California Desert

Photographing a Vanishing Desert

by Carll Goodpasture


It takes a long time to see in the desert. The geological, biological, and seasonal flow of time is different here because one must wait so long for things to happen, like a car to rust or flowers to bloom. To see in the desert you will need patience and age.
To find the pollinator of the desert primrose, or to follow a sidewinder’s track through the sand you will need time on your hands. If you hope to follow a star’s trail on a full moon night, or stumble on sea shells or the shards and scars of sacred times. You will need, as well as time at attention, insight from your dreams. Time in the desert is inhuman – its rhythm is aboriginal, its scale unfamiliar. Seeds, spores, and pupae wait decades for water to germinate and weather to nurture their growth. Over geological time, the once in a life time is commonplace. Being there is the problem. Expecting green is another. Yes, the desert is alive, always alive, and kaleidoscope colored, Seldom green, never barren, fecundity lies within the soil, hidden in sand, under rocks, and by time on a scale larger than daily concern. In its season, it has pockets of extraordinary biodiversity. Only in modern perception is the desert a wasteland. A journey into the California desert is a journey into wilderness still wild but vanishing. Always wild is a hopeful prognosis and a question lingering with sadness permeating this vast space and deep time. With dark nights an astronomical show time and naked landscape a prehistoric story line, it leads my imagination to infinity. But all wild land is finite and wilderness in a desert is a concept confined by fence post and map line. At this time, ten million people live within 100 miles of the California desert. It is an afternoon’s air conditioned ride from city to city; Las Vegas to Los Angeles. As urbanization continues, I am concerned for the desert, frightened by progress and change. My sense of solitude is endangered – the evening call of the whippoorwill evaporates in mourning light - disappears before my eyes like camouflaged grasshoppers and sleepy ghost moths. The desert is still wild and there still is time to see, but always wild is a question that a nature photographer might ask of a modern world running outdated on time standing still.

El Niño

The El Nino portfolio presents a sample of images from an exhibition project entitled A Long Time To See and from a photo book entitled The Best Spring Ever - Why El Nino Makes The Desert Bloom.

From the dust jacket:

"When we hear of El Niño, we think of the weather – but recent science has shown that El Niño is also a biological phenomenon. In fact, at least in the desert, its El Niño that turns on the system. Indeed, desert ecosystems of the southwest are dependant on early, frequent, and generous rains that characterize a typical El Niño year. And not only plants prosper from bountiful rainfall – productivity in the entire biological system is increased with long lasting effects. In this documentary portfolio, photographer and biologist Carll Goodpasture captures the lushness of a spring floral bloom brought on by the most significant El Niño event in southwestern desert memory. These moving and informative images depict desert life forms in their native habitats. An enlightening essay by noted author and native plant botanist Janice Bowers assiduously updates El Niño the weather phenomenon and discusses the intimate relationship between rainfall and plant life as well as its influence on other desert critters including mankind.

The Best Spring Ever – Why El Niño Makes The Desert Bloom gives the feeling of being in the desert during a bountiful bloom; for most of us a once in a lifetime experience."