The Mojave Desert has long drawn pilgrims to its lonesome places, and the evidence of those people’s lives and industry remains, waiting for the intrepid explorer to stumble upon.
In Abandoned California: The Mojave Desert, one such explorer, photographer Andy Willinger captures these abandoned places in images shot over nearly a decade exploring the desert.
Outdoor SoCal editor, Chris Emery, recently interviewed Willinger about his approach to photography, his favorite parts of the Mojave, his favorite photos from the book, and his love of the desert.
“There is sort of a spiritual intonation that happens when a person gets used to the desert, especially someone from the hustle and bustle of an urban or the East Coast, to come out where it is so quiet and stark,” said Willinger.
One realization that Willinger had was that people who moved to the desert in the past had to deal with summer temperatures that regularly climbed well above 100 degrees with no air conditioning. It is remarkable, he said, that people could adapt to those conditions.
“The desert is unforgiving,” he said. “If you don’t have your act together, it’s going to kick you out.”
Perusing the photos in the book of erstwhile human settlements and activities – abandon homes, cars, mines, airports, theme parks – it’s clear that many people did in fact get kicked out.
His favorite spots?
Willinger mentioned the Car Wash, a collection of cars abandoned long ago in a remote portion of Joshua Tree National Park. Another favorite is Wonder Valley, an area where the U.S. Government began giving away small tracks of land in a desolate portion of the Mojave in 1938. By the end of World War II, thousands of people had built small homes, known as “jackrabbit” homesteads. Many of those early homesteaders found life in the dry, remote desert too lonely and difficult and abandoned wonder valley for more friendly destinations.
“Today, Wonder Valley is home to a small, well-dispersed community of fewer than 700 misanthropes, artists, spiritual seekers, doomsday preppers, UFOlogists, and normal citizens,” Willinger writes in the book.
Other sections of the book include images of Antelope Valley and Northern Mojave, Route 66, photos of various defunct mines and mills, and the long-abandoned Lake Delores Water Park.
Abandoned California: The Mojave Desert is available on Amazon.