During the final week of August, we drove 500 miles of what remains of historic Route 66. Being contrarians, we headed east rather than west, traveling from Santa Fe over the mountains to the gentle farmlands which envelope Oklahoma City. It was a trip through the high plains, which crossed the 100th meridian near the Oklahoma border. In one sense, the journey met our expectations, because what remains on the crumbling roadsides of Route 66 resembles much of what you find elsewhere. It’s sad (but not surprising), to drive from one town to another only to find 90% of it boarded up. This is a national trend (at least in some rural places) which is by no means exclusive to Route 66. On the plains, it becomes painfully obvious. The village vacates. The strip dominates. Walmart, McDonalds and other large chains quickly become the new town centers. Whether we like or not, we increasingly rely on these areas because we really don’t have much choice. In many small towns, finding a slice of home-made pie is as likely as finding a clam in a wheat field. Unfortunately, the fast food out by the interstate is the only place registering a pulse.
I’m no expert and maybe there’s more below the surface. On the plains, there are survivors. Demographics shift. People are seasoned and tough. Whatever is still standing remains to tell a story.
To a photographer, the high plains can read like our best poetry. It’s where you need to be if you want to see what change looks like. There isn’t any place better to study the shape of derailed plans. The details speak. Peeling paint has passion. Boarded up gas stations can still fuel an imagination. Abandoned churches convey much authority, and nothing is more lyrical than a forgotten motel.
I made a number of similar images but will start with this one – an abandoned outhouse east of Amarillo. This (the tiniest of all structures) is a building which has stood its ground. It was perched near a pump house at the edge of a field so far from any dwelling that it seemed uncanny. Like everywhere else on the prairie, there was no shortage of space here. These are landscapes ruled by the wind. The outhouse has endured much of it, only to be enriched by a leaning pose.