Words to Travel By:

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” – Kurt Vonnegut

"We can't be lost.  We're making such good time." – a friend

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."  – Georgia O'Keeffe [Because bridges are my kryptonite.]

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” - Mark Twain

Entries in Abandoned (5)


Graveyard on Route 66

One of the most common relics along the old Route 66 is a rusting automobile like these found near the meteor crater in Arizona. These were left behind when an automotive shop closed up. The ground is littered with old steel cans that once held oil and lubricants, bits of springs, and bolts.


Miners Lamp

Before headlamps could be powered by batteries, miners burned calcium carbide as lamp fuel. The powder was sold in steel barrels like this one. Decades of exposure to temperature and humidity fluxuations took their toll on this one: the carbide expanded, popping the top off the barrel and splitting it down the side.


Aldrige Sawmill


A three-mile hike into the Angelina Forest near Jasper, Texas reveals the remains of the Aldridge Sawmill. Abandoned since the 1920s, the mill was once a thriving enterprise served by the Burrs Ferry, Browndell and Chester Railroad (BFB&C) and the adjacent company town was home to 1,000 - 1,500 workers. The property is overseen by the USDA Forest Service and is part of the Angelina National Forest, accessible via a hiking trail built on the earth berms constructed for tram access.

The History Center in Diboll, Texas has a wonderful collection of resources available regarding the area's rich history including this piece by Jonathon Gerland, A Sense of Place in the Angelina Forest: Aldridge, Blue Hole, Bouton Lake, Boykin Springs, and Turpentine.


Modern Ghost Towns

Most ghost towns result from slow attrition.  Some, however, happen all at once, suddenly and dramatically.  Picher and Cardin in Oklahoma and their neighbor, Treece, Kansas, which all huddle together in the corner where the states meet, are three such towns.  For decades, these towns produced zinc and lead for industry.  The chat piles grew and towered above the towns; the mine tunnels gridded the earth below.  Picher, Cardin, and Treece became physically unstable, prone to subsidence from the tunnels, and extremely toxic from the heavy metals in the chat, the air, and the groundwater.  A few years ago, these towns became superfund clean-up sites.  Picher's local government disbanded, surrendered the town's incorporation, and left.  The fire station is abandoned and the emergency siren rusts on a pole outside. A single business, a pharmacy, remains in operation. Dump trucks go about the business of demolition and remediation and the area is regularly patroled by the Quapaw (say O-GAH-PAW) Tribal Police department, but otherwise there is little to suggest a lingering human presence.  Most of the residents accepted buy-outs, some willingly, some reluctantly and only after a tornado a few years ago. 

The houses are being systematically stripped of anything salvagable, then razed.  Down some streets there are tell-tale slabs, but in other places even the paving is gone.  Only the streetlights hint at what used to be.  Down one of those streets, the Picher Mining Museum, now empty, sits alone, a final ironic nod to the fact that the god of creation is also the god of destruction.

For more on what led me to Picher, see this story in the Los Angeles Times.


The Abandoned

Someone told stories here.  Someone cooked; someone ate.  There were births and deaths, joys and sorrows, dreams and plans. Perhaps a whole life uncoiled here, continuous and unbroken.  Perhaps there were more false starts than successes. 

Sometimes, the buildings tell me something: a vernacular architecture suggests that the builder knew the country and how to build for it; the materials speak to the topography and natural resources of the area; style and size suggest an era; the detritus may indicate that the structure failed from neglect and time or that it burned.  Always there is something to suggest that both man and animal have prowled the site recently; rarely there is something that lingers from the inhabitants: a stove; a chair; a color discernable in the peeling paint of a sunbleached door; a tattered curtain that still hangs above a glassless window.  For me, it is not that the structure is failing or that the names and dreams have been lost to the wind, but that something remains stubbornly clinging to form and function despite the greater forces of time and nature.  I see resiliancy. I hear echos of past lives. I find them comforting and beautiful.