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.
I spent the better part of June in St. Louis, Missouri, for my father’s memorial service and family and friend reunions. In between all the events, I braved the intense high heat and humidity, and went out to shoot as many abandoned and historic places as I could safely find and access. Growing up in southern Illinois across the Mississippi River from St. Louis (the so-called Riverbend region), I have fond memories of the once-humming factories and rich architectural gems that defined St. Louis. Sadly, most of the factories that sustained the working class community have long been shuttered, yet their beautiful decaying shells remain.
Abandoned buildings and the discarded objects left behind, to me, make the most compelling, atmospheric and emotionally moving photographic subjects. Derelict buildings intrigue me as they are tossed to the wind, ghosts, and the brutal forces of nature. Upon entering these abandoned places, there seems to be a feeling or resonant imprint of lives left behind with the passage of time. My images attempt to convey stories of time and place filled with emotion and historic significance.
When entering derelict structures, I imagine myself amidst the remains of our own civilization after its extinction in the future – a post-apocalyptic vision. In my photographs, I attempt to capture a sense of lives that once existed. Photography is a vehicle that allows me to hold on to some of this ephemeral state. My urban decay photographic art is an attempt to explore the impermanence of life through detritus. The narrative within an image is more powerful than the written word and is how I convey emotions.
The above shot is of an abandoned factory in a historic St. Louis Italian neighborhood affectionately known as “The Hill.” The Hill still maintains the look and feel of old St. Louis, and is filled with wonderful restaurants, bars, beautiful architecture and abandoned factories in days of yore.
The above image is of the famous Old Chain of Rocks Bridge that connects St. Louis, Missouri, to Madison County, Illinois, over the Mississippi River. Although it can no longer be driven on, you can hike across the bridge between the two states. This bridge used to be part of the original historic Route 66 as you can see from the signage. I grew up near here and have fond memories of driving across the river on the old bridge. A word of caution though to potential visitors: do not walk on the bridge alone at any time, and do so in daylight only. Sadly, several assaults have been perpetrated on unsuspecting visitors.
The photograph above was taken in the charming, historic Mississippi River town of Kimmswick, Missouri, just south of St. Louis. In Kimmswick you step back in time as you wander about the small village chock full of antique shops, historic estates, the Anheuser Museum and Estate, quaint shops and restaurants, old log cabin homes, and much more. I received a tip from the very nice owner of the local Blue Owl Restaurant, who told me to head out on a remote road where I would find a crumbling old stone wall and archway surrounding what once was an estate in the forest. The creepy faces embedded in the crumbling stone are striking.
The above image was taken at an old abandoned cement factory near the Mississippi River in North St. Louis. The two trucks in the image are owned by a local company that has operations nearby, and uses the abandoned property for storing vehicles. I titled the image “Waiting for Godot” even though the Beckett play title is open to interpretation. Is it hope or despair? Whatever one thinks, the meaning of time and waiting for something, being saved or resurrected, conveys the melancholy of abandoned and derelict places.
The photograph above was taken at an old flour mill still in operation in Alton, Illinois, located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Madison County, not far from where I grew up. The mill is owned by ConAgra Foods. Alton is a very historic town with beautiful residential and commercial architecture and old factories, famous for its limestone bluffs along the Great River Road just north of the city. The town is considered part of the St. Louis Metro area. Founded in 1837, Alton was the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Alton is considered one of the most haunted cities in America and is home to the creepy McPike Mansion.
The final photograph above was another taken in Kimmswick, Missouri, just 25 miles south of St. Louis. Kimmswick has Missouri’s highest number of locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This shot was taken inside the Burgess-How House and Museum, a log home built in the 1840s. It has been beautifully restored and tours are given by the wonderful people of the Kimmswick Historical Society.
I will post more images as I get them processed, along with the ton of images I still have to work up from my May Death Valley excursion. 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.