Holbrook, Arizona

Holbrook lies along old Route 66, the mother road from Chicago to the California coast and all-purpose symbol of the American love affair with the open road.

The town was once home to a bevy of motels and cafes catering to early cross-country drivers, and a dozen or more garages dedicated to nursing post-war Chevrolets across the desert wastes.

The Petrified Forest National Park lies just outside town, and the area was once home to herds of dinosaur and, rather more recently, Navavo tribes. Neither have exactly prospered.

A pile of mineralized wood, disaffected Indians and a dead highway seem slender threads to hang an economy on, but you play the cards you’re dealt.

The town looks sun-bleached and dusty, like a faded snapshot of itself, circa 1958. It is kept on life support by nostalgic motorists and the meager cash they drop at the gas station, Navajo gift shops or the Wigwam Motel. I do my part at the West End Liquor Store, buying a six-pack of Corona from the owner, who sits tethered to an oxygen tank while chain-smoking Marlboros. I know there’s a metaphor here somewhere, but I hope for a fire extinguisher, too.

Most of the other non-chain stores have gone to seed. Pow Wow Trading Post, Crossroads Saloon, J & J Cafe, all gone. Only the dinosaurs seem to be thriving. They’re everywhere in town, outside all the gift shops opened or closed. I think they outnumber the ambulatory human population.

At the edge of town, there’s an large billboard proclaiming “Land Available.” It advertises a small patch of desert, and is surrounded hundreds of identical square miles of absolute wasteland.

Maybe the dinosaurs can get financing, but I sure don’t see anyone else lining up.

Photographed July 5, 2009 with a Canon EOS-5D II camera and 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens. Exposure 1/125 at f/16.

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