Friday, October 30, 2009

Not just Patterson's Centennial

While pursuing my never ending quest to further understand the inner workings of this ever changing, always interesting Earth of ours, I stumbled across the small crumbling ghost town of Rhyolite Nevada. Gold was first discovered near this site in late 1904, which sparked a gold rush and attracted thousands of prospectors, developers and other such entrepreneurs that flocked to make their fortunes. By 1907 Rhyolite provided electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, a stock exchange and a population near 5,000.I was at one of the Patterson Library's bi annual book sales when I came across this book titled "Ghost Towns of the West" published by the editors of Sunset Magazine in the 1970's. Though it was kind of old, the thick hardcover book was full of really interesting images of ghost towns in every state west of the Rockies. That was the first time I had seen Rhyolite, and an image of the Cook Bank (above) was portrayed in a night photo that I was determined to photograph for myself. So I paid $1 for the book and made off like a bandit with new found loot to sift through. (Just a note, the library still has a copy of this book on their shelf)
The first destination of a week and a half long Eastern Sierras and Basin and Range road trip, led me over the Tioga pass, down hwy 395, into Nevada, and eventually into Rhyolite in the middle of the night. So I busted out with the camera gear, portable studio lights, tripod, shutter release cable, and began illuminating what was left of what used to be the fanciest, largest building in the booming gold mining community that boasted 10,000 residents by 1910. However, the nearby ore producing mines were already nearing depletion and folks began abandoning Rhyolite which was left at a population of less than 1,000 by 1911. Residents moved entire buildings to nearby Beatty Nevada, sold portions of the Cook Bank Building, and even demolished portions of the bank to extract the gold that lie in it's walls (hence it's missing sides).
Rhyolite circa 1908

Interesting Architecture
As I went to bed in the nearby desert that night, I couldn't help but think about the city of Patterson and how both were similarly founded around the same time at the turn of the last century. The desert sunlight doesn't let you stay in your tent too long, so after breaking camp I returned to Rhyolite to see what the daylight would bring.
Returning to the Cook Bank ruins (above left) revealed a very familiar architectural style visible off in the distance, and I instantly recognized it as turn of the century Mission Revival architecture, very similar to the style used in Patterson's Center Building and Del Puerto Hotel, built and designed in 1910 by famed Southern California architect Arthur Burnett Benton.
Could Benton have designed the Las Vegas and Tonopah railroad station at Rhyolite the year prior in 1909?
If you look past the large Joshua tree and other desert vegetation, it's easy to see the uncanny resemblances of the railroad station and Patterson's Center Building.

After a little research and a call to a historian in Beatty Nv, it was revealed that the two buildings were not designed by the same architect, but the two designers may have been colleagues at one point prior.

Either way, the abandoned railroad station kept me thinking about these two towns that were both founded around the same time in the early 1900's, and why one is still functioning, and the other is, well... a ghost town.

And the answer is quite simple. While both communities were built on working the earth, the gold mines in Rhyolite soon dried up about the time when the Patterson family was investing in agriculture and developing the world's first successful lift irrigation system, which is still in use today.

So whether today's residents/leaders of the city of Patterson want to admit it or not, we all owe our thanks to this thriving, ag producing, city of ours to the sound entrepreneurial decisions of T.W. Patterson and his investment in some of the best agricultural land around.

So for very good reason I've become very vocal (to the dismay of some) about any plans for the future of our city that don't involve preserving the agricultural heritage that the Patterson's worked so hard to create. Over the past 15 years here in Patterson, it's become quite apparent that our leaders wished to push the city in a new direction, a path that many other growing communities chose to go down. One that involved catering to a different economy... the Bay Area commuter economy. And while I appreciate the difference in overall homogeneity that the newcomers have brought to our community, I don't appreciate the poor planning that went into designing where they would reside.

Driving through a maze of row after row of single family dwelling units, many of which now sit empty and disheveled or vandalized, or sit on some of the best farmland in the world, isn't quite the way I envisioned preserving the city's agricultural longevity. T.W. probably would have been happier knowing his plan was preserved, than having his likeness placed on a plaque on City Hall.

If Rhyolite's economy was based on a more sustainable economy like Patterson's was, there still might be people around to celebrate Rhyolite's centennial.

Here's an interesting dwelling unit in Rhyolite that still remains. Built in 1906, a house made out of 30,000 beer and liquor bottles rightly named, the "Bottle House".

Another Farming Communities' Centennial

I spent alot of time growing up as the son of migrant farm workers, and although I was born in Patterson, a good portion of each year was spent living in Southern California's Imperial Valley. I recently went back there to visit my grandmother and some other family members there this last Summer.

Highs were around 107 degrees, remarkably quite cool for August. While driving through the city of Brawley at mid day with my windows down, I recognized a sign up on the marquee of the city's dilapidated Fox theater.
Brawley was also in the midst of celebrating their centennial.

Brawley Theater photos courtesy Esther Duarte

While the Imperial Valley cities that I spent so much time growing up in, like Brawley, hold a very special place in my heart, it's easy to see that their downtown has deteriorated since I last remembered. Many of their storefronts sit empty, their theater now sits boarded up, with only the silhouettes of those that may have once performed there to grace the balcony windows.

Many here in Patterson, Ca may complain about the lack of shopping opportunities or things to do, but after 100 years, I think we're still better off than many places. And while we may not quite have our downtown theater, at least it doesn't sit unused.

Some parting images from Rhyolite

Here's some more in case you didn't get enough of the deserted mining town of Rhyolite Nv. Those that still frequent the area have instilled a sort of open air installation artistry, called the Goldwell Open Air Museum. These art pieces, some towering as high as 25 ft, are quite striking as you come up to them... anyways I'll let you see and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Fair time... you know what that means!

That it's time for the annual Stanislaus County Fair Destruction Derby! I've commented before on assignments that I look forward to every year, and the fair, including the destruction derby, is probably my favorite.

I mean seriously folks, this is American entertainment at its finest! Where else can you go to legally watch full grown men and women bash into each other with their vehicles? It may seem like
a pointless pass time, but this event only comes around once a year and many, many people, including alot of locals, look forward to it every year.... including myself. Every year that I attend, my love for the quirky sport grows with every crunch of every car, with the sounds of the finely tuned engines blowing, or hearing the hiss of a busted radiator or blown tire... music to my ears.

Well above is a sequence of photos taken from last years demo derby, I had never witnessed a car being flipped during the event, and it actually happened twice, this second time the car's engine burst into flames. It's hard to see in the small frames, but the crowd in the background is going wild.

Above is one of my friends Nic Gustafson, standing atop what's left of a 1973 Pontiac. He's waiting for one of the tow trucks to come pull him out of the arena and back to the pits after competing in his heat. Believe it or not, his accordion car was beat back into place by his pit crew and was back out on the arena for the consolation round during last year's derby.

The woman in the photo above is also waiting for a tow truck, her car didn't get much play due to an engine failure. Photo was taken with a Pentax 6x7, ISO 100 and looks great as a black and white print.

Flames shooting from an engine during the derby a couple years ago.

Above is Nic's "accordion" Pontiac being smashed by Westley's Keith Yamamoto in the Red #5 car behind him. You can see why I call it an accordion, the whole rear 4 feet of the car were missing after this final consolation heat during last year's derby.
Above is Patterson's Kyle Guido in the #69 Lincoln Town Car, mashing into Westley's Jason Yamamoto in his vehicle during a destruction derby two years ago, from what I remember, Guido did pretty good overall.

Above, Jason Yamamoto waves the red caution flag from his car after a fire breaks out in his cab filling it with smoke.

Above is Patterson's Brent Kaiser taking a hard blow from a car during the derby a couple years ago. Brent will be driving again this year as well.

Above is Patterson's Matthew Hollowell getting hung up on one of the K rails that surrounds the arena. He had a little radiator damage and damage to the points system that which controls the spark to the engine, but the same car above has been refurbished with electronic ignition, new paint, and is ready to go for his wife Amy to drive during Tuesday August 4th's Demo Derby.

Above, rural Patterson's Jake "trap shooter" Smith and his pit crew try to get his car started and into the consolation round after the car died on the way into the arena. They couldn't get it started and had to push it out of the way. I'm not sure if Smith is competing again this year or not, but I'd like to see him out there make more of a run this time around.
So getting the cars ready to go and driving them is half the fun. Putting them back together in a limited amount of time to get them ready for the next round is the other half. Above, Jason Yamamoto's car is being worked on by his pit crew... cut the fenders off in the back, work to get the engine running up front, and making sure that the fire won't happen again inside the cab while the rest of the derby pit madness goes on behind them. This shot was taken a couple years ago.

Above, rural Patterson's Marty Barbaste cuts the fenders off of Brent Kaiser's car after his first heat last year. Cutting the fenders off allows the tires of the car to move a little more freely, especially after the cars have been smashed in a little.

Above, Westley's Bob Yamamoto, welds the rear end of Jason's derby car together, giving him more traction in the rear wheels when driving in the arena.

Above a separate pit crew uses a handheld circular saw to cut away a trunk that is getting in the way sending sparks everywhere. The pit is always exciting to be around during the derby, there is always something going on, sledgehammers flying, sparks and hot embers getting stuck down your shirt or clothes... it's a complete auto repair shop, that has to get cars working in a matter of minutes rather than days, it really puts the pressure on.

Well, here's this year's competitors, above is Amy Whitman-Holloway, and Matthew Holloway standing next to their vehicles. The white car is an '84 Cadillac, and the black one is Matt's '78 Grand Marquis from last year. Unlike the other derby entrants, these two will be competing during Tuesday's event not Monday's Traditional Turmoil Destruction Derby event. Both are competitive, but the second day is a little easier for spectators to get tickets to and includes a derby class just for women, as well as a heat for more modern cars, and a heat for trucks and Suv's as well. I'm looking forward to the Metal Mayhem derby event just as much as Monday night's event.

Above Kyle Guido and some helpers from Ken Herger's Elm avenue shop (Thomas Dodd and Sergio Ceravantes) get to work on Guido's '71 Chrysler New Yorker. With less than a week before the Monday night event, the crew is still working to get the engine running, but under the direction of Ken Herger, I know that things will be running smoothly come competition time.

Above, Jason Yamamoto shows me the engine of his '69 Chrysler Imperial. His brother Keith is running an identical car posted at the bottom of the post, however this will be the last year that the county fair allows Imperials in the derby because the vehicles have proven themselves to be superior to others in the derby class.
Running with the Y&L Farms crew from out of Westley this year is going to be Johnny Azevedo's Chrysler Newport, the crew just started on this entry but will have it running by next Monday's event time.

There's Keith Yamamoto's car, minus the derby paint and numbers, a stout '69 Chrysler Imperial. Good luck to all of this year's competitors.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

gone for a few days...

Took a few days off recently to get out of the area and out of the heat for a while. So, my girlfriend Lori and I packed up the car and headed north to the lush and green forests of Oregon and Northern California. It was a much needed getaway that encompassed 1,700 miles in 6 days. First stop in Oregon was the Umpqua natural hot springs shown below. This travertine springs formed originally when trees in the area grew old, died, and upon falling over, created a hole in the ground that the springs would form in. A perfect area to soak... that is if you can stand 112 degree heat.

Of course the water flowing from the source pool above has to go somewhere and flows into other pools, some natural, and some formed with the help of human hands, before trickling all the way down to the rushing, frigid, Umpqua river below.Such a beautiful, relaxing, place it was, very hard to leave. Lori and I hiked in about 3.5 miles with our overnight backpacks, and after staying a night at a nearby free campsite, were back on the trail through the Oregon Cascades.

There's Lori cooling down in a portion of Cougar reservoir. While the water was a little cold for me, it was just perfect for her. She swam over to the waterfall and back and contemplated some cliff diving. We camped there for two nights, relaxed at the Cougar hot springs (photographed at the top of the page) where natural hot water flows from the little fern covered cave at the bottom right of the picture.
After a few days in Oregon, we cut over to the Oregon coastline, stopping here and there to take in the scenery.
By the time the sun began to set, we had re-entered California and began to think about where we might camp for the night. Pulling off of hwy 101 we drove through the old growth forests of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park (also on Gov. Arnold's list of park closures). We found many open campsites and in the morning began to explore the many thousands of acres of old growth redwood forests.
I love how the sun peeks through the canopy of the tall redwood forests. Since the sun is always moving, there is always different types of lighting that shine through onto the forest floors. The light in its varying intensities, can really set the mood of a photograph, however you have to be quite quick in composing and taking your photograph due to the fact that in a few moments, the sun would be shining on something else.
Below, frequenters to the park beat the heat in the Eel River, which runs right through the Humboldt-Redwoods State Park.
Well, it was an amazing trip full of sights to see. Can't wait 'til my next stint of time off coming here in a few weeks, I think I might head down south to the desert, see some of my family that lives down there, and share some of their 117 degree heat that I miss so much. It definitely is a different part of the state, but still just as beautiful and deserves just as much attention in conservation and preservation efforts that the old growth Humboldt-Redwoods forests receive.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

spectacular skies

Yeah I know, babies, flowers, and sunsets, are some of the most cliche, things for a photographer to photograph... but lately, I haven't been able to not pay attention to the sky. The recent storm system that's brought us all of this nice cool weather, has been doing some really cool things to the atmosphere above us.

I'm sure everyone saw, or heard the lightning and thunder that came through Patterson late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning. I was already on my way to bed when I saw flashing lights outside of my window that didn't look like fire or police.
Seeing the lightning, I grabbed one of my cameras and began to photograph, but the storm was quickly moving over Patterson and heading to the west and the hills of the Diablo Range.

Lightning storms of such magnitude don't happen around here every day, let alone every year, so the decision to follow the storm in search of better lightning photos was a quick and easy one.

Some of my most memorable experiences have come from the various lightning storms that I've been in/traveled through/photographed over the years. One such event, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, caught me by surprise one night after finishing a shift of slanging pizzas at Pizza Plus. I remeber, still in my work clothes, I jumped in my daily driver at the time, a 1970 Mach I mustang, and barreled on up into the canyon following the storm that was quickly clearing. I didn't have any camera gear with me at the time, but I wouldn't have wanted to get out of the car for a photo anyways because after driving into the canyon a few miles, the water was pouring out of the sky in buckets. And the lightning, striking in the clouds above me, and striking the canyon walls around me as I drove, was one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed. For a split second, while that brilliant flash of light explodes and expires, the entire canyon is lit up as bright as day. For me, that image didn't require a camera... the lightning seared that image into my brain forever.
So beautiful, yet so violent... nature had let me witness something amazing on that dark wet windy stretch 16 miles up Del Puerto Canyon, but it wasn't going to let me get away completely unscathed either.

I was ready to follow that storm all the way over Mt. Hamilton, that is, until the rock slide. It was only a handful of boulders, mostly smaller, but the largest most jagged one, maybe the size of a soccer ball, was right in my path, and I was going too fast to avoid it completely. I didn't want to swerve and lose control over the cliff that borders the canyon road, so I slowed as much as I could, made sure that the rock wouldn't hit my tires or oil pan, and hoped that it would pass under... but it didn't.

When I finally came to a stop and checked under the mustang, I could see that the power steering fluid hose had been ruptured and was bleeding the dark red fluid all over the road as if I'd severed one of the cars' vital arteries. I had to turn back right away. About half way into the drive back I lost all power steering and eventually ended up frying the power steering pump because it was running with no fluid. But, $100 and a rebuilt power steering pump later, the car was back on the road.

Anywho... this latest round of lightning photos didn't quite turn out how I wanted. Photographing lightning requires a number of different factors that all have to fall in line, the main one being... LUCK! The lightning was striking over the ridge, and that was what I was aiming for, but then a strike would hit very close causing the shot to be way too over exposed... frustrating, but I did manage to get a few shots that somewhat showed some lightning bolts. Above is one of those shots where the lightning was too close, and the lower one, the lightning was farther enough away to be predictable enough to photograph.