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Amber & JasonAbandoned Trains & Sand Dunes engagementGlamis, CA

Amber reached out to me a few months ago to inquire about some unique engagement photos (off to a great start right away). After chatting on the phone, Amber asked if I knew of any locations that would resemble the desert scene of Spectre for the backdrop of their session. My mind immediately drifted east to the abandoned rail yard of Jacumba in all its eerie glory.

Amber and Jason were excited by the idea, and were immediately on board. We decided to throw the dunes into the mix as well with a smoke bomb rally as the grand finale.


With Andrew riding along to provide any necessary assistance, our car caravan headed out to no man’s land. Turning down Rail Yard Way in Jacumba, you immediately feel the back of your neck crawl. Only this time, neighbors and the fire men at the station waved to us as we drove by. Hmm.

We pulled of the road to park in the dirt behind the wooden trains. Not a minute later, a police officer rolled up beside us. I thought he was going to send us packing. Instead, he asked if we were the ones responsible for the earlier gun shots (?) He looked bored by our ‘no’ response…then he left us in peace to shoot. How very perplexing.

We climbed up into the wooden trains which, to my surprise, had been swept clean since my last visit, with all the useless junk tossed outside. Thank you, stranger.

Jacumba is a very funny place, with some interesting inhabitants. The “Institute of Perception,” a group dedicated to “the evolution of the human spirit through the arts,”  has laid claim to most of the abandoned buildings and structures in the area, including the train cars, which displayed prominent, hand-painted private property signs. (I have a strong inclination this is mostly to deter hoodlums, graffiti artists and squatters).

The aluminum alien scarecrow is particularly questionable.

Since my last visit to the rail yard, one of the red metal car doors had been pried wide open, revealing the engine room inside! With help from my trusty step ladder that never leaves my trunk, we scrambled inside.

A skylight from the roof sent light and shadows dancing across the room. I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to use one of my spare cans of Atmosphere Aerosol for some more faux-fog drama.

I had to catch my breath a little- the combination of light and fog cradled these two within the most spectacular lens flares.

We tried our luck with the next car over, a passenger car with seating (!), but alas the room was chain linked shut. Given the extension cable running the length of the floor,  the “Institute of Perception” was likely doing some remodeling to the inside.

There was one last car in the rail yard that really caught our eyes. A metal steam engine car with an upper deck you could hoist yourself up on to. The rusty car looks like it belongs in a Thomas the Train Engine story book (only missing some bright paint and a smiling face).

After our fill of exploring the rail yard, we packed the car caravan again and settled in for the drive out to the dunes.

We arrived just in time for the beginning of golden hour. Because of the strong winds, the landscape changes every time I visited. Many of the rolling dunes had shifted shapes and placement.

It was very windy this time, tousling our hair and blowing sand into our eyes. But the sand being lifted off the peaks of the dunes glowed gold in the setting sun.

We made the most of the golden light before it started to sink down below the horizon. Since it was so windy, we had to take cover behind one of the massive dunes to be able to light the smoke bombs.

Amber had purchased a few different colors for us to experiment with; blue, purple, green and white. We tried out all of them. Thanks to Andrew for running around like a little kid to change the direction of the smoke. 🙂

We finished up with the smoke bombs and the four of us started the tiring trek back to the car. We reached the lot where there was still a glimmer of light on the horizon. Amber and Jason cracked open two mini cans of champagne and toasted to a long but very successful day of shooting.

I am so excited to be joining Amber and Jason on another adventure to Montego Bay in Jamaica for their wedding day! Cheers to you both.