt Jefferson in Oregon.  These stratovolcanoes are steeper, more spectacular, but ultimately smaller (in terms of volume) than shield volcanoes.

The Columbia River flows west below the foggy forests of the western Cascades in Oregon.

It was a chilly motorcycle ride back down after photographing at the summit last night. The Pacific Northwest has had a very cool spring and summer thus far, while the rest of the country bakes in the heat. Today again it is gorgeous, sunny and in the 70s, with a nice breeze. So I will end this short post and get back to Africa tomorrow.

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