This desolate image contrasts with the history of this region. While hard to imagine now, this corridor was once buzzing with activity, driven by the nitrate mining operations that brought in thousands of workers and their families. Company towns were constructed alongside the higway, with theaters, schools, and housing, but most of these settlements have since been reduced to rubble.
Humberstone, the best preserved nitrate operation and town and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in the 1870s. I happened to visit during the First Biennal of Art in the Desert. Artists had been selected to create installations in Humberstone, including filling the bottom of the old pool with oil drums and painting enormous white letters on the ground that could be read from the air.
Arte en el Desierto