Spring Mountains at midday, Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013
Recently, I returned from a family visit to Nevada, specifically Las Vegas. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you of the photographing opportunities in Vegas, what with all the pizazz of the lights and architecture. What you may not be aware of are all of the natural places on the outskirts of Vegas and its neighboring towns. The Spring Mountains are found just to the west of the city, about a 40-minute drive, and are home to several conservation/recreation areas. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (which I have yet to visit), Red Rock Canyon, and Mt. Charleston are all beautiful natural spaces found in this range. The natural history of the area is so incredibly different from our wild areas here in Florida. I know that is to be expected, but as I don’t leave the state much, I am always amazed by the extent of life that can be found elsewhere. The changes in elevation on one single mountain provide further diversity, and we REALLY can’t claim that here! Sure, we can go from uplands to wetlands to coastal regions, which provide tons of diversity, but going up in elevation from 3,000 feet to 7,650 feet also changes from creosote and Mojave yucca to Joshua trees to aspen, Ponderosa pine and bristlecone pine. Again, I know it will happen, but seeing it and understanding how it works in a completely different environment and set of ecosystems is a bit of a kick.
I have been to Red Rock Canyon twice, and now Mt. Charleston, but unfortunately, I have never gotten a chance to be there as a photographer. Participating as a visitor has its merits, especially when you are watching your four-year-old son playing in the snow for the first time, or attempting to climb desert rocks with him without landing on your bum. But everyone who enjoys photographing wild places will appreciate how much it killed me to not also be able to shoot one mountain sunrise, or explore a new region on my own time. So what I brought back does include people, namely my son enjoying his first time seeing and playing in snow, throwing snowballs at family members and attempting to sled down an icy slope with discarded bits of broken plastic sleds from previous visitors. The light in these mountains is truly incredible, and very different from Florida light. I got some nice grab shots from the car with a little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot! Nothing saleable, of course, but great for remembering how gorgeous the scenery was on our trip.
The opportunities in this region are astounding! It’s easy to see how so many people come back from the mountains with such amazing images. Try that in Florida, and you will probably come back disappointed. It takes lots of scouting and knowledge of the area. There are no elevated lands here, nothing but the occasional observation tower to change your perspective. Silhouettes of the horizon turn into beautiful sky and/or water scenes, with a long black blob in the middle. Not knocking my native landscape; it’s what I know best, and the images you can make here are like no others on Earth. But seeing a new area with fresh eyes is a good way to break the monotony of my current shooting, and open my mind to new ideas and ways of incorporating the landscape elements in my images.