Southwest shutterbug? You’ll trip for these pics
With a wealth not only of flora and fauna, but also spectacular views and extremes of weather, the desert is a photographer’s dream landscape. Here are eight spots within hours of the Strip where you can bring home some of the Mojave’s magic with a camera.
Cowboys and western realism. Check out the abandoned cattle corral at McClanahan Spring. Seen from I-15 just north of Jean is a dirt road that appears to run in a straight line past the Jean dry lakebed into the distant mountains. The site of the last active cattle ranch in Clark County, it’s a terrific setting for capturing authentic images of the Old West.
Trains, trees, and trestles. Before 9/11, you could drive the entire southern Meadow Valley Road between Glendale and Caliente on a road that frequently crossed the Union Pacific railroad. These days, access is blocked by a gate just past Stuart Ranch. Fortunately, just before the gate you can catch locomotives crossing the trestle on their slow way down Meadow Valley Wash.
Birds, lizards, and turtles. They’re just a few of the native inhabitants in the ponds and creeks around Corn Creek Field station on Mormon Well Road just past the Paiute Indian Reservation on US 95. Shaded by a verdant abundance of indigenous shrubs and trees, the riparian habitat offers countless opportunities for creature shots.
Cima townsite. One of the best places to capture winter scenes – snow and mist framing enchantingly dilapidated wooden shacks — is at the intersection of Cima Road, Kelso-Cima Road and Morning Star Mining Road. Wintertime also offers chances for dramatic shots of snow on some of the tallest Joshua trees in the area.
Full moon risin’. A sunset walk to the top of Kelso Dunes near the Mojave Preserve visitor’s center is always enthralling, but the vistas are especially bewitching when a full moon rises. Carry water and a flashlight for the hike back to the car.
The acropolis at Lake Mead. No hand of man created Temple Bar, but from a distance this imposing red-gold sandstone bluff, accessible from US 93 and Temple Bar Road, looks like an ancient citadel.
Petroglyphs and ancient campsites. A couple of miles south of the famed Eldorado Canyon mining district, a photogenic jumble of boulders known as Knob Hill provides photo opportunities second to none. Old pioneer trails meander among stones bearing petroglyphs carved by early Native Americans.
Mysterious sliding stones. Accessible only when the weather is dry, Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa is arguably the most intriguing spot in the park. The giant boulders sitting at the end of their long enigmatic skid marks make captivating photo subjects — as do the unearthly landscapes surrounding the playa.
The weight is over
Hitting the road with your photo gear in tow? Why strain your neck and back carrying a heavy DSLR when you can capture great pictures with one of the mirrorless digital cameras now on the market? That’s the way many travel photographers are starting to think. Because they have larger sensors for better image quality than point-and-shoots — and they allow users to change lenses — mirrorless cameras offer most of the capabilities of a DSLR in a smaller, lighter body.
Mirrorless digital cameras were first developed by Olympus and Panasonic, but now other manufacturers have jumped in with their own versions. My favorite is the Sony Nex-7. It may not be the smallest camera you can buy in this format, but the wealth of features packed into its compact frame makes the small amount of extra weight well worth it. At 12.5 ounces (including the battery), it’s still far lighter than a DSLR.
Another attractive option is the Olympus PEN E-PM2. Photographers more used to point-and-shoot cameras will find its controls easy to use, and they’ll be pleased by the great photo quality. All this, and it weighs — including the battery — less than 10 ounces. Your neck will be thanking you, too.
An additional advantage these new cameras offer is that they need lighter tripods to support them. If you’re still schlepping around that big ol’ DSLR and a heavy tripod to hold it up, it might be time to think about going mirrorless. — Mark Holmes
Mark Holmes is a professional photographer and author of “Digital SLR Photography eLearning Kit For Dummies.”
Do the wave
Valley of Fire abounds with hidden destinations of breathtaking beauty. Thanks to a single photo in a German travel magazine, the dramatic “Fire Wave” is hidden no more Near the road to White Dome, this ancient seabed has maintained its dynamic appearance, with contrasting stripes of red and white swirling through the rock, giving the illusion of a standing wave. For the best photos, take this brand new trail near sunset, when the fading sun shines directly on the sandstone. Difficulty: Easy.