Friday, November 09, 2007

Exploring in the Desert

Last weekend, I was in Twentynine Palms - as previously stated - one of my favorite places on Earth. One day, I went on walkabout and along the way, I faced temptation.

Left of the trail, I spotted two abandoned structures which I'd undoubtedly passed numerous times but never felt the urge to explore. This time, the world was covered in that perfectly luscious dusk light AND I was wearing my camera - my favorite accessory. So, off the trail I went.

There is nothing I love more than shooting empty forgotten stuff in that gorgeous state of "arrested decay". Now with digital, there is the urge to shoot compulsively but I try to mess with my own head a little bit and pretend I'm running out of film; I shoot less but end up with a higher image satisfaction.

The first building was a cabin of dark wood. The windows were all boarded up, no evidence of life at all. I circled the building several times but nothing caught my eye except for the edge against the background. Near the rotted back door, there was a dirty window to peek through - nothing but bits of junk, an old washing machine, dirty dish towels. I took the opportunity to pee in the sand.

Next to the cabin stood a tragic, empty mobile home, complete with badly worn astro-turf on the 'porch.' Where the cabin exuded sadness, this place invoked cruelty.

Same treatment - I circled the trailer few times but nothing really grabbed my one good eyeball. The long line of tires on the roof - I'm sure there's a hackneyed reason for this - is bizarre and fun so I shot that. Suddenly, a gust of wind came through and the front door creaked opens a bit. 'Twas a distinct invitation. Or a dare, not sure which.

I stared at that beckoning front door for awhile, just pondering the possibility of the unknown, which made me both excited and terrified to be standing there. Not a soul was around and I'm always drawn to this concept: No one to stop me and no one to help me. Freak, I know.

Finally, I made a move and the sagging wooden steps felt like they'd give way any second. First glance at the 'living room' I felt I'd obviously stumbled into the opening scenes of a slasher film. Still, I figured it was relatively safe to continue since I was a) not scantily-clad and b) was not recently having sex. I creaked open the door, did my best tough-girl voice, “Hello? Hey? Anybody home?”, and entered this ugly, forgotten place.

Darkness, dust and a badly stained green carpet greeted me. Broken bits of life were scattered everywhere – torn drapes, an oil-stained t-shirt, a broken suitcase – clues that lives were spent here but hardly lived. I slowly crept from room to room, looking for clever shots, until I picked up that tell-tale stench of death. I realized it was coming from the end of a long, darkened hallway. Again, I stared at the blackness and felt the temptation to see the dead thing for myself.

After years of journalism, my brain is permanently geared to headlines, so when “IDIOT SEX-LESS PHOTOGRAPHER SLASHED BY ZOMBIE METH HEAD IN ABANDONED DESERT TRAILER” ran across my brain like a CNN news ticker, I considered reconsidering. Did I mention it was in 36 pt. type? In bold Impact font?

Right about here I came to my senses, mumbled an excuse about ‘bad lighting anyway’ and got the fuck outta there.

Hoofing my way back home, I asked myself: "Self, would I have gone as far as I did without the camera? Would I have gone in if I didn’t have the means to document it? Am I that stupid and careless?" Sadly, Self sheepishly answered, "Yes."

I then came upon a woman walking her dog. She called out, "Are you a prospector?" Odd. Anyway, we got to chatting and I asked her about the buildings and hello! I got the juicy download:

“Boy, the owner has had a hard time keeping those places rented. First, there was a satanic cult – they were doing animal sacrifices and everything. Had pentagrams and swastikas up everywhere. Then, a lady moved in and was hauled off to jail the next day for prostitution. And then a grandmother moved in with her three pit bulls. I think she was cooking meth in there.”

My instincts were right – the past was action-packed in these parts. I’m sure glad I didn’t know any of that before I entered that trailer or I would have followed the dead smell for sure.


hotdrwife said...

Oooh, I love that stuff! There was an old house on a piece of property we/I owned. We found all sorts of treasures like ink wells and complete china plates. I always wondered what made a person up and leave. And I'm sure by the time my brother and I got to the house, it'd long since been ransacked by a lot of folks - but man, we sure felt like we were in unchartered territory for sure.


I wonder if that house is still standing?

susie said...

Oh Lord Heather, I went the next step where the door slams shut and locks behind you and there's the roar of a chainsaw starting up from the deathroom in the back of the trailer...had you been in a movie I would have been shrieking at the screen, "Leave now! Run!"

The whole story reminded me of a night I spent in a shack out in the desert in Yucca Valley, in the middle of nowhere, where a bag of bodies had just been discovered after an apparent serial killer/snuff film maker had been in the vicinity.

There was no phone in our cinder block "cabin" and our car broke down on the way there so we'd been dropped off.

That was fun.