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Into the Valley


My travels took me deep into the San Joaquin Valley in January. Not the urban San Joaquin Valley of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Modesto, but rather the rural, forgotten San Joaquin Valley of Shafter, Wasco, and Corcoran. These are towns along California Hwy 43 where you see farm-implement dealerships and pick-up trucks. They’re the kind of places where it seems everybody’s hands are at least a little dirty with the soil that grows what America eats.


These are almond trees just east of Allensworth. In this part of the world, that’s pronounced AAA’-mund (where the “a” sound is like the starting syllable of “apple”). I’ve always been impressed at how perfectly these trees are planted, the rows forming precise lines with a perfect vanishing point. They are, as are so many fruit and nut trees, leafless in winter. Thirty-five ago, when I lived and worked in Fresno and was a relatively frequent visitor to the agricultural world, they’d flood the troughs between the trees to water them. Now, with water in short supply, they’ve switched to irrigation carried by thick black hoses and dripped onto the tree roots.

IMG_1097The railroad is a key component of California agriculture. It’s how many of the crops get to market. It’s what built the San Joaquin Valley into an economic juggernaut a century and a half ago, and what made a handful of men multimillionaires beyond their wildest dreams.

IMG_1098I took almost all of these shots within a few miles of Colonel Allensworth State Park. I was the only visitor at the time I was there, and other than a couple of maintenance people, the only person I saw for about an hour while I was in the area.

IMG_1105The longer I stayed at the rural railroad crossing that evening, the more spectacular my surroundings became. The sunset turned into a symphony of color, a rippled curtain of majesty.

IMG_1106When that happens, about the only thing to do is to keep clicking the shutter.

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