Wonder Valley

Wonder Valley, photo by William Hillyard

Below are links to  the first  four Wonder Valley stories.  They are meant to be read as a piece…

Wonder Valley The first in the series.  It introduces the place as it explores the life and death of  one of the residents.  The story was listed as “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010

Laying Tracks with Jack McConaha Travel the dirt roads of Wonder Valley with the area’s self-appointed guardian.

Falling to Heaven The lives of two men intersect in the loneliness and isolation of Wonder Valley

The People Vs Thomas Ritchie Busted at the Cat Ranch, a man fights felony charges while struggling to survive.


City of Cast-Offs

Tire Retaining Wall In Tijuana, photo by William Hillyard

Rubber Retaining Wall in Tijuana’s Swanky Chapultepec Neighborhood.--photo by William Hillyard

Tijuana is made of tires.  Car tires.  It is constructed of them: they form the walls of houses, shore up embankments, stabilize slopes, create retaining walls, staircases, curbs, fences, planters.  Tijuana is awash in tires, buried under them. The tires all came from California originally; we export more than two million old tires to Mexico every year as part of a recycling program overseen by the state. Tire recycling means nothing more than relocating, it seems, exporting our problem to the other side of the international fence.

This is a short  piece I wrote to accompany a photo essay by  World Press Photo award-winning photographer Guillermo Arias.   It appeared in  the Earth Island Journal.  Our assignment was to explore recycling: how does it fare as our first response to the American culture of consumption?

“Jorge Lopez works shirtless among a mountain of wooden pallets along the cluttered banks of Tijuana’s swampy Arroyo Alamar. He stacks the best pallets to one side and busts others into boards, piling them alongside the broken scraps gathered as firewood. Lopez makes his living selling the pallets, the boards, and the firewood to the squatters who live on the opposite bank of the arroyo. A whole pallet goes for two pesos — about 15 cents.”

Read the entire story: City of Cast-Offs

William Hillyard



A Dana Point Pichonero Photo by Preston Drake-Hillyard, Story by William Hillyard

“Pichoneros” are what the day laborers who hang out along Camino Capistrano in Dana Point, California call themselves.  They liken themselves to pigeons (pichon is pigeon in Spanish), scratching their livelihoods from  the dirt.  This story looks at the pichoneros who, as the economy falters, find it harder and harder to survive.  And many contemplate returning to Mexico, a place some have not called home for decades.  This story was a finalist for the 2010 NASNA Best Feature Award.

“Patti Church eased her car around the corner and into the swirling crowd, stopping near the piles of clothing spilling from ripped plastic trash bags. Flimsy folding tables stood waiting for her. As Patti opened her car door, she became the center of the crowd; volunteers looked to her for direction, asking questions—where do you want this, who is to do that? One man, his face bristling with a silver stubble, opened Patti’s trunk and began unloading paper grocery bags to the folding tables, others grabbed cases of soda, boxes of cakes, plastic trays of salads, until the wobbly tables were top-heavy with food. Another, Francisco, grabbed a box from the car’s back seat, then stood shuffling from foot to foot, looking for an opening to the tables. As Patti approached, about fifty men, their weathered hands warmed in worn pockets, congealed into a tight group…” Read the entire article

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William Hillyard

Wonder Valley by William Hillyard

Ned Bray's Wonder Valley Parcel--photo by William Hillyard

Ned Bray's Wonder Valley Parcel--photo by William Hillyard

Below is a link to my story on Wonder Valley which appears in the July issue of the Denver Voice.  It is the first of what will be a series of stories on Wonder Valley, one of the last homestead tracts in the United States.  It’s a strange place, dotted with tumble-down shacks it is peopled by an diverse mix of artists and retirees, losers and lowlifes, drunks and druggies, eccentrics and out-right wackjobs.  This story was listed as “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010

“You might have passed through here, maybe. Out for a drive with time on your hands, you might have taken the long-cut to the casinos of Laughlin, Nevada from the soulless sprawl of Los Angeles. You’d have driven way beyond the outer reaches of suburbia, beyond its neglected fringe of citrus groves, past the outlet malls and the Indian casino, past remote Joshua Tree National Park and the Twentynine Palms Desert Combat Center, past the Next Services 100 Miles sign and any reason anybody really drives out this way…” Read the Entire Story

Check out more Wonder Valley photos HERE

Visit the Denver Voice archives HERE

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William Hillyard

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