In the first unit of this class we talked about the high desert, the region of California the writer Mary Austin described as “the land of little rain.” You will also recall that Phillip Fradkin spends some time talking about the Owens Lake in The Seven States of California. He describes the ambush and massacre of the native Paiutes in 1863 near the lake shore. As Mary Austin wrote, “The Paiutes has made their last stand on the border of the Bitter Lake; battle driven they died in its waters, and the land filled with cattle-men and adventurers for gold.”
The writer and historian Christopher Langley and the photographer Osceola Refetoff are documenting the natural and cultural history of the region with stories and images of the past, present, and future legacy of human enterprise in the California desert.
Their High & Dry Project explores “the myth of California’s deserts is charged with human hope and inextricably tied to that most American ambition: the pursuit of freedom and happiness.” As they go on to say, “Iconic images of these arid lands are part our cultural DNA, essential to our collective understanding of the West and to our assumptions of what it means to be an American:
Against these grand ideals exists a loose patchwork of struggling communities, military-industrial compounds and vast open spaces; long a refuge for loners, dreamers, and broken spirits. In the near future, immense wind and solar projects will likely dominate many areas, transforming the landscape in ways that are complex and irreversible.
The artist Perry Cardoza has also been at work exploring and interpreting the region. Off Highway 136 in the Owens Valley, just north of Owens Lake. This example of Earth Art is described in a recent article by journalist Christopher Langley, “Perry Cardoza’s Land Art Project.”