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An Ad Hoc Scouting Trip in Nevada

This past week I was in Las Vegas for CES the Consumer Electronics Show exhibiting for my company. It was a long week of set up, attending, and packing up. We had a good show but I was exhausted by the long hours, standing almost constantly, and talking with visitors.

I enjoy this part of my work but I am by nature an introvert and so have always found I need some downtime each day to recharge. The days are long enough this does not happen effectively so at the end of the show I really needed to spend some time alone. We packed up early and as a result I had a day and half to myself before the flight back to the UK and home. I would have preferred to be home but I made the most of the extra time on this occasion.

I decided to rent a car and head out to the desert. I don't know that much about the area around Las Vegas so I picked the area around Red Rocks Canyon National Monument for my day out. I had not planned this before I left and so brought no film cameras just my iPhone. The whole thing was completely unplanned as I decided only over cereal in my hotel room Saturday at 7:30 AM. I rented a car online and by 10:00 AM I was on the road heading for my destination. At Red Rock Canyon it was packed with tourists and hikers so I drove past the park itself in search of more isolation.

I have to say most of the delight was in the spontaneity. There was no pressure of expectation, organization, and planning or results. Just buy a sandwich, pack some water and go. An hour later I was at a random trail head in the desert heading towards some canyon I knew nothing about. (All photos are from and iPhone 8 and I must deeply apologize but the camera appears to have been set in HDR mode which I probably hate more than any other look in photography...)

Start of the Hike
A cool day and partly cloudy
The hike started out partly cloudy and ended up overcast. There was about a mile walk across the flat alluvium up towards the cliffs. This was high Mojave desert with Staghorn cactus, Joshua trees and Yucca.

As I got closer to the cliffs I wearied of the trail and moved into a small defile or wash to look for more interesting subjects. By now I had set a plan to scout for intimate landscape subjects. Part scouting mission (who knows if I will be back to make proper photographs) and practice in getting my eye honed and assessing images later for what might work and not. 

A dead Juniper attracts my attention and gets me off the trail. 
It looks better from behind however. 
My route steepens
As I carried on, I hiked a series of ridges and gained more altitude. Now there were occasional Juniper trees and some barrel cactus added to the scenery. I enjoyed just exploring and wandering with no specific destination in mind. I was paralleling the trail only roughly.

The sun briefly appears and back-lights the cactus spines. 
My first intimate landscape subject is a hedgehog cactus on some amazingly colored conglomerate rock.
Hedgehog cactus on conglomerate. 
I have a particular kind of intimate landscape I am trying to cultivate an eye for. It is inspired by a single photo my brother took of cactus and rock together near Tucson Arizona (Sonoran Desert) in black and white that caught my eye. I have subsequently called it Ikebana for the Japanese balanced floral arrangements of the same name. In my case I aim to discover Ikebana in nature.

My brother's inspiring photo... {Print on Ilford MGIV) 
A found Ikebana
Junipers have such broken and twisted forms they are hard to resist as a subject.

Dead Juniper
As I hiked higher up the vegetation changed again as Pinyon pine emerged with the Juniper. The ground became steeper and rockier.
Pinyon and Juniper
 Ben Horne describes how he seeks photos that tell a story. While this concept doesn't resonate with me I am intrigued enough to be on the lookout for similar subjects. I found one below...

Rock that Fell from the Sky
This next one I discovered and really liked for the illusion it creates.
The area in front is only a foot or two across but it seems much larger. It was perched above a small drop and presented itself as a small microcosm of a dry stream bed.

The next one is probably the best of the day. it sets out some nice contrasts of simple geometry of circles and lines and looks almost arranged. (I want to say that while there are those that will arrange stones and leaves to complete or make a more compelling composition, my sense of integrity in my work prevents me from doing this.)
Another story... A nurse plant in the desert is one that shelters another younger plant from the elements. Here the barrel cactus seemed to been sheltered by the (now dead) yucca plant. Not a great photo but a story in any case.
Death of the Nurse
As I climbed, I searched out the drainages and defiles as here is where the scenes can be more interesting; I followed deer trails as well.

Gradually the stress falls away and the chattering of mind quiets with my exertion and isolation. The desert is contemplative and peaceful for me.

I contemplate now the nature of wilderness and isolation. Having grown up in Flagstaff Arizona and having lived on the edge of the National Forest I had ready access to wilderness and isolation. I find now as time has advanced that cities are larger and more populous, social media has made isolated places more popular and technology and wealth has made places more accessible to more people. It was probably not a fair test being less than an hour from the Las Vegas strip however there was the monotonous buzz of private planes overhead and to a lesser extent the human voices that break a kind of reverie that wilderness can provide. A refuge from the world. (I will post an essay later to further discuss the origins and views on wilderness.)

Below is another favorite. I like to think I could make something of this with the vertical lines of the Mormon Tea (ephedra) and the dead juniper trunk.

Mormon Tea and Juniper
And again similar themes with grass...
Juniper and Grass
I found a boulder with colorful lichen patterns and nice patina. However I tried, I could not make anything work. A small plant in front is completely lost in the complexity of the patterns and I settled on the final shot to capture the color and texture.

What the eye sees can often be so different from the camera. One, I think, is often deceived by our binocular vision. The brain sorts out depth which is lost in the 2 dimensions of the photograph. Furthermore, movement also enhances the ability to separate out aspects of a scene with high visual complexity. The challenge of the photographer is often to identify this problem and break down and simply  the subject for the simple single lens. 

The Rock 

Lost Plant

It is interesting how restorative wilderness is. I begin the walk on sore feet and legs from standing on a show floor for a week. Midway through my walk the soreness and pain have faded. I feel the sheen of sweat and the salve of worked muscles. The quiet and isolation have quieted my mind and improved my mood.

Eventually I decided to head back. It is funny this feeling I get when I have been out for a day; there is this rising sense of return. It is almost an attraction back to the trail-head and car. It is a familiar and not unpleasant sensation. A return from destination almost like gravity. As I say, familiar; and on this trip I took time to think about it. It is a draw or momentum not associated with any bad feelings and despite the enjoyment for the day. It may be some inherent mechanism to understand the limits to the enjoyment; trying to maximize the return on the day.

In all I really enjoyed the day out.