Thursday, May 28, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 13b, Santa Rosa, New Mexico (2019)

Will Rogers Drive (Route 66), Santa Rosa, NM at sunset (Tri-X 400 film, Hasselblad 501CM, 250 mm Sonnar lens)

Santa Rosa is the county seat of Guadalupe County, New Mexico. It is an unusual town to be in arid New Mexico because of its artesian lakes. These natural sinkholes in the limestone bedrock bring pure clear cold water to the surface. The pioneers of the mid-1800s must have found it to be a life-saver after crossing to desert. Even Route 66 travelers in the mid-20th century would have found a swim in the Blue Hole to be a relaxing relief on a hot summer day. According to Wikipedia,
The east-west highway through the town was designated as U.S. Highway 66 in 1926, and the increase in traffic made the community a popular rest stop with motels and cafes. Santa Rosa's stretch of Route 66 is part of film history. When John Steinbeck's epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was made into a movie, director John Ford used Santa Rosa for the memorable train scene. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) watches a freight train steam over the Pecos River railroad bridge, into the sunset.

In August 2017, on a 90+° F day, a swim in the Blue Hole was chilling and fun. But on this (2019) trip, the temperature was well below 50° F, so no swim. But I did stay overnight in a Route 66 motel and spent a few hours exploring. The La Loma was clean and cheap, with a 1960s ambience. The Joseph's Bar and Grill next door was pretty bad. Santa Rosa is not a foody place.

Rio Pecos truck stop, Route 66, Santa Rosa (Tri-X 400 film, 80mm Planar-CB lens)
Will Rogers Drive (Route 66), Santa Rosa (Moto G5 digital file)

Sadly, Will Rogers Drive is not very busy now. The old Rio Pecos sign at the closed truck terminal is a characteristic Route 66 photograph topic.

In the morning, I drove around town. Most of it is rather rough, with numerous unoccupied buildings. Some are wood frame, while others look like old adobe block with plaster facing.

S. 9th at Campos (near the Blue Hole), Santa Rosa (Tri-X film)
Shotgun house, Santa Rosa
Shotgun house with intact metal roof, Santa Rosa (Moto G5 digital file)
Shed or tiny house made of adobe blocks with partial plaster veneer (Moto G5 digital file)
No more lunch at the Comet, Santa Rosa (2017 photograph)

This ended my short stay in Santa Rosa. Sadly, there is not much to keep a traveler here for long. But it is a piece of Route 66 history.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 8d, Budville and Cubero, New Mexico (2019)

Continuing east on Route 66 (where it still exists) or I-40 through central New Mexico, the country is pretty arid with only an occasional farm or truck stop. According to the Route 66 Adventure Handbook, Cubero was bypassed by a new road in the 1930s. An entrepreneur built the Villa de Cubero, which is still in business on Route 66 where it diverges away from the interstate. You can buy snacks, gasoline, and other essentials there.
Courtesy of (Thank you!)
The Villa de Cubero Tourist Courts catered to early Route 66 travelers. According to the Route 66 Adventure Handbook, the adventure/musical Desert Song was filmed near here (the 1943 or 1953 version?). Desert Song was based on Sigund Romberg's 1926 operetta about a galant and handsome desert sheik who captures the heart of the beautiful city girl and rides off to the desert with her, singing all the time, while he also directs the revolt of the Berber tribesmen.
Villa de Cubero De Luxe Tourist Court (expired Kodak Ektar 25 film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera)
The tourist courts are closed but in reasonably intact condition. The Route 66 Adventure Handbook also notes that Ernest Hemingway may have written The Old Man and the Sea here! Or maybe he did not because he might have been in Cuba. A blog from the Villa de Cubero explores the controversy of Papa Hemingway's stay in the tourist court. We need to weigh the options:
Cuba: tropical breezes, palm trees, beautiful women, lots of booze, and deep sea fishing.
Cubero: desert, not much to do, and booze.
Budville Trading Co. (Moto G5 digital file)
About a mile southeast on old Route 66 you come upon the former Budville Trading Company. It is closed and longer has pumps on the island.
Budville Trading Post (Tri-X film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens)
A bit further east I saw another closed garage/filling station. This one had another long-wheelbase Cadillac!

That is all the excitement for Cubero. We will continue east on Route 66. Standby for more updates.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 8c, Continental Divide, New Mexico (2019)

At the continental divide (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera, polarizing filter)
Heading east from Gallup, the country is pretty bare, with rock ridges and occasional small farms or ranches. We reach a small community known as Continental Divide. Needless to say, there is a souvenir shop and "Indian Market" on the site. It is a popular stop on I-40. In the parking lot, I spoke to a gent with a Studebaker Avanti - a real Avanti from 1962 or 1963, not one of the versions made later by other companies after the Studebaker factory closed forever  in December 1963. He was driving from California to a car show in Florida. A friend hiked some of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (3100 mi. in total) several years ago and would have passed through the nearby town of Grants.
Is this really the Continental Divide? (Moto G5 digital file)
A sign explains that water falling west of the sign flows westward towards the Pacific (actually, to the Gulf of California), while east of the sign, water flows to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf Stream oceanic current.
Continental divide in the United States. Map from ESRI ArcMap software.
In the map above, you can see that the Rio Grande river approximately parallels the Continental Divide in New Mexico. At El Paso, Texas, it turns southeast and becomes the border between the United States and Mexico. Much of the water is taken out for agriculture, but a small amount eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. In central Colorado, runoff flows into the Arkansas River, which joins the Mississippi River a few miles southeast of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. To the west, the Colorado Plateau is highly arid, but what water does fall as snowfall or occasional rain enters the Colorado River. Most of this water is also removed for agriculture, leaving almost nothing for the Gulf of Colorado.
This map (from Wikipedia) shows the major hydrologic divides in North America. Note how water that falls in the central United States flows to the Gulf of Mexico, much of it via the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The Great Basin is an arid region that has no outlet. Rainfall in the eastern region flows to the Atlantic Ocean via numerous small rivers, none of which even begin to approach the Mississippi River's volume.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 8b, Gallup, New Mexico (2019)

Route66 view east, Gallup, New Mexico (Hasselblad 501CM, 250mm ƒ/5.6 Sonnar lens)
Gallup was the "big town" on Route 66 in western New Mexico. It was a popular stopover for Hollywood film starts in the era of Western movies. Today, it is a hub for people from remote stretches of the Navajo Nation and from lonely ranches to stock up on household supplies, liquor, and drinking water (and probably drugs). The town is pretty rough, with liquor stores, payday loan shops, and detox centers. Homelessness is a big problem.

The old Route 66 parallels the railroad tracks and still features old motels, gas stations, fast food dives, payday loan shops, and other establishments that cater to travelers. I-40 is on the north side of the tracks, and many travelers just rush by, skipping Gallup entirely.

Many of these old motels are still in business. During two previous visits to Gallup, I stayed in the famous El Rancho Hotel, which formerly hosted Hollywood stars, who came to Gallup during filming of Western movies. But this trip, the El Ranch was rather expensive and I opted to enjoy authentic Route 66 ambience (and save $$) by staying in a old-time motel. I found one, the El Capitan, which looked a bit less dive-like than the ones in the photographs above. My room was clean and the proprietor friendly. My co-travelers were a mixed bunch: many oil field workers, some tourists, and some bums.
The El Rancho, where I stayed in 2016 (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
If you stop in Gallup, you really need to enjoy the hospitality and ambience of the El Rancho, unless you really prefer a dive motel.
The El Morro theater, on Coal Avenue, is still in business. According to Wikipedia, "The El Morro Theater in Gallup, New Mexico was built in 1928. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It was deemed notable as "the only example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Gallup." It was designed by Carl Boller, of the Boller Brothers architectural firm."
4th Street, Gallup, New Mexico (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera)
This one belongs in color: a garage on 4th Street with murals. I saw a number of buildings like this - well done!

I only spent one night in Gallup and did not look around too much. It looks like the city is trying, but most of the town is dumpy. A friend of my daughter taught school in Gallup as part of the Teach for America program. She reported that it was very difficult because the poverty was horrifying, coupled with deep-seated drug and alcohol issues. That sounds like so much of rural America on our race to the bottom.

The square photographs are from Kodak Tri-X 400 film and my Hasselblad 501CM camera. The color frame of the garage on 4th Street is from the long-discontinued Kodak Ektar 25 film in a 35mm Yashica Electro 35CC camera.

May 6, 2020 update: Gallup and the Navajo Nation have suffered severely from the Coronavirus. The State of New Mexico had to invoked the Riot aw to lock down the city. "The lockdown comes as state and local authorities grapple with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States on the nearby Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian reservation, and a surge in detected cases in places near the reservation." (from NY Times)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Virus in Vicksburg - a Quick Overview (B&W film)


Dear readers, I will take a short interruption from my Route 66 series to write about the Virus in Vicksburg. The coronavirus has caused almost unprecedented disruptions to commercial activity around the world. I wrote "almost unprecedented" because the great flu influenza of 1917 caused similar confusion and disruption to the WWI generation. Worldwide, the 1918-1919 influenza may have killed between 50 and 100 million people (Dr. Fauci in a CNN Special). 

Read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry to see how the world coped at that time. We Americans were much tougher and less selfish and self-obsessed back then. But even then, we had political appointees who underplayed the danger of the flu for commercial reasons, which led to thousands of excess deaths. And we had idiots who did the "masks impose on my rights" crap. Especially sobering to read are details of the second wave of influenza in late 1918. This second wave may have accounted for the majority of deaths around the world, many in poor regions like India. In total, about 675,000 Americans died. Will we see a second wave of COVID this time? (Update: Yes!)

A New Jersey friend asked if I had been taking virus pictures around Vicksburg. I wondered, how could I show what was different than normal? A hundred photo web pages recommend lame virus exercises such as "How to photograph an egg in creative light" or "Get closer to your pet or your broccoli for the most impactful portraits." OK, maybe if you are totally confined indoors and are totally bored. But here in Vicksburg, Mississippi, we arre not confined indoors, and I thought of some topics.

Quieter streets

Photographers around the world have shown pictures of their normally mobbed streets being completely empty. The Weather Channel had an article documenting penguins, lions, bears, bison, and other critters reclaiming now-empty city streets. Vicksburg has also been quiet, but it does not look drastically different from normal, and we do not have bison or penguins. The streets here have traffic but usually not bumper-to-bumper. As a bicyclist, the quiet streets are very welcome. Night-time is gloriously quiet. The mayor wisely enacted a curfew from 11:00 pm to 05:00 am, and for once we do not hear crapped-out jalopy cars clunking down the street at all hours of the night, rap music thumping. Now we can hear tree frogs or an occasional tug on the Mississippi River. It would be so nice if this curfew stayed in effect indefinitely.
The Vicksburg from the corner of Monroe and China Streets (Kodak Panatomic-X film, Rolleiflex 3.5E with 75mm ƒ/3.5 Xenotar lens) 
Spring Street view north, Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA (Panatomic-X film, Hasselblad 501CM, 250mm ƒ5.6 Sonnar lens)
Polk Street view east, Vicksburg, Mississippi (4×5" Tri-X film, 135mm ƒ/4.5 Schneider Xenar lens)
Speed Street view west, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Rolleiflex 3.5E Xenotar, Tri-X 400 film)
On this last picture, I caught a car in motion. Normally, Speed Street is much busier


They are are closed! Normally, they are open 24 hours. The casinos are situated along the banks of the Mississippi River. Here are two examples.
WaterView Casino closed for virus, below Washington Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi (4×5" Tri-X Prof. film, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens)
Ameristar Casino closed for virus, Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA (4×5" Tri-X film, 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens)

No more tour boats

Up through February (of 2020), 3 or 4 river tour boats per week moored at the Vicksburg waterfront. The river cruise business was devastated by the 2007-2008 recession but had nicely recovered. The tourists took busses to the Vicksburg National Military Park, to museums, and to some of the churches. I am not sure if they spent all that much in town, but it was nice to see visitors. This is a photograph of the "America" moored at the waterfront during happier times in 2019. We also saw many visitors from Europe, especially music lovers who drove Route US 61, the "Blues Highway," but they, too, are not here now.
Paddlewheeler "America," Levee Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Fuji Acros film, Voigtlander Vito BL camera, 50mm ƒ/3.5 Color-Scopar lens, Leitz polarizer)

Industrial activity

The Port of Vicksburg is still operating, but traffic is definitely less. 18-wheeler trucks still rumble by with timber, lime, cement, or petroleum products, but there are fewer private cars and pickup trucks. The tank cars in the photograph below have been sitting on the siding for months. Possibly they are being used for storage of refined petroleum, but I am not sure.
Haining Road view east, Vicksburg, Mississippi (4×5" Tri-X film, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens)

Haining Road view west, Vicksburg, Mississippi (4×5" Tri-X film, 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar IIN lens)

Lesser changes

Even the gas stations are a bit quieter some of the time. But some places in town look about the same as ever. Clay Street has a lot of traffic. The dudes of a certain demographic still hang around the gas station convenience stores and the car wash places, as if they did not read the warnings about not gathering in groups. And almost none of them wear masks. They think they are immune?
Top Five, 1108 Bowmar Avenue, Vicksburg, Mississippi (Leica IIIC, 50mm ƒ/1.4 Canon lens)

Closing comments

The virus restrictions have been more relaxed here than in many big cities, where people had to stay indoors for weeks. I live in a big old southern house and have plenty of chores and repairs to do. My wife and I can go out and take photographs, walk, or ride bikes. We have coped with no issues at all. We did not consume or ingest any disinfectant or malaria medicine as per the "medical" recommendations from the White House.

We were fortunate that Vicksburg's mayor was proactive about closing businesses where people gather, and, at least initially, the Governor of Mississippi was more cautious and medical-directed than many other southern governors. The State Health Officer has served the citizens of Mississippi diligently. Compare and contrast with those pathetic political hacks in Georgia (Kemp), Florida (DeSantis), South Dakota (Noem) and Texas (Greg Abbott). But Mississippi's opening the economy still proved deadly for health outcomes. And the autumn school schedule turned into a shitstorm (a wildly chaotic and unmanageable situation, controversy, or sequence of events) when the Governor mandated that schools open on schedule in his attempt to suck-up up to President Trump and/or the sycophantic Senator Hyde-Smith.

One benefit of having a bit more spare time was reviving my 4×5 inch Tachihara camera. I was embarrassed that I had not used it since 2012. The equipment to use big pieces of film and take real photographs sitting in a closet, year after year? I retrieved the kit from the closet, checked the lenses and shutters, and loaded some film holders in a dark closet. At first, I was awkward, but the technique came back quickly. The Tachihara is a wooden field camera and tripod-only. Press photographers in the 1940s successfully hand-held 4×5" Speed Graphics (you have seen them in movies accompanied with big flash bulb reflectors), but mine does not have any sort of rangefinder. I even bought a 1960s Schneider 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, a tiny optic that is easy to carry.

Here in town, I found a handy advantage to the reduced traffic: I can set up a tripod in a street and not have any issues. If I wear my orange National Park Service vest, some drivers stop, thinking that I am a surveyor or city employee.

We will get through this. So will you Urban Decay readers. Be well, be careful, don't go stupid with this "reopening the economy" propaganda and go to bars, casinos, Republican political rallies, motorcycle rallies, or parties. And don't forget to photograph your world, explore, and leave a film legacy for your descendants.