(Ludlow, CA, 1996. Image copyright Hamish Reid).
One of the shocks for me when I first drove into the Californian deserts a couple of decades ago was the extent of human habitation in the desert. You could actually drive on sealed roads (freeways, even, a lot of the time) most of the way. This was something that my childhood, which included being driven by my parents thousands of miles through the Australian deserts along the dusty tracks or rutted dirt roads that pass for major highways there, hadn't prepared me for at all. And unlike on those "highways", in California you're rarely more than an hour's drive from the nearest gas (petrol) or water; in Australia I can remember the Kombi being loaded with litres and litres of petrol and water just so we could get anywhere without dying. Yes, the Mojave's still a beautifully wild place, but it's accessible in ways that (e.g.) the Great Sandy isn't. And that was a huge surprise to me I'd been expecting to have the road end at Barstow and to have to gingerly thread my way around potholes and through anthills just to see something like Amboy crater or get to Saline Valley.
The flip side of this is the amount of sheer junk that's just lying around the desert, especially the Mojave. This was also a surprise I just hadn't expected to come across dead cars, abandoned fridges, broken TV sets, shot-up couches, etc. in what felt like the middle of absolutely nowhere. I remember driving along Stoddart Wells Road outside Barstow (a decent dirt road that in Australia would be the main highway between towns, but that's basically just a recreational side track for the main (sealed) road to Barstow nearby) and coming across the Wells themselves. And there they were: the beautiful old stone wells and surrounding walls had been filled with junk and garbage; the Wells had become a junk magnet out there in the middle of the High Desert.
Well, Stoddart Wells isn't really in the middle of nowhere, but it's still a little off the beaten track, miles from the nearest real road, let alone large settlement, and you have to wonder: do people make trips specifically to drop off an old couch at the Wells? Or do they drive around with dead TVs in the back of the pickup on the off chance that they'll find a place like the Wells to dump them? Or is it some sort of religious ritual, an offering of junk at the shrine of the Wells (or some other landmark)? I don't know, but I quickly became mildly obsessed with the phenonemon, and started taking photos of the more interesting examples over the years.
So the shot up here is a result of that obsession. It's just a classic view of Ludlow, on the old Route 66 between Barstow and Needles, just off Interstate 40 in the middle of the Mojave. This shot was taken a decade ago, and the view here is now inaccessible, if it exists at all (it's all been fenced off), but when I took it (with my 4x5) it was just off the old Bagdad mine track, and a few hundred metres from the main railway and Ludlow settlement (Ludlow's a tiny place, little more than a couple of gas stations and a few houses; it was much bigger in the old days). There's a whole field of rusted junk out the back here, and this was just the start of it