A few weeks ago we visited an unusual house on a hillside nestled deep in the barren wilderness of Socorro County, New Mexico. A hippy pad in the middle of nowhere or the most eccentrically outfitted ranch house ever built...who's to say? For this post we'll stay in Socorro County but check out a place that makes a lot more sense: the Old Stapleton Ranch.
True to its name, the Old Stapleton Ranch was clearly once just that--a working ranch. In fact, the place still attracts cattle and on the day we visited they were milling all around, lowing and looking alternately angry and confused by our presence. The noise actually made it hard to concentrate on exploring. Thankfully, they eventually got bored and wandered off into the desert somewhere. Exactly when the ranch might have been abandoned I have no idea, but I'd say it's been empty for a few decades now. There are still some canned goods in the kitchen, but I wouldn't eat them if I were you.
Adjacent to the ranch is a holding pen and a water tank, so the cattle weren't there for nothing. Apparently some ranchers must still be using the site to hold livestock, but it didn't look like the house had been entered in quite some time.
The 1940 Chevrolet truck out front and the whitened branches of dead trees provided appropriate atmosphere, as did the name of the valley in which the ranch is located. Valle del Ojo de la Parida could translate as "Valley of the Spring of Nonsense (or Stupidity)," which leads me to believe that someone went looking for water nearby and didn't find it. Or the water made them crazy. It could also be something like "Valley of the Spring of the Young Mother." Frankly, I'm not sure I'd want to be a young mother way out here. While the name certainly refers to a spring, I do like the idea that "ojo" could translate as "eye." There's just something about wandering around in the "Valley of the Eye of Nonsense" that appeals to me. At least until I collapse from dehydration.
The only other thing I could learn about this area is that there used to be a fair amount of mining going on. Oh, and there’s a lot of the mineral thomsonite lying around. Otherwise, the whole area is pretty much shrouded in mystery as far as Google is concerned.
Alright, that's all I've got for this one. Next time we'll go to Ancho, which is one house away from being a true ghost town. Years ago Ancho would've been a find not unlike Chloride, but that time has passed and much history is now slowly rotting away out there in central New Mexico. At least what wasn't sold on EBAY. Seriously. Stay tuned.
I first started City of Dust in August 2004 specifically to share some of the few hundred photos I'd taken over the previous two years while living in Augusta, Georgia. I had never even owned a camera prior to living there and hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to history, either. But something about Georgia’s second-oldest city really resonated with me. If you want to know more about that period, have a look at The First Post. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so compelled to photograph a city as I did Augusta. Some have said I’ve done my best work there, which I prefer to take as evidence that there’s something unique about what I see in that town rather than an indication that I haven’t managed to improve over the years.
So, I’m honored to have been invited to participate in the 2012 Augusta Photography Festival, which runs this fall from October 27-November 4. A “real world” version of City of Dust is being created for display in the Main Branch of the Augusta Library and will feature photos and stories from some of my favorite Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) locations. Hopefully this fairly large installation will travel to other venues when the festival ends. Also, I’ll be participating in photo safaris that will visit several historic downtown buildings that I’ve always wanted to explore. And I won’t even have to sneak in! Then, at 10 AM on Saturday, November 3, I’ll be giving a presentation at the library that will include lots of photos and tales from throughout the region. Oh, and I’ve written an article on photographing the John S. Davidson School in advance of the fest for Verge, Augusta’s free arts weekly, which can be found HERE, on page 14. A second piece will be published in September.
The Augusta Photography Festival’s website is HERE. Below is the schedule of events. If you’re a photographer, don’t forget to enter the photo competition! The cash prizes are very nice and you don’t have to attend to win. The closing date for submissions is August 15, so you might need to hurry. Many, many thanks to those working very hard in Augusta to make this happen, particularly Tricia and Peter Hughes.
Finally, let me add that I don’t know how many people from the CSRA are still following what I’m doing, but it used to be that most of my readership was from Georgia and South Carolina. So, if you’re still paying attention…thanks! And maybe you’ll be able to come out to some of the festival’s events. Also, if you’ve ever left a comment at City of Dust regarding some of those earliest posts, many of those are being incorporated into the above-mentioned display. The memories shared were just too unique and poignant not to give them a wider audience. We did mask the identity of those commenting, but you’ll know yours if you see it. It was impossible to contact most people for permission, so hopefully no one minds having their thoughts (and, in one case, photo) re-used. In fact, the historical and personal insight provided by these comments might be the most important part of the whole project. Thanks for continuing to provide them over the years. Perhaps I’ll see some of you in the November. If you want to know more about how the comments are being incorporated, leave a message here or contact me through the e-mail associated with my profile.