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Abandoned Buildings on Route 66 in Ludlow, CA (Part 1)

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160
Abandoned Buildings on Route 66

Shot on Kodak Portra 160
with a Mamiya RZ67

Abandoned buildings. Photographers love ‘em. I don’t know why we love them so much, but give us a dilapidated old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere and we’re in hog heaven. That’s why I was so happy to stumble upon a cluster of decaying structures straddling the iconic Route 66 in Ludlow, California.

I was getting that itch to go take pictures of someplace new, so I began scouring maps of the Mojave Desert looking for something - anything - that might be worth pointing my lens at. Some sand dunes maybe, an old railroad depot, something with character. But despite my map-studying and route-planning, I just couldn’t make up my mind as to where to go. And the clock was ticking; I only had one day to get away from work and it was approaching fast.

So instead of going out with a plan, I just started driving. I left early morning in hopes that I’d just figure it out along the way. I pointed my trajectory towards the high desert, Mojave National Preserve would be my end-of-the-line if I couldn’t find anything sooner. Heading out like this with no plan is not my normal operating procedure. I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a plan.

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Please click the above photos for larger views
Both shot on Kodak Portra 160 film
with a Shen-Hao TFC 617-A Camera

I’d seen some abandoned buildings off the highway on previous trips out to Las Vegas and Mojave National Preserve, but I’d never taken the time to pull over and see what they had to offer. Whenever I’d driven past them before, I had a destination to get to. Goes to show that having a plan isn’t always the best plan. Had I not had such clear-cut destinations in mind on my previous journeys, I might have stopped to see these buildings years earlier.

But this time I had no destination. No schedule, no plan. This would be the perfect opportunity to see these buildings up close.

I pulled off the interstate into the nearly non-existent town of Ludlow. The cracked and rough Route 66 runs right down the center of it. You can feel the rumble of freight trains passing by just a stone’s throw away. There, standing in all their run-down glory are the sun-bleached buildings of a forgotten town. The roof of an abandoned gas station juts out over the dusty desert like a bird’s wing. Next door is a mechanic’s shop with a caved-in ceiling and the fading letters of “GARAGE” emblazoned on its side. A tiny house, a big house, a house barely visible behind overgrown shrubbery, and the skeletons of old monument signs all just begging to be photographed.

This was going to be a good day to take pictures.

Be sure to read part 2 of this Route 66 trip recap and also check out the on-location video below!

Photography On-Location: Route 66
View on YouTube to see full HD

The following pictures were made with Kodak Portra 160 film and a Mamiya RZ67:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160

The following pictures were made with Polaroid Originals 600 film:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Polaroid Instant Film

Abandoned Buildings on Route 66 in Ludlow, CA (Part 2)

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

More abandoned buildings from Route 66
Shot on Kodak Portra 160
with a Mamiya RZ67

This is part 2 of my visit to the abandoned buildings off Route 66 in Ludlow, CA. Click here to see part 1.

Yes, sir. Abandoned buildings along Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave Desert - I really can’t think of a better recipe for a good time. But wait, it’s missing just a few ingredients: a heaping cup of Shen-Hao TFC-617 camera, a Mamiya RZ67 with 6x7 and 6x6 film backs, plenty of Kodak Portra 160, and just a dash of Fujifilm Velvia 100. Ah, yes, now we got ourselves a tasty dish.

I tend to overpack on camera gear. I’m always afraid I’ll leave behind the one thing I wish I had. So I brought with me on this trip my full Mamiya RZ67 outfit, my complete 6x17 kit, and even a couple of polaroid cameras - a Polaroid SX-70 and the new Polaroid OneStep 2. Combine all that with 5 different films stuffed in my cooler and there are more camera/lens/film combinations than I could ever want. In fact, I think I may have had a few too many options to work with.

The Mamiya RZ67 with 6x6 back may have been my favorite to use. Something about shooting square format is just plain fun. Especially out here on Route 66. Route 66, 6x6 film...come on, might as well call it Route 6x6! Amirite?

But my favorite pictures came from my 6x17 Shen-Hao TFC 617-A. I love shooting the 6x17 panoramic format anyway, but out here in Ludlow, the abandoned mechanic’s shop and gas stations seemed like they were built to be photographed in this format.

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Fuji Velvia 100 film

The 4 pictures above were shot on Fuji Velvia 100 film
Click to see them bigger

And check out Part 1 of this trip recap to see
how they compare to Kodak Portra 160 film

I used both Kodak Portra 160 film and Fuji Velvia 100 to photograph these decaying buildings in 6x17 format. I prefer the look of Kodak Portra overall - can’t beat those nice soft tones - but I’m glad I shot Velvia too. To compare the 2 films side-by-side is quite interesting for a film geek like me. The dynamic range of Portra far exceeds that of Velvia, so the shadow and highlight detail is much improved. I’ll always have a soft-spot in my heart for Velvia because it was the first film I fell in love with, but these days I’m really loving the look of Portra.

To see a full in-depth comparison of these 2 films along with a review of all the images from this trip, check out the video below.

Photography On-Location: Route 66
View on YouTube to see full HD

The following pictures were all made on Kodak Portra 160 film with a Mamiya RZ67 camera equipped with a 6x6 back:

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Route 66 in Ludlow, CA on Kodak Portra 160 film

Mojave Desert, Part 3: Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Sand Texture in the Mojave Desert
Click Any Image Enlarge

I think I could photograph the ripples in these sand dunes for days and never get bored. That’s why I did a lot of it on this trip. I also find that shooting in the square film format and using my camera handheld (as opposed to my usual tripod method) makes photographing this sand texture all the more fun. The ripples are simultaneously perfectly ordered and utterly random. They’re like the grooves in your fingerprint - each one is different and yet they all look pretty much the same at first glance.

The most interesting thing about these ripples and textures is that they are formed entirely by wind alone. It’s nothing more than a side effect of a natural weather phenomenon. It’s simply remarkable that this is what mother nature creates when she’s left alone. And like an etch-a-sketch, each one of these sculptures is shaken clear and re-formed with passing time. They are transient and temporary, a fact that makes photographing them all the more special.

At the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve, you’ll find faint layers of black sand mixed in with the more common beige variety. I presume the black sand comes from the volcanic rock of nearby cinder cones which has been eroded down to granules and transported by the wind onto these mammoth piles of sand. The real interesting part comes in how the wind separates the black sand from the beige sand. It seems one of these types of sand is heavier than the other. This fact is evident all over the dunes where a strip of black sand will crown the top of a crest or line the valleys of sand ripples like a black highlighter drawn along their edge. The result is a multi-colored painting of sand and wind that even the finest artist couldn’t create.

I personally like these types of compositions. They aren’t in-your-face like my more typical epic landscape photography, but their subtlety and near-abstractness is perfect for interior decorating. I plan to compile some of these images of sand texture into a triptych - 3 compositions side-by-side or one on top of the other to form a beautiful wall art piece that brings the texture of the Kelso Sand Dunes indoors. Or maybe I’ll do 4 compositions arranged 2x2...perhaps 6 arranged 2x3...maybe even 9 arranged 3x3.

I think we’re going to need a bigger wall...

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture

Mojave Desert Sand Texture