21 December, 2009Issue 10.6North AmericaPhoto EssaysThe Arts

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The Modern Mojave

James Hall

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Mojave Desert, USA—Located in the southeastern part of California, the Mojave Desert is at once a vast inhospitable land and a blank canvas, a barren expanse and a metonym for contemporary American culture.

The 22,000 square mile desert is scattered with contradictions. Rows of solar troughs stand just down the road from scrap metal yards with mountains of demolished cars. Dwindling desert towns struggle with arson, vandalism, and methamphetamines in the shadow of booming planned communities and super Wal-Marts.

With entrepreneurs and energy companies rushing to claim the 4.6 million acres of land and 41 million federal government dollars recently allotted for renewable energy projects, much of the desert’s culture and appearance stands on the verge of change. Many look to the Mojave Desert as a solution to climate and energy problems. Others recognize that large-scale rapid development poses a serious threat to the diversity of life hidden in this desert landscape.

On average, 25 new plant species are found in the Mojave each decade. It is also home to the endangered desert tortoise. The construction of transmission towers, solar fields, and wind farms, many of which border national parks, will threaten this species and dramatically alter the aesthetics of the desert.

The modern Mojave Desert is a place of hope and hopelessness, technology and ruin, prosperity and poverty. Most of all, it is still a place where any future is possible.

James Hall is a freelance photographer based in San Francisco, California. He has documented the work of international NGOs, with a focus on underrepresented and marginal communities.