We left Phoenix very early on the fourth day of our trip in order to make it to Los Angeles at a reasonable hour. We stopped for lunch at a place called Rebel BBQ in Blythe, California, right across the state line. Surprisingly it was some of the best food we had on the whole trip. Damn good barbeque! From there we turned off the main road for a little visit to the Imperial Sand Dunes. I had stumbled upon them on accident around sunset the last time I was out west and it was one of the most beautiful locations I had ever seen. This time though, we reached the dunes at midday, which was a huge mistake. Not only was the lighting hideous, but it was absolutely, positively tortuously sweltering outside.
We wanted to take elegant photos at the top of the dunes, but it was so overwhelmingly hot that we could only shoot for 10 minutes at a time before running back to the car. So much sweat was falling into my eyes that I could hardly see what I was photographing, and the sun was zapping more and more energy out of Erin by the minute. By the time we finally got all the photos we wanted, we both had massive headaches from the sun melting our brains. I would not recommend attempting that foolishness.
After leaving the Imperial Sand Dunes, our next stop was Salvation Mountain in Niland, CA. I was quite impressed on my last visit there, and wanted Erin to experience it too. What I didn’t realize was that Leonard Knight, who had created and maintained Salvation Mountain, had passed away in 2014. The place wasn’t in the best shape. No one was around, the paint was chipping everywhere, and a room had collapsed.
Seeing the difference made me glad I was able to see it properly when I did, and have Leonard give me a tour himself. Unfortunately seeing it in its abandoned & decaying state, and without Leonard to explain its creation, Salvation Mountain only creeped Erin out.
The next stop on our journey was something I had been wanting to see since I was 8 years old and saw Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure for the first time: the Cabazon Dinosaurs. They were so different from what I had expected. They were smaller than I had imagined, and tucked behind a closed down restaurant, hardly visible from the interstate. Worse yet, they were placed at odd angles to each other and the sun so it’s basically impossible to get a good photo of them together. We at least got photos with the T-Rex. The gift shop inside the brontosaurus was surprisingly spacious but quite stuffy. All in all, it was kind of a let down.
Next we were on our way to meet with my long-time photography friend, Joylyn Newell. It was around this time, in the 113 degree weather that my car’s air conditioning broke, which is even less fun than it sounds. We picked up Joylyn at her boyfriend’s house, then drove to Griffith Observatory for the sunset. Being the idiot that I was, I figured it would be the perfect place for a photoshoot, because every photo I had ever seen of the place (even the ones my friends had taken) there were almost no people around. Once we walked to the top of the hill though, there were hundreds of tourists in every direction, and no space with any good light. So instead we hiked a few yards down the hill, off the beaten path until we found a nice area with direct sunlight.
Then the three of us all took pictures of one another as the sun set in the distance. It was obvious how new I am to shooting with hills and mountains, because I was in a huge rush to beat the sun, not realizing that even after it goes below the horizon, you still have 30 minutes or more of perfectly good soft skylight.
Joylyn even took a few highly posed portraits of Erin & I separately. It was an odd experience, not only because I’m not used to a camera being pointed at me, but because it was so very different from my style of photographing people. Then again, that’s why I love shooting with other photographers, to see how they do things differently and find things I can pick up for my own use.
If Joylyn ever edits her photos from this day, I’ll include them here.