I woke up at 4:30 am bleary eyed but determined. After lacing up the hiking sneakers and gathering my gear, I set off for a roadtrip to Red Rock Canyon. Normally, the walk from the hotel to the rental car is not part of the adventure, but this was Las Vegas, and everything is bigger and most notably, weirder. In order to get to the parking garage at the MGM, you first have to make your way through the casino. Surely I thought, most people would be sleeping at this hour right?
Passing by the slot machines I felt like an alien from another land. With my camera bags and tripod over my shoulder, I navigated past countless people smoking cigarettes and cigars, blackjack, craps, roulette, and yes...drinking. I know it's Sin City, but I had no idea that people did this well into the next morning. The smell of smoke was interrupted only by a weird mix of perfume and cologne. Katie Perry roared over the lobby speakers, lights flashed like Christmas-time on steroids, and I finally descended towards the "Underground" parking area.
There was no time to waste for breakfast or coffee as the sunrise time was 6am, and the park was approximately 1 hour away. Driving past the now deserted streets, I made good time. The faux Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers of the Strip looked small in the rearview mirror and I quickly found myself on the highway heading towards the mountains. I enjoyed the height of the Jeep, but it took me a few minutes to get the feel for the larger size of the vehicle. I drive a Civic, so this was a pretty big difference. I'm not sure why the rental car places always give me something large when I ask for a standard sedan. It was smooth enough of a ride, and I made really good time to the park.
I had been there the night before as well but only had a short while to make a few pictures before dark. This actually did turn out to be helpful as it gave me a better understanding of the full layout of the place. The scenic route is about 10 miles and it's only a one way road. Once you enter, there's no way to double back without going completely around again. Just outside of the toll area though, there is all kinds of beauty for those willing to drive a few extra minute.
There was still about 15 minutes before they opened the gate, so I made a quick detour near the overlook area. There was an un-official roadside pull off near an impressive mountain range and I used a large cactus as a foreground element. The light was soft and pastel-like, and I needed the tripod for a longer exposure at a small aperture. After a series of bracketed shots, I headed back to the toll gate, paid the $7 entry fee and made my way to the first pull off.
Luckily I had brought my winter jacket as it was freezing! In fact, I wish I had brought gloves as well. Nevertheless, I started hiking around the unbelievable collections of wind swept rocks, and was just overwhelmed by all of it. Where to begin?
It wasn't until I made a conscious decision to slow down, and really see, that my images began to take shape. To help stay focused, I kept reminding myself of the first secret in my eBook. "What is my subject?"
I found little details in the rocks, like faces, and was really interested in the spiraling patterns beneath my feet.
Cactus, mountains, weathered ridges of stone-wall passageways, and that color...that spectacular color. I happily made a number of exposures and the sun rose higher in the sky. The temperature rose a few degrees, and it was time to drive on the stop #2 which was more desert like.
On this next hike, I experienced the profound beauty of true silence. Even in the deepest woods of New York, there is always a distant hum of a highway, along with the steady flow of air traffic. Out here though, was absolutely still. I just stopped and listened. I could practically hear my heartbeat, and then, a bird. It was the Anna's Hummingbird, and it landed nearby. I set the 400mm lens onto the tripod and slowly walked over. The bird stayed there, and let me take dozens of photographs. It would occasionally fly away only to return a minute later, stretching it's wings and flashing its ruby-colored feathers occasionally.
By this time, it had now gotten downright hot, and I quickly stripped to a T-shirt before drinking some water. The desert can get dangerous in a hurry if you're not careful. I made a few more stops, using the circular polarizer to darken the deep blue sky. The research I did at home did not properly note just how unbelievable the surrounding mountain range is. I routinely found myself in awe of their sheer height and beauty.