An Infrared Journey Across the American Southwest

This December, my girlfriend and I set out on an adventure to see all the many places of the American Southwest. Having grown up in the desert of Southern California, the vast expanses of open desert and long drives were things I had become well accustomed to. We wanted to get away, and attempt to separate ourselves from the hectic life of things back up at school. We began at the Salton Sea, a barren and forgotten place that had intrigued me ever since my discovery of the Val Kilmer film named after the location.
Let’s step back a couple of days however, and begin where the photographic part of this trip really began. Being late out of the gate had left me with few options for available equipment for the short break ahead. Having no options available to me which I saw as “useful” I chose to rent a Fuji S3Pro UVIR camera. Now if you have no idea what any of that means, I don’t blame you. Basically, its an old Fuji Digital camera converted to only see UV and IR wavelengths of light. I figured, “why not mess around with this for a while”, not thinking that anything would actually come of it. Much to my surprise, I fell in love.
My first real taste of this camera began following an engagement shoot which took place at Butterfly Beach in Montecito California. I had no idea what to expect, or if this older camera was even capable of handling longer exposures or high ISO’s, but it held its own in a way that amazed me. The images I got here made me think that this could be a fun piece of gear to hold onto. This was December 23rd.

Panoramic of Butterfly Beach and the Biltmore  Resort

The Steps to Butterfly Beach

On December 24th, I packed my things and drove home to see family. See family is a broad statement, as it meant something more to the affair of “drive to the high desert and bide my time until it was in fact Christmas Day”. Arriving in the Antelope Valley, I drove on into the middle of the desert, looking for a dark place to pass several hours photographing the stars. I Remember having seen these two locations used in a slough of movies and television shows, and by some miracle was able to remember the way there without having traversed the backroads of “themiddleofnowheresville” in a number of years.
I snapped off these few shots, found solitude in an owl that flew overhead and only feared the passing of the occasional car. That was until a man walked out of the bushes and asked for a ride. Now, I cannot stress to you how far this location stands for anywhere that is even remotely civilized. The closest towns are a good 10 miles away. I asked this guy what he was doing out there at such a late time of night on Christmas Eve, and after a short conversation discussing the details of his dilemma I agreed to give him a ride….although I made it very clear that a knife wound or car jacking would ruin my Christmas spirit. This was Christmas Eve.

Garage Set In Lake Los Angeles

“Fuel Stop” set in Lake Los Angeles

“Easy Rest Inn”

So I feel like a bad photographer, but on Christmas Day, I didn’t even touch a camera that I can remember. Holidays, and my family kind of just pass. Their an event…sort of, but nothing that we have ever deemed important enough to document thoroughly. My girlfriend Tanika can and met up with me on Christmas Day. That night we got a hotel room and began planning our trip. She had a storage unit that needed to be emptied in Yuma, Arizona, and we figured that if we were going to go all the way there, we might as well make an adventure out of it.

The day after Christmas we packed our things and set out on our adventure. We had concluded that since we both had wanted to go camping, and the Salton Sea was on our way to Yuma, that is was the logical first step in the journey. We left Lancaster, California mid afternoon and set out to Salton City to camp. After five or so hours of travel we arrived at the campsite. It was a dark and moonless night, as we attempted to set up camp only to realize that we were without the poles to our tent. Realizing that we were thus going to have to sleep under the stars, we were relieved to at least have two person sleeping bag for warmth.

Remnants of the Old Campgrounds

A Passing Train Lights a pair of Palm Trees

The Campsite

The next day we set out to see more of the Salton Sea itself. We wanted to experience the quintessential areas such as Bombay Beach and Salvation Mountain. The Salton Sea is almost surreal, and has a story behind it that makes the location even harder to believe. A once bustling tourist destination of the 1950’s, the place has become a barren museum of remnants of what once was.

Thousands of Dead Tilapia Litter the  Banks of the Salton Sea

Pylons and an Old Dock left after a Hurricane in the 1970’s

A discarded television and pylons left in the Salton Sea

Remnants of an old Dock

An old dock juts into the Salton Sea

What appears to be an old crane left  at the edge of the Salton Sea

Continuing on, we visited the iconic Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain

“God is Love”

Tanika stands in front of Salvation Mountain

The sun sets on Salvation Mountain

Another Painted vehicle at Salvation Mountain

Following a couple nights of sleeping at the banks of the Salton Sea, we moved on toward Yuma. Making it to Yuma was after all, was the purpose of our trip. We continued on to Yuma, where we planned on exactly what was going to happen with all of the items from this storage unit. We spent a couple of days here, moving furniture and belongings to be donated, or discarded. Some of the belonging were snugly fit into the car to keep us company throughout the remainder of our trip. While in Yuma, I managed to convince Tanika to go to the Yuma Territorial Prison, because I like old things and history (I’m secretly 65 years old).

The older cells at the prison

The newer section of the prison built in the early 1900’s

The solitary confinement “Dark Cell”

Me locked in the “Dark Cell”

Yuma is quite the exciting desert town (at least for photography), and we stopped by the Yuma Sand Dunes before leaving this area of Arizona.

Yuma Sand Dunes

A sand rail at the Yuma Dunes

Tanika photographing the Yuma Dunes

Having a week or so left before needing to return home, we decided that instead of going back toward California, we should travel on. Tanika had always wanted to visit the Antelope Canyons in Northern Arizona. We looked up the location and saw that a simple eight hour drive, through a vast expanse of empty desert, throughout the night, was all it was going to take to get there. What we did not realize however, was that upon arriving there we would be required to pay an $18 fee in order to enter the canyon for a single hour. Tripods were also not allowed, unless we pain $80 for the “prime time photo tour”. We left the canyon contemplating what to do next, got a hotel room, and headed into the small town near the canyons to get some rest. The next day we decided that we had driven all the way there and had to at least do the regular tour. Seeing that we wanted to get a few photos of decent quality, our guide let us go ahead of the group and get a couple of shots…the results worked out alright.

A tour group at the Lower Antelope Canyon

The Bear

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

An army of tour groups

Following our time in the canyon, we moved on to explore more of the area around the Antelope Canyons. This included this overly polluting coal power plant and Horseshoe Bend.

A barren landscape on the Navajo Nation

A huge and dirty coal burning power plant built on the reservation

The cliffs surrounding Horseshoe Bend

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend in Infrared

The powerplant ruins this otherwise serene landscape

Leaving Horseshoe Bend, we took off into Utah, without a real goal in mind. I must say, that for as little as Utah has in the way of civilization, it is the kindest and one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. On New Years Eves, we drove toward the town of Kanap, Utah. This town had been recommended to us by a police officer who had pulled us over for what seemed like just to mess with us. He let us off with a warning (for what infraction I am not sure) and told us the Kanap was “the most picturesque place in the whole world”…that was all it took, and we were sold. On new years eve, we managed to get the honeymoon suite at the Victorian Inn…as well as a couple of bottles of wine from the most disgusting liquor store in existence just over the border in Arizona.

Tanika against the sweet wallpaper in our hotel room

Following our night in Kanap, we took off for the final night of our adventure. Driving through Utah toward Las Vegas, we took the direct route through Zion National Park. We stopped for a few photos, but we were on a schedule, so I’ll just have to go back.

The final day of our vacation found us in Las Vegas. I’ve taken enough photos of the Vegas Strip to not want to spend my time doing it any longer. We spent the first night in Vegas doing all the things you do in Vegas. I won a little money, had a little fun, and enjoyed the night. The next day we decided to visit the Neon Museum, because the only thing I love more than old things is neon. This place lived up to my expectations in their collection.

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