Welcome to our galleries page: Lost Worlds of the West.
Since the last retreat of the great North American ice sheet some 15,000 years ago, the now desert south west of the United States has seen human beings come and go. Hunter-gatherer migratory clans, more permanently settled farming communities, colonial invaders, transient miners, settlers of all ethnic and geographic origins have left abundant evidence of their presence. But this evidence is often well off the beaten path, for their byways and highways did not necessarily coincide with those of our modern day infrastructure. Fortunately, today's dry desert air tends to preserve things of antiquity, so for those of us who are interested in our past and finding interesting places to savor the mood and atmosphere of their locations, there is much to see and explore. The following images represent a variety of samples of some of what we now call: the lost worlds of the west......
Cerro Gordo ("Fat Hill")
Our first location is an (almost) abandoned silver mine high up in the Inyo Mountains (~10,000 feet!) directly above the town of Keeler on the east shore of the now dry Owens Lake bed at the southern end of the Owens Valley, California. Once a mine community of over 10,000 miners, Cerro Gordo today contains just a few remaining artifacts together with a small group of caretakers who lovingly keep the mine claim alive and a small seasonal hotel open a few weeks of the year for the few visitors that make it up the long dirt road.
The Cerro Gordo mine was once (late 19th and early 20th centuries) the largest silver mine in the US and contrary to the notion that the city of Los Angeles is where it is today because of the film industry, was in fact most of the reason the port of Los Angeles developed as it did.
In this first image (LWW-001), we see the old timber gantry over which mine trucks disgorged their ore and country rock to the spoil heap below.
Far below on the floor of the Owens Valley is the white expanse of the dry Owens Lake bed with the Eastern Sierra mountains in the distance.
To the left (LWW-002) is the old assay office of the Cerro Gordo mine complete with the original pot-belly stove.
To the right (LWW-003) is an old working chair in the doorway of another old office. Considering the mine is covered in snow most years for several months, the level of preservation is remarkable, but the old woodwork displays beautiful "weathered" texture.
To the left (LWW-004), in this somewhat chaotic scene are the remains of the Cerro Gordo mine entrance plus the wheel-less remains of a couple of old World War II military transport trucks.
As we drive around and explore some of the dusty back roads of the south west, we are constantly amazed at the things we stumble upon. And we wonder, were these things literally abandoned where they now sit, or were they moved here, then abandoned. And what is the story? Who lived here or who drove here? So here in the middle of nowhere is this beautiful wreck of what we conjecture to be a classic of the early 1950's. The engine and wheels are gone along with the hood, but even as it now sits, it is not too great a stretch of the imagination to see what clearly once was a beautiful automobile. And below that, a 1940's or 1950's era miner's home - now abandoned - just like the mine workings seen beyond the house.
Bickel Camp, Last Chance Canyon, El Paso Mountains, Northern Mojave Desert
During the 1930's the El Paso Mountains of the northern Mojave Desert became the site of numerous gold mining camps. Long recognized even by the indigenous Indian tribes of the area as gold bearing, the 1930's saw a virtual frenzy of exploratory mining. Today the land is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) but even today there are still a few active claims that remain. The Bickel Camp in Last Chance Canyon, is named after a locally famous desert miner: Walt Bickel who lived at this site from the late 1930's to 1987. The camp now has a caretaker under the general supervision of the BLM and visitors are welcome.
Walt Bickel was a heavy equipment engineer and loved collecting "useful stuff", every piece of which was apparently acquired with a specific purpose in mind. The story goes that Walt had an amazing aptitude for fashioning all manner of solutions to difficult mechanical problems from the most unlikely of parts and materials. Due to the diligence of his family and friends in collaboration with the BLM, the Bickel Camp has remained relatively undamaged by looters and souvenir hunters. Much of what Walt assembled remains in place within the camp and the current caretaker will be happy to show visitors around.
Ancient Indian Ruins and Rock Art
From the deserts and mountains of the California-Great Basin borderlands, we transition from the white man's artifacts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the provinces of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, where many hundreds of years ago, native American tribes settled and farmed in the canyons of the so called: "Colorado Plateau", a vast and independent geological province, relatively un-deformed, a micro-continental plate caught between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Great Basin and Range to the West, where broad expanses of mainly Permian, Triassic and Jurassic aged red sandstone rocks create the spectacular scenery so recognizable as that of the desert South Western US.
Most of the following photographs are of ancient structures built by the Anasazi in various locales, but mainly in the Canyon de Chelly ("Shay") These people came to the canyon in the 4th century and remained there until the 13th. They farmed and hunted and constructed these beautiful and intricate dwellings. The canyon walls offered protected dwelling sites and are adorned with their artwork. They thrived in the canyon for some nine hundred years. But then suddenly they were gone. The Hopi were the next to arrive in the canyon but their occupations were intermittent. It was not till the 18th century that the Navajos, the canyon's current residents, arrived and settled where they remain to this day.
The Navajos are a deeply spiritual people and they are intent on preserving the peace and tranquility of this most spiritual of places. They are convinced that the valley remains the province of the long dead and that these spirits must be respected. Many believe that the ghosts that haunt the canyon are malignant and threatening. We never stayed overnight to find out!
No gallery with the name this has would be complete without at least some images of ancient, first nations rock art. As one travels around the desert south west, one encounters these artful decorations frequently, often in the unlikeliest of places. Some are found on prominent rock walls and cliffs for all to see. Others are found partially hidden under rocky overhangs where the artist clearly was lying on his/her back to create the forms. Many are different and unique, but many show figures that recur frequently, inferring they might be characters from folk stories, legends or even spiritual characters that were passed around from one tribal band to another. The ones we find most intriguing are the ones that seem to combine the work of the artist with the work of Mother Nature. Where the artwork fits in to a natural rock sculpture. In these instances, we found ourselves pondering what the artist really wanted to convey. LWW-020 (below) for example, which we found in a side-canyon leading in to Canyon de Chelly, might be an example of this. Though the artwork to us seemed relatively new - a Conquistador from the early 1800's perhaps? - the rock form appears also to tell a story. In this case, we thought the character appeared to be standing atop a flight of down-going steps to his right. They seem to wind down into what we though might be an interpretation of the canyon itself. Given the merciless treatment the canyon dwellers received from the invaders of the time, the dark brooding form of the main character seems also fitting.
Western California - The Camino Real and the San Andreas Fault Valleys
Much more to come on this.....