Jigsaw Earth

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Jigsaw Earth

Jigsaw Earth

A remote area of the Mojave Desert (2015)

Outings like this one come rarely in the career of a photographer. It’s not just a story of great conditions, which eventually happen for anyone who spends enough time out in inclement weather. Nor is it a tale of reward after great effort, which tends to be the case with most worthwhile excursions. Above all, this is a story of discovery…and ridiculously dumb luck.

It all started after I had made a couple of trips to this remote area in lackluster conditions and came away feeling robbed. So I decided to make a third trek out, this time with David Kingham, who had some experience with the area himself. I timed our visit to catch a moon alignment with a composition that I had worked out previously. On our first morning out, my planned shot came off as well as I could possibly have hoped. Just like that. Boom. Done. What next? Time to go exploring!

Using topographical maps and satellite imagery to identify areas of potential interest, we hiked many miles, sometimes following clues on the maps and sometimes just following our own noses. What came of it was an embarrassment of riches. This field of gargantuan mud tiles was only one jackpot in a series of discoveries that we made during that period, and it was mostly no thanks to the satellite imagery. Nearly everything that looked promising in the satellite views turned out to be a bust when we arrived on foot, and then areas that showed as expanses of nothingness, like this area of mud tiles, proved to be utter treasure troves. Presumably, at some point after the satellite images were taken, a massive dust devil had formed over the buried field and excavated it so thoroughly that a pristine expanse the size of a football field lay exposed, revealing cracks between the tiles reaching over a foot deep; some of the gaps were so wide that I could fit my camera down into them. Just the opposite had happened to one other field that had been quite impressive less than a year earlier: there sand had blown in and new bushes had grown up, as the desert made quick work of reclaiming its photogenic bits.

Discovering a series of world-class geological features was exciting enough, but our good luck streak was running wide. On only our second outing to shoot the mother-of-all-mud-tile-fields, we got dramatic conditions to go with it. Much to our delight, great skies that morning provided a whole series of progressively more interesting moments from twilight onward, and before the sun had even risen, I was already in a quandary about which slice of time I would choose to process. And then came the moment that trumped them all. I had been shooting the same composition for over an hour when we started to feel raindrops falling…and…BAM! RAINBOW! And not just anywhere—the left end of the rainbow dropped right down into my composition, right onto the top of the central peak and aligned with the central tree!

Now, rainbows appearing in great locations can be enough to make grown men cry, but having one just show up in your frame while you’re shooting an awesome new discovery is almost scary. One can’t help but wonder if such astonishing good luck means that great misfortune is coming to balance it out. Like, maybe if you decide to go back in a couple of weeks, you’ll end up stranded in the desert with two flat tires. Yeah, that happened too. Alas, lady luck is a fickle mistress.

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