LOOKING (at the) WEST

The West – the phrase invokes associations of vast space, deserts, freedom, perhaps violence, and wilderness. The concept of the American West was just a hodgepodge of TV cliches to a kid like me, raised on the east coast. As I grew older, my fantasies of the western mythos were embellished with San Francisco hippies, surfers, intrepid explorers, and maverick pioneers. That may sound exciting but I wasn’t particularly drawn to the west; tropical places like the Caribbean interested me much more back then. By the time I finally got on a plane heading across the country I was in my thirties and on the way to San Francisco, which is nothing like the capital “W” west of cowboys and red sunsets. In fact, the sophisticated, wealthy, liberal, coastal city of San Francisco wasn’t all that different from New York, where I lived.

If, as some claim, the American West is everything west of the 100th meridian, then it encompasses big cities, deserts, plains, mountain ranges, and even rain forests. But for most of us, the capital “W” west means the desert part with some mountains in the background and perhaps a few Indians on horses in the foreground. For many years that just didn’t grab me.

Until…

It was 2004. My son was in a wilderness school program based in southern Utah. I won’t go into why he was there, I’ll just say that I was desperate and hoped the program would help him get back on the right track. The kids’ families were asked to join them at the end of the month so I booked a flight from New York to Salt Lake City and reserved a rental car. It seemed like a good idea to go early and get acclimated so I poked around Salt Lake City a bit, finding it an intriguing contrast to the eastern cities I knew. It was much smaller and cleaner than New York! But I was eager to head south toward Boulder Mountain, in the wild, high desert of southern Utah, where I would see my son and celebrate his accomplishment.

Soon after Salt Lake City dissolved like a mirage in the rearview mirror, I understood what all the fuss was about. Not knowing what to expect, my drive into the desert was a little like dropping into a void that morphed into pure space, expanding in all directions. The mountains were taller and more rugged, the view wider, the sky higher than any landscape I had experienced. There was room to really see the shapes and colors because they weren’t crammed together. By the time I reached my hotel in the quiet little town of Torrey, I was hooked. Even the view from my room was inspiring. The sheer spaciousness was a tonic for my soul.

The family program wasn’t easy. Each family had its own space up on that cold, tree-studded mountain. There were no amenities, not even a tent, so parents could experience how their kids had been living and kids could show their parents that they could survive without modern conveniences and distractions. Our shelter was two sleeping bags under a tarp propped up with sticks. In the early hours of the morning, it snowed and the tarp collapsed on us. Cold! The kids were supposed to make fires the next morning by rubbing sticks, the old way, but the wet weather made it a struggle. Fire was stolen by more than one camper. Later, there was an intense therapeutic program for everyone, held in a big heated tent, a luxury. In spite of a blazing migraine I got through that long day and in the end, living so close to the bone up there, so far from any human habitation, was tantalizing. The spare landscape, so different from anything I’d ever seen, tugged at my spirit. It felt good to be there.

1. The West?

But

As soon as I returned to New York, everyday life took over and my capital “W” western experience faded. I was busy – over the next five years, I went back to school for a Master’s degree, separated from my husband, moved twice, changed jobs, and began a new relationship. My son still struggled but he was older and I wasn’t trying to manage his life. My own life was happier than it had been in a decade.

Then a day came when, by a quirk of fate, my partner and I found ourselves both out of work. We began to question if we should look for jobs in New York City, where we lived, or somewhere else. It could be anywhere! After talking and researching, we zeroed in on the Pacific Northwest and planned a trip to scope it out. Landing in Seattle, we drove our rental car all over the region, visiting Mt. Ranier, the Pacific coast, and points in between. We liked what we saw so we took the leap: three months later we were in the west.

But we weren’t in the mythical American West, far from it.

The Pacific Northwest is wet, lush, and feels closed in because of the profusion of towering trees. It has its own beauty, which I’ve come to appreciate. In Utah, I had a taste of the classic West – a vast, arid, open landscape that reveals itself starkly. I hoped to experience that again and it turned out that the desert west was just a short plane ride from Seattle. I could access those sublimely difficult places that had been teasing my mind for years.

That’s what we did, making forays to locations like Joshua Tree National Park in California, Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, and Death Valley in Nevada. I posted photos of every trip but a scroll through my Lightroom catalog revealed other photographs that haven’t appeared here and are worth a look. The common denominator is desert, whether it’s the Mohave or the Sonoran. The images come out of my experience of fierce, dry, captivating places. It’s one person’s view of a ravishing landscape.

2. Obstacles. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
3. Straight and Narrow. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

4. Stacatto. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.
5. Western classic. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

6. Salt. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
7. Pale gold. Mojave Desert, Utah.
8. Wind-whipped. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
9. Twist. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
10. Rear-view. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.
11. Precipice. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
12. Fog. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
13. Two coots. Colorado River. Mojave Desert, Nevada.

*

*

15. Impression. Mojave Desert, California.
16. Exuberance. Mojave Desert, California.
17. Candy-colored. Mojave Desert, Nevada.

18. Hard rock, no cafe. Mojave Desert, Nevada.
19. Luxurious decay. Mojave Desert, Utah.
20. Defense. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

*

21. Arid ocean. Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

*

22. Dusk. Mojave Desert, Nevada.

***


62 comments

  1. “fierce, dry, captivating places ” Yes. Love the desert, southern Utah. On one of our trips I told my wife I’d like to move there. She said I need a divorce first. Almost worth it! But not quite…
    I laughed at your opening image and really like Rear View Mirror..

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, not quite! It’s so much easier to get there from here – lots of flights between here & Phoenix or Las Vegas and it’s only 2-3 hrs.
      First photo is a man who had a hand-written sign on the side of the road in Torrey: Horse Rides. So I did it, just a nice, slow amble across the desert, looking at that horse’s rear. He was a man of few words. πŸ™‚ Glad you liked the rear-view. I thought it might be fun to desaturate part of it. What’s real anyway? Thanks!

      Like

  2. Stunning landscape. I thoroughly enjoyed this post partly, although Australia (where I live) has many similar landscapes, I’ve never actually been to the desert or low scrubby landscapes filled with wild, dry grass varieties.
    I particularly like #6 set in the Mojave Desert. Wonderful light. Was that image made in the Golden Hour or was the golden colour like that all day?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Australia’s landscape has been one I’ve wanted to see fro a very long time – so many amazing places. Maybe you’ll get there one day and maybe I will, too. #6 is from Death Valley, which you’ve probably heard of. It was made at 4PM (1600h) in January, our winter, so the days are short and the sun was low. Desert colors are mostly subtle and changeable, according to the light. Death Valley has some really monochrome areas where there’s very little color. This location, called Badwater, does have a gold cast to the sand and rock. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Vicki, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. They are different, these photos, but everything is already there that makes them recognizable as your pictures.Β  You just perfected it over time. Great, that rear view mirror!
    So now we can understand how you came to move to the Northwest.Β  Your story suggests an eventful life with some dramatic twists, of which only a small part is reflected in the photos.
    How strange that your fascination with the Utah desert has brought you to a region as perpetually wet as Fidalgo Island.Β  Almost rainforest instead of desert, forest instead of scree, lichens, mosses, orchids.Β  Water instead of sand.
    Life can be so changeable and moody if we allow it through our decisions.
    Thanks to your photos, we can enjoy the beauties of both western worlds.Β  And a tiny glimpse into your past.Β  Thank you dear Lynn.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It seemed like it would be fun to desaturate part of the rear-view mirror photo. While I was doing it I thought of you & wished for your skills in Photoshop – you may remember I only use Lightroom and it was hard to do there. πŸ˜‰ An eventful life, yes…many twists…so it’s nice to hear you enjoyed reading a little about it.
      Joe grew up near NYC but lived in Phoenix, in the desert, for a few years before I knew him. We knew we didn’t want to live in a place like that – it’s just way too hot most of the year. Even high desert places get too hot in summer and too cold in winter. The Pacific Northwest has great beauty and a generally liberal, more easy-going attitude toward life than you find anywhere on the east coast, the south, or the Midwest. If you can tolerate LOTS of cloudy days then the climate is agreeable – there are few extremes. I’m sure you can imagine how nice it is to visit the desert when you live in such a different kind of environment. Water instead of sand…I like the way you thought about the differences. Thank you, Ule.

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  4. Your excellent photos and what you tell us about your life are stunning!
    I agree with Ule.
    I’m astonished about the many different soft shades of colours. Is this due to a season or time of day? Thanks a lot for this post! Best regards, Petra

    Liked by 1 person

    • Petra, the colors are amazing in the desert – so subtle, so beautiful. You would have a great time. Why is it like that? Good question. It must be a number of reasons but mostly it’s because of the lack of rain all year long. Rain comes suddenly and then disappears and desert plants have effective adaptations, like pale colors that reflect the sunlight away from them so they don’t get too hot. There’s lots of rock and fewer plants than you find in other places so that means less intense colors, too. But there are gorgeous red rocks, orange rocks, gold rocks, etc. in quiet shades. It’s not because of the season or time of day, the desert is always more subtly colored than places with lots of plants (I think!). Thanks for your comment and have a good week. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I love this! Growing up in the UK my notion of the West was much as yours, but unlike you I was curious to visit and see it for myself. When I finally did so I fell in love with the landscapes, the sense of space, the colours! Now you have captured all those aspects and more in your beautiful photos and I long to go back again πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess I was a little curious but there’s an east coast bias against the west coast here in the US and I think that was part of my “opinion.” It must have been phenomenal to visit the desert west after growing up in England, I can’t quite imagine it, because the cultural differences would be so much greater. And the newness of white settlement in the west is so different from England. It’s nice to hear that this post brought it back to you…now if only you can go back to it. πŸ˜‰ I hope so. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your description of your Utah experience with your son reminds me of one told by another blogger I follow -his daughter recently did something similar and he was there for “graduation”. It sounded transformative, at least for him. Too soon to tell for the daughter. Most of my experiences with the “true” west are from a two-month trip exploring it back in 1977; there are parts I’d love to see again.

    As for the pics, I like the complementary colors and overall balance in #6 quite a lot. The mineral colors in #22 are pretty cool. Lots of other good ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wilderness programs like those became very popular about 20 years ago, I think. In my son’s case, it was just a beginning and it’s been a long road but things are light years better now. As long as one doesn’t expect a miraculous change, wilderness programs are a good way to get started on a better path, imho. It’s great that the parent had a good experience, too.
      It’s been way too long since you’ve been out there, Dave, come on, only a few hours on a plane!! πŸ˜‰
      #6 is Badwater in Death Valley and #22 is Death Valley, too, I think later the same day. What a place that is! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Since following your blog, I believe it’s the first time I’ve found images of more desert areas. But it is curious to see that despite the absence of the green, the ferns and the mosses that you appreciates so much, your eyes discovered beauty in the dryness of a nature thirsty for water. This ability is very curious.
    The passage of time also allows us to have the ability to look at the past and at more complex times in a natural, constructive and perhaps necessary way to move forward/grow. This post is also about that. πŸ™

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, we can find beauty anywhere, can’t we? But I think it takes a little time to be able to show the beauty you see in a landscape through your photography. I’ve lived here in the Pacific Northwest for ten years now and I’ve been to the desert half a dozen times or more. The two places complement one another well and of course, there are aspects of each region that I do and don’t like. Nothing is perfect but how lucky I am to experience different places.
      You’re very right about the benefit of distance from tough times. It really helps! It can be therapeutic to look back and write about things that were difficult…and since this is a public space I don’t get very detailed or specific but it is still helpful. Thank you for understanding, Dulce, I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. 18 Marvelous
    I Think the blue in that picture comes directly from the sky-blue πŸ™‚

    12
    Mighty rocks !

    11
    Looks like cloths ?!

    10
    Very nice theme

    7
    We had this kind of grass in Crete in July, strange colour

    6
    More than wide πŸ™‚

    Thank you, Lynn for the interesting pics

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! #6 and #22 are both in Death Valley – what an amazing place that it, so extreme. With the rearview it seemed like it made sense to desaturate the road ahead, just to mix things up a little. πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you enjoyed the story, too. There are likely to be more…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How various deserts can be, astonishing! I love all the details here (#4, 14, 15). The vegetation is interesting and amazing. The Agave looks as if it is growing in the shelter of that bush, but I suppose Agaves can grow without shelter πŸ™‚ So much kinds of weed and grass. They seem to grow best there. Amazing are also the mountains with their structures and colors (#22, beautiful!). Probably the colors feel more intense in a surrounding like that. I bet you get can get addicted to this kind of landscape! Thank you also for giving us insights into your life. The time in Utah must have been intense, not only mental but physical as well (I don’t dare to imagine sleeping outside with nothing but a sleeping bag and snow!!!). The decision to move west was apparently the right one. I am glad I can enjoy all the wonderful aspects of it here in your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are many beautiful details to be found in deserts – I think they stand out more because the background is much simple than it would be in a forest. The agave might be getting shelter from the other plant – I know there are some plants that do that a lot – seedlings will take root under a small tree so they have shelter from the blazing sun in their early years until they’re big enough to cope with it. Yes, lots of people love the desert and are addicted to its strange beauty. I’m glad you enjoyed the text, too. I was only going to show desert photographs and then I started thinking about the West and one thing led to another… πŸ˜‰ You know how that is!!! Thanks, Almuth!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It can be, but for me, it’s the conditions, not the mindset – when it’s bright, the light can be really harsh. But if it’s a better season, better weather, and time of day, it’s a joy. You really should go! Maybe not Death Valley – it’s a difficult place in many ways – but one less well-known place that’s particularly beautiful is called Valley of Fire, in Nevada. It’s a short drive from Las Vegas, which makes it easy to get to. Take a look!
      http://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire

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  10. Amidst all the beautiful images of this fantastic album, I’m glad you chose to include #10, a bit off-kilter and almost awkward, looking like a glimpse of the past in the slightly blurred black & white, you could expect to see the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang coming up the trail after your car. Wonderful pictures, #18 really invites people to reach into the scene and run their hands over the rock striations, I like the votive offering in #11 a lot, too. I haven’t been to the SW for years now, thank you for the lovely visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robert, it’s good to hear from you. #10 generated some good associations! The desert southwest is a beautiful place. Thanks for stopping by – hope you’re having a good summer.

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  11. Pingback: LOOKING (at the) WEST - A Little TOO Picture Imperfect

  12. Beauty + awe + plenty of space to “see”.

    What a combo.

    β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺ
    β–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Imagining you under a collapsed tarp in a sleeping bag. A mother’s love knows no boundaries. ❀️Every image of the west is a delight, Lynn. It really is an awesome experience seeing these open spaces and the desert environment which you’ve captured so beautifully. The Sonoran Cacti are incredible! The landscapes of the Mojave are painterly and stunning. Fog and Dusk especially. Also, the candy colored pastel shot of the trees is fab. Terrific post. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you’re very familiar with this landscape so it’s good to read your reactions. Most of the Mohave landscapes are Death Valley but ‘Fog’ was…Valley of Fire I think. Have you been there? It’s not as busy or well-known as Death Valley and it’s gorgeous, with lots of interesting things to photograph. I’d like to go back. I loved Organ Pipe National Monument, too, but we’re unlikely to go back there. I’d recommend it though if you’re ever up for something very different. The one, tiny nearby town is strange and the undercurrent of border issues is very interesting, though admittedly not uplifting. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful images here and definitely well-worth a look and post. I especially like your cactus compositions #3 and #4, and the wonderful texture of the grasses in both #7 and #16. Your wider landscapes are beautifully framed and #6 and #22 are favorites. Your skills are apparent no matter where you take your camera … fabulous set!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I love grasses, textures, patterns, etc. so I guess I see them anywhere. It can be a challenge to adjust to the bright light of the desert after the PNW but more than that, it’s a pleasure. Glad you enjoyed the desert series!

      Like

  15. As always, Lynn, wonderful photography and you express how you spend your life so well.

    Your images rekindle in me the desire to travel although that really isn’t something I can do…at least at the present. The only time I’ve experienced “The West” was from 30,000 feet as we flew to visit my brother near S.F. I could see the wide open land and the wildness of Utah but that’s as close as I have come…and likely will.
    With all the wonderful shots here, the intimate landscape guy in me finds “Twist” to be my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person


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