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Category: Fire

The Possibilities are Endless – Benson, AZ

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The sun was going down on Benson when we stumbled on this little row of very old houses just beyond the railroad tracks that cut through town. It was impossible to tell if they were being torn down or being prepared for restoration. There were burned out foundations on the block and a pile of adobe bricks which looked like it had previously been a house. I shot off these photos in around ten minutes while the light held out.

Even though a few of the houses were wide open and we could easily have walked in, there was a cop circling around watching us and it was too dark inside to take photos anyway. I looked in some of the broken windows at the dark rooms inside and kind of liked being on the outside looking in, in a sense, it lent an abstract aspect of infinite possibilities for me. Of the shadowed interiors, I let my mind wander on what they could be.

As a structure, an old house can stir a feeling of new beginning or a place where you can write a fantasy destination onto the end of your life. New rooms and new situations can be found in the corners or shadows in these old houses. Perhaps, there is place where all the struggles and memories we’ve stored up in our minds can find a place to rest with us in one of these houses.

Houses all have their own personality. It comes from the basic architecture of the structure, the lives they’ve lead and the spirits who still linger — call them ghosts or whatever term you chose. My feeling for these houses were all very positive and I could imagine myself living happily in any of the smaller ones pictured. They’re only one block away from the locally owned ice cream parlor! The possibilities of finding a new life here would be endless. Those are good thoughts!

 

Twilight Falling On the Salton Sea

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Born from a 1905 engineering accident which ended up flooding what was then a long time dry lake bed, the Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in all of California.  As beautiful as it looks at first glance, the high salinity and accumulation of agricultural toxins, has slowly made it inhospitable to most fish and migratory birds. The salinity increases each year due to the sea being a land locked body of water with no outflow whatsoever. The sea lies more than 200 ft. below sea level. The high salinity coupled with periodic algae blooms has resulted in repeated mass fish die offs. The smell from the sea assault you from more than a mile away from its putrid shores.

Driving into Desert Shores, you are confronted with many abandoned and vandalized homes and businesses. The town was founded in the 1950’s as part of the recreational development boom around the sea. During this time, the California Department of Fish and Game actively attempted to stock the sea with game fish. Vacation properties were offered for modest prices and snapped up by nearby Southern Californians. Hollywood big-wigs – such as the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Guy Lombardo and the Beach Boys docked their boats there and frequented the growing number of posh yacht clubs springing up around the sea. The highly publicized Salton Sea 500 was a world class speed boat racing event that drew huge crowds.

Thousands of lots were sold by speculators, mainly to other speculators, but unfortunately, for those that bought into the dream, the underlying ecological instability of the sea soon became apparent. By the late 1960’s, the sea began to stink from algae blooms that were driven largely by the fertilizer runoff. This sent huge rotting mats of algae onto the beaches. In the late 1970’s, large scale flooding wiped out many seaside businesses. Bombay Beach, across from Desert Shores, was especially hard hit during the years of flooding where a dike was built to protect portions of the town while those with properties outside the dike were destined to be destroyed during the next wave of flooding. In the early 1980’s, the avian and fish populations began dying off in biblical proportions.

Other than thrill seekers driving sand-rails, dirt bikes and quads across the apocalyptic landscape while playing some form of a Mad Max fantasy game of survival, the only other tourists seem to be photographers out in search of “ruin porn.” There is very few places in the USA as devastated and inhospitable as the broken communities around the Salton Sea. Everyone can find whatever aspect of human existence they want in this landscape and these ruins. What makes the Salton Sea’s failure unique is that at its root, it was built on greed, speculation and the search for luxury and leisure. This doesn’t make the hopelessness and desperation felt by many of those who cling to their belief in the sea any less real, but it is a far cry from big business or big government taking advantage of the less fortunate – this boom was built on the human nature to get something for nothing while denying the laws of nature.

Driving into Desert Shores at sunset on a Friday night, you see small groups of children playing in front of piles of building debris. A few parents can be seen sanding away in the shadow, congregated in groups while drinking beer together. These are the hardcore remnants of those who moved here expecting to find a paradise in the desert. Even before you get out of your vehicle, the year round stench of the sea hits you. The Bible describes Hell and Satan’s lair as smelling of Sulphur (brimstone) and dead fish. This is exactly what the breeze coming off the Salton Sea smells like today. It put me into a visceral state of distress. The shores are crusty with dried alkali salt deposits covered with great depths of dead fish, tortured and severed fish heads and white bleached fish vertebrae instead of sand. Local children can be seen running along the shore seemingly unaware of the repulsiveness of the scene.

At the heart of Desert Shores stands the remains of the Marina Mobile Estates Clubhouse – now completely trashed and wide open for explorers and vandals to enter. Behind the clubhouse is a marina and harbor. An old fishing barge is scuttled along the shore of the harbor. Scattered all along the jetty are corroded and salt encrusted remains of docks and hoists. The sun was setting over this scene on our backs and I was mesmerized by the beautiful light. I quickly scrambled across the millions of dead fish parts and ignored the stench while taking these photos. Then in a matter of minutes, the light was gone and it was just bleak and disgusting and I felt the need to flee before I threw up from revulsion.

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Back by the parking lot, the Desert Shores Fire Department shows off their shiny fire truck. It even looked as if it ran. I imagined that anyone with homeowner’s insurance would hope that their home burned to the ground and wasn’t saved by the volunteer fire department. The payout would maybe be enough to grab your family and flee this godforsaken place. But after thinking about my own life and how often I wistfully thought about how freeing it would be if everything I owned was burned up, I realized that my initial elatedness is always followed by thoughts of things that I would be worried about losing. I guess when you are somewhere, there are always good things to hold onto and the people living here seem to find peace in the hopelessness and desolation.

Digital Sales – My New CD Available Now

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While physical CDs will not be available for another two weeks, digital pre-sales are available now from bandcamp.com now (https://markhahn.bandcamp.com/)! For the first week of pre-sales, I am giving my friends here and on facebook a 50% off discount on anything sold through bandcamp — just enter discount code “friends” to get the discount. I also want to thank everyone who has been supporting my creative endeavors up until now and wish everyone a Happy New Year!

PS  I did the cover photography and layout.

Landscape – Kelvin AZ

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Kelvin Arizona is a small unincorporated community north-west of Kerney. You can reach it either by Arizona Highway 177 or via the (mostly dirt) Florence-Kelvin Highway. After getting totally creeped out by the prisons and oppressive law enforcement that is present in Florence, we took the Florence-Kelvin Highway just to get out of Florence and away from people. This is how we stumbled onto Kelvin. The desert along this highway is desolate and beautiful. Kelvin is built along the Gila River and a railroad line servicing the nearby mining interests. By the banks of the Gila River is a lush flood plain that is dotted with a few old homes that have been either burned or flooded out. This is where these photos were taken.

Little Storms and Their Aftermath

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In Arizona, when the time is right, little storms come right out of nowhere. It can be sunny and bright where you are standing, and then, Boom! You’re suddenly hit hard and can no longer see a single thing outside the storm around you.

These storms are as violent as they are sudden. Lightning and flash flooding occurs in minutes. Small wildfires start wherever there is enough fuel to burn. The desert is a tinderbox.

Roads are washed away and power lost. The poor soil often becomes unstable. All you can do is ride out these storms.

While driving toward Globe, just south of Mammoth, we stopped to take in the little storms forming over the landscapes around us. It was still peaceful and calm where we were standing.

 
When they’re done, the waters rush away and within moments, there is nothing left of the little storms other than the cooled air and the smell of fresh green growth. Small flowers burst from nowhere. The scars are transformed into beautiful new growth. After they pass, it’s hard to remember how bad the storms ever were.

Just past Winkelman, the remains of a wild fire were just visible from AZ Highway 77. We stopped and walked through the small valley that had been cut through the rugged mountains by the Gila River. The contrast between the burned forest and the new growth gave a feeling of hope to the hot damp air.

Storms come and go, but the beauty of nature always adapts and things continue on.

Honey Moon Rising

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It’s easy for me to fall into the fears of superstitions — Friday the 13th, the full moon or any other know convergence that’s suspected of triggering bad luck. I can make up my own. I do this all the time. Sometimes things come true. Sometimes things go bad. Sometimes I think I know why.

Last Friday, it was the full moon on Friday the 13th. Something already rare. Somehow it didn’t seem to touch me. For once, I knew it was going to be OK. There wasn’t even a shadow cast across my spirit to make me think there would be anything bad coming from this alignment.

During this month of the summer solstice, the moon is at its lowest in the sky. This keeps the lunar orb close to the horizon and makes it appear more amber than normal. This distinctive amber color is why this moon is called the Honey Moon.

We drove out across the Dragoons from Benson AZ to watch the Honey Moon rise over the desert. At first it looked like it might be fires on the distant mountains, but once it broke through the clouds it was clearly the moon. Watching it climb into the sky was pure magic — one of the most beautiful nights ever. These are some photos of the Honey Moon rising over the desert.

Trees at Dusk – Saint David, AZ

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About eighty years ago, a tributary of the usually dry San Pedro river flooded across the highway and washed away a bunch of cars. They’re still stuck in the sandy wash, half exposed and rusting away. From a few of them,Trees grow out of the broken out windows.

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is a narrow swath of land that extends from Saint David Arizona to the border of Mexico. There are threatening Private Property signs everywhere around the protected land. You know the signs are all backed up by guns and anger. Nearer to Bisby, which is farther south, we came against a sign proclaiming, “Trespassers will be shot, those that survive will be shot again.” This is the reality of living in Arizona — religious fanatics, gun nuts, Border Patrol and smugglers.

Saint David was founded by Mormon settlers in 1877 after being scoped out by a Mormon battalion that passed through in 1845. There are no records of important massacres occurring here, but it is known that the entire region was populated by Native Americans prior to U.S. troops clearing it for settlements. The population of Saint David remains strongly Mormon to this day. According to the current census, there are precisely 666 households in the town. The entire town is reported to be haunted by “screams and cries.”

The Stone Tape theory postulates that hauntings are the result inanimate materials or places absorbing some form of energy from living beings — the hypothesis being that these “recordings” come from moments of high tension, such as murder, rape or during intense moments in someone’s life. Arizona was built on violence, a fact that we all have to ignore to move on, but in the case of Saint David, as a passerbyer, it’s hard not to wonder what the source of these haunted screams could be — ancient disturbed magic, U.S. atrocities against the Native Americans, domestic violence that occurred in the once isolated town or the ongoing violence between drug smugglers, locals, human traffickers and the Border Patrol.

A little farther north on AZ Highway 80, in Benson, one of the waitresses in Reb’s Cafe told me that the were many homeless people living in the desert in this region. They mostly survived on small fixed incomes provided by the government or some retirement fund. They came into town to cash their monthly check, buy some booze and stumble around drunk for several days before disappearing back into the desert. Once when I was at Reb’s, a tattered man came in, crazed and desperate. He apparently had already spent his whole assistance check and was begging for food. The waitress went into the back, came out with a large styrofoam cup filled with chili and told him to be on his way. The man disappeared into the night holding his chili. I wondered how it felt when he fell asleep alone under the stars with nothing to look forward to but the next month’s temporary drunken stupor.

Anyone who has driven through the Arizona desert knows that you can easily drive a hundred miles without seeing a single tree. There is nothing but rock, dirt and scrub — dark mountains loom in the distance. When you reach Saint David, there are suddenly trees everywhere. These follow the San Pedro riverbed. Also, there are many manmade ponds, fed by the local artesian wells. This water is also used for agriculture. You drive through groves of pecan trees and locals selling hay.

We were exploring the area when we turned off the 80 onto a dirt road that wound past fenced yards and houses barricaded and barred. There was no avoiding the sensation that we were in a hostile frontier. What we didn’t see made us more fearful of what might actually be there. A large compound filled with many RV’s and trailers made us imagine a cult or militia gathering. Houses with blocked out windows brought back images from old horror movies we’ve seen. It was hard not to feel isolated and vulnerable when we left the highway.

We turned on a dirt road that was across from the cemetery. We passed the wash filled with the 1940’s dead cars when we reach the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. It felt like another world.

There was a government sign stating that the area was designated as a firebreak area. Aside from the periodic major flooding, fire is the second most common form of natural disaster that the town is subjected to. Due to the dryness of the season, it was easy to see that the whole area was a tinderbox ready to go up. I didn’t see how the area would function as a firebreak as it was. I think the government ran out of funding after they put up the sign.

Amongst the trees with the dry grass blowing in the breeze and the sun starting to set, there was a stillness and remoteness that felt really nice. When we got out of the car, my girlfriend looked around and said she wanted to shoot the place with her Holga toy lens. I thought about it a moment and decided I would join her by shooting my crappy adapted Russian Industar-69 lens — not really a toy lens, but kind of the same in the sense that the results are always unpredictable and never technically very superb.

We hiked around the area saying very little. It was a moment to just let go and take in our surrounds for what they were. Shooting our toy lenses, guess focusing and capturing our surroundings without the constraints of trying to take technically perfect photographs freed us to see the landscape for what it was — something new. A place to find ourselves in the openness between these trees.

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Photo: Kim Nicolini

MGB Barbeque – Wilcox, AZ

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The owner of this house probably thought the arsenal of high power rifles that he kept in the safe would protect him from anything that came his way. Sniper scopes and suppressors lie in the burned out remains of the house. The fire spread too fast for him to get out before everything went up in blazes. There were probably live shells going off the entire time the house burned. What good is a gun for protection without ammo? In Arizona, when people have ammo they typically have massive amounts of it. Perhaps it kept the firefighters away.

All too often, the danger comes from within and not from the outside. Like a walled complex during a plague, the fortresses we build for our protection all too often become our undoing. Once the poison gets in, the walls become our own prison.

As an untrained forensic investigator, I looked for clues in the charred remains of the structure. Besides the barbeque, I spotted a large gas burner. I think of drunken Thanksgivings and deep fried turkeys gone awry. Holy shit! What a blaze they can make. Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

Thanksgiving always makes me think of how far away I am from everything and everyone — like what it must have been like living in this little prefab house outside Wilcox, AZ. There are no tables set. There is no place to go. There is no one to say grace.

Before I had kids, I used to make turkey sandwiches on Thanksgiving and go hiking with my dog deep in the San Gabriel mountains above LA. Everyone had somewhere else to be and I would be alone. The stillness of nature was beautiful.

Now I make pumpkin pie for my kids and remember my grandmother. She’s the one who taught me how to make a good pie crust. The only secret is to use ice cold water and stop cutting the dough when it forms pea shaped balls. My grandmother always smelled of pastry flour and spices. She had a smile and laugh that as a kid made me happier than anything else.

The MGB sits under the collapsed carport with the tools to fix it still lying around the rusting carcass. The blaze was so intense that all the glass melted and pooled on the red hot metal before the whole mess cooled and solidified in the state that it now lies.

When we were teeenagers, my best friend had an MGB just like this one. It rarely ran. If it even looked like rain it would just die, leaving us wherever we happened to be. The delusion of British prestige mocked us with it’s shiny smiling little grill under the maroon bonnet. We were looking for a way into the world, but ended up being left to stand alone in cold dark drizzling Detroit nights.

Over the years, we learned to fix almost everything on our cars. What we lacked in finances, we made up for with ingenuity and tenacity. It was a long fight — patching together dreams that time continued to tear apart. All cars end up in the junkyard no matter how special they feel when you step on the gas and let yourself believe that they can take you anywhere — somewhere new and beautiful.

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic fire to destroy everything so you can really let it go.