Desert Road Trip Day One: Letting Go and Hitting the Side Roads

I went on a road trip to the desert during the last full moon. In the past, these trips have often been a laser-focused mission to photograph abandoned places at night. My friend was open to exploring the side roads along the way, even if the places that we stopped had nothing to do with night photography. Yes, we took pictures in the daytime. We also read about the history of the locations as we went. I had fun, and learned a lot. Here's what happened on day one:

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

10:00 a.m. - Depart Berkeley.

1:00 p.m. - After 200 miles of driving, we stop in Kettleman City for lunch. Bravo Farms is now open, and looks like Knott's Berry Farm. I wish they had fake gun fights with stunt men falling off buildings.

3:00 p.m. - 111 miles later, we take the exit for the Tehachapi Loop. I've been driving to the Mojave Desert for 10 years, and have never stopped. I like trains, but there's no danger of me turning into a foamer. The 3 mile detour is well worth the side trip. They call it one of the 7 wonders of the railroad world. A long train arrives just as we pull up.

4:00 p.m. - We drive over the pass and have a look at the current state of the S.S. Minnow. The building next to this iconic boat burned, and the ruins have a fence around them.

4:30 p.m. - We backtrack West on Tehachapi Road to view the cement plant at Monolith in the late afternoon light. The structures are impressive, and so is the history.

5:00 p.m. - You have arrived at your destination. The Mojave Desert Inn

6:30 p.m. - Packed up for a night of shooting, it's time for some food. We drive to the north end of Lancaster to eat at Taqueria Pepe El Toro. Worth the trip. The shopping center also houses a liquor store, car insurance agency that specializes in DUIs, a tattoo place, a body jewelry store, smoke shop, and a sketchy looking massage parlor. Welcome to the Mojave.

7:30 p.m. - The moon is up and the twilight is fading. We drive by Fox Field to look at the airplanes. This location is photographer friendly, but the museum is only open limited hours in the daytime.

8:00 p.m. - We drive through the old part of town at Willow Springs. Beyond a cool gravity fed gas pump, everything looks pretty cleaned up and partially inhabited. Here's an article about the history of the town from the November 1951 issue of Desert Magazine.

8:30 p.m. - We drive past the Tropico movie set and stop for a night shot or two to get warmed up. We've photographed this location before, and are not feeling that inspired. As we leave, a security truck rolls past our car but doesn't stop. There is a lot of construction going on nearby. The Cactus Queen Mine has recently been reopened. The eternal boom and bust cycle of the Mojave.

9:00 p.m. - We arrive at the first Got Rocks truck, an old roadside advertisement. The clouds are cooperating nicely tonight. There is a debate as to whether I should retouch out the unnecessary apostrophe.

10:00 p.m. - We drive up the road to the second Got Rocks truck. I've been wanting to shoot this truck for years. I make my favorite image of the trip.

Midnight - We drive up Highway 14 to Red Rock Canyon State Park. The moon is bright. The place is beautiful. The parking lot is technically closed at night, but that's just to prevent camping. We're the only ones there. We enjoy the view, and I shoot a 360 panorama.

1:00 a.m. - We have a lot of miles to cover on this trip and it's only the first night. We drive back to the Mojave Desert Inn for some sleep.