The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

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May 30, 2017 – Tumacacori

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“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Tumacacori is the site of Mission San José de Tumacácori, an 18th Century Franciscan mission. It takes its name from an earlier mission site founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1691, which is on the east side of the Santa Cruz River south of the national park. This particular mission was founded at an extant native O’odham settlement and represents the first mission in southern Arizona.

The later Franciscan mission, now in ruins, was never rebuilt once it was abandoned after repeated Apache raids in the 19th century. Nearby Tubac was besieged in 1861.

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May 28, 2017 – The Lone Tree

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This is a variant of a photograph published on this blog in 2016, but I came across it recently and wanted to take a second run in post-production; there were some color aberrations and soft-focus issues I thought I could improve upon. This was taken in January of last year while I was driving around south of Kansas City. As a general rule, photographers are trained not to photograph into the sun, but there are definitely times when it makes sense to break the rules. Getting this lovely silhouette of a single tree with a mercurial cloud-scape behind it took several tries before getting it right, but I am incredibly pleased with the final result.

Living in the southwest, people always ask me what Kansas was like – or, more accurately, they assume that Kansas is as bland as it’s Wizard of Oz depiction. Living in a valley surrounded by four great mountain ranges here in Tucson, the assumption is that Kansas is flat and boring, which isn’t entirely an inaccurate assessment – the plains states possess an incredibly subtle beauty and you have to have the right eyes to appreciate it.

I’m hoping today’s image is an expression of that beauty that folks can appreciate, regardless of where they hang their hat and what state they call home.

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May 24, 2017 – Winter in Bisbee

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“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”
~John Steinbeck

A small town is a strange place to live, but I loved living on the hill looking over Old Bisbee. Up on High Road, this was the view from my deck. I watched winter storms descend in January and monsoon storms roll through the canyons in July. There’s no other place like it in the world.

But life moves on and things change. The view will always be beautiful, but I eventually had to leave.
This image was taken in February of 2012. A crisp, dry morning with snow dusting the hillsides.

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May 23, 2017 – Whitewater Draw

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Whitewater Draw, originally Rio de Agua Prieta – “the river of dark water” – is a tributary stream of the Rio de Agua Prieta in Cochise County, Arizona. Famously, this is the wetlands where the sandhill cranes migrate to during the winter months. In the shadows of the Chiricahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, this remote destination is about a forty-five minute drive from Bisbee, Arizona, the old mining town I once called home.

I used to go out here to photograph the birds and capture these colorful sunsets. One of the great benefits from living in a small town like Bisbee is the lack of traffic and the abundance of unspoiled land like this.

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May 20, 2017 – Western Kansas

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You don’t realize how wonderful it is until it’s gone – isn’t that how the saying goes?

An eighteen-year-old version of myself couldn’t wait to get out of Kansas, to leave the plains behind and start a new life someplace different. I think that comes pretty natural to a lot of folks, but I really couldn’t wait to get away – to dive into new experiences and embrace the discomfort.

That was half a lifetime ago. I’m a man in his mid-thirties now, and the world looks a lot different than it once did. Adventure seems easier and life seems less complicated somehow, even though a lot of the idealism and hope and optimism has been tempered by various broken relationships, job losses, and debts. The upswing is that I have never put down the camera; if anything, the camera continues to fuel my optimism, my love of small experiences, my appreciation of the little details.

Life isn’t perfect, that’s for sure. But how could we ever deny the beauty of a long, slow-burning sunset?

Once upon a time, I wanted to escape the Midwest. Now I enjoy it, more and more, every single time I return. This is a photograph I made driving through the most remote areas of Western Kansas. Completely flat, nothing but farms, unincorporated towns, and a dreadful lack of gas stations. But there is beauty here, that much is certain.

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May 10, 2017 – Service

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“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
~Susan Sontag

I’m not sure if this place still exists. Unfortunately, I don’t even remember where it is. It’s probably somewhere on South Stone Avenue, or in the warehouse district on South Park Avenue. I suppose I could look it up, but it really isn’t important. I just remember riding my bike through the wrecked car lots, the warehouses, over the railroad tracks by the lumber yards and steel yards and welding operations.

I try to image what these places must have looked like when they were brand new. I can’t seem to conjure the image in my head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a salvage yard or a warehouse that looked clean and new, with fresh signage and rust-free construction. These places always look like they’ve been there forever – they always look old. Old and tired.

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