Calico Ghost Town

For years it seemed like every time I’d drive through the Mojave Desert on the way to Vegas I see the signs pointing to Calico Ghost Town, and think next time! It’s just off the highway, only a couple of miles, but it always seemed like I was in a big hurry to either get to Vegas, or to get back home, or I had a passenger who wasn’t interested, or I was a passenger and the driver wasn’t interested, or it was the middle of the night, or it was too hot… Get the picture? It just never happened.

But last summer I was driving alone, and I wasn’t in a big rush for once, and when I saw the signs I knew this was the time!

Calico Ghost Town Bottle House // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBottle House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The town originally boomed in the mid 1880’s when it sprouted up near several silver and borax mines. With a population of 1200 at it’s height, it was a prosperous little town with four dentists, several churches, a newspaper, and of course lots of bars and brothels! It was a true wild west town, in every sense. But by the turn of the century the mines were no longer producing, and the population moved on, and the town essentially died. In the 1950’s the Knott Family, of Knott’s Berry Farm bought the town, and using old photos they restored the few remaining original buildings and then rebuilt many of the structures that no longer existed. There’s a definite “theme park” feel to much of the town, but that’s okay – it’s still fun – and it’s not a bit slick, like Disneyland – it’s rustic, and rough, and feels somewhat authentic. A dozen years or so after acquiring it, the Knott Family donated the renovated town to San Bernardino County.

Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Old Window // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

My family visited Calico back when I was a kid – during it’s second hey dey – as a county regional park. I remember it feeling like a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Knott’s Berry Farm – old houses and old fashioned clothing crossed with ghost stories and lots of candy! My favorite things during that trip were a house made entirely of bottles, other houses built into the hillsides, and the sticks of hard candy. So as I drove up this time, those were the things I most wanted to see.

I was surprised to see no one at the gate – no one to collect the fee to get in – just an open gate. It was after 4pm on a hot summer day, and the town was virtually deserted. Just a few tourists – speaking French, Italian, and German – but no English. I was virtually the only one from California in the whole place – except for a handful of employees closing up the shops that line the main street. So I headed straight for the bottle house – somehow I just knew where to find it – childhood memories can be pretty vivid! I was a little disappointed though when I read the sign and realized that it had built by Knott’s employees, in a style that “may” have existed in Calico – but there’s no guarantee there actually was ever a bottle house in Calico back in 1885. All these years my memory was of this great house made of bottles that was over a hundred years old and built by a miner – but that’s not exactly accurate. Try over 50 years old and built by the employees of a theme park! But it’s still fun to see.

Candy Shop // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Vintage Laundry // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBarrel Candy // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I also stopped in at the general store and bought some root beer barrel candy – just as good as I remember! And I marvelled once again at the beautiful rock that surrounds the town – and was facinated once again by the houses built into that rock. It’s not hard to understand why Calico was a good spot for mining, if you look at the huge walls of rippling rock everywhere.

Door in the Hill at Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Ed Komski, CEO of Xtreme Convenience of Barstow

Ed Komski // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI spent some time in Barstow last week, shooting Ed Komski, CEO of Xtreme Convenience of Barstow for the Village News.

In addition to fueling the adrenaline rush of off-road and water vehicles, Xtreme utilized the branding of Monster Energy. Monster found the concept so compelling that they jumped onboard right away. “They are clearly part of the experience and clearly visible throughout the property,” said Komski. Monster President Mark Hall said, “When Ed brought us his idea, we thought it was evolutionary and right on target for our demographic, and we were happy to support his efforts.” Ryan Lujan, Branding Marketing Manager for Monster said, “We are curious to see if the Monster brand has long-term potential as the flagship theme in a C-store like this. It will also be interesting to see how consumers respond to shopping in a convenience store with an edgy personality revolving around action sports and music.”

You can read the article at

Ed Komski, CEO of Xtreme Convenience of Barstow // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Ed Komski // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsXtreme Convenience of Barstow // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Desert Hot Springs, California

One big benefit to all the rain we got in January and February, is the wildflowers in March! I was out in the desert today – out by Palm Springs – and everywhere you looked there were wildflowers in full bloom. It was a gorgeous day too – warm and sunny with a big beautiful blue sky.

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Yellow & Blue // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

House in Desert Hot Springs

For some reason I can’t really explain, I really like this tiny little house. Maybe it’s the colorful window coverings? Maybe it was the quiet? The only sounds were some chickens clucking in the distance. Maybe it was because it was smack in the middle of the best field of wildflowers I found? Yeah, that’s probably it.

When I got out of my car, a jackrabbit came crashing out of the brush only a few feet away from me. I love jackrabbits! They’re like mini kangaroos with massive hind legs and they soar when they jump. He wasn’t too afraid of me, he only went a couple of dozen feet away, and then sat and watched me as I worked. I kept expecting him to hop away, when I turned my back, but every time I looked over, he was still there, sitting totally erect, with one eye on me.

Jack Rabbit

Can you find the jackrabbit? It’s tough. If you look at the two brown cactus in the center of the photo, he’s sitting right in front of the base of the cactus on the left, and he’s in profile.

Bee in Desert Hot Springs

I also saw a few healthy bees. Lately all I’ve seen have been dying bees, on the ground, walking in circles. It’s a real crisis, so I was happy to see some bees doing what bees are meant to do – hopping from flower to flower and helping to pollinate the world. We need the bee!

And I saw lots of wildflowers and cactus and brush – really pretty stuff!

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Desert Hot Springs

Vanessa in Death Valley

Posted on August 5, 2017

When I took Photography 101 at Palomar College, one of my co-workers at Main Street Cafe in Fallbrook mentioned that her teen daughter had done some modeling, and would be willing to pose for me. We got some lovely portraits that first semester in her back yard, but I wanted more…

So when I signed up for a one-credit class in my second semester that focussed on Death Valley, I wanted to do something different than just shoot sand dunes. I had this wild idea to bring a model. And of course I wanted it to be Vanessa!

She was maybe seventeen? And I was so inexperienced–she was my first portrait, my first model, and this trip to Death Valley was my first fashion session. I designed a gold lamé bikini, and a taffeta skirt with a net overlay, and I brought lengths of white gauzy fabric to drape on her. And she brought a huge suitcase with practically her entire wardrobe. We made plans to shoot with exotic makeup, and to go as high fashion as we could. While I can certainly see the faults in these images, for a novice photographer shooting slide film at dawn in the desert? And for a model who was still in high school? We certainly both had potential, and we had a lot of fun experimenting!