There is quiet solitude in the rail yards. I deliberately visit them in the early morning hours or late afternoons when shifts have ended for the day and no one is around. Being alone in the yards is exactly how I prefer to experience them. I am able to take my time, study details and allow myself to be moved by a subject. Occasionally, I stumble upon wildlife. Most often, birds of common species like pigeons or gulls that have perched along the tops of parked train cars and the power lines above. They are at rest and seem to be enjoying the same seclusion that attracted me. In my years of exploring rail yards, I have learned to look for these birds, as they are an indication that no one is present to startle them. Perhaps more accurately stated… No one present to call the cops on me. Far less often, I see feral dogs, coyotes and foxes wandering the yards in search of a meal. Whenever I see them, I pause for a moment with a sense of awe. Rail yards do not afford much consideration for any species of life. Hazards are everywhere. Aside from the obvious peril of a fast moving train, rusty spikes, broken glass and who knows what else could be lurking in the weeds and debris. The risk of danger is always just one misstep away. In all this ugliness though, something truly splendid is revealed: An unyielding will to live despite overwhelming obstacles and odds against survival. I cannot help but feel a certain bond with these creatures.


In southeast California lies nearly 800,000 acres of national park known as Joshua Tree. Named after the trees that are native to this region, the area is just slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. The varying characteristics of this land are determined primarily by elevation: The higher Mojave desert, and the lower Colorado desert. The San Bernardino mountains traverse the southwestern edge of the park. Many of the animal and plant species have evolved with special adaptations to survive the very low water levels inherent to this land.

The earliest known inhabitants date between 8000 and 4000 BC. Later residents include the Serrano, Cahuilla and Chemehuevi peoples. They were mostly hunter gatherers who subsisted largely on plants and small game. In 1772, the Spaniards entered the region to spread Christianity among the natives. Throughout history, many people have visited this land: Explorers, fur trappers, cattle ranchers, miners and countless others.

While some may come to Joshua tree in search of opportunity, others wander through on uncertain paths. This vast and majestic landscape has always compelled visitors to discover its secrets. For many, the desert offers spiritual cleansing, an escape, a way out, or a place to be rescued. Whatever the reason, we are all visitors, passing through time and space. In the end, our purpose can only be to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.

(Based on Aboriginal proverb)