Calico Sign
My friend Kista and I headed out to the desert early the day before the Calico 50K so that we’d have a bit of time to roam around, see the sights, maybe even take a few pictures before picking up our race packets and then settling in for the night at the Super 8 Motel in Barstow.

Most of these shots are from Yermo, a once thriving litle town that was “the Gateway to the Calico Mountains” and did a brisk business catering to tourists on their way to and from Vegas along Route 66. But in 1968 the new 15 freeway just missed the town by maybe a mile, and suddenly all those roadside attractions were on the side of a road no one was driving on. 90% of the businesses closed.

We found some great old signage, declined to eat at the Burger Den (which occupies what was once the original Del Taco), had our burgers instead at Peggy Sue’s 50s diner, hung out for a bit in the “dine-o-saur” park in back, checked in to the motel and then picked up our race packets and headed in for the pretty sparsely attended pre-race pasta dinner in the Calico Ghost Town restaurant.

It was a fun day.

3 replies
  1. elodie
    elodie says:

    Wow, I can hardly believe how desolate it is, and this is the weekend of the race when the town presumably had some more people in it than usual! The signage really is great, especially the Calico. I like the retro postcard feel of the one with Kista Cook in it; the perspective makes it special. The dissonance of the Burger Den sign is interesting too, it looks so new and sparkling against that barren landscape.

    It’s funny, the first thing I thought of when I saw the rotting support under the Yermo sign was birch tree trunks, which would be even more alien there than the sign. The texture reminds me of bark. It seems fitting that the earth is reclaiming abandoned objects back to where they came from, and making them resemble living things along the way.

    You chose to shoot this in colour, yes? Did you know as you were looking around which you would choose, or did you shoot both colour and B&W that day?

  2. geoff
    geoff says:

    Kista and I actually headed out early in order to take a few shots around Yermo, which is desolate pretty much all the time. Most folks overnighting stayed in Barstow, just about 15 miles away.

    Calico, the “town”, (which is where the race began and ended) was an old silver mining town that went out of business around 1900 or so; it was eventually bought by the Knotts people and was the prototype for Knottsberry Farms amusement parks (or whatever Knottsberry farms is). Now it’s a little out-of-the-way tourist attraction. All the girls working there are dressed in period western gear. It’s hokey, but it’s also run down enough (and very little plastic is involved) so it retains some authenticity.

    The clerk at the Super 8 motel (in Barstow) had rather spectacular bling’ed out fingernails. She said they were in need of a redo as she’d had them for a month or so. We asked her how she managed to keep them in such good shape if she’d had ’em for a month. She smiled & shrugged her shoulders and said “I don’t do much.” There was a lot of meaning packed into those 4 little words. Clearly there’s not much to do in Barstow, but what little there is – cooking, dishes, cleaning, gardening – is done by someone else in her house.

    These shots are digital teasers. The good stuff is on the film, which is also in color. It’s not very often I shoot color film – maybe twice a year – but I wanted the blue sky against the yellow and red rocks and dirt.

    The way the earth reclaims man’s abandoned assertions is always something that fascinates me. This is much more emphatic in the desert, it seems. It’s also much more emphatic in modern times – 20th century stuff is not going to make it deep into the 21st century. We are no longer capable of creating, say, a Stonehenge or a Parthenon. We’re too cheap.

    Stay tune for the rest, including the shots of the race itself.

  3. elodie
    elodie says:

    To my east coast eyes, decay seems so much more stark in the desert because there’s so little rot. Organic rot needs a bit of moisture, and to me man’s assertions look more like they’re decomposing by mold or mildew, rather than being gracefully dessicated.

    I’m not sure but I think the Parthenon involved slave labour in its construction? I might be thinking of the Pyramids. I don’t know whether we’re too cheap, or too cynical to give a thought about what the symbols of our civilisation ought to be. Maybe our most lasting legacy will be hulking monuments of plastic bags.

    Does Kista post her photos somewhere? It’s always fun to view other perspectives on the same scenes.


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