Bill Evarts has been photographing the landscapes of California and Baja California for decades. His work has appeared in national and regional calendars, books and magazines. He was commissioned for the photography and text for the book “Torrey Pines: Landscape and Legacy,” a 1994 publication about Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. He’s had major solo exhibits in Fresno, Palm Springs and San Diego as well as participated in various group exhibitions. His photographs from Baja were included in the San Diego Natural History Museum’s exhibit, “Desert and Sea,” which was displayed at the Smithsonian.
We asked him to answer a few questions about his travels in Baja, his photography and the non-profit that he and his wife started to provide health services to under-served communities in Baja–Amigos de los Californios. For more of Bill’s work, go to billevarts.com
What was your first trip to Baja?
In 1952, our family camped at Laguna Hanson in the Sierra de Juárez. A friend of my father came along with his tiny Willy’s Jeep as insurance should our overloaded station wagon get stuck or break down. I remember meadows full of wildflowers.
What’s your favorite place in Baja?
Too many to list. My preference is for isolated wilderness settings, especially if they have some historical significance, such as a remote section of El Camino Real.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken in Baja?
I am still partial to a shot I took 15 years ago of a lone elephant tree growing in a jumble of volcanic blocks east of San Ignacio. I had hiked around the area unsuccessfully for several hours, and when I was ready to give up and hike back to camp, I noticed how the setting sun spotlighted the tree and foreground through a notch in the western skyline. I had only a couple of minutes to set up my view camera on the loose boulders and take a picture before all was in shadow. Landscape photography is as much about luck as skill, and one often has to make haste slowly.
What’s your most memorable “Baja moment”?
One profound moment was the first time I saw Cueva Pintada. We arrived at the bottom of Arroyo San Pablo after dusk, too tired and late to appreciate our surroundings. In the morning, we were led along the canyon floor and then scrambled up a steep slope to the base of a cliff. As I peered up through the cholla at the top of our climb, I was moved to tears when I saw the immense paintings before me. It was comparable to the first time I saw the Parthenon in Athens.
Another, emotional moment came the first time I touched a gray whale in Laguna San Ignacio. Through the tears, hoots, and giggles, I knew it was a unique, life altering experience.
Another humbling experience was on Isla Rasa in the Gulf. After several hot days, I was more than ready for an al fresco solar shower behind the tiny research station. As I doffed the last of my clothes and began to lather up, a nesting gull a few feet away began to cackle. Within seconds, thousands of others had joined the chorus. I felt as though I was on stage and the entire audience was roaring with laughter.
Tell us about how you started your dental clinic, Amigos de los Californios.
Nearly 20 years ago, when Sue and I were returning from a visit to friends in the Sierra de San Francisco, a young man stepped out of his goat pens and flagged us down by the side of the road. His jaw was terribly swollen and he wanted some aspirin for his “toothache.” The image stuck in my memory, and I described it to my dentist a year later. He casually mentioned he had done field clinics before and that compact dental equipment was available. The lights went on! By the end of my appointment, I had recruited him and part of his staff to join us the following spring. Within days we had ten volunteers. We would provide the logistics—food, transportation, camping gear, etc., and they their professional skills. What a learning curve!
We saw our clinic as a way to provide a needed service to the entire community, available free of charge to anyone who wanted to attend. Prior to that we had brought food and clothes to our friends, but the distribution was always inequitable and actually generated some ill will and resentment.
After several clinics, we officially incorporated and became Amigos de los Californios. We are now planning our 18th season and visit the communities of San Francisco and Santa Martha in the Sierra de San Francisco, plus a satellite station in San Ignacio. Our staff runs between 15-20 each year. The logistics are a bit more complicated because we take everything with us—generators, air compressors, custom dental stations, sterilizers, a field kitchen and food for two weeks, camping gear, and backups for our backups. With our bilingual, binational staff, we offer general dental services, including restorative work and on site denture fabrication. Our medical volunteers are also very popular, and have been able to diagnose some serious problems.
Although the clinic hours are long, and Amigos requires work all year long, we continue to be overwhelmed by the gratitude our patients show us—from gifts of fresh goat cheese and tortillas to elaborate school plays and even our own corrido, or ballad. A whole generation of mountain children is cavity free and their beaming smiles melt our hearts every year.
For more information about this non profit, 501(c)3 organization , please visit: amigosdeloscalifornios.org
In your opinion, what’s the best thing about Baja?
There are many, but the warmth and hospitality of remote sierra ranchers stand out.
Any projects that you’re working on?
Current. Working on my archive of film images for my website to showcase my Baja California landscape, mission, and rock art portfolios. Check it out: billevarts.com
Ongoing. Writing a series of essays to complement my photographs and further underscore some of the peninsula’s rich historical and environmental treasures.
What would your dream trip to Baja be?
To circumnavigate the Sierra de San Francisco, from San Ignacio to Mission Santa Gertrudis and back by mule. By following the Camino Real and its various branches, this would offer a lush blend of scenery, cave paintings, history, and ranches.