I have an essay and two images in the January-February 2018 issue (Artist’s Corner) of Desert Light Magazine, a publication of the Mojave National Preserve Artist Foundation. You can find it on pages 12-13. Thank you for looking and reading.
I have an essay and two images in the January-February 2018 issue (Artist’s Corner) of Desert Light Magazine, a publication of the Mojave National Preserve Artist Foundation. You can find it on pages 12-13. Thank you for looking and reading.
“…the voice of the desert is the one which has been least often heard.
We came to it last, and when we did come,
we came principally to exploit rather than to listen.
Joseph Wood Krutch
It’s long been acknowledged that the Mojave Desert provides the most ideal location for our prisons, landfills, renewable energy plants, military installations, military bombing ranges, and royalty-free access to minerals and water. In what other ways could man possibly benefit from the realm of desert bighorn sheep, seasonal wildflower blooms, desert tortoises, and wild desert springs? Unfortunately, this is the traditionally held [ignorant] view of and behavior toward the the California desert and its “resources”.
The publicly-traded company Cadiz, Inc. grows citrus and avocados on its 45,000 acres of privately held desert land in Cadiz Valley (water intensive farming in the desert?). Cadiz proposes to mine 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater (shared) every year from beneath Cadiz Valley while claiming that pumping from the basin would not affect Bonanza Spring (seen in the attached photos), or any other springs in the adjacent Mojave Trails National Monument or the Mojave National Preserve to the north. U.S. Geological Survey geologists assert that only 5,000 to 6,000 acre-feet per year of recharge is possible (this is, after all, the driest desert in North America). It’s simple math: drawdown will exceed recharge (Never Forget: Owens Valley and the LADWP). For nearly two decades, Cadiz, Inc. has tried to advance their project and for nearly two decades it has failed. Why?
“Access to new water supplies is extremely critical to the continued vitality of our cities,” says California Senator Tony Cárdenas in a promotional document defending Cadiz. But will a private water sale to one county benefiting a mere 400,000 people offer relief to a metropolitan area of 13 million? Cárdenas falls right in line with those who believe that coastal cities can sustain infinite growth (“vitality”) without an adequate local water supply. It is both illogical and irrational for a coastal city to suggest that it requires desert water for its “vitality”.
The California desert conservation community has been successful repeatedly at beating the bullsh*t served up by Cadiz; forward movement has been blocked again and again. That is, until the nightmare 45th President of the United States moved into the White House. Why would POTUS have an interest in the remote California desert and in a water project that serves less than half a million? Why would this unremarkable water project on the remote Mojave Desert make Donald’s Top 50 Priority List of Emergency and National Security Projects? Why, follow that money trail!
In late July, the 45th Administration confirmed David Bernhardt, a highly controversial pick, for the Number 2 post at the Department of the Interior:
“Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Interior, to recuse himself from all matters concerning the Cadiz water extraction project. Bernhardt is currently the head of the natural resources division at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the lobbying firm that is representing Cadiz.” “Given the fact that your current firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, is contracted to lobby on behalf of Cadiz, Inc., I remain deeply concerned about any potential conflict of interest should you serve as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior—the agency responsible for oversight of the federal lands related to the Cadiz proposal,” Senator Feinstein wrote.”
Yes, you read this correctly. David Bernhardt represents one of the most egregious and recent conflicts of interest arising from this Administration.
With your help we will can protect the Mojave and stop The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project because it is so wrong on so many levels. If , as the proponents suggest, the project is good and necessary, then why has it been so hotly contested and written about? Several hours worth of insight can be found in the numerous links provided below.
Protect and preserve Your Mojave Desert – thank you for reading and opposing this damaging and dirty project. #RememberOwensValley #CadizSUCKS
This is a very long post of vital national interest so I hope that you’ll bear with me…
America, your National Monuments are under attack even though the 45th Administration mildly terms it “review”. From the New York Times, April 26, 2017:
President Trump on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to review the size and scope of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres created since 1996. He wants recommendations on whether any of those large tracts should be scaled back by presidential authority or by Congress.
Mr. Trump, signing the order at the Interior Department, described the designations as a “massive federal land grab” and ordered the agency to review and reverse some of them.
“It’s time to end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States,” the president said.
Yesterday’s egregious Executive Order (“Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act“) hits too close to home for me and impacts every American. This is not an issue of politics; it is an issue of national heritage and American pride. Far too many Americans are incognizant of what is at stake with this Order. Recognize that people from around the world visit America to experience and enjoy what is absent from much of the world: our incredible National Parks, National Monuments, and wide-open protected spaces of the American west (sorry, Eastern U.S.). This cannot be taken for granted as you are now bearing witness to the potential vulnerability of these designations under tyrannical rule. Numerous polls have demonstrated that voters agree on public lands: we want our lands protected, we desire access for recreation, and we oppose increased fossil fuel development. If you agree, now is your time to be a patriot and act for America.
Nine National Monuments in California will see “review” under this Order. I have been personally involved with the designation of four (San Gabriel Mtns NM; Sand to Snow NM; Mojave Trails NM; Castle Mountains NM) through my photography, letter writing, attendance at public meetings, and speaking at public meetings.
My first involvement was with the San Gabriel Mountains NM. The movement towards it’s formation began in 2003. I photographed the region under contract beginning in 2010 (my photography was used to aid in the passage of designation). Passage of the Monument did not occur until late 2014, and only after much public meeting, discourse, and compromise.
Patently false statements are made when the President calls our National Monuments “massive federal land grab[s]” and the Interior Secretary says that he’ll “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.” We, the American people, own this land (not the “feds”); you already have the power (it’s your land); and much public process was part of their ultimate designation. This Administration continues to lie to Americans on behalf of the harmful extractive industries it is beholden to (what’s that about “draining the swamp”, you say?)
A particular segment of the Executive Order is of great concern; I am emboldening the parts one should take careful note of:
“Monument designations that result from a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with State, tribal, and local officials and other relevant stakeholders may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of Federal lands, burden State, tribal, and local governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.”
In reading this statement, let us not forget that we now have a Con Man real estate and golf course developer as President and an oil man as Secretary of State. The phrases “energy independence” and “economic growth” are ideas incompatible with land protection. If this Administration successfully achieves its goals of reducing the size or revoking the status of any National Monument, the door opens wide to yet more oil production and/or cattle grazing on America’s most beautiful and treasured lands. Will you allow this?
“[L]ack of public outreach and proper coordination…” can be summarily dismissed as a false statement (please see earlier links). Bears Ears NM in Utah is high on this Administration’s hit list (OIL!); note many public meetings with stakeholders took place prior to its designation as well.
“[R]estrict public access to and use of Federal lands…” is another summarily false statement: NO citizen is denied access to any part of any National Monument at any time. You may not be able to ride your four-wheeler to your destination any longer, but complaining about a loss of such former use as off-roading demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reason for and need to protect public lands. If you’d like to see what is permitted versus prohibited at any particular National Monument: https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/NatlMon_Permitted_Uses.pdf
The terms “Federal lands” and “public lands” are often used interchangeably. Federal lands are lands in the United States for which ownership is claimed by the U.S. federal government, pursuant to Article Four, section 3, clause 2 of the United States Constitution. Ownership of these lands is claimed by the U.S. on behalf of national and public interest (managing and distributing 327 million property deeds would prove very difficult). These are public lands to which all Americans (but not just Americans!) have 24/7/365 access. The exception to this rule are lands claimed by the Department of Defense for their training exercises (nearly 2 million acres here in California).
Attempts to block National Monument designation and supporters of the 45th Administration’s Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act incorrectly cite loss of “traditional” use under new National Monument designations as their source of opposition: Off-roading; hunting; grazing; loss of valid existing rights, etc. Blanket statements regarding blanket prohibitions cannot be made; some Monuments allow hunting, some allow grazing, some allow off-roading. Complaints about loss of mining activities demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reason for and need to protect public lands. Please see: https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/NatlMon_Permitted_Uses.pdf
These are the basic and most important facts regarding this Order; links to additional articles and details can be found at the end of this article.
Now, will you PLEASE do this for America?
1. Please share, reshare, overshare this post or any other like it regarding this Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act. Here is where sharing is truly caring.
2. Call Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at 202-601-3839 and tell him that any attempts to revoke or shrink our national monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. You can also send him an easy form-fill email:
3. Contact your Congressperson and tell him/her that any attempts to revoke or shrink our national monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. His/her job depends upon their fight for your public lands; fire them (with your next vote) if they fail to act. http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
4. If you operate a business or reside in San Bernardino County, California (home to Sand to Snow NM; Mojave Trails NM; Castle Mountains NM), please contact Representative Paul Cook at (760) 247-1815 and tell him that any attempts to revoke or shrink our National Monuments is an assault on our historical, cultural, and natural heritage. You can also email him: http://cookforms.house.gov/contact/
Specifically request that Rep. Cook send a written letter to the Department of Interior defending the designations and existing size of Sand to Snow NM, Mojave Trails NM, and Castle Mountains NM (all are in his District). His job depends upon his ability to fight for your public lands; fire him (with your next vote) if he fails to act. NOTE: office staff may seem uninterested in your call and may dispense false information by stating that Representative Cook cannot do anything. You may be told to call the President with your concerns. Persist, RESIST.
THANK YOU for what you do for America!
You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael
In this sunlit desolation of rock and thorn, where the sun beats down through an unending march of days and the desert silence which broods among the boulders and Ocotillos is broken only by the harpings of the wind, we can spread freely the net of our minds to gather those priceless, fundamental stirrings of the infinite which are most easily come by when one is close to nature. Marshal South
I recently celebrated my birthday in Death Valley National Park. Reasoning that all my clients are wonderful people and a joy to be around (this is no lie) – especially considered in the context of photography and Death Valley – I chose to schedule photo tour clients on my birthday. While some opt for more civilized days or nights on the town with a fine dinner, friends, and a show, my time spent quietly in nature amidst the sun-burnished desert holly, half-billion year old canyons, and ancient night sky are among the simplest of joys – they make me happy. I don’t need any wrapped presents or candles or cake – these are the gifts I want and love.
I’m always a little hesitant to share my “methods” with my clients. I meet most of them at their lodging, where they’ve often spent a comfortable night under a roof with the possibility of evening television entertainment. They are often surprised when they learn that I forgo lodging and sleep under the stars. Not camped in a tent – literally, on the ground and under the stars (never in “developed” campgrounds). It is not a budgetary constraint – it is a choice. Sometimes the kit foxes visit me at night (sometimes walking around on and smelling my sleeping bag – “lie down, kit!”). Often I hear my coyote friends nearby reveling in their hunt. I have no fears about sleeping beautifully this way – much worse (and louder) things can happen in any city on any given night. There is no quiet like the quiet of my preferred Death Valley sleeping sites.
My “method” ceased being a choice long ago – after a great many years of doing it this way, sleeping under a tent canopy or roof feels wrong when there are planets, meteors, and a raging night sky to lull me to sleep. Rest assured, I’ve had plenty of middle-of-the-night rain drills which send my scurrying like a wood rat. My ancestors slept like this; it feels right to follow in their steps and try to understand a little of their existence and their communion with nature. It cannot be so terribly different from my own experiences.
One of Lynda’s goals was to experience and photograph the Milky Way. Any day or month of the year, I get to experience this brilliant flaming Galaxy over the Death Valley night sky. And while I don’t care so much about making photographs of it – I observe it nightly in real-time H.D. with my own eyes – I don’t take it for granted. Never for a second.
In a world which often seems to be speeding (and spiraling) out of control, I feel eternally thankful and blessed for these gifts. The gift of sight lets me see nightly that infinite galaxy overhead. The gift of sound allows me to hear gentle desert winds rake across the hairs of my outer ear. And the gift of simply being allows me to take pleasure in the simplest joys which were enjoyed by my ancestors (and which are frequently lost on modern man).
Thank you for a most wonderful birthday in Death Valley, Lynda and Jim!
I am rather particular about semantics and the manner in which I speak about my own art. You will never hear me define my photographs as “shots”, nor will you will ever hear me proudly declare how “I got the shot” while expressing the ideas or mechanics behind a photograph. Quite contrarily, a professional photographer known for his bold (and refuted) sales claims seems to really enjoy using both. A new generation of landscape/nature photographers has fallen under his influence and they also seem to love using these terms of conquest. The contemplative, perceptual, passive act of moving deliberately and slowly through a landscape in search of creation seems to have been superseded by epic-everything, moving quickly and far (extra points for defying death), and getting “the shot”. I have heard a number of stories from workshop students relating how they covered in previous workshops thousands of tiring miles in one week chasing epic weather and light over epic locations. My own workshops and personal photographic style run completely counter: One location, slow movement, connecting with the land, and a big emphasis on perception and vision. In other words, photographs exist everywhere and can be made at any time and under any conditions. You and your ability to see are your only limitations.
The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” — Ernst Haas
A bigger issue with “the shot” is the implication that there is only one photograph to be made from any particular location (I have been asked by students and tour clients “where is the shot?”). By limiting yourself only to your preconceived ideas (or mine) and/or photographing what has already been photographed, you cheat yourself out of a world rife with images.
Make art, photographs, or images. War against the shot.
You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
To my readers: I apologize for the raging quiet that has permeated this blog for a number of months. Booming business, my father’s failing health, and a plethora of other commitments and obligations fight for my time and this blog suffers for it. I hope to be be able to increase my posting frequency in the coming months.
My being and spirituality has always been directly tied to nature and wildlands. I was born in Los Angeles (a distinctly different city nearly 50 years ago) and first experienced and fell in love with the local San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and Sierra Nevada mountains as a very young boy. While many of the memories of those early experiences are no longer with me, the experiences themselves have indelibly shaped and defined the person I was to become. I studied the obligatory classics of my preferred genre: John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner. If it was not my experiences that would shape me, the words of these writers certainly would have. Their books became my bibles, and the only thing I cared about (and still care about) was spending as much time as possible in wild nature: In my happy place, away from people, away from civilization (or “syphilization” as Abbey called it). I distinctly recall my mother back then telling this teenager that he had no business complaining about anything if he wasn’t willing to vote or put his money where his mouth was. It was she who was responsible for creating the activist I was to become. I was registered to vote by the age of eighteen and by my early twenties had a fat three-ring binder containing hundreds of copies of letters written to and replies received from Presidents, Senators, and Congresspersons about all the issues that concerned me and our planet.
In the decades since, I have walked, hiked, and climbed thousands of miles in California. I have summitted hundreds of its mountains (including many of the state’s highest); have been a volunteer patrol ranger on the San Bernardino National Forest (for which I received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2008); have served on the Board of Directors for the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association; and am currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy. Since 2007 my photographs have been instrumental in the campaigns of The Wilderness Society, Campaign for America’s Wilderness, National Parks Conservation Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, among others. Throughout my life I have fought for the preservation of wildlands and for doing what is right for the land. The latter is a position which Aldo Leopold argued for nearly 75 years ago. His ideas were brilliant and before their time yet few listened. 75 years later, wildlands have shrunk right along with our glaciers and much of our country is on the brink of ecological collapse.
In his piece on Politicizing Art, my good friend and workshop partner Guy Tal writes about disassociating his own political convictions from his photographic work and explains why he chooses not to be a public activist. Many artists choose a stance similar to his. Using my own photographs and art for activism and conservation seemed to me necessary and mandatory from the start. I have always believed that the most honorable purpose for my photographs would be their use in conservation and I desired following the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, and the Sierra Club tradition of using photographs and coffee table books to advance legislation and protection for wildlands.
In 2010, under contract of The Wilderness Society, I began photographing what at that time were termed “Solar Energy Zones” on the California desert. I was only then beginning to understand the possible and forever damage that could occur on my beloved Mojave Desert. My heart was crushed as I photographed vast swaths of desert wildlands that were impossible to envision covered in thousands of solar panels, 500-foot tall thermal power towers, and eagle-killing wind turbines. I have since committed to photographing all threatened California desert wildlands, and am proud that my photographs have been used to help kill at least three proposed ill-sited development zones (Pisgah, Iron Mountain, Palen).
In recent months, I have attended numerous public and private stakeholder meetings opposing utility-scale renewable energy developments on undisturbed California desert. I always have large prints in tow. While it’s easy to dispute confusing language and policies (such as with the recently-released 8,000 page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan), the right photographs are able to clearly and powerfully demonstrate exactly what is at stake. Last week, I was invited by the Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association to lobby the Los Angeles City Council against entering a power purchase agreement from the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project. I had two 60″ panoramic prints in tow and their impact was undeniably felt. A few weeks prior I was invited to a private meeting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss the Silurian Valley solar proposal. Again, I had large and small prints in tow (both landscape and wildlife) and their impact was undeniable.
In 2010, under contract of The Wilderness Society and the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, I created a catalog of images to help advance the then-proposed National Monument designation for the San Gabriel Mountains. I am very happy to report that President Obama is screwing up traffic in Los Angeles today (October 10, 2014) to announce our newest National Monument!
Should artists avoid politicizing their art? Should photography and politics never be mixed? My personal life, spirituality, and profession are all intermixed and dependent upon nature and wildlands. I will not peacefully and passively accept the development and destruction of my beloved lands any more than I’ll permit an act of violence against a loved one. If not me, what other artist will stand up and fight? If the power of beautiful photography can convince others of the need for protection and conservation of our vital wildlands, I want to be on the front line and I want those photographs to be mine.
You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
By now you’ve likely heard that Death Valley set a new high temperature record on Sunday, June 30, 2013: 129 Fahrenheit. I have a long history in Death Valley and spend a lot of time in the Park each year (DeathValleyPhotoTours), so when the prognostications started flying regarding Death Valley’s potential to break its own heat record (134F, recorded July 10, 1913) I had to be there.
We arrived at the Badwater parking lot just after 2pm, our target time. There were a surprising number of people: Europeans are known to relish this heat and enjoy summer holidays in Death Valley. CNN was also present, talking with tourists and conducting a classic solar-radiation-egg-frying experiment in the parking lot (unfortunately, too many are conducting this experiment). Our thermometers indicated the temperature was around 121-122F, which was confirmed by CNN. I was initially disappointed. I expected Badwater to be HOT HOT (the Weatherspace.com believes it was hotter).
We moved on to the Furnace Creek Resort, where outside the general store hung an old analog thermometer with its needle beyond its maximum high temperature of 130F. We enjoyed the oven-like concentration of heat under the shade of the date palms. Even in the shade, the breeze was akin to the heat blast you receive when you open an oven door. It felt hotter than Badwater.
We moved over to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center after 3:30pm to find a throng of tourists, media, and two guys dressed in Darth Vader and Chewbacca outfits. The digital sign out front displayed 132F, although this thermometer is affected by direct solar radiation and is inaccurate. Just minutes later at 4pm the National Park Service took its official reading of 129 degrees Fahrenheit.
Around 4pm we were ten miles north of Furnace Creek moving towards Stovepipe Wells (and eventually the cooler heights of the Panamint Mountains) when the air conditioning failed in my wife’s car! It was fine by us, but extra measures were required to keep our dog Mojave cool in the 120F+ temperatures while we moved across the desert. We arrived at Mahogany Flats around 5pm where the temperature was beautiful and the high views of the hot desert sublime.
Indeed, 120F+ is HOT, but if one is dressed properly, well hydrated, in good health and operating smartly, it’s not near as bad as you’d believe. It occurred to me upon my arrival home that in calendar year 2013 I’ve experienced a temperature swing in Death Valley National Park of 126 degrees: It was 3F on the Racetrack on a bitterly cold January morning, and 129F at Furnace Creek on June 30. Death Valley: The Land of Extremes.