RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West, by Troy Paiva

Lost America
I have been a fan of Troy Paiva's photography ever since I stumbled onto his Web site a couple of years ago. His photographs transform what, by day, might look like abandoned roadside junk into a surreal world of color and surprising insight into the foibles of human behavior. His new book, Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West, is a seductive journey into the unique world his cameras lenses capture. The color reproduction of the photographs in the book is beautiful, and it's tempting to simply look at the pictures and skip the text. This would be a mistake of gargantuan proportions.

The chapters are replete with evocative remembrances of the eerie and wondrous moments Paiva has shared with the so-called empty desert spaces. He describes desert nights teeming with the sound of fluttering bat wings, the howls of coyotes, and sounds from unknown sources carried for miles on never-ending desert breezes. He writes with compassion and insight about the hundreds of abandoned homestead shacks found throughout the American southwest. He describes the growth and eventual death of drive-in movie theaters and provides a fascinating look into the world of airplane salvage operations.

The most haunting of the chapters is his description of the development and demise of a resort community in southern California. In the early 1960's, the town of Salton Sea Beach was the favored destination of thousands of fishermen and boaters. A series of human-caused environmental disasters have turned this one-time recreational paradise into the "fetid hell of the Salton Sea" where the shoreline is littered with the skeletons of thousands of fish and the ruins of once-swanky marinas and clubs.

Although Paiva paints his canvas with the relics of apparently forgotten and failed human communities, I found the book a source of hope and appreciation for those who live and work in harsh desert environments. This visually stunning and well-written work is a rich source of ideas and inspiration for western road trippers.


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