Monday, 13 June 2016

The final push

Having spent more time than intended in Picher, OK, I linked up with the I-35 and headed for Des Moines, Iowa then onto Illinois, Michigan and back home.

This last stretch is 1235 miles (1987 kilometers) and would take me through Kansas and Iowa, notorious tornado country.

A lot of the scenery is similar to Ontario and made for a pleasant, though long, drive.  As I passed through Kansas the weather was becoming very ominous and I was aware that this was potentially tornado season.  This became apparent as I moved past Kansas City and on to Des Moines, Iowa,  Very quickly there was a  rapid drop in temperature and the sky turned a mustard-green.  The radio was full of warnings to be vigilant.

Cleared Kansas without any problems but as I was crossing Iowa I came across strange weather.  One moment the sun was shining on wheat fields and minutes later the complete reverse was happening.  Deciding that perhaps it was time to stop taking photos and get on the move turned out to be a good plan as day turned to night and the rain came down in a deluge.  In my rearview mirror, I could see the formation of not one but two funnel clouds.  Fortunately, nothing materialized fully but I wasn't going to wait around to witness natures anger.

Iowa farm field with approaching storm
Within moments things turned to this.

Then the rain came.
After Iowa, the final push to the border and home was quickly approaching.  What started out looking to be a very long and tiring day, over 600 miles, ended up being a relatively easy drive.

Epilogue to follow....

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The most toxic place in America

Tucked against the Kansas border in the upper north-east corner of Oklahoma is a place that was once called Picher.  I say once because in 2008 the town's charter was decertified and it no longer officially exists.

When I travel through Oklahoma it was hard to imagine that not so long ago this state created the great “Dust Bowl” resulting in the huge migration to California.  So badly had man decimated the land, in an attempt to squeeze every last penny out it, that they killed “the golden goose”.

Having learned, or so we would have thought, the lessons taught from an experiment gone wrong resulting thus in the  great "Dust Bowl", why then did Picher come about?

The answer would appear to be greed.
Between the WW1 and WWII, 75% of all the bullets and artillery rounds fired came from the minerals of Picher's mines.  Once again the land was squeezed for every cent that could be extracted from it, at a cost that matched the "Great Dust Bowl".  The tragic byproduct of all these bullets and shells, besides the killing of their victims, was the death and destruction heaped upon the residence of Picher and it's surrounding areas. An unfathonable 34% of Picher's children suffered from lead poisoning due to this environmental disaster.

Talk about a contradiction
A byproduct of the mining are these enormous mounds of sand, ore and rock that contained huge amounts of lead, zinc and arsenic to the point that it is now among a small number of world locations that had to be evacuated and declared uninhabitable due to environmental health damage caused by Picher's mines.

One of the many mountains of poisonous lead and zinc

In 2008 Picher was struck by an F4 tornado that was the straw that broke the towns back.  Picher is called the "Most Toxic Town in America".  Its residences are now gone, the US government buying out the homeowners.  Most of the buildings have been razed and only their empty concrete slabs remain.

The Football mascot is all that remain of the once proud team.

The Fire hall and EMS station with flag and tornado siren stand, but no one works here anymore.

Rusting equipment sits beside empty lots that once housed the buildings that serviced them.
The only thing left standing is this home's tornado shelter.
 Homes once sat on these slabs, now all raised by the US government, only the poison mountains remain.

Today, Picher has been declared uninhabitable due to environmental and health damage caused by the mines that were once the town's lifeblood while at the same time being its grim reaper.

Time to travel to more uplifting places. 


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Into the Valley of Death Rode the Brave 600

OK, so maybe it isn’t the Crimean War or Balaclava and I don’t have to contend with Russian cannon fire but the desert of the American Southwest isn’t far from it.

This time of year the desert comes alive for a short period of time before slipping into its deceptive self.

Don't try and pick these buds or you will get more than you bargained for.

Shortly the greenery and flowers will be gone.

As usual, I tried to stay off the interstates and while taking the above shot, on a very dusty road just west of Glenrio, NM a car pulled up and out popped a Tig.  No, not Tigger from Winnie the Pooh but from Hartlepool, England.  I thought I was a long way from home.

Now, Tig it seems is the very adventurist type and with a month on his hands has decided to try and see all those famous locations that foreign tourist hear about.  Pulling out his list Tig proceeded to name them off.  The birthplace's and hideouts of "Billy The Kid",  John Dillinger (I had to point out that Dillinger came from  Illinois) "Buffalo Bill" "Wyatt Earp".  The list went on and on.  I'm sure that if someone hung a single that read General Custer fought here Tig would head for it.  

When I met Tig he had already put on 3000 miles and still had most of the month left.  Very chatty and funny guy.  Oh, he had heard that somewhere in Texas was a town called "Monkey Hanger" and was determined to locate it.  Google Monkey Hanger/Hartlepool and you'll understand.  Well sort of.  

 The "Tig" looking for Monkey Hanger.

 Alone with just a sliver of light under the door, Glenrio, NM

Took a quick revisit to Cuervo, NM.  Cuervo is one of those places that has been locked in time and can be revisited again and again.

 Too often we only look into the ruins and don't try to see what the owners must have seen.

a relic of Cuervo
Time to move on.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Water, where you'd least expect to find it.

Now, lakes aren’t what you’d expect to find smack dab in the middle of the desert but there was a lovely one just outside of Prescott, AZ. Watson Lake.

Lake Watson, Prescott

After escaping the forest fire atop Bradshaw Mountains yesterday I left Prescott, AZ and motored to Jerome today. 

What drew me back to Jerome was not the town itself but a crusty old character called Don Robinson who lives and owns the Gold King Mining Ghost Town, a ¼ miles past Jerome. 

Unfortunately, Jerome has managed to change itself into a tourist haven and is now just another typical tourist trap.  The original mystique of Jerome that I first encountered several years ago, an old nearly deserted mining town with a few quaint restaurants and shops with dusty windows and signs that read “open from 11 to 4”, is no more.

Don is a mechanical nut (no pun intended) who takes the proverbial sow's ear and turns it into a silk purse, well sort of. 

If it at one time, long ago, the thing moved, grunted or twirled then Don makes it purr again.  From old cars and truck to submarine engines Don brings these items back to life.  He also loves to build and race cars.  At 73 Don is still going strong, though his hat and shirt are getting a tad bit worse for the ware and his pit crew is reduced in size and I dare say ability.

The only Submarine Engine that actually functions outside of a Sub.

After and Before. Only last year Don raced this car. The one on the left that is.

Directing work under the hood.

Don and his pit crew. At least what's left of it.

Pushing onward.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Fire and Brimstone, chased off a mountain by a dragon.

Nothing especially interesting on the first leg of my Eastern bound trek unless you call leaving ALL my shirts back in LA and dashing from a fiery beast. More about the beast in a moment.

Dumb dumb, dumb!  Was so impressed that I was able to further reduce my Eddy Bower case in weight that I outsmarted myself.  One thing I really hate is the daily lugging of bags from the car into my motel and back out again the next morning.  So smarty-pants figured how to reduce the load from six to just three bags.  The thing about car travel is since your not limited to weight or quantity you tend to take more. Seemed like I’ve finally found the ultimate packing process.  Well, yes, and it would have worked had it not been for one tiny flaw.  When leaving my daughters place in LA I left all my shirts and dress slacks, hanging in the closet in a garment bag.  Those very items I'd removed from my case and figured I could leave in the car and gab when needed.

Got to make a quick run to Prescott’s local Wal-Mart tomorrow morning to top up on their $5.99 short sleeve shirts

As a point of safety, I never pick up hitchhikers. Still it seems that the authorities have to remind drivers against it. None more so than those who have state prisons close to Interstates.

As if a reminder to not stop for hitchhikers is needed

You know your heading into the really hot country when signs advise you to turn off your air conditioning to avoid overheating your engine.  Still, regardless of the heat, the desert has a beauty all of its own.

A raw beauty.  Appears lifeless until you hear that ominous rattle.
Sure love their flag. Nothing is too big.

That dragon I was alluding to was a flash forest fire that erupted shortly before I started my climb up and over the Bradshaw Mountains on state highway 89.  Close to reaching the summit and only a short distance from Prescott (8 minutes, 3.7 miles), two state troopers shot past me, as the fire roared into full force, and they closed the road off.  I was forced to go back down and retrace my footsteps, in my case tire tracks, to highway 93 then North to highway 96 to reach Prescott via the back door.

Retreating to the detour.  This smoke wasn't there when I started my climb.

This detour added considerable time and distance to my drive, not to mention that 96, for all intent and purposes, is a goat trail topped with a coating of asphalt so it can be called a highway. It wound and dipped, turned and climbed and descended over flash-flood creeks that have road signs of encouragement that read “if flooded don’t cross”.  The detour added 3 hours and 120 miles to the trip, all in the dark.   One bonus in taking this road was that from the backside of the mountain, in the dark,  I could clearly see the fire and it looked like a crown on the mountaintop.  

At night the dragon looks scary. Wouldn't want to come face to face with it, day or night.

They say that forest fires take on a life of their own and this one looked like a real fire-breathing monster.  


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Westward Hooooo!, er um, Eastward I mean

    My apologies to Lewis Carroll, “The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax of cabbages and kings and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.”

What in the blue blazes is he talking about, you ask. 

Shortly I'll be leaving LA and start my trek back home and nothing could be more appropriate that Lewis Carroll's nonsense rhyme summarized my thoughts about La La Land. 

Previously, I’ve alluded to how unlike other US cities, that I’ve visited, that LA stands hads above the others as a contradiction unto itself.

You have the beautiful self-absorbed people competing neck in neck with the homeless street self-absorbed people for space.  While one group is vying for personal attention and fame the other is vying for street space and anonymity,  OMG is there a lot of them, the street people that is.  To most LA'ers, they are just invisible.

Moving to a better neighborhood
Waiting for God

Rich man's Leftovers, Poor man's treasure.

LA really is the city of dreamers and broken dreams.  A beautiful and yet sad place existing around a mythical shining city on a hill called Hollywood. This last sentence is Hyperbole by the way.  The actual hill is a bump in the centre of LA that’s a colourless dusty mound with a famous fading sign on it.
Queuing in the hope of being discovered.

Having said this, the people of LA are some of the most friendly I’ve encountered.  Even those who call the streets their home, when approached, for the most part, turn out to be not only friendly but very interesting individuals.  I should mention that discretion is sometimes the better part of valour when dealing with those who make the streets their homes.  Most of my encounters have proven uuneventful, yet others have resulted in my breaking off contact quickly.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Many who photography life on the streets tend to do so from a distance with a long lens.  Yes, there can be consequences from close encounters but, in my view, if the long lens is your preferred choice then you are entering into the realm of the voyeur and not really making contact with your subjects.  Shooting from a distance gets you annoyed stares. Close up requires you to have personal contact, generally resulting in more personal and sincere work.

Phil played for me.  Down but not out.
Street Kids Skateboarding in a safe caged off area

My daughter mentioned that perhaps it’s the weather that produces, for the most part, the cheery disposition that most LA’ers seem to possess.  It’s either this or the fact that no one wants to appear negative to you on the off chance you might be a big wig producer who just might be able to deliver that ticket to the elusive butterfly called fame.

Either way, there are many wonderful,  yet at the same time,  strange and sad aspects of this city.   
The LA Dream. For One Brief Shining Moment We Can Almost Fly.
Their Dream Arrives.  Another New Running Shoe Store's Stock Arriving.

Most great cities tend to have aspects about them, that are non-human, for which they have become known for.  New York has its wide avenues and concrete canyons. Miami its beaches, New Orleans its food, Santa Fe it’s Pueblo-style architecture, Sedona its red-rock buttes, San Francisco its hill, prison and cable cars, San Diego its navy.  But Los Angels has, in my view, more than anything else that defines it, it’s people.  Oh yes, and that Hollywood sign.
Even the small ones what to make a statement

For me, LA is not unlike a mosquito bite.  Though you scratch it, the itch keeps coming back. You feel the need to revisit and explore LA, a great deal more before it will stop itching.
Making the most of ones limited garden space.
911 Anyone?  One reason why cell phones are all the rave in LA.
LA version of All Your Ducks in a Row
Many LA homes have swimming pools.  Any bets as to this one?

Soon I will be saying Cherry-O to LA and head for home. The only problem is, the itch is still there.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Getting lost in time

Didn’t post anything for Day #6 as I just simply ran out of time.  In fact, I ended up shooting so late and was so far from anything that resembled civilization, I ended up sleeping in the car along the side of the highway with a local coyote and some truckers for company.  

What one tends to forget is that the further west Route 66 takes you the more the distances increase between Motels and Hotels.   I had planned on jumping straight across Texas and making it to Gallup, New Mexico in one swoop.  This is doable but not when one gets easily sidetracked as I do. 

Before I knew it I had gone way past Albuquerque, (where the last of the descent accommodations were until Gallup) and too far from Gallup as well as too tired to push on.  Thus the coyote, truckers and I camped for the night.

What caused my losing track of time is that I discovered another gem.  I decided to drop by Texola again but this time I ventured into the only place left operating, The Tumbleweed Grill and Country Store.   

Wow, sure glad I did.
Tumbleweed Cafe
When I entered most of the place was clocked in darkness and having just come in from the bright Oklahoma sunlight all I could see was a sliver of light emanating from what appeared to be a kitchen.   I said HELLO and a face popped around the corner followed by the lights going on.  The face belonged to Masal.
Masal preparing lunch for a customer
Seems that two years ago Masal and her husband were driving to Memphis, via Route 66, and stopped for gas in Texola.  After filling up their brand new car would not restart.  Turns out it was a defective fuel pump.  Since they were stranded until a new one could be FedEx'd, and it was February with the closest motel being 60 miles away, the station owner offered to put them up.  With time on their hands they discovered that the Tumbleweed was for sale and the price being right they bought it and as they say, the rest is history.
Masal in front of her pride and joy
Masal is the chief, cook, waitress and bottle washer, literally.  Also, an artist who runs both the grill and country store. 

Texola is definitely worth stopping by and offers many great photographic opportunities. Do drop into The Tumbleweed Grill and meet Masal and sample her cooking.
Next door to the  Tumbleweed Cafe but not in as good a shape

Leaving Texola and Masal I figured I’d drop into what’s left of Jericho, just over the state line in Texas.  Sticking to the old Route 66 is a bit like cross-country train travel.  For those of us who have had this experience, you will recall the rhythmic clickety-clack sound, mile after mile, of the train wheels made on the tracks.  That same sound is produced as you drive along parts of the original concrete sections of R66. Very rhythmic and nostalgic.
It seems some folks need a lot of convincing they are going the wrong way.

At times the paved/concrete has reverted back to au natural

Unfortunately, the rhythm and nostalgia of Route 66 was broken when I got to Jericho. What lay before me was a huge disappointment.  

When I was here last year what remained of Jericho wasn’t much but very photographic and mysterious sitting all alone on the empty vastness of the Texas landscape.
Progress isn't always a photographers friend

Everywhere you turn the wind towers now dominate the landscape.

It’s all changed and though no doubt to the betterment of Texas, not so from a photographers vantage point.  Within in the past year, dozens of huge wind towers have been erected, all around Jericho, with much more in the process of going up.  Jericho no longer has the feeling of a ghost town sitting in nowhere but now just another collection of old deserted building surrounded by modern-day structures.  Another casualty of modernization on the march.

Since the available daylight hours are long I figured why not take advantage and shoot as much as possible.  However, before one is aware of it the hour is getting late and the distance too great to make your intended destination.  Also compounding the matter is my insatiable curiosity as to what’s down the road tends to lead me further astray from the main roads, which add unexpected hours to the days travel.  

The road to curiosity

Two Guns, Arizona

Glenrio on the border of Texas and New Mexico

As much as I wanted to push on, the lure of places such as Two Guns and Glenrio was just too much to resist and I found myself unable to pass these places buy without once again spending time there.  It amazes just how close these two places are to the interstate, look for a clue in the Glenrio photo, yet the vast majority of travellers pass these ghost towns by.   

What I have found, with Route 66, is that if you really want to experience its magic and mysteries then time needs to be taken to explore it.  Rushing down I40, though it's now considered to be Route 66,  will not offer what the real Mother Road has to offer.

In the end, I conceded that it would be far safer spending the night in the car than pushing the envelope trying to reach my intended destination that evening.  Thus my night sleeping by the roadside with mr. coyote and some truckers.

Day 7

The intention was to drive directly to LA, stopping only for fuel and some needed rest. 

Pulled into Kingman, Arizona for fuel and a McDonalds coffee only to discover an interesting character.  Christian Schlatter is a Swiss national who is in the latter part of his round-the-world motorcycle trip.    He was huddled in a corner of McDonalds trying not to draw too much attention to himself (stood out like a sore thumb in his yellow and very warn motorcycle outfit) while making use of McDonalds’ free wi-fi (just as I do) to get caught up on postings to his blog.  Having viewed his bike in the parking lot I couldn’t resist invading his privacy.  Turned out that Christian was only too happy to tell me some of his stories as we had coffee together.
The Map on one of the saddlebags
120,000 kilometers and counting
Christian planning his next few days.

What an interesting person. I suggested anyone else interested in what a 120,000 Kilometer bike trip is like that they look up Christian’s web page at

I’m currently in LA with my daughter awaiting the possible brain surgery on Smith, my grandson.

When I again hit the road on my way back east I'll again post as I try to seek out the unusual people who call the ghost towns of the West their home.