In the explorations of my youth to Civil War battlefields in Alabama, to forgotten mining camps in Arizona, and to long lost villages in the forests of Michigan, the adventure was shared through journals, and photographs on film protected from the desert heat. Today, in the modern era of digital photography, social media, and smart phones, adventures to the empty places often assume a voyeuristic quality.Still, there is no indication that this has quelled the curiosity or dampened the quest for the empty places. High definition video and the instant sharing of photographs can’t replace the musty smell of memories turning to dust, the feel of a sage scented desert breeze, or the embrace of a haunting quite in a place once full of life.Film and video, and even a well written word, can’t replace the thrill of experience. Countless photographs of now empty Glenrio, Texas adorn countless pages on Facebook and on blogs. However, just as it is impossible to capture the stunning beauty of the Grand Canyon with a camera or artists eye, it is impossible to capture the cacophony of serenity, depression, and excitement that is unleashed by standing at the center of an overgrown former four-lane highway that serves as main street in an empty town where motels and gas stations, garages and stores, lumberyards and cafes once bustled with activity day and night. Perhaps this is the allure, as it is only in the quiet places and ghost towns that we can dream in a cemetery of dreams. Only in the forgotten places does the ghost of Christmas future embrace the ghost of Christmas present.Those late night adventures shared with Carter, Bell, and Stepenson inspired more than countless voyages of discovery. They also inspired an all consuming passion to share those journeys, to ignite a hunger for exploration.I owe a great deal to these explorers and adventurers, and to a beautiful woman who fell in love with a dreamer. Because of them I have lived a life of adventure and discovery, and because of her I had the encouragement to share them with others.
In the 1920s the stunning discovery of an ancient boy kings tomb in the deserts of Egypt transfixed the world and spawned an architectural movement. In the 21st century people flock from throughout the world to travel Route 66 and play Indiana Jones as they explore the ghost towns, as well as the abandoned trading posts, and motels that now only offer shelter from the storm to wildlife.
What is the allure of the empty places, the ghost towns, and the ruins? Why is their haunting appeal so universal?
Since early childhood I have pondered these questions during long nights spent reading about the exploits and discoveries made by intrepid explorers such as Howard Carter, Heinrich Schliemann, John Lloyd Stephens, Gertrude Bell, Frederick Catherwood and a pantheon of intrepid adventurers. In time, their exploits inspired my own adventures on the road less traveled and to the empty places.
Though my discoveries chronicled in several books pale in comparison to those of Howard Carter, they have enabled people to vicariously explore the fading vestiges from the sunset of the American frontier, and the dawning of the modern era. Occasionally, just as with books I read so long ago, they have also inspired voyages of discovery.
That is the true reward of writing. That is the real treasure that comes from adventure and adventure shared.