Dust and Mud - Photography by Dana Thomas
Broken Dreams

Throughout the arid west, abandoned buildings sit along desert two lane roads. Derelict, slowly weathering they appear to be disappearing back into the soil. Gas stations with pumps looted for artifacts, cafes with off-kilter bar stools behind empty door frames, homesteads with broken windows and motels advertising never to be occupied rooms. Deteriorating buildings representing someone's hopes and dreams. Broken dreams that flamed brightly before burning out or ventures that were ill-fated from the start, never gaining traction, failing at conception.

On desert drives I have speculated on the history behind these long abandoned buildings. In some cases, the reasons are clear. Businesses built around a railroad spur that no longer carries trains, a town catering to mines where it is no longer profitable to dig, a farm in a barren plain where water has been diverted to a thirsty city or a cafe built at the junction of highways made redundant by an interstate.

The reason behind other ruins are a mystery and spark my imagination to consider the motivations of the individuals who conceived and built the homes and businesses. The cafe built in the middle of the sage, a motel at an inhospitable destination or a farm house sitting in a sandy desert, all defy explanation. Were the owners looking for solitude at all costs, ignoring both economic and natural realities? Did hard times and a poor situation force them to take unjustified risks and follow a dream destined to fail? Those who can answer these questions are gone leaving only the skeletons of their dreams behind.

Stop and explore those buildings that are not boarded up and you will find a surprising amount and variety of relics. Curtains, dishes and old bottles are common, but it is not unusual to find furniture or tools. Evidence that people left quickly and completely. When the mine closed, the trains stopped running or the bank account was drained the occupants packed a bag, closed the door and disappeared leaving one world behind as they traveled toward another.

The large currents that shaped the history of the West are captured in books to be studied and discussed. We know why and where groups of people settled and we understand why they moved on when economics or weather changed. Left unexplained are those homes, farms, cafes, hotels and gas stations hanging to the roadside where life was and remains hard. The stories of those individuals who made the decision and took the leap of faith to venture out to live on the margins, continue to fascinate. Were they searching for solitude, striving to live in a stark and beautiful landscape or were they merely confused and misled, seeing opportunity where none existed?

Regardless of the reason for their existence, I will continue to pull over to the side of desert roads and explore derelict buildings, exercising my imagination, fascinated by the people who laid foundations, built walls and shingled roofs in pursuit of a difficult dream, veiled in an uncertain future.