10 February 2017

A story

On the return road from Montana, I hung a far right into Astoria via a massive bridge i hope to never cross again. An event weekend left no rooms or campsites open on the northern Oregon coast. But a friend of a friend let me crash in an old Victorian her crew was rehabbing, a home a family had lived in for years, while their children, apparently, grew. Now a stripped-out construction site, with ocean brine in its boards. And a landing pad for me and my backpacks. 

I slept on the moldy as hell living room floor, rose at dawn shaky and bleary--too many hours drinking like a writer with my writer friend at this place:

walked to the water and discovered why everyone fawns over funky Astoria, with its odd tugboats breaking the horizon, trumpeting angels, and old salt bars. 

Back at the house, I found a balletic spider who humored me while I shot him from every angle. We became fast friends as I drank my 7-11 coffee and ran my lens over the porch's creaky old floorboards performing visual excavations of time and home. While wind smashed the waves and the tugboats bellowed, alert to something stirring nearby.

09 February 2017

Salvation Mountain

Just after the Salton Sea, northeast of Niland, CA, we arrive at Salvation Mountain, a "visionary environment" including a mountain of adobe and straw painted with murals, Bible verses, and Christian-oriented inspiration by local resident Leonard Knight (d. 2014). Fifty feet high and 150 feet wide, this outsider art installation was made with lots of love--and colorful paint. In the desolate desert environment, where temperatures sometimes reach 120 degrees in summer, it's an acid-trip vision a couple miles from Slab City. 

During his lifetime, Vermont-born Knight resided on the property for 26 years, with a gaggle of cats in the back of an ornately decorated 1939 fire truck. He lived without electricity, gas, running water, phone, heating, air conditioning, or any other "modern conveniences." He played himself in the movie Into the Wild, which featured a scene set here.

07 February 2017

The Salton Sea

Driving the 111 through far southeastern California near Mexico, you suddenly hit a point where you know you've entered another world. To one side is arid desert and the occasional long train, looking surreal with its brightly colored cars in the hot white light as it parallels your car. To your right emerges the Salton Sea, a freshwater lake azure blue against bright white sands. As the land grows increasingly arid and the sun increasingly intense, even the subtlest of color pops out in bold relief, and everything is delineated as if under spotlight. For 350 square miles, the play of water against sand brings a study in contrast and the entrance of greater perspective than you felt at the last-stop gas station miles back in Indio. 

When beauty stops you in your tracks and you cut the engine before the lake, you tread on "sands" of pulverized fish bones. Perhaps the first thing you grasp: lakes hold a delicate balance of salt in their waters. And when too much enters, the life of its inhabitants necessarily perishes. All life walks a line of delicate balance. Human error can transform a thriving resort like Bombay Beach into a piscean graveyard, where wind-battered trailers serve as aluminum reminders of impermanence. Along the shore you see embedded volcanic mud pots and smell the saltiest brine of oversalination and decaying fish.

The brine enters your pores as the hot wind whips your skin. You try to forget that even this degree of salt cannot sanitize the DDT and Agent Orange remnants flowing through the pretty blue waters. Tough birds cluster together on rocks, though rampant white feathers prove that environments like this take down even the most resilient.

223 feet below sea level, Bombay Beach shelters solely renegades, with a harsh, drying sun that desiccates clutches of '60s and '70s trailers from the heyday, 

when more than a million tourists annually thronged to the resort, escaping the city to the end of the Earth. 

Today the tiny town of 300 boasts little more than a market and 2 restaurants. It's difficult to tell if most of the trailers you stare into are occupied or not.

And of course in a place where the rent is free and the sleeps smash the bounds of funky, there are always going to be artists...

But most amazing of all is just how lost you can get in the colors of the panorama before you, and the peace of being alone, far from the properly salinated places drowning in population.

[click to enlarge photos]