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Strange adventures on our way to an abandoned ranch

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Night photography is often adventurous and weird. This adventure involves wrong turns, boulder crawling in a Jeep at night, aggressive dogs, and a cowboy without a horse.

“I don’t think this is the best way to go”

The road kept growing worse. Desert plants screeched against the side of Mike’s Jeep. And then … then we began boulder crawling. We got out of the Jeep repeatedly to look at the road to make sure it was passable. 

Mike and I were in Arizona on an adventure. And as usual, we were photographing abandoned places at night. But this place was proving elusive.

Google Maps to the rescue

I began looking at Google Maps. I had not consulted it up to this point because Mike’s GPS is typically very reliable. But it wasn’t looking like that anymore. I had downloaded maps of the area. Although I didn’t have the precise coordinates of where we were going, I could generally see where we were and where we should go.

“I don’t think this is the best way to go.”

Using a 13-point turn, Mike turned the Jeep around. Slowly, the road got better. We felt some relief. Google Maps continued being a little off in our location. However, since I had a downloaded map and could see where to go, we could easily figure it out. It was like using a paper map, albeit a backlit one I could see in the dark.

And then, the dogs came running toward us

We had begun setting up our camera equipment when the barking of several dogs pierced the night. Then they drew closer. 

I was already thinking about putting my camera back in the car. However, Mike began keeping the dogs at bay by blinking his multicolored light, mesmerizing them. I set up quickly and took one two-minute exposure. The dogs seemed to settle down.

An adobe homestead at night, part of an abandoned ranch. Light-painting during the exposure with a handheld light.

The circle closes on this adventure

Then it was Mike’s turn to photograph, so I did the same for him. At first, this too worked. Then one of the dogs began charging at me. I flicked a bright light on and took several steps toward it. The dog turned tail and bolted down a hill. Another circled around the other way to get to Mike. 

It was time to leave.

Meeting the cowboy

As we were packing up, a cowboy in a truck pulled up. Mike had not put his camera away yet and had it aimed in the opposite direction at some saguaro cactus.

I have this way of greeting people that typically disarms them. First, I wave at them, a big friendly dorky sort of wave. Also, I sometimes also say “Hello!” or even ask, “Hi! May I help you?” 

This latter phrase is interesting. It connotes that you are supposed to be there. It often works well. However, this didn’t seem like one of those times to ask that.

He had a cowboy hat. He had been through the desert with a horse trailer with no name, hauling this behind his truck. 

“This is private property”

He said in a relaxed manner, “I’m staying here. This is private property.” 

This was curious since the house was clearly abandoned. Apart from the dogs, there was no evidence this was inhabited, and in fact, the inside was filled with broken wood. I asked, “Oh cool! Beautiful area. How long have you been here?” 

“A couple of weeks,” he nodded.

“Well, all right. We’re gonna be shoving off now. Have a good night.”

“You too.”

Continuing the adventure … elsewhere

adventure Night photo, UFO
Night photo, UFO, the next stop along the way

Mike and I continued down the road, chattering about this strange adventure. That had been a lot of activity and adventure for one photo. 

But how could we go to sleep after that? We continued to another abandoned location. That’s what’s amazing about the Sonoran Desert. There’s always another abandoned location. 

I probably didn’t get to sleep until about 4 a.m.

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