Sunrise, Barstow

Sunrise, Barstow (Photo: Hamish Reid).

Barstow (California) has fascinated me since I first drove there a couple of decades ago on a whim while driving from Berkeley to LA. I’d seen it on a map the night before and thought “yeah, why not?”, and just decided I’d detour out onto the desert and overnight there, and maybe get my first glimpses of the Mojave getting there and back. Which, of course, I did, including a side diversion down the old Route 66 to Siberia (yes!) and Bagdad.

This image is a later product of that fascination. It’s really just about the early-morning haziness, the pastels, the distances, and the softness in the light at that time of day — familiar to me nowadays after all these years (and so much in contrast to the harsh steely glinting light of later in the day — a light I also obsess about, of course — and to the scrappy toughness of the town itself). It’s also obviously about the serrated ranges — range after range — in that part of the Mojave that always draw my eyes in and towards the horizon.

And it’s also about that strikingly-shaped mountain ridge to the left in the middle distance — Elephant Mountain. It’s visible for dozens of miles in each direction and always orients me towards Barstow (even though, yes, technically, it’s not actually in Barstow). I like the way the dirt mounds in the near distance sort-of mirror the shapes in the middle- and far-distances, too, of course (even though that was accidental and not part of the plan at all).

But I actually had a lot of trouble capturing something like this image for years: it was always too windy, or (embarrassingly for someone with pretensions to desert photography) I just couldn’t be bothered getting up in time, or I couldn’t find a decent vantage point — and the photos that I actually took just looked flat and uninteresting. And I never quite incorporated Elephant Mountain into the image (I’d forget, or the framing was wrong — the sort of idiotic mistake I’m prone to making before about 10am and my second cup of coffee). So one day I just forced myself to get up “early” (ha!) and drove to a spot — on Barstow Road near the big church there — that I’d driven past many times over the years and that I suspected would give me a good view of everything I wanted, and took this shot (and a handful of others that are very similar). No drama, no pain, no struggle, nothing to write home about — but it worked (I think). And here it is… pretty much exactly what I was looking for.