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  • Route 66

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  • September 2009
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Mojave Desert, Solar Farms, and Water

Mojave Desert along Route 66

Mojave Desert along Route 66

BrightSource Energy, Inc. cancelled its plans to build a solar farm on 600,000 acres of railroad land donated to the Department of the Interior for conservation. BrightSource builds, owns, and operates solar plants.

This is the land by Sen. Dianne Feinstein would like to see transformed into the Mother Road National Monument. If that happens, the land would connect the Mojave National Preserve to the north with the Joshua Tree National Park to the south, and the Colorado River to the east.

It is my long time interest in Route 66 that draws me to alternative energy and the Mojave, and how energy extraction changes landscapes.

For my first book on Route 66, Susan Croce Kelly and I took oral histories from poeple who built gas stations, motels, restaurants, and trading posts along the road after it was established in 1926 and before the passage of the Interstate Highway Act with funded the roads that replaced 66. The book Route 66: The Highway and its People is the basic text on the founding of the road and the creation of roadside tourism.

My second book, Along Route 66, is about the architecture of their buildings. Again, I drew on the oral histories Kelly and I had taken in the 1980s and on additional interviews taken by phone in the 1990s.

Now, I am interested in the landscapes the old road crossed from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, the coal fields and oil fields that lie under the landscape, and how we change the landscape when we extract energy from it.

This idea blossomed when I visited Moraine State Park, near Bloomington, Illinois, where Route 66 crossed the Bloomington Moraine, laid down by the retreating Wisconsinan glacier 15,000 years ago. The Twin Groves Wind Farm occupies soybean and corn fields just north of the park.

Twin Groves Wind Farm, Bloomington Moraine, LeRoy, Illinois

Twin Groves Wind Farm, Bloomington Moraine, LeRoy, Illinois

So if I seem preoccupied with things not Route 66, forgive me, but this is a new role the old road can play in my life and work.