The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

The Inland Empire

Wildlife ponds in the Inland Empire
Wildlife ponds, on the edge of the Badlands, in the Inland Empire. One of several new CLUI aerial photographs, commissioned by the California Museum of Photography.

TEN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS, TAKEN OVER three days in May 2002, were presented in the California Museum of Photography, as part of the exhibit Alternate Routes, curated by CLUI members Lize Mogel and Chris Kahle, with Mitra Abbaspour, a curator at the museum, which is located in downtown Riverside, in the heart of the Inland Empire.

The Inland Empire is a semi-urbanized region east of the Los Angeles basin. As large in area as the developed L.A. and Orange County regions combined, and bounded by mountain ranges, it has evolved into a sort of alternative version of Los Angeles, both separate from and connected to the megalop. Here are the steel mills, smokestacks, and racetracks of Fontana; the cement pits and piles of Rubidoux and Colton; the quarries of Temescal Valley; and the reservoirs of Perris, Matthews, and Diamond, massive elevated pools, looming above ground level. Sacrificial sites like debris basins, flood channels, and huge canyon dams control the cataclysmic erosional dynamics caused by mountains of unconsolidated material faced with only occasional rainfall. Big, monolithic land uses abound between the freeways and washesmalls, railyards, airports, business parks, and military bases. Housing occurs in swaths of units, on land recontoured into ranges of engineered escarpments of drainage vectors. And a frequent haze obscures the mountains that contain the region, giving a sense of a vague infinity to this landscape of moved earth.

Yet a sense of the exotic lurks in the Inland Empire, too, in little eddies amidst the flow of change, in self-contained downtowns, in secret canyons on the margins, and in old hot springs resorts, and vestigal orange groves. The Inland Empire has a flavor closer to the tragic, romantic, mythic Southern California paradise than just about anywhere.