About 150 miles east of the hype and glitter of Hollywood lies the
barren and spacious wasteland of the Mojave desert. It is an enormous
desert dotted with the abandoned remains of missile test facilities, mines,
and mothballed airliners. J.G. Ballard
could find plenty of inspiration here. After a huge earthquake in 1992,
geologists have been investigating a magnetic anomaly called the Emerson
Lake Body for clues to the cause of the quake.
In one corner of the desert lies the weird and wonderful
Joshua Tree National Park containing
some of the most beautiful desert scenery in the country. It inspired rock
music giants U2. Surf music legend Dick Dale
lives here. In another overlooked corner lies Homestead Valley.
During the 1800s the USA was in the midst of a land expansion boom. The federal government
was giving away homesteads to citizens who promised to move and develop land in the
wild west frontier. By the early 1900s, all of the arable
land in the western half of the USA was occupied. But the momentum of the homestead movement was
so strong that it bounced off of the west coast and back to the interior. Homestead
Valley in the Mojave Desert was one of the last places in the "lower 48" where the federal government
granted free homesteads to anyone who was willing to improve the land. At a minimum
the homesteader was obligated to build a home and plant crops. As you can see many homesteaders
built tiny cabins and it is really hard to imagine any crop growing in this
desert. The Mojave homestead movement received another boom after World War II when
many returning veterans jumped at the opportunity.
Now it seems like the idealism and hope of building a farm has given way
to the realities that there will never be enough water in this desert for
crops. Most of the homesteads now lie abandoned. Although it looks like the
work of vandals, these buildings are really being torn apart by the searing heat
and relentless wind that rips through this desert. Some have even shifted off
of their foundations. There are still some homesteads
occupied in this area. These residents seem to have nothing in common with each other.
You can find a dilapidated "desert rat" shack surrounded by debris just down
the road from a neat and prim home of a former veteran complete with a flagpole
bearing the stars and stripes. Some residents live in a humble unassuming homes while
others live in a 20th century survivalist compounds wrapped with barbed wire and
patrolled by angry mean looking guard dogs.
I didn't photograph those occupied homes. These vacant shacks were
much more interesting. These were down payments on an evaporating dream. Stakes in the ground
claiming an uncertain future.