Updated February 27, 2015 with an additional image. Click on the images to open them in a lightbox for better viewing. Please note that if you are viewing this site on a mobile device, you must switch to the full desktop version in order to have the lightboxes open.
A few years ago, I wrote one of my first blog posts on the creepy abandoned Sunny Acres juvenile detention facility located here in San Luis Obispo, California. This ‘asylum’ (as it is known) lurks high upon a hill above the former San Luis Obispo County General Hospital, affording a view of the city that some say is unparalleled. It has a very dark history and has reinvented itself several times from orphanage to juvenile offender detention facility. Some old-timers even claim it was a TB sanatorium for a brief time. For more information, refer to my original post The Abandoned Historic Sunny Acres Detention Facility.
Boarded up for nearly 40 years, this two-story brick building – known for its exquisite Romanesque architecture – looks quite ominous, haunted and gothic. It is owned by the cash-strapped county of San Luis Obispo, although located within city limits. The county, city and local residents have advocated for preserving the building, but it is nearing collapse and is very hazardous due to the heavy presence of asbestos and lead. In addition, vandalism and neglect have taken their toll.
During an outing with a good photographer friend we decided to shoot the ‘asylum’ at night, in hopes of getting a nice Milky Way shot over the building. The weather conditions seemed ripe, as there was a new moon and the skies were dark and clear. (Well, at least they were when we headed out.) And photo apps confirmed that the Milky Way would be visible over the building. After arriving onsite we discovered a large fence had been placed around the entire perimeter of the sprawling building, preventing close access, limiting vantage points, and interfering with a clean fenceless shot. Nonetheless, we waited for complete darkness to fall (although it was kind of spooky and cold out there), then used several flashlights to do some light painting on the building and front steps. It was very dark out there and hard to find our footing. Unfortunately, clouds and rainy weather quickly moved in and we only got a few shots in as the rain began to fall. You can see the bank of clouds begin to roll in on the upper left side of the top image.
The second shot above was taken on the abandoned basketball court behind the Sunny Acres building. We headed back there to do some light painting with a green colored flashlight. You can see the bank of clouds begin to roll in on the upper left to center portions of this image. And, if you look hard enough, you can see part of a single shooting star to the left of the basketball backboard (sans hoop), just above the fronds of the palm tree. Also there appear to be three spooky faces in the basketball backboard. And these were not graffiti. This single RAW capture was taken with my Nikon D800 and Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 Pro FX lens. The image was shot at ISO 400 for 30 seconds at f5.6, at 24mm. It was processed entirely in Lightroom.
The top shot of the front of the building was comprised of a single RAW capture taken with my Nikon D800 and Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 Pro FX lens. It was light painted with several different colored flashlights and shot at ISO 400 for 30 seconds at f5.6, at 16mm, and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. We plan to return in the future when better weather conditions prevail. Extra: There is a rather spooky Easter Egg located within the top photograph of the building. If you can find it, you are very perceptive and perhaps a fan of the paranormal!
If you are interested in urban exploration (urbex) photography, I highly recommend a new book (2015) by well-known San Francisco Bay area photographer and UE Todd Sipes, Urban Exploration Photography: A Guide to Creating and Editing Images of Abandoned Places. This superb book not only offers great tips on how to photograph abandoned locations, but has excellent post-processing tutorials. And, if you are like me and especially love shooting abandoned places at night, the granddaddy of nighttime American UrbEx, Troy Paiva, has an excellent classic book with exquisite images, Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration. In addition, Troy has a great book on light painting, Light Painted Night Photography: The Lost America Technique, which is available as a downloadable eBook or Kindle book. I own all these books and highly recommend them.
Otherworldly. Alien. Magical. Surreal. Mystical. Ghostly. Supernatural. Goblins. Hobgoblins. Extraterrestrials. Mysterious. Eerie. Sinister. Forgotten Planet. Mars. Beautiful. Vast. Stark. Out of This World. The Hills Have Eyes. Alluring. Captivating.
These are but some of the many adjectives that aptly describe the feeling one encounters upon visiting the spectacular Trona Pinnacles in the stunning California Mojave Desert. The otherworldly Trona Pinnacles – located about 20 miles east of Ridgecrest in the middle of absolutely nowhere – are truly one of those unique places that must be seen and experienced. Many travelers unknowingly pass by the Trona Pinnacles upon exiting Death Valley National Park, as they are situated off Highway 178 (Trona-Wildrose Road) on a dirt road, just past the town of Trona and the Searles Dry Lake bed.
A visit to the alien Trona Pinnacles is a profound journey into one of the most unusual geologic wonders of the California desert. This inspiring landscape consists of more than 500 tufa pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes, stretching from Mono Lake in the north to Death Valley in the south. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa). Many take on the appearance of goblins, religious statues, people, animals, faces and ghostly formations. Truly the Rorschach Test of the desert.
These spires are porous rock formed as a deposit when springs interact with other bodies of water. They now sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark rugged mountain ranges at either side. Truly a stunning landscape like no other. The Trona Pinnacles were designated by the Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark in 1968 to protect one of the nation’s best examples of tufa formation. The Trona Pinnacles are a designated California Desert Conservation Area.
The Pinnacles are recognizable in more than a dozen hit movies. Over thirty film projects a year are shot among the tufa pinnacles, including backdrops for car commercials, sci-fi movies and television series such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, The Gate II, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes. These images were taken during my trip to Death Valley last year with a good photographer friend. I processed the images in a variety of ways to give them the look and feel of the ghostly, otherworldly landscape they rightly deserve. The photographs were taken with my Nikon D800 and processed in Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite and Nik Software’s (now Google) Silver Efex Pro.