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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Las Vegas to Fairfax via back roads



I recently drove north and then west from Las Vegas, Nevada to Fairfax, California on US95, US6, NV120, US395, and US50. The contrasts between the glitzy metropolis of Las Vegas and desert towns like Mercury, Beatty, Tonopah, Bishop and Basalt couldn't be more different. The desert is still impressive - from its wide open spaces and rugged mountains to its hardscrabble settlements. The wandering took me through former mining towns, failed agricultural developments, marginal roadside businesses, and delightful surprises. It's still early spring in the desert, with profuse wildflowers and plants that will be green for only a matter of days before turning brown.
The trip has inspired me to do a new mixed media series based on my photographs of the vernacular landscapes I passed through and experienced first hand. One of the most interesting and isolated places I visited was Bodie, California. On an unpaved road east of Highways US395 and CA270, Bodie is w a state historical park, kept in a state of "arrested decay". The town was an active mining center beginning in the 1880s with a poulation close to 10,000, and was occupied as recently as the late 1960s. Both gold and silver were mined by the Standard Mining Company until 1932, when the mill closed and most of the population left.
Driving these roads means stopping in the small towns to get gas and water even when the tank is half full - you never know when the next station will appear. Most of the stations between towns have been abandoned to the elements, and temperatures ranging from 0 degrees in winter to 115 in the summer means that the decay is rapid. It;s a fascinating journey that proves again and again how big our country is, and how diverse our landscapes are.