March 11, 2008





Only a couple of hours after leaving the motel in Delta, Utah I was on Highway 50 crossing the Nevada border. I was passing into another time zone and another state of mind. Perhaps I like traveling on “The Loneliest Road in America” because so little happens. The are, of course, exceptions like seeing the gate head at Horns-A-Plenty outside Ely, Nevada. I couldn’t tell you how many sets of elk antlers make up this monumental structure. Unlike true “horns” antlers are shed every year. They didn’t have to kill the animals. You can pick them up off the ground. I’m sure, in this neck of the woods, you could find this many antlers in every hundred square miles. Between the hills are enormous stretches of what many would consider wasteland.
When I spotted a water tank and windmill at the end of a dirt road it was a real event.
 Just past Ely, Nevada is the small town of Ruth and the remains of a large copper mining operation. About 400 people still live there but the gas station closed a while ago. I wondered if the copper that was in the pennies in my pocket as a kid or the copper in my computer had been extracted from the giant mountain of tailings.
I stopped to get some lunch at Raine’s Market in Eureka. Beneath the pressed tin ceiling, on every wall above the grocery shelves, there must be fifty different mounted heads.
In Austin I stopped at The International Cafe and Bar to see if my artwork was still on the wall. When I went into the darkened bar I came across the man with the flu. He’s Vick, the husband of the new owner, Gail.  I had stopped here on the trip when I moved to California from Boulder. The theme of this change in my life, the phrase that I would often repeat was, “Start form Zero.” It was a spiritual and mental device to keep me in the present….something to keep me from being lost in the loss and longing for the past or the fear and fantasy of the future. I remembered sitting at the bar, over a beer, with my gold and silver metallic pens creating an artwork on the back of a dollar bill to be added to the hundred of “ones” that cover the walls. In trade for some pictures Vick     said he’d make me a member of the “Drunk Club”, a service started the night before. Benefits included a place to sleep it off if I ever got too drunk to drive home. Though not normally run as a hotel the building is actually the oldest hotel in Nevada. I was honored.
Next door to The International is the Little Blue Bird Turquoise and Antique Shop. It has relics from the days when Austin was a silver mining boomtown and raw turquoise from the surrounding hills. I love the shadows on the wall and how the color of the wall matched the sky and that Native American’s call turquoise, “sky stones.”
Having driven Hwy 50 many times there are many people and places that are familiar. However, there are places that I’ve taken pictures of on past trips that I’ve never recognized again.
Both these shots have personal meaning to me, yet I can’t say I ever recognized them again on any trip. Both shots were taken with a long telephoto that brought the image closer and stacked up the layers. In the road shot, I timed how long it took me to drive to the other end of the picture at 80 miles an hour. It took 12 minutes. You can see how the road is wide and then gets narrow. It drops into a flat stretch for five miles before I starts to climb the hill.
The first snow had already fallen on the tops of the mountain peaks. Down in the desert plain taking the picture of the warm colored grass I was in a t-shirt. I know it’s hard to imagine that, on a road so straight, that anyone could get lost. I have quite the imagination. Years ago, after driving all night, I came to the roadside Point of Interest spot just as it was getting light. This was the location of an original Pony Express station. I spent a long time taking pictures and reading the information. I mentally positioned myself on the spot marked, “You Are Here” and oriented myself on the trail that started in St. Joseph Missouri and ended in Sacramento, California. I set out on the road that at almost any time of day looks the same in both directions. The Pony Express stations were positioned about ten miles apart, the distance a horse could run at full gallop. I traveled twice that distance before I recognized something I had seen before in the pre-dawn light and put it together that the sign that I had believed in was oriented in the opposite direction of reality.

East of Fallon, Nevada is a great roadside attraction simply know as The Shoe Tree. Legends vary as to how this all began. One tale tells how the first pair was thrown during a wedding night argument by a young couple; later, their children’s shoes were added to the branches. I decided that this was the perfect place to store my pair of shoes that I had painted white for the “White Wedding” that I sent three emails ago. Now I’ll always know where they are.

Just a little bit down the road is Sand Mountain. This the highest sand dune in America that allows All Terrain Vehicles. On Memorial Day Weekend, there is an “unofficial” event that attracts over 20,000 people to climb the 600-foot dune. From the highway I couldn’t see that anyone was there. When I got to the base I drove over to the lone camper and met Craig and Larry. I took a few pictures of them climbing the hill. After a few runs Larry asked, “Do you want to go to the top?” It didn’t take a second to say, “Absolutely. That would be great.”
So, sans helmet, we set off ascending the sinuous stack of sand. Just short of the top Larry stopped so I could take a few shots. What a rush. What a view. What a gift!
As I got back on the highway I stopped again to take a long view of the scene. After I had the tripod up and the shot composed a group of crows flew into the frame. They added scale to the picture and sent my spirit soaring.

This was a great way to end my three week trip to Colorado and back. Thanks for accepting my invitation to go for a ride. I’m complimented. And thank you for forwarding these tales to your friends. I am always delighted when someone sends an email asking to be included in our shared experience of this wonderful world. Because of you I get to be pleased almost every day. The email address is: . If, for any reason, you what to be removed from the list just send a reply with “No Thanks” in the subject line. I have one more email in the wings of a most fabulous trip through the redwoods to another fantastic family farm. I’m waiting to get the final approval for an assignment that will take me to Harvard in Boston and the UN in New York for a couple of weeks in December. I will, of course, be happy that you will be coming along. And one more thing. Today, the 13th of November, is my birthday! Thank you all for being part of the reason why I am so happy that I chose to be born in this most interesting time and place.
Ride On!
Love, Jerry

Jerry Downs Photography
P.O. Box 1082
Larkspur, CA 94977

NowHere 11-08-07
After leaving Boulder while the stars were still shinning I reached the Premium Oil sign in Green River, Utah just after our local star surfaced from behind the Earth.
I chose to take an alternate route. I turned off I-70 onto Highway 24 and headed South. I’d been down that road before but never noticed a state park sign that read, “Goblin Valley.” It was apply named. Walking through this surreal landscape inspired awe and it also made me laugh.

This is were I met Willy and Rosanna from Italy. They too thought it was “fantastic” and wondered why none of the guide books featured this most unusual place. For the next fifty miles we kept passing each other on the road as we stopped to take pictures of different things. We eventually ended up at the same place and shared a few minutes over lunch on a picnic table near some tee-pees at the Luna Mesa Oasis in Caineville.      
A couple of miles down the road from Goblin Valley there was a small stretch of sand. The animal footprints caught my eye as I drove by. Perhaps it was because of the hour I spent wondering through that fantastic space that I found myself face down in the sand with a wide-angle lens wondering through the foot tall grass.
A couple of miles down the road from Goblin Valley there was a small stretch of sand. The animal footprints caught my eye as I drove by. Perhaps it was because of the hour I spent wondering through that fantastic space that I found myself face down in the sand with a wide-angle lens wondering through the foot tall grass.

Picking up speed I headed down the open road. I passed something that looked like a stick laying across the road. There were no trees as far as I could see. I turned around to see if it was a snake. It laid so still that it actually took a while to find out if it was still alive. After I determined that it had no rattlers I got closer and closer until I saw its tongue tasting the air to determine if I was dangerous. With my camera held out in front of me, I inched it off of the flat long rocky surface where it had been sunning itself. Once it was in the grass we took a final look at each other and said goodbye.
 Driving through Utah I often wonder what criteria is used to determine what makes a scenic view worthy of a sign. Sometimes it simply seems that it is because there is a wide spot on the road.
I also wondered about the mixed messages this spot of grass posed for an illiterate pooch. The “Point of Interest” sign for the abandoned Nielsen Grist Mill in Capital Reef National Park was exceptional. Except for the two open doors, the entire copper and galvanized steel sculpture is completely flat. The simplicity and masterful use of the materials to convey a sense of structure and place make it one of my all time favorite pieces of art. It’s just fun to look at.
Evidently the wind was blowing above and below this set of contrails that held my attention for many miles. How many years of wind and weather, I wondered, did it take to shape this rock before a patch of plants would call it home.
 Passing through Capital Reef National Park individual details captured my attention as much as the monumental mesas.

Sunset was around 5:30, which was pretty early to be calling it a day with so many more miles to go when I was on the outskirts of Delta, Utah. I just didn’t want to miss any of Highway 50, one of the most spectacular stretches of nothing in America. I turned around and went back to town to get a room.
Driving through Delta the next day I passed the same non-descript building that I had passed three years ago when I moved to California. On the second floor is an absolutely magical world. During the Uranium Boom of the 30s and 40s hundreds of people came to Billy Vans Dance Hall. Long before the days of Disco this giant Mirrored Ball danced light on couples working up a Saturday night fever. And yes, interestingly enough, that is the Mormon Temple atop the sphere.
The art and invention of Billy Van is quite impressive. To create the mirrored ball he fastened together from two wagon wheels and rounded out the form with gauze and packing. The ball moved as an airplane (seen on the left of the ball at the end of the banner) propelled in a circle. On the platform attached to the ball a model train moved in the opposite direction.  He cooled the dancehall with an electric fan of his own invention and even invented a strobe light to add to the atmosphere (seen below in the middle).
Next to the strobe light mechanism is the view of the ball from the bottom. Beneath the ball the floor was polished aluminum to reflect the words and the glittering lights.
I only knew this place existed because of Aretha Franklin. On that trip to California I took four days to drive the 1,300 miles. I stopped for every picture and recorded every synchronicity in a notebook. I had already spent an hour getting through the small town of Delta and I just wanted to get moving. Just as I caught this vision of white in a window I turned on the radio and Aretha was singing, “Knew you’d be a vision in white.” The song “Freeway of Love” was also sending another message: “City traffic movin’ way too slow. Drop the pedal and go…go…go”, but still something called me back. While I was taking the picture of the Saints and Saviors through the window I heard a voice. It was the owner of the shop, Roger Anderson. He told me to come inside for better look. He told me that the Deldan Clay he used for the statues was the whitest in the world and that he hand dug it all from a hillside outside town. He showed me around his world and we talked about art and then he said, “Art. You want to see art? Wait until you see what is right above us.” We went upstairs and to the ballroom. Art indeed! I noticed from a picture of Billy Van and an assistant that Roger wasn’t the only one who knew how to break a mold. When I got back in my car I knew that I must be livin’ right.
The next day I headed down Highway 50, through a stretch of the most deserted desert in America. It’s a space that is, as writer Tom Robbins said, “that sacred place where nothing begins to happen.” I love it every time I find myself there. I look forward to taking you along in my favorite place to be by myself in the middle of nowhere.
Thanks for joining me on the first leg of my trip home. I’ll drop the other shoe (literally) in the next chapter. If you want to be removed just send a reply with “No Thanks” in the subject line. If you received this from a friend and want to be added to the list send me an email. I will be delighted to include you.
Find your Self in the Light!
Love, Jerry
Jerry Downs Photography
P.O. Box 1082
Larkspur, CA 94977
Knew you’d be a vision in white
How’d you get those pants so tight?
Don’t know what you’re doin’
But you must be livin’ right
We got some places to see
I brought all the maps with me
So jump right in…Ain’t no sin
Take a ride in my machine
City traffic movin’ way too slow
Drop the pedal and go…go…go
Goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
Wind’s against our back
Goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink cadillac
Goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
Wind’s against our back
Ain’t we ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink Cadillac?
Never you mind the exit signs
We got lots of time
We can’t quit ’til we get
To the other side
With the radio playin’ our song
We keep rollin’ on
Who knows how far a car can get
Before you think about slowin’ on down
City traffic movin’ way too slow
Drop the pedal and go…go…go
Freeway Of Love
 Lyrics by Aretha Franklin

I believe in everything; nothing is sacred, I believe in nothing; everything is sacred, …Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee Hee

Tom Robbins

  Even Cowgirls get the Blues


3 Responses to “START FROM ZERO 11-13-07”

  1. Congratulations on your prolific work here. I must admit I have popped in a read a good number of your blogs but I have no idea how to post a response over there, so I’ll tell you now how good you are at describing the stuff your at – I must admit I find it insightful to read your blogging. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  2. love these pics…

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