Monday, October 29, 2012

A Resident of Crescent Junction, Utah Tells the History of the Place

The Book Cliffs, near Crescent Junction, Utah

A Resident of Crescent Junction, Utah Tells the History of the Place

In 1955, if you pulled into Crescent Junction, Utah, the following is what you would see. The neon tower sign read; “CJunct. Café – Good Steaks – Lunches”. The “C” in the sign had a purposeful tilt, looking like a crescent moon. Across the top face of the building, a painted “Crescent Junction” left no mistake as to where you were. A lighted neon clock stood on the front face of the building.

In addition, hand-painted on the front of the building were the words, “Cold Pop, Beer and Lunch (in larger letters). A Pepsi “button sign” hung near the Construction of the first building at Crescent Junction, Utah (ca. 1930's) - Click for larger image ( door. On the left side of the building, a large painted “Lunch” appeared near the top of the wall. “Cold Drinks” and a Coke “button sign” gave the façade a classy look. Added more recently, at window height were, “Candy, Cigarettes and Beer”. Apparently, the liquor laws in Utah were more lenient in 1955.

To the left and behind the original store rose a new and larger concrete block building. In front of it were two AMOCO fuel pumps, each with a lighted glass globe on top. On one of the two pumps a sign reads, “Diesel Fuel”. Between the two pumps is another sign, which reads, “ATLAS” in vertical letters, with “Tires, Batteries and Accessories” listed below. Partially hidden by the two fuel pumps is a new gas-island, with new fuel pumps still in their crates. A recently strung high voltage electrical line is visible in the background. Between the two buildings, there is a glimpse of the majestic Book Cliffs.

The original Crescent Junction Cafe and gas station under partial demolition in 1955. The new building is under construction in the background - Click for larger image ( Thank you to Lani Lange Asay for providing these historical photographs of her “hometown”, Crescent Junction, Utah. Following is Lani’s recent letter to me:

My name is Lani Lange Asay and I am one of three current residents of Crescent Junction, Utah. I would like to give you a little history you do not have about Crescent Junction.

Brendel is the railroad siding at Crescent. I think Brendel was the name of one of the railroad officials or engineers.

The name Crescent Junction came when my Grandfather and family moved from SLC to Crescent to build the business. The original business was one building with ten bar stools inside and two gas pumps outside. In 1955, the current two buildings were built.

The name Crescent Junction came from the junction of the roads there, originally US 6 & 50 and US 160, (now I-70 and U.S. 191) and the original narrow gauge railroad, which formed an arc along the Book Cliffs above the junction. I could go on and on with the history. The private land held around the junction was an original homestead by my two great aunts.

Lani (Lee Anne Lange Asay)
Mother: Bette Wimmer Lange
Grandfather: Edwin Wimmer

An eastbound train on the Union Pacific Railroad line near Crescent Junction and Brendel, Utah, with the Book Cliffs in the background - Click for larger image (
Although I will not be in Crescent Junction again until spring 2014, I will make plans to visit with Lani, her sister Keven and brother Kerry at that time. I am sure that she will have many more stories about two of my favorite places in the desert – Crescent Junction and Brendel, Utah.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Author, Adventurer, Naturalist and Poet, Craig Childs

Author Craig Childs' new book, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth - Click for larger image (

An Evening in Moab with Author, Adventurer, Naturalist and Poet, Craig Childs

Each year since 2005, I have visited Moab Utah in the fall. For my taste, the summers in Moab are too hot and the winters too cold. In the spring, the wind blows and the dust kicks up. In October 2006, I experienced almost fifteen inches of rain, but this fall the weather was as dry as a bone.

In October 2007, I was in Moab for a week and wanted to learn more about the town and its culture. Checking the events calendar, I saw that Craig Childs was in town, introducing his then new book, “House of Rain”. Until then, my only connection to Craig Childs was At Starr Hall in Moab, Utah, author Craig Childs ponders the fate of the Earth - Click for larger image ( him speak on the NPR program, Morning Edition. Not having read any of his books, I decided to go and hear him speak.

That evening, I arrived early at the Moab Information Center. With an auditorium that holds no more than seventy-five people, I was happy to sit in the front row. In the left-front corner of the room stood a stocky man dressed in clothing from the trail. As the attendees filed in and took their places on chairs or the floor, the man softly played a wooden flute. Only when he moved to the podium did I discover Craig Childs was the flautist we had just heard. Craig’s lyrical flute had created a mood for the slideshow and discussion to follow.

Demonstrating how important the book, “House of Rain” was to the career of Craig Childs, his personal website still goes by that name. Never using the phrase, “Great Disappearance” in that seminal book, his subject was the displacement Native American cultures from the Colorado Plateau around 1200 CE.

Author Craig Childs stands before his own projected image, at the doomed camp on the Greenland Ice Shield - Click for larger image ( painstaking academic research and fieldwork, alone or with paleo-scientists, Craig charted a course of migration that defined the culmination of the pre-Puebloan era. With Craig’s written guidance, I later visited and wrote about many of the places mentioned in that book. From Homolovi to Hovenweep and Mesa Verde beyond, Craig painted word-pictures of each sacred place.

In October 2008, I had the privilege of attending Confluence: A Celebration of Reading and Writing in Moab. Among the many guest authors, Amy Irvine, Jack Loeffler and Craig Childs each taught classroom and field seminars. The class was limited to forty budding authors, each paying $450 for the honor of close work with three authors. For his part, Craig Childs took our group a few miles Author Craig Childs gestures toward a small spot of life that survived a recent lava flow - Click for larger image ( of Moab to a place called Seven Mile Canyon. There, among petroglyphs and sacred sandstone grottos, Craig encouraged each of us to feel the canyon sands barefoot before writing that day.

In October 2012, Craig Child’s latest book, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth arrived at Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. With a crowd of about 250 at Moab’s Starr Hall that opening night, Craig Childs proceeded to electrify the audience with stories of catastrophe and redemption. From a campsite on the rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet to the still warm lava flows of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, Craig elucidated the constancy of violent change occurring all over the Earth.

Author Craig Childs, here signing a copy of his book, Apocalyptic Planet reminds me of John Muir and John Wesley Powell, all rolled into one - Click for larger image ( wanting to use an electronic flash that night, I tried to photograph Craig Childs in a still moment. Gesturing to his own image on the screen behind him, I watched as Craig’s animated motions transported him into his own photography. Craig on the stage merged into Craig, sitting on the front porch of the doomed Greenland camp. Later, as he swept his arm toward a small patch of island greenery surrounded by an active lava flow, Craig Childs could have been Moses, pinpointing the place where he had found the stone tablets.

Although I had videotaped parts of the presentation, I later erased all of my video from that evening. Electronic media cannot do justice to the poetry of Craig's words and voice. Standing barefoot on stage that night, reading excerpts from his new book, I saw and heard the essence of author and naturalist Craig Childs.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Energy Bridge of Water Links Mammoth Lakes to Los Angeles, California

Jim McGillis at Mammoth Lakes, California, summer 2012 - Click for larger image (
An Energy Bridge of Water Links Mammoth Lakes to Los Angeles, California

In the fall of 2012, El Niño and La Niña global weather systems battled to a draw. Now it is anybody’s guess if this will be a big snow season in California’s Sierra Nevada. On Monday October 22, one of my friends sent pictures of the season’s first snowfall at Mammoth Lakes. After an extreme lack of snow at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area last winter, locals like my friend are hoping that snowstorms will visit again soon.

Mammoth Mountain, California in summer 2012 - Click for larger image ( August 2012, I visited Mammoth Lakes for the first time since the 1990s. I was surprised to see how little the core of the town had changed. Still, rampant development of the sub-alpine meadows around the edge of town looked unsustainable to me. In 2012, the town went bankrupt. At the same time, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) made plans to exert its Mammoth Creek water rights. As has happened several times before, Mammoth headed deeper into an economic recession.

During the winter of 2011-2012, Mammoth Lakes experienced the economic ripple effect of ski area layoffs. With the semi-permanent closure of June Mountain Ski Resort in 2012, it will take more than one great snow season for Mono County and its economy to rebound. Still, as the town of Mammoth Lakes goes, so goes Los Angeles. As a persistent western drought continues, few in Los Angeles stop to think how much of their water originates in Mono County.

The same scene as the first picture above, on October 22, 2012, with one foot of fresh snow on the ground - Click for larger image (, we spent the past fifty years moving Los Angeles to Mammoth Mountain. Now, over-development and under-supply threaten water sources for both city and town. Perhaps a good 2012 – 2013 snow season will allow us to ignore both the economic and environmental realities for yet another year. Go Sierra snow!

Mesquite, Nevada - Doomed to Live Without its History

Over-painted many times in its history, this Mesquite, Nevada trailer park sign disappeared soon after this 2009 photo was taken - Click for larger image (

Mesquite, Nevada - Doomed to Live Without its History

For the past five years, my tradition has been to take both a spring and a fall trip to Moab, Utah and the Four Corner States. In 2007 and 2008, I would depart Los Angeles, travel to Phoenix, Arizona and then north to Moab. Having lived in Arizona earlier on, I liked to visit the detached suburb of Los Angeles that Phoenix had become.

In 2009, anti-immigrant rhetoric in Arizona reached a fever pitch. In April 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed the statute known as Arizona AB 1070 into law. Although she saw an anti-immigrant bill as her ticket to higher office, I saw it as a poke in the eye of egalitarianism. Henceforth, I avoided Phoenix and all of Arizona whenever possible. With both the Grand Canyon and Old Route 66 running through the state, avoiding Arizona completely can be challenging.

Now closed, Harley's Garage in Mesquite, Nevada was for fifty years a mainstay of the business community - Click for image of its deterioration ( feeling repelled by Arizona politics, I needed a new way to get from Los Angeles to Moab. My new route was to be the Old Spanish Trail, now designated Interstate I-15 North and I-70 East. Although I-15 transits the northwest corner of Arizona, it does so through the Virgin River Gorge. In the gorge, there is no place to stop or spend money. Southwest of the Virgin River Gorge, and half way from Los Angeles to Moab lies Mesquite, Nevada. Each year since 2009, I have stopped overnight in Mesquite, allowing time to absorb some local culture.

On my first stop at Mesquite, I found a quaint collection of old motels and trailer courts. On West Mesquite Blvd., antique and hand-painted signs dominated the old commercial district. Although new development sprang up prior to the economic collapse of 2008, quaint reminders of Mesquite as a farming community and a later as a highway rest stop were evident.

This deteriorating pole barn in Mesquite, Nevada was the town's original Ranch Market - Click for larger image ( permanently closed, Harley’s Garage featured a hand-painted “Ford Parts” logo sign atop its tower. Words scrawled on a front window celebrated Harley’s Garage for its fifty years as a mainstay of business in Mesquite. Likewise, the contemporary Ranch Market stood closed and empty. The market’s predecessor, a humble pole barn, stood tattered by a century of weather at the back of the same lot.

On my most recent visit, I caught sight of an old building on North Sandhill Blvd. Looking as if it had begun life as a house; it now stood stripped bare of its later business facade. With a new stucco exterior, it could have been a quaint restaurant or coffee stop. Instead, it featured “Keep Out” signs and other indications of its upcoming demolition. By the time of this writing, I assume that Mesquite has removed yet another clue to the town’s history.

In October 2012, this abandoned building in Mesquite, Nevada faced imminent demolition - Click for larger image ( foolishness of systematically destroying all of the historical architecture and signage in Mesquite is obvious. To see a graphic example of why, look no further than Las Vegas, ninety miles south on I-15. Gambling-induced development skyrocketed there in the 1950’s. The result was an eclectic collection of iconic and nostalgic architecture. Because of its long-term popularity, old Las Vegas earned a place in the hearts of many visitors. What else explains the popularity of the old “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign that has stood at the south end of The Strip since 1959?

In recent years, a new class of casino and hotel development has prevailed In Las Vegas. With no room for expansion, developers imploded and replaced Desert Inn, The Dunes, El Rancho, The Sands and other hotel/casinos too numerous to mention. Everything in Las Vegas is bigger now, but it is a lot less fun. This recent “bigger is better” format wiped nostalgic old Las Vegas off the strip and into the dustbin of history.

Interstate I-15 North, as it enters the Virgin River Gorge, north of mesquite, Nevada - Click for larger image ( remember staying in a suite at the Desert Inn in the late 1980s. Just a few yards from the Strip, my suite overlooked a tranquil, green golf course. Maybe if I were a high roller I would care that Steve Wynn personally specified the design and materials of every mattress at his Wynn and Encore hotels. Just give me a bed on the Strip with a Magic Fingers massager under the mattress, and enough quarters to make me want to unplug it and I will be happy.

Out with the new and in with the old. Good luck to Mesquite, Nevada on its historical eradication campaign. For the sake of all who care, I hope the town runs out of redevelopment funds before it runs out of history.