November 16, 2007
  Trona, CA

Trona, California

(Trona, CA, 2007. Image copyright Hamish Reid. Click on image above for larger version).

It used to be that sometimes when the wind was blowing the right way you could smell Trona from miles up the Trona Wildrose Road, long before you could see the town itself (this was certainly true the first time I drove into Trona a decade or two ago). I don't know if it's still true (the last time I was there I had a cold), but it's a distinctive sulphur smell that seeps into everything from the processing plants and dry lake beds.

So Trona's a tough place, a busy little Mojave desert mining and industrial town, nestled up against and between beautiful rugged bare ranges, surrounded by salt flats, the Trona Pinnacles, scrub, sand, and … junk. Driving in through the outskirts of town I'm always mesmerised by the casual junk strewn around front yards, side streets, vacant lots, and the tough bare mountains standing behind the industrial plants.

I pass through Trona maybe once a year, but I've always found it difficult to capture the way I see this place, the disjunction between the beautiful surroundings and the industrial plants, the way everything seems to glint in this landscape, the junk, the hills, the dirt, the truck windshields, the smokestacks, the roofs, the cables… and sometimes everything seems to be held together by those cables, strung between poles, across sandy lots and bare streets, between old wooden sheds and windowless buildings. I think the real problem for me has always been that the place is about atmosphere (in every sense), and that's a difficult thing to get with a short visit here and there and a few snaps left right and centre; it's also about visual juxtapositions that don't work without physical context.

This image does things differently, takes a different tack, and, while it's actually missing some of the most crucial image elements I associate with Trona — the plants, the railway, the windowless churches, the high school (home of the Trona Tornadoes) — it sort of gives the right impression in ways most of my other attempts don't. Why does it work for me? Because it leaves all that other stuff out, I suspect, and because if you spend long enough in Trona, the wires seem to be everywhere. The rest is there (for me) by implication, but for someone who's never seen (or even heard of) Trona, the image probably leaves you wondering whether there's anything else there at Trona at all — and maybe to want to find out yourself. Which would be a good outcome for any photo….

Yep. I grew up there (1965-1978). It was a much different town then. Physically, it was as you described; stark beauty and junk. But the people were great. All of that has long since gone. It continues to dies a slow, painful death.
hey, did you ever mix with any Trona locals? I'm a freelance journalist--see my bio on a documentary film website,

I'm just starting to follow up leads from last year's dig for additional Manson Family victims.

the rationale for that endeavor was all hokum. but...

one Dutch-born, Virginia-based professor and a couple of the investigators, county and Park Service who took part in the dig at the Baker ranch site alluded to a Trona link to the disappearance of four German tourists from Death Valley's southwest edge a few years back.

I met Cappy, the youngest of The Manson Girls, about ten years ago in Trona.

know anyone who might chime in here?


-Michael DiGregorio
Las Vegas, NV
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Hamish Reid is a photographer, designer, and software engineer living and working in the Jingletown district of Oakland, California. This is his full profile.

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