The Dark Beauty of Desolation

Photographer and UNLV professor Julian Kilker explores an eerie and half-lost world where man met the Mojave—and the Mojave won.


“A lone tree stands next to this railway bunkhouse at Cima Junction beneath a full moon. Light-painting this scene while avoiding debris and fencing was a challenge during this short exposure, and I had to reshoot many times until I was satisfied with the result. In May, a fire believed to be arson burned down this building, along with 37 acres of brush and Joshua trees.”


“A single supporting beam prevents this shack at Cima Junction from collapsing and joining the fate of the building on the left. It was eerie to hear the power lines above ‘sing’ with electricity at night. To add to the ambience, bats fluttered past me through the doorways as I set up the interior lighting for the shot. After the May wildfire, only a pile of ashes remains at this location.”


“At the base of this Joshua tree at Cima Junction, a roadside angel statue is surrounded by pebbles, coins, strings of beads and dice—all offerings from visiting desert travelers.”


“I was attracted by the strange ‘Memoirs from the 4th Apocalypse’ graffiti at this building near Interstate 15’s Halloran Summit exit a few years ago. Only later did I notice the shoe carefully perched on the furniture outside. There’s a fire pit at the center of this unfinished building, suggesting the social nature of this location. I return here whenever I can to note changes: Recently, the graffiti has become more vicious, and little remains of the furniture except ashes.”


“This spa building at Zzyzx is too dangerous to enter because its shifting foundation makes the walls unstable. Behind each window is a small tub, now containing debris rather than water. Repurposed as a spooky Mexican getaway in the 2009 horror film The Last Resort, this damaged building is visible in several scenes.”


“Highway traffic is visible through windows and walls of three sides of this building near Interstate 15’s Fort Irwin exit. The graffiti left here appears hurried and simple, perhaps because of the building’s exposed position.”


“This lonely telephone next to Kelso-Cima Road has a mysterious Lego project in the shape of a camera attached to its right side. The former “loneliest telephone,” about 15 miles from here, became famous and was removed after drawing too many unprepared visitors into the desert. Things change quickly in the Mojave: The Lego camera disappeared a few months after I took this picture, leaving only a glue outline.”


“The abandoned pool building at Zzyzx overlooks Soda Lake on a misty dawn. In a few minutes, the sun will peek over the mountains on the right. Even though we’re in the desert, there’s enough humidity to fog camera lenses and infuse the air with the heady smell of the nearby creosote bushes.”

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