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Richard Misrach: Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West

In 1952, the U.S. Navy  began illegally testing high-explosive bombs on an enormous expanse of public land near Fallon, in northwestern Nevada. The land had long been sacred to the Northern Paiute Indians, who called it the “Source of Creation.” The Navy called it “Bravo 20.”

Here is the dramatic story and the first photographic documentation of what happened to the public’s land at “Bravo 20.” With the help of the local residents, award-winning landscape photographer Richard Misrach gained access to the area using a 1972 mining law to claim a tract of land at the heart of the bombing range. Despite initial fears of unexploded bombs or wayward Navy bombers, Misrach “worked his claim”—and his camera—for the next eighteen months. The result of his efforts is a breathtaking collection of full-color photographs—and a remarkable proposal for America’s first environmental memorial: Bravo 20 National Park.

The photographs capture both the natural beauty and the man-made devastation unique to the remote Nevada landscape. Scattered across the great alkali flat, rusted wrecks of military vehicles lie as if on a battle field. A bomb crater is filled with crimson liquid where the earth itself seems to bleed. An abandoned school bus sits among the sagebrush. (Caption: “Target.”) A single peak rises steeply on the horizon—Lone Rock, known to the Northern Paiute as “Wolf’s Head.” From its summit flies the American flag, raised by the photographer and his friends to ward off the Navy bombers that have already reduced its height by more than a third.—the publisher