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Groundhog Day

Yes, we’re starting to feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. Mother Nature has succeeded in issuing a stay at home order more potent than any Governor’s. The only time to be comfortable outdoors is first thing in the morning, but the smoke throughout the west has reached unhealthful conditions in many places, defeating the purpose of going out.

In case you missed this week’s news, record setting heat in Death Valley reached 130 degrees, a mark not seen there in over 100 years, or over one pandemic ago. The photo below is from the National Park Service Instagram page. Think of it like a bank thermometer, but the official reading is the third highest ever recorded on Earth. Phoenix has had a record number of 110+ days, as well as a record number of 115+ days. It could snow there this week, and it would still be the hottest summer on record. Las Vegas snapped an 89 day rainless streak with a whopping trace of rain. The people who study these things say we have been in a long term drought which historically last 30 years, and we are about 25 years into it. I hope in 5 years from now Californians are back to complaining about all the rain. It beats the hell out of all these fires.

Perhaps the most important news of the week comes from Greenland. Scientists now say that the ice cap there has reached the point of no return. People weren’t paying attention to Al Gore twenty years ago, so perhaps news like this will get people listening to scientists now. If you want to see how we’ve destroyed the polar ice cap, you can click on the link below.

Polar Ice Caps Melting

Hitting The Pause Button

As with most of the world, Las Vegas came to a screeching halt this spring. Getting out of the house for exercise was encouraged, and as I mentioned before, bike rides were part of that agenda for me. The weather was still cool for much of the stay-at-home period, but riding around my immediate neighborhood leaves much to be desired. I realized it wasn’t much of a ride to get someplace that most of us avoid like…..well…..the plague.

Las Vegas Blvd, aka The Strip, is usually very crowded and noisy and no place for a bicycle. Now, the wide open sidewalks (not to mention all those open traffic lanes) made for great pedaling. There was still some traffic, sequenced into tiny parades controlled by the traffic lights, and never enough to be a concern for riding on the asphalt.

The Strip, quarantine, Las Vegas, Steve Bruno

The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, which once held the distinction of being the most expensive retail space in the US, had a mostly empty sidewalk, with some occasional joggers, pedestrians and dogs. You would never see this most times of the year. Just down the street, Fashion Show Mall was just as quiet.

Caesar's Palace, Forum Shops, Las Vegas Blvd, lockdown
Las Vegas Blvd, quarantine, Forum Shops, Nevada
Las Vegas, quarantine, Fashion Show Mall, Nevada

There is one spot that is almost always guaranteed to be busy, no matter what the temperature or time of day. The infamous sign. Other people were here when I took these, casually taking their time with lots of photos and videos, a luxury not allowed when there are 50 people waiting their turn. And yes, I was standing in the middle of the road with a tripod for the street view. This was only around 9 o’clock at night!

Welcome Sign, quarantine, Las Vegas, Steve Bruno
quarantine, Las Vegas Blvd, Steve Bruno

When I first started my LV Blvd bike rides, I was mostly alone. There were a couple joggers, pedestrians, and another bike or two. There was a very pleasant period where the temperatures and cloud conditions made me opt for hiking instead, and when I returned, all of a sudden, bike riding the Blvd had become a thing. Hundreds of other bike riders were filling the sidewalks and spilling into the street. The mall had even opened up a parking lot to accommodate the riders. Still, it was a far cry from the usual volume of this road.

quarantine, Las Vegas Blvd, Steve Bruno
quarantine, Las Vegas Blvd, Steve Bruno

Construction was deemed necessary business during the shutdown, and shortly after my first ride, cones and zones became abundant. A short distance off the Blvd, the Las Vegas Convention Center was working on an expansion. This is the most scaffolding I have ever seen in one setting, and I think this photo would be a truly maddening jigsaw puzzle.

construction, Las Vegas

Memorial Day

Today in the US we have set aside a day to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the rest of us have a life of freedom. Wars have been a part of human history since we managed to make our first weapon. In WWI and WWII, there is little doubt our presence was necessary to keep power-hungry leaders in check. Since then, most notably Vietnam, our role in these wars has been questioned by some portion of the public. For those enlisted in the Armed Forces, politics has no place. Armchair quarterbacking is not allowed.

Growing up, I remember watching war movies where people died. Perhaps they grabbed their stomachs and fell over, or they lied in their buddy’s arms and shared a poignant moment before they passed quietly. It all seemed so honorable. Television shows like Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy made war seem like a vacation. As did most boys my age, I played with G.I. Joe’s. Cowboys and Indians. Cops and Robbers. Nobody ever wanted to be on the losing team. The good guys always win, everybody knew that.

I have four older brothers. They started up the draft again for Vietnam, just around the time the oldest turned 18. Seeing my mom crying while watching the draft was the first time I thought about the reality of war. The oldest brother’s birthday came up in the first twenty dates drawn. A year later, the same fate was true for the next brother. Two years later, a repeat for the next brother. Vietnam ended, but then a mandated draft registry came up in time for my eighteenth birthday. I was never called, but the thought of it weighed upon me as unrest in the Middle East was becoming more prominent.

Recent war movies have become a lot closer to reality. Bullets hit, and blood and body parts go flying. They don’t use .22’s on the battlefield. People die painfully. Those who survive are likely to be in even more pain. The glory has been removed. Thank you, Hollywood.

Just when I thought the glorification of war was a thing of the past, here they come again. The United States Space Force. You can find the promotional trailer on YouTube. Looks like fun, the only thing missing is the slogan “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” Oh wait. That’s another branch’s slogan. Copyright infringement. Can’t use that.

If we’re preparing a military division for space, you have to ask, “who are our enemies out there?” I’ve thought this through, and clearly there are only two answers.

  1. Aliens. This can’t be the answer, because for 70+ years, the government has been telling us they don’t exist. If they did, I’m sure our weapons are no match for theirs. Unless we’ve figured out a way to reverse engineer technology that has crash landed on this planet. Oh wait, I keep forgetting, that doesn’t exist. That, and the government would have to admit they’ve been lying all this time.
  2. Other humans from other countries. This must be the answer by default.

Are we really going to take our shitty war-mongering habits beyond this planet? And what kind of weapons will we be using up there? If we fire a missile at something and it misses the target, does it continue on its trajectory until it does eventually hit something. Space is a big place, but what if that eventual target is another planet? With people? Will this start a Universal War? There’s an asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter which some scientists feel may have once been a planet. Have we taken this path before?

I think we have enough problems to solve at home, like paying teachers what they’re worth, or this coronavirus thing? Let’s stop glorifying war.

Mother’s Day 2020

To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

This year will probably be different for most of you, but hopefully all the sons and daughters will be able to show mom some extra appreciation today.

A number of years ago, my significant other was in a routine of visiting antique shops.  While I went through hoping to God that none of that stuff was coming home with us, something actually caught my eye one particular trip.  There was a small stack of predominantly black & white photographs.  Subjects were mostly people, some in uniform.  Almost all had older buildings and many included vintage cars.  Most had borders, including a few with the textured edges.  Some had hand written notes on the back, some had dates stamped on the front.  Three had the Kodak Lab stamp on the back, with dates going back to 1945.  Every single one of them was older than me.  Although these were taken by everyday people, they all seemed to capture a moment in time.  Perhaps because it cost money to click the shutter back then, people put more thought into what they were shooting.  I think the stack was $10, so I had no hesitation in buying them.

 

mom 03

 

Just one more thing guys, in case you’re taking mom on a hike.  Don’t take her on a steep trail with steps cut into the rock, and handrails on the sides, and tell her it will be like walking through the mall.  Give her a chance to dress appropriately.

 

mom 01

Midweek Monochrome 5-6-20

When I was about thirty years old, I thought I was in pretty good shape, as most thirty year-olds would.  Then, one day, I got a dose of reality.  I had an assignment to photograph a hiking trail further north.  The trail started at an elevation around a mile high and finished close to 6000 feet.  It was about as smooth and evenly graded trail that you could ask for.  I had a backpack full of camera gear and a tripod, but nothing I wasn’t used to carrying.  It didn’t matter, because this mountain had kicked my ass.

The following week, I was determined to get in better shape.  There were two nearby mountains in the city that had trails to the top and were fairly close-by.  I started with the easier of the two, and the first few times felt like an effort, but then got easier.  Soon, I was reaching the summit and didn’t feel I needed to rest.  I saw that some others were repeating the hike, so I started doing the same.  One day, I did it three times, and got comments from almost everybody I had lapped.  To me, this environment wasn’t real hiking, but it didn’t matter – I was building my endurance.  Afterwards, I concentrated my efforts to the other mountain, which turned out to be far more demanding.  This one even involved some upper body work, especially on the detour routes.  It took many times before I could make the summit without stopping.  After a few months, my endurance was vastly improved, and I started doing this hike twice.  A few months later, I started throwing on a backpack filled with forty pounds of weights.  People looked at me and asked, “Are you getting ready for a Grand Canyon hike?”

“No, just preparing for life.”

Somewhere along the way in those years, I also started doing something I hated in high school.  Jogging.  Much like my hiking routine, this started quite pathetically.  The block I lived on was exactly one mile around according to my odometer.  It felt like five.  Eventually, I made it around the block without stopping.  Then twice, then thrice.  I ran in some 5k’s and a couple 10k’s.  The running built up different muscles and endurance than the hiking.  I never once set foot in a gym, but I was as close to being a professional athlete as anyone might get.

About a year later, I was asked to photograph a story on mountain biking in the mountains of eastern Arizona.  There were two men who joined me there.  One was a professional mountain bike racer.  The other was his best friend, riding partner, and writer for the story.  I had gone to a local bike shop and rented what was probably a $300 bike, they both had titanium framed bikes costing about ten times that much.

The elevation was about 9000′ above sea level. One morning we headed out for the trails, and for whatever reason, I was the lead bike.  The trail started up a moderate hill, and after several minutes, I heard them talking, but all I heard was my name and the word fast.  I really thought I was holding them back, so I stood up on the pedals, and proceeded a little faster.  There was a loud collective moaning behind me.  I stopped and turned around and repeated what I heard and thought.  “No”  they replied,  “We were trying to figure out how someone who has never mountain biked, and riding a pos bike, could be making us work this hard to stay even!”

Shortly after that trip, I purchased a mountain a mountain bike, which I have not really used like it was intended.  I like uphill rides, but would ride the brakes most of the way downhill.  Even before YouTube existed with its plethora of bike ride fails, I knew this law of physics:

Speed + Gravity = Pain

I once had a dog that could run at forty mph.  I knew taking him on a ‘walk’ was not what he needed, so a lot of my bike riding experience was taking him through the neighborhood.  Fortunately, we had some open spaces and dirt paths, so the bike was perfect for this situation.

Fast forward a few decades to my situation a couple months ago.  As I started physical therapy, they put me on a stationary bike.  I couldn’t operate it as it was, so they had me pedaling from a chair at the back of the bike.  It wasn’t until about week four that I was on the proper seat.  Another couple weeks and I was back on the real thing.  Yes, I still own that same bike.

About the photograph.

I now live in a neighborhood that is mostly flat.  No dirt roads.  No dog.  Although most would prefer a street bike to a mountain bike, I look at it differently.  The tread of my bike offers more resistance, providing a better workout.  I deliberately lower the air pressure for even more resistance.  I have discovered during this quarantine, that empty parking garages make great hills for a workout.  On one early morning ride, I took a different route and came across this garage of a building that was closed.  There were a couple cars in the bottom level, so I had a feeling I might attract some attention.  Up near the top level, the sun was streaming in and created long shadows.  I took this with my iPhone because I had a feeling I wouldn’t have the opportunity again.  Sure enough, as I reached the bottom, security was there asking me to kindly leave.  That’s ok, I know of several other garages where I can still ride.  With stay-at-home restrictions probably coming to an end soon, my bike rides will likely become a little less adventurous.

Monochrome Madness: MM 198

Life in the desert moves at a slow pace.  Without much water, growth is slow, and subsequently, so is death.  This dying cholla cactus appears to have marked its own grave, but will eventually succumb to the elements and gravity.  The younger, healthier ones (right portion of frame) are bright yellow or green and are easy to notice and avoid.  During their life, they eventually drop several sections.  In the course of time those begin to camouflage themselves, browning to match the stones beneath, and still just as painful.  Walking through a dense cholla forest is like navigating a minefield.  If you manage to get too close to one, you will swear you have been bitten by something.

For Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness: MM 198

It didn’t rain here

I repeat – it didn’t rain here.  Not a drop.Virgin River Flood-Steve Bruno

This is what we faced one morning a few years ago when we planned a trip into the Paiute Wilderness in northwestern Arizona.  During the majority of the year, the water of the Virgin River would be mostly clear and about ankle to calf deep here.  In the parts where the river channel narrows to the length of your average rental car, it is still only knee to thigh deep.  At this point, you can certainly feel the pull of the water, yet it is not dangerous.

Upon our arrival, we knew we had to scrap our plans.  One single thunderstorm had dumped upon the headwaters of the river, about thirty miles away, during the course of the night.  We could kick up dust here.

On Monday, hikers died in a narrow slot canyon in Zion National Park, Utah.  Rangers had given them a warning about potential flooding, but they can’t stop people from going unless flooding is imminent or occurring.  It is up to the discretion of the visitors to proceed, and once this has happened, there is no way to warn them of changing weather.  In canyon country, you have no way of knowing unless it’s directly above you.

On August 14, 1997, eleven hikers perished in a flood in Antelope Canyon.  A photographer friend of mine was there that day, and was one of several people pleading with the tourists not to proceed into the canyon.  The tourists had already discussed the conditions, and voted to continue, but they weren’t from around here.  Besides, it wasn’t raining there, either.

I get it.  People plan a trip and try to see as much as they can, and end up on a tight schedule.  A little rain shouldn’t interfere with that, right?

This is the desert, and a little rain goes a long way.  Literally.  Many, many miles sometimes.

To see an example of what not to do in a flood, watch this video on Youtube.  These are the stupidest people, and because they survived, the luckiest people you might ever come across.  I wanted to give them credit for making a wise decision when they seek higher ground in the earlier portion of the video, but then they resume when the rain seems to let up.  Tell me you’re not scratching your head by the end of this video thinking what are these people doing?

I’m certain this week’s news about hikers in a flood will not be the last of its kind.  I just know there’s no photograph in the world that justifies going into a narrow canyon when there’s rain nearby.  Other links to flash floods will show up when you watch this video.  I don’t want my last words to be “Should I keep filming this?”

Fireworks, Las Vegas 2015

4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno
4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Last night I photographed the fireworks displays for the first time in many years.  I had a great vantage point from a high-rise building adjacent to the Las Vegas Country Club, where the first display originated.  During the course of the night, I could see hundreds of store-bought fireworks going off.  There’s one in the lower right of the photo above.  They legalized those a couple years ago, and judging by what I witnessed last night, the sellers made thousands of dollars last week.  Damn, the trouble I could have gotten into if those were around when I was a kid!

A short time after the Las Vegas CC display was finished, the Stratosphere (the space needle copy building in the background) dimmed their lights and put on a fireworks display of their own.  I was under the impression they launched from the top of the building, but was slightly disappointed to see them going off on the opposite side of the tower.  Better viewing for those nearby, I guess.  I switched to my 30 year old Tamron 90mm f/2.5 manual focus lens.  This lens is so ridiculously sharp it makes me wish I had more uses for it.  So here’s one from the Stratosphere display:

4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno
4th of July Fireworks, Las Vegas, Nevada by Steve Bruno

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