April 29, 2007

Tough Town

Until maybe Trona, but definitely somewhere before Barstow, the appropriate soundtrack for the trip always seemed to be classic Country (the corny fun melodic stuff of the various Hanks and Johnnies, at least); by Barstow, it had slipped into something a little darker, the sort of bad sub-classic rock male primal scream music you associate with aggressive resentment and loud self-pity. Huge SUVs, ATVs, RVs, jacked-up pickups, assault stereos, windowless clapboard houses, in-your-face Confederate and US flags, dark glasses and bristling moustaches, tats and bare flab, people as fat as their cars; Barstow's a tough town. I leave it for Oakland.

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April 28, 2007

Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino

Cady Mountains, Route 66

Cady Mountains, Route 66.

Ludlow, Route 66, California

Ludlow, California.

Ludlow Crossing, Route 66, California

Ludlow Crossing, California.

Siberia, Route 66, California

Siberia, California.

Bagdad, Route 66, California

Bagdad, California (yes, that Bagdad, even if the film was actually made 50 miles up the highway at Newberry Springs…).

Roy's, Amboy, Route 66, California

Roy's, Amboy, California. When I first drove through here nearly twenty years ago, I knew nothing about the place. Roy's was still owned and run by Buster Burris back then; he actually owned the entire surrounding "town" of Amboy as well, and later tried to sell it en masse (but no one bought it). I stopped and went in to the cafe for a soda. It was small and deathly quiet; I was the only customer there. There were several hand-drawn and autographed pictures of Ronald Reagan on the wall; the decor was retro-kitsch without the "retro" (or the quotes), barstools, plastic-topped tables, etc. I got my soda from the rather nice old woman behind the counter and fled, which seems a stupidly-wasted opportunity in retrospect….

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North American

North American


Pisgah, California

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April 27, 2007

Sidewinder Road

Sidewinder Road

Beautiful Mt Stoddard from Sidewinder Road, Barstow.

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Desert Blooms

Desert Blooms

Another desert icon, in full spring bloom along Sidewinder Road near Barstow.

Desert Blooms

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Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

Not quite the same Trona I know and love, but close enough.

Trona Pinnacles

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Trona

Trona, California

This town's always defeated me, I can never seem to capture the glinting flinty junkyard atmosphere, the beautiful desert lurking behind the sinewy mine processing plants looming over the clapboard houses and boarded-up businesses… so I look the other way.

Trona, California

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April 26, 2007

Death Valley

Death Valley

Surrounded by all the landscape, it's the people that catch the eye…

Zabriskie Point

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Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Not just a really dumb movie, after all…

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April 25, 2007

The Forest

Yucca Forest

There's a strange and beautiful yucca (Joshua tree) forest a little off the beaten track that I visit when I can; these trees always mean "the Mojave" to me. I don't tell people where the forest is; those who know, know; the rest can flood the smaller, more accessible forests at leisure.

Yucca Forest

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Darwin (California)

Darwin, California

Darwin, CA: one of the repeated motifs in the California and Nevada deserts is junk. Junk surrounding houses, junk spilling out of properties, junk strewn across empty spaces in the middle of nowhere. Virtually the only places junk-free in the deserts now are the National Parks and the very remote places no one has really heard of — almost everywhere else, especially next to roads or near houses and other buildings, just seems to attract dead cars, fridges, old TV sets, cans, tires, whatever….

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Manzanar

Manzanar Relocation Camp, California

Reconstructed sentry station, Manzanar "Relocation Center", Owens Valley: one of the better-known concentration camps used to forcibly house "relocated" US citizens and resident of Japanese descent from the West Coast during WWII. When I first drove past here nearly twenty years ago, there really wasn't anything marking the place — maybe just a plaque a little down US 395 from the old county maintenance shed, and no one I asked was entirely sure where it was (there were no signs on the highway). No one really ever mentioned it; the idea of it being a concentration camp was deeply controversial. Nowadays it's being slowly recreated (there's a new old guard tower as well as the sentry and guard stations), and it's at least a little on the locals' minds, if only as a potential tourist attraction, and the term "concentration camp" gets used a little more freely. And it's got its own rather nice National Parks Service website.

The thing that's always struck me, though, is just how physically beautiful the location is: the High Sierra to the west, the Inyos to the east, the desert floor… hell to live in, though, especially in forced camps.

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April 24, 2007

Eureka Dunes

Eureka Dunes, California

Eureka Dunes. The toilet in the middle of nowhere. In the distance the dull booms and occasional roar from the military jets over Saline Valley; twice a stray F/A-18 loiters past me near the dunes, low and slow, maybe 1,000' AGL and maybe 250 knots, heading straight for a low pass just to the left of the range in the photo above, climbing rapidly just before the range. I am the only car I see all day on the access road (below).

South Eureka Road, California

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Pennies 4 Ponies

Bishop, California

Bishop, CA: I put a handful of quarters into the "Pennies 4 Ponies" collection tin at the local donuterie, a sort of homage to my fave Bishop resident, bug-eyed and red above South Main now for as long as I remember. After Fernley, Austin, Eureka, Ely, and Tonopah, Bishop's a shiny stable steadily-growing centre of things (the whole US 395 / Mammoth / LA thing, I think), one of the places I stumbled across in the late 1980's as I drove my battered old Honda Accord around the state almost randomly. I've been coming here once or twice a year ever since.

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April 23, 2007

Tonopah, NV

Clown Motel, Tonopah

Tonopah, Nevada: what to make of a town that has both a Clown Motel and a missile test firing range?

US Highway 6, Nevada

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US 6

US Highway 6, Nevada

US Highway 6, Ely (Nevada) to Bishop (California) via Tonopah (Nevada), maybe a better candidate for "The Loneliest Road In America", like US 50 another long drive through snow-covered high desert sagebrush, narrow mountain passes, windswept playas (complete with tumbleweed blowing across the road in front of me), and tiny settlements of dead trees, junk, and boarded-up windows. This is a highway where (the last time I drove it, a decade ago at least) I could set up a tripod in the middle of the road and spend five minutes leisurely taking photos without having to move for traffic (the last time I was here the landscape defeated my attempts to take photos; this time, it seems a little easier). For large stretches of the road, I seem to be the only vehicle on earth; Nye County stretches forever towards Tonopah, mesmerising, amazing.

US Highway 6, Nevada


US Highway 6, Nevada

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Ely, NV

Ely Cathedral (Hotel Nevada, Ely, NV)

Ely Cathedral (sorry, old joke).

Ely, Nevada, cold, snowy, a hopeful sort of ghost town, shiny signs of money here and there in the rubble of so many boom / bust cycles (and in the new stores and fast food joints along US 93 on the outskirts of town), boosterish news stories about Ely being the hub of a new Eastern Nevada renaissance papering over vacant store fronts next to faded "US 50 Survival Kits sold here!" signs. It's certainly bigger than when I first visited here some 15 years ago, but nearly all the places I ate at or stayed at then have gone out of business. Some beautiful old brick buildings downtown nestled in the hills, many of them shuttered or boarded up; the place feels more like a battered-about Back East mining town than something out of California or Nevada history...

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April 22, 2007

The Loneliest Road In America

The Loneliest Road In America

US 50 through Nevada, Fallon to Ely, the self-proclaimed "Loneliest Road In America", one of the great American high desert drives. You drive for miles along a flat straight stretch of two-lane blacktop across the desert floor, surrounded by sagebrush and playas, not another vehicle in sight, heading straight towards a sheer 10,000' snow-clad range, wondering how the hell you're going to get through it; the road bends or curves a little, you rise up to six or seven thousand feet as the road twists through the snow and the rocks, and suddenly you're heading downhill again to the next long straight stretch. This goes on all day, and I'm snowed on heavily for several hours between Austin and Ely, large, wet, dense flakes that stick to the rocks and dirt by the side of the road. Past Fallon, military convoys, radar domes, dead airplanes and tanks stacked up in the desert, antennas bristling along ridgtops and hidden behind rises; Austin, another junkyard town, down at heels, nothing shiny in the pervasive snow and rust, not even a MacDonalds. This is Pony Express country — everything's a Pony Express This or Pony Express That, including seedy bars and long-dead motels. The local coffee place here in Ely is the Pony Expresso.

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Sand Mountain

The Loneliest Road In America

Sand Mountain, just off US 50 a few dozen miles east of Fallon, on the edge of nowhere. We're in Richard Misrach territory here, for sure, a beautiful desert landscape mired in people. Tall dunes nestled up against sharp volcanic hills and ridges across from a (currently-flooded) playa; the dunes are swarming with angry-sounding ATVs and dune buggies, cutting into the surface, all around the base of the dunes, the fat mothership RVs and oversize pickups....

The unsettling thing is just how quickly the usually wary-of-strangers-with-cameras ATV riders and RV owners change to friendliness when they hear my Australian(ish) accent. I'm suddenly one of them, with all that implies for me and for the accent....

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April 21, 2007

Fernley, Nevada



Fernley, NV, a sort of sparse distributed loose coalition of strip malls with nothing in the vacant spaces between fast food joints, casinos, gas stations, and auto parts stores, a growing town struggling to supplant the scattered older beaten-up junkyard desert homes and industrial plants. More a plan for a town than a town.... The car next to mine in the hotel parking lot is a huge Cadillac Escalade SUV with a "US out of UN!" bumper sticker on it. Next to it is a "UN out of US!" sticker. We’re a short drive from NAS Fallon. Top Gun territory.

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April 15, 2007

Andrew Sullivan's Soul

"Sullivan splashes excitedly around like a dog in a mud puddle, snarling ferociously at any other dog who challenges his position du jour. He's less a skeptic than a mercurial, and somewhat flirtatious, born believer" — Jonathan Raban reviewing Andrew Sullivan's "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back" in a recent NYRB.

Sullivan's a smart, complex, tragic, and (for me, at least) rather attractive and exemplary figure (for all the wrong reasons), a man who seems to struggle mightily with having to bear a whole bunch of crosses, not least of which is that he's a True Believer trying desperately to belong in the skeptical house of Oakeshott, and he's the sort of person (common enough in academia and politics) whose rhetorical abilities far outstrip his self-knowledge. Like many True Believers, he seems defined by his need for True Enemies (rather than the True Enemies themselves), someone who navigates by a constantly changing constellation of intellectual enemies.

"For the fundamentalist ... there is one moment of real conscience, the moment when he makes the decision to conform his mind and will to an external authority. After that, his sole task is obedience [...]". (Sullivan dissing fundamentalists, as quoted by Raban).

Sullivan's real tragedy, though, bubbling below the surface, is that he failed the greatest moral and philosophical test of his life, throwing himself in uncritically with the quite plainly Rationalist (in Oakeshott's usage of the term) Bush project immediately after 9/11 (and especially with the Iraq invasion). He became fundamentalist at the crucial moment; or, rather, he seems to be a serial fundamentalist who latched on to another True Belief in the heat of the moment. His latter-day reflections on quite why he behaved that way seem disingenuous or quite unable to get to the heart of the matter: we weren't all fooled, we didn't all Believe in the way he did.

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April 08, 2007

Scenic Cookery

Sian Bonnell's "everyday dada", a little hardback with the sort of understated, small-scale and wordlessly self-explanatory art in it that lurks unassuming in Moe's amongst all the large-scale earnestry and bloated self-regard… I have to buy it.

(For those of you who knew me in Sydney, think "nuisance art", but done with more planning, more malice-aforethought, more wit, and much better execution).

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April 05, 2007

Historical Amnesia

"'Today they are trying to tamper with history by making a film and by making Iran's image look savage,' Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, adding that a cultural campaign against Iran would not succeed.

The film has enraged Iranian officials and others over its depiction of the ancient Persians, the ancestors of modern day Iranians, with complaints that it depicts them as murderous and warmongering." — from a recent Grauniad article on the film "300".

Well, maybe he's right (or not) about the intention, but I can tell him from personal experience that anyone who tries attacking Iran's image by using Persia as a proxy isn't going to get too far here — how many average Americans even know Persia really existed, let alone that it's Iran's (more-or-less) ancestor?

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