Happiness and excitement sizzled alongside the hum of neon lights on Fremont Street Experience this year, as ghouls and goblins awoke from their pandemic slumber to come out and play. What in years past was usually a crowded throng of drunken debauchery with several sober souls dodging the madness, was now a fluid celebration wearing one common mask: a smile. Locals, vacationers, workers, buskers and entertainers buzzed along the .8th of a mile street under a canopy of innocent fun. Fremont Street was alive this Halloween, and nothing, even COVID, could stop it.
Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist based in Las Vegas and available worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram: (at)rondachurchill
Bodie, California, is a National Historic Landmark located in Mono County, in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in eastern California. Once a gold mining town in the late 1800’s with a population topping 10,000, it is now a preserved ghost town open to visitors during the day. The spirit of a cowboy mining town lingers as people stroll through the town, wandering in an out of structures, many containing original décor. A gift shop-slash-museum, located near the center of town, offers artifacts and an intimate glimpse into pioneer life.
Visit https://www.bodie.com to learn more about this state park that is preserved in a time of “arrested decay.”
Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist located in Southern Nevada. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill
I can say, without doubt, that this time period has been the hardest of my life.
Our 5 year “journey” had felt ended, and my husband drove towards a setting sun the day before Thanksgiving. Our truck was loaded with supplies–much like camping– as well as turkey take-away dinners and our dog comfortable and secure in the backseat. Moments earlier, I had posted to Instagram, a two-part entry where I swallowed my inhibitions, turning the camera onto myself, and shared our heartbreaking story of fertility loss. The city’s lights were behind us as we headed into the desert and out of cell signal with a destination in mind.
In the span of a couple months, we returned to our “secret spot” in the Mojave Desert and adjacent to Death Valley, to escape from the pain and grief that overwhelmed us. Perhaps these trips were more for me than my husband or our dog. I had intense physical symptoms of grief and lingering medical side effects. This middle-of-nowhere spot, our spot, with its mineral-crusted land, air so dry that electricity sparked, and barren roads void of the staples of city life, ended up becoming our oasis in the desert.
This is the place I went to cry. This is the place I was able to laugh. This is the place I made memories with my husband and our sweet rescue dog during her last days on earth. Her mid-November cancer diagnosis infected my already-broken heart, yet this strange place with its washed-out canvases and hidden hot springs, cradled me and cradled us, and I was somehow able to breathe again.
The following images were shot between November 25, 2020 and January 9, 2021 in and around Tecopa, California, and Inyo County. I dedicate this blog post to my best girl Ladybird Angel Brinson, who passed away in my arms at our home February 7th.
“It is interesting… I never come in here at night by myself, “ said Goldfield Historical Society vice president Steve Foutz as he rounds another corner in a maze of a basement that gives me an immediate spooky vibe even though it is a sunny morning in October. Foutz, along with his shadow, a herding dog named Tucker, is giving me a personal tour of Goldfield High School. The school was built in 1907 and is the original high school in the small mining town with strike-it-big dreams located 150 miles north of Las Vegas.
It is an interesting site indeed, rising three stories, with hardwood floors, hand-laid brick and exposed walls that were originally nailed by hand, then plastered over. A slew of fixtures, desks, chairs, pianos – all teachers had to play back then – and debris, most of which was left by the last students who attended, in the early 1950s, are lying here and there. An occasional doll is left behind, brought by night tour groups hoping to spot ghosts. At the building’s heart is a grand, wooden staircase that turns and twists, connecting all levels. As I follow my guide up the steps carefully, I can imagine decades of students running up and down these stairs in their wholesome clothes, toting books and laughing, teasing one another.
The school that housed students for decades until about 1952 now stands empty, somewhat dilapidated and quite serious. There is no laughter today. The only souls here are a handful of men working on structural renovations to keep the building upright and safe from the harsh desert elements. Students eventually left the building mid 20th century and were bussed to nearby, larger Tonopah, due to a dwindling population in the mining town.
John Ekman, the society’s weathered and determined president, is working with a friend on window casings this morning. When I ask about the renovations, he says with a sigh, “It’s a slow process; I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see it.”
The efforts of the society and community members, both their physical labor and applying for and receiving grants, are important work. It ensures that this part of history in the small mining town of Goldfield is preserved for generations to come. At this time it is unclear whether the building will eventually open to the public or as a museum.
As we make our way to the top floor, my guide points to names scribbled in pencil outside a classroom. George Koocher. Blanche Packer. Ken Goodrich. The long lists of names are dated around 1940. Foutz pauses a moment and says that 50 percent of these people probably went off to World War II, and 50 percent of those never made it back. I pause too, as the moment sits heavy between us.
On the ground floor, original desks line a classroom where many students sat day after day. Old window panes are warped, distorting the view through them. Foutz points out the mines nearby through the windows and says that the view must have been tempting during lessons. I think of my own high school, a massive compound of historic buildings back in the Midwest. I agree with him remembering that I liked to gaze out during class too.
Foutz shows me the current mascot for the high school, a giant Great Horned Owl that has taken up residence in the rafters of the attic above a small auditorium. Although the workers have not given the majestic bird a name, it is a permanent fixture at the school, returning season after season, keeping watch. Foutz jokes that they do not have a vermin problem.
My time with the school was short, but I will long remember it. That time was special, like listening to the reflections of a wise elder.
I was honored to make its portraits.
Goldfield is a historic mining town often referred to as “The World’s Greatest Gold Camp” and is located part way between Las Vegas and Reno, northeast of Death Valley. Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist and is available for assignments worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill
1 October is a hard day for Las Vegans. I went in search for some color. This space is reserved for artistic expression and is located .3 miles from the Las Vegas Community Garden, which honors those 59 that lost their lives during the Harvest Route 91 mass shooting Oct. 1, 2017.
Ronda churchill is a freelance photojournalist and can be found on Instagram @rondachurchill.
Mariah Naples grew up in Flint, Michigan, and recalls a time she was pulled over by the police while driving her vehicle with a group of male friends. She said that police stopped her because they feared she had been kidnapped and were concerned for her safety.
She is white. Her friends in the car were black.
After she explained to police that the guys were not taking her against her will, but were friends, she says the police’s tone changed from one of concern to one of interrogation, as she and her friends were manhandled and her car was searched. Upon finding nothing suspicious, the group was eventually released to go on their way.
About twenty years later, the experience stuck with the mother of two, who now lives with her husband and family in a North Las Vegas home. When the community started protesting against police brutality for the May 31 death of Minnesota man George Floyd, Naples wished she could have participated. However, she had to forego protesting because she cannot tolerate the heat ever since she underwent several brain surgeries last year.
“We came to the decision that we needed to do something,” said Mariah’s husband Rob.
The couple responded with a large homemade sign that hangs from the top of their two-story home and is visible from the freeway behind it. With the help of Rob, a structural engineer, the couple created the sign that features “BLM,” an acronym for the Black Lives Matter movement, in bright lights. Their two children helped as well, and the sign has been shining near the 215 freeway for a little over a week.
Mariah is active on social media and has been posting about the sign, receiving a lot of positive response from the community and offers to help with small adjustments to the sign.
However, not all feedback has been positive, and she has received pushback from some people close to her.
“I wanted to make sure everyone, including people in my family that are extremely racist, knew where I stood,” she said.
In a year where a lot are struggling and may seem dark, the Naples are bringing a little light.
Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist based in Las Vegas and available for assignments worldwide. Follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill
The following images document two weeks of Las Vegas’ response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Minneapolis man, was killed in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day. This post is part of a two-part series with images shot before the sun set. Please see “BLM Night” for the other half of this story.
The following images document two weeks of Las Vegas’ response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Minneapolis man, was killed in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day. This post is part of a two-part series with images shot after the sun set. Please see “BLM Day” for the other half of this story.
The desolate downtown and Arts District are photographed on Day 10 of a statewide quarantine for COVID-19 in Las Vegas. The notorious Fremont Street Experience is closed off to pedestrian traffic and security guards stand by. Local artists have painted plywood that boards small businesses’ window fronts. Southern Nevada hunkers down for what I only fear is the beginning of the new normal.
Ronda Churchill is a freelance photojournalist available for hire worldwide. You can follow her on Instagram @rondachurchill