Trucks rusting in the desert

I’m not sure what it is about old trucks or tractors rusting away in the desert that makes such compelling images but they just look so cool.

Granted, it almost seems cliché to have a photo of a truck in the desert, I mean how many senior portraits, engagements or band photos can you think of that have a similar look to them?

That said, it’s a subject matter that matches up pretty well with the Holga lens.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

I saw this pickup while I was out at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Leeds and I couldn’t resist.

I like the way the white truck pops out from the grey of the grass and brush behind it. It focuses you right in on the subject matter and at the same time gives a lonely and isolated feeling. Cliché aside, I’m fond of this image.

Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Leeds

During the Great Depression, in an effort to put unemployed young men to back to work, the Civilian Conservation Corps was established. Camps were built throughout the United States where men participating in the CCC program lived while working on public works projects in the surrounding towns. There were several camps located in this area. A marker is all that’s left of the camp in  St. George, near where the Red Hills Golf Course is today, a few buildings still stand along from a CCC camp along the banks of the Virgin River in Bunkerville near Mesquite and in Leeds, there are four structures still standing from the CCC camp that was built there.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

The men of the CCC built projects throughout the area as well and if you know what you’re looking for, remnants of those can also still be found. The CCC cut steps into the walls of Navajo Canyon at Lake Powell to help the Navajo people who called the canyon home in the 1930s have better access to their homes. In the newly declared Gold Butte National Monument there are structures built to help water the cattle that grazed on the lands there. And in Zion National Park there are numerous improvements to trails and buildings that can still be seen and credited to the CCC.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

The Washington County Historical Society has a great collection of easy to read articles on a number of the CCC camps and projects on their website at if you’re interested in a little further reading.

Leeds, Utah - Civilian Conservation Corps camp
Leeds, Utah – Civilian Conservation Corps camp

I stopped by the remains of the camp in Leeds to capture a few Holga images for my ghost towns project just the other day. These are a few of the images I came back with.



Ever had one of those days?

I drove out to the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds to shoot with my Holga lens and when I pulled out my camera it told me the memory card I was using wasn’t readable.

This is what my Canon 5DMKIII was telling me when I turned it on at the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds.
This is what my Canon 5DMKIII was telling me when I turned it on at the Civilian Conservation Corps campsite in Leeds.

I tried formatting it. No dice. I tried pulling it out and reinserting it. Still nothing. Turned the camera off and back on again. Still not readable.

I had a bad card.

Usually I have a couple extras around, I even try to make it a habit of having one in each of my vehicles, just in case I get somewhere and find myself with a bad memory card.

This time, I had nothing. I ransacked my car, looking for a hidden memory card but came up empty.

Frustrating. I had to drive all the way back to town to grab another card.

Luckily Leeds isn’t that far from the nearest Target.

That said, a word of advice to any budding ghost town photographers out there… Always have an extra card. And then, always have another one. Finding out your card has been corrupted and you don’t have a backup is not something you want to discover after you’ve spent hours driving out to a super cool ghost town in the middle of nowhere…

What is a ghost town anyway?

I passed by an old pioneer house in downtown Washington the other day and just had to come back with my Holga lens. It’s not a ghost town, in fact the home next door is very clearly occupied but the structure clearly matches the feeling and emotion you find at any abandoned town site.

So what is a ghost town and is that what this project is about?

A pioneer era home in disrepair on 100 South in Washington City.

Is it about the abandoned towns that humans once called home? Or is it about the structures that once housed life and laughter, work and play, interaction between people and yet now are left to decay in the landscape?

Certainly entire towns that evoke this feeling are more dramatic and we all want to go find those ghost towns where we can experience all those memories and all that history at one time but there are also those other buildings, those other spaces that capture the same essence.

I’d hate to leave them out of this project because I think they have something to say as well. They are also part of our history even if there are still neighbors living next door to those now vacant spaces.

Modena is a perfect example of a place that once was bustling but now is well on it’s way to becoming a ghost town. I wrote about the town for the Spectrum back in 2015. While the town is mostly abandoned, there are still some residents and that, I think, makes Modena a spectacular place to explore.

There is the history told by the decaying buildings, but at the same time there are the memories of those who still call the place home to provide insight into the lives that were lived in that place.

I haven’t had the chance to get back out to Modena with my digital Holga yet, but I intend to pay the town a visit soon.

Harrisburg through a Holga lens

For a bit of the history of this Southern Utah ghost town located just south of Leeds, I’ll refer back to a story I wrote on the town for the Spectrum.

“Harrisburg was founded in 1859 when Moses Harris and his family built their home at the confluence of the Virgin River and Quail and Cottonwood creeks, the area where Quail Creek Reservoir would be built more than a century later, according to the Washington County Historical Society.

“Other families joined them and a few improvements were made but by 1861 the settlement had moved upstream on Quail Creek to the site where the town would stay until it was abandoned in the 1890s.

The Orson B. Adams home in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

“A number of the homes in Harrisburg were built by Willard G. McMullin, a stonemason from Maine, who arrived in Harrisburg in 1862, according to the information posted on signs in the ghost town by the Bureau of Land Management. Most of the land that was part of the town of Harrisburg is now part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

“A portion of the south wall of McMullin’s home in Harrisburg could be seen for decades from the freeway as drivers made their way through the dip between the Hurricane exit and the Leeds exit on I-15.”

That wall is still there although it’s rapidly crumbling.

On the other side of the creek that runs through the little valley, however, stands the Orson B. Adams home. It’s been completely restored.

There are also rock walls throughout the valley and the remains of a movie set in Harrisburg. The set, the remains of which consists of a crumbling rock well and a stucco and wood building designed to look like a portion of a Mexican village, was built in 1958 for a Gary Cooper picture called “They Came to Cordura.”

Here are a few more of the images I captured on my most recent trip out there with my Canon 5D Mark III with a Holga lens attached.

The remains of the set for the film “They Came to Cordura” in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The Orson B. Adams home in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The remains of the set for the film “They Came to Cordura” in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.
The remains of a wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

The ghost town at Harrisburg, Utah

When my wife and I were first dating, she told me she always loved the spot where you can see Pine Valley Mountain off to your left coupled with the red sandstone of the cliffs near Silver Reef as you drop into the Harrisburg Dip on the drive from St. George to Cedar City.

She was making that commute almost daily as she worked on getting her degree in education at Southern Utah University.

It really is a pretty spot and we both liked it so much we held our wedding ceremony right there in Harrisburg.

There are still a few remains from the pioneer town that stand, there’s also an old movie set from a film made in the 50’s called They Came to Cordura.

It’s a town I’m very familiar with so I made it a point to shoot a few images with my Holga there as well.

Since my first trip to Harrisburg with my Holga, the town’s changed quite a bit. Some of the old buildings have crumbled, yet at the same time, there have been some renovations undertaken so there are a few buildings that look almost as if they were still being called home by pioneers.

In addition to my first trips with my Holga, Harrisburg is another town I’ve had the opportunity to visit and write about as a reporter for the Spectrum.

It’s also another town on my list to revisit with my digital camera and a Holga lens.

More on that in my next post…

Shooting film in a Holga

I’ve always been fascinated by history. Growing up in Pennsylvania, there were houses on my block that were built well before Brigham Young ever declared that “this is the place” but even so, the history here in Utah seems just as rich as that found anywhere else in the world.

I took that fascination with history and combined it with my love of photography when I decided to embark on a project to capture some of Southern Utah’s ghost towns with my Holga.

For a few years I’d bring along a few rolls of film and stop and shoot when ever I stumbled upon a reason to be anywhere near a ghost town.

On a trip to Modena, a nearly deserted old railway town out north and west of Enterprise, I found a particularly rich environment for photographing.

The old BJ Lund Hotel, sagging and nearly falling down, still stands along the railroad tracks.

It’s the crown jewel in what is a fascinating place.

I shot the town on film, developed the images in the bathtub of my home and scanned them into a computer. It was one of my first trips with the Holga and I remember being really excited about the images.

A few years after my first trip out there I returned, without my Holga, but  I wrote a story for the Spectrum about my visit.