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This is one of my favorite spots on this planet to be standing.

Or sitting, or observing, or inhaling large volumes of fresh air, or taking photographs.

Sunday morning I started out wearing a light jacket, feeling the freshness of random raindrops, and side-stepping muddy parts of the trail – three things I never thought I would be mentioning about a hike in southern Nevada in the end of May.  It poured in my neighborhood on Friday for about 10-15 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it rained a couple miles away.  Not around here, anyway.  My rain jacket was still in my car from a couple weeks ago, so I threw it in my pack.  There were just a few drops when I started out, but it looked as though that could change at any time.

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The hike to this point is only a couple miles, mostly flat with a milder grade at the end.  From here it descends slightly to Oak Canyon, where trail finding skills become important.  I just wanted to make it to my spot, and hopefully catch the sunrise.  The clouds, thick enough to hold water, saw to it that the sunrise colors didn’t materialize.  In fact, the sun only popped out for about 5 minutes the entire time out here.

My spot is on a ridge that runs up towards Mount Wilson.  There are great views of most of the Red Rock cliffs, so no matter what time of year, there’s usually something to photograph – at least in the mornings.  This spot is rare because trees which usually need the coolness of the canyons to survive, thrive here.  The sounds of the birds reverberate throughout this little pocket, and the only reason you can vaguely hear cars go by is because the 2000 foot cliffs echo their sound.

My early start meant I had the place to myself.  About a half-hour later, two climbers headed off trail to scale some precipice of Mount Wilson.  My next visitor was a hummingbird.  It came flying around the trees, coming to an abrupt halt as it startled both of us, I think.  It hovered away momentarily, then flew back to check me out again.  My camera was a couple feet away, but before I could grab it, my guest was gone.  I had been shooting time-lapse video, which didn’t require anything of me other than sitting and enjoying the morning.

The early morning cloud cover made an attempt to go away, and at one point I thought it was going to clear completely, without me capturing any shots.  That never happened, and as the clouds reformed, I was getting my favorite kind of light.  I call it window light, where only small openings in the clouds allow the sunlight out, and usually filtered light at that.  I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s dodge and burn.  I fired off a few shots, and would then have a lull before the next slivers of light would slide by.  During one of these lulls I heard a noise in the trees below me.  My next visitors, three deer, had been unaware of my presence until that point.  They froze for a couple seconds, then took off at a somewhat hurried rate. This time my camera was ready and I managed a few shots before they disappeared over the ridge.  I took a few more shots with my window light, then felt I had captured everything I was going to see for the morning and packed up.

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I started my way down the trail and it wasn’t long before I took what I thought was a parting glance.  I’m not done here I thought as I now had a lower perspective which was looking better and better.  I walked slightly up a different ridge and found a great location which had a perfect sized boulder to stand on.  I thought my dawdling cost me the shot I was hoping for.  I waited for at least ten minutes before the next window slid by, and, as it turned out, was even better.  Perfect, actually.  Now I’m done!

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I glanced down for a good spot to step off my boulder, and as I did, I noticed two insects.  They weren’t moving and were up against each other, butt to butt.  I didn’t think this was going to last more than a couple seconds, so instead of changing to a faster lens and moving in closer, I aimed my camera downward and started to focus.  I thought it might be a cute shot for a saying like “we don’t see eye-to-eye” or “I’m not speaking to you!”  I was about to press the shutter when a third bug came into my frame.  My initial reaction was you’re ruining my shot, dammit!  It quickly approached one of the other bugs and started to attack it.  That’s when I realized what had been taking place.  The first two had been in the process of copulating.  I could now see a small tube (penis?) between them as the one bug was busy fending off its attacker.  The one being attacked was now moving around, forcing its partner to maneuver to maintain contact (or keep from breaking?).  The skirmish lasted about a minute.

Then a bizarre thought came to me.  “I think I just witnessed the insect world’s version of The Jerry Springer Show!”  For those who’ve never seen the show, the usual theme is confronting lovers who are cheating.  At some point the ex-girlfriend starts swearing and beating on the new girlfriend (or boyfriend).

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The rest of the hike went without incident, but I was still pondering the drama of the insect world.  A desert willow tree that I had passed in darkness was in bloom.  There was now sufficient light to take photos and finish out the day.

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