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Mythic thinking about technology as an engine of progress has shaped the ways Americans have come to perceive the boundaries of vacant space. In the Great Basin of the Rocky Mountains, where the West still appears to the East as empty and formless, photography and art tell richly symbolic stories about wastelands transformed into wealth. Often those stories aggrandize machines and engineering. The essay presents a visual sampling of machines remaking the desert from three historical eras. First, from the postbellum era of the transcontinental railroad, are pictures of barrens redeemed by science and industrialization. Second, from pioneer Utah, are desert landscapes suspended between farming and industry. Third, from postmodern Nevada, are forebodings of apocalyptic demise.

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This document was originally published by University of New Mexico University Libraries in Historical Geography. Copyright restrictions may apply.

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