Abandoned. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
Abandoned vehicles at a desert mining site.
When you travel even a bit in the desert landscape (at least the California version that I know) you will come across evidence that you are not the first visitor. The original residents left behind fragile, compelling, and sometimes beautiful evidence in the form of rock art. (Treat them with respect, leave them as you found them, and don’t share their locations.) Later immigrants left traces that seem less attuned to the nature of the place. But over time, as they weather and degrade, they start to almost seem to be part of the landscape, and they make us pause and imagine coming to such a place to live and work. (Surprisingly, perhaps, some of these sites are only decades old.)
A bit of exploration in Death Valley National Park reveals many examples. Some, like this one, are not hard to find, and they may feel like intrusions in the landscape. Others are more remote and sometimes not immediately obvious. One of the most powerful experiences I had in this landscape came on my first visit years ago, when I wandered up a large fan and sat on a rock to rest. I happened to look down and notice one stone among the others — one that had been shaped for a purpose many years ago. I picked it up, turned it over in my hands, and tried to imagine the life of the person whose hands had shaped it. I put it back where I found it and returned to camp.
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G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books, Amazon, and directly from G Dan Mitchell.