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Las Vegas

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

Midweek Monochrome 6-10-20

Yesterday I was out at Red Rock Canyon for the first time in a while…..with my car, that is. The scenic loop drive, closed to vehicles for over two months, has reopened. The new hours are from 8-4:30, also known as skin cancer time. Yesterday was the last time until October that anyone could be out during that time and not melt within an hour. At the entrance station, I asked the ranger why they even bothered opening the drive. I had arrived around 4 and he told me that if took a short hike, I probably wouldn’t get ticketed for after hours violation. Not feeling very comforted by those words, I stayed close to my car…..and waited. These photos were taken well after closing time, and I saw several other vehicles, but no ranger. It gave me an opportunity to play with camera settings I’ve never used before, but in the end, I used RAW images to get the results I wanted. I realized yesterday that we’ve been so spoiled by having bicycle access during the closure and for most of the day, making the drive kind of a letdown.

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.

The Path To Recovery

About a half year ago, I suffered a severe leg injury which kept me from being outdoors with my camera.  A couple weeks of being mostly bedridden and using crutches to get around eventually gave way to being able to do some work and the start of physical therapy.  My physical therapist was hesitant about me hiking at first, so my first couple trails were relatively flat.  No backpack filled with tripods or cameras either, just a phone.  Earlier this year, I finally made a hike with all the gear on a trail that had more difficulty involved.  I could feel the difference of the terrain versus just being in therapy.  I can’t imagine how long I would have been out if I wasn’t taking care of myself before this accident, and now that we’re all being asked to stay home, I realize I need to keep moving more than ever.

red rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, rain, hiking, fine art, Steve Brunored rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, rain, reflection, hiking, fine art, landscape photography

While many National Parks and other recreational areas have closed, there are some which remain open.  These may not be the desired locations which attract social media throngs, but those who’ve seen my work know I don’t really go there anyway.  The first location (above) was after some areas had shut down, making this a more crowded parking lot than usual.  Despite that, I had very few people on the trail I was on, and getting here requires a scramble, so I enjoyed the place to myself.

That area has since become off limits, as has the next spot, on a hike taken in March.  While this area starts on a popular trail, it soon takes off to an old trail, which quickly fades and becomes a scrambling route.  Again, social distancing didn’t apply here because there were no other groups.

waterfall, red rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, Steve Brunowaterfall, nevada, desert, creekdesert, nevada, hiking, red rock canyon, Steve Bruno

One of the remaining open trails has plenty of open space to absorb a higher number of hikers keeping distance between them.  Leaving the trail and boulder hopping the creek also provides more privacy and the best views.

water, red rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, Steve Brunored rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, hiking, fine art

Higher up, this canyon becomes more rugged and takes on different characteristics.  While most would have a different opinion on what constitutes a waterfall, I’m going to state that this is southern Nevada’s largest waterfall.  It had been raining earlier, but only a light amount, and had been snowing above.  This probably won’t be noticeable at this size, but there are small streams of water coming down on almost all the canyon walls in this scene.  While the wall to the left is the most obvious, the water can be seen in many spots when standing here (and on my computer screen in full size).  Waterfall or not, I like how this one came out.

red rock canyon, nevada, las vegas, rain, hiking, fine art

Midweek Monochrome 10-2-19

Cooler weather has made its way to the desert, and soon it will be time to start climbing around these sandstone hills again.  This unique perspective of Red Rock Canyon is a panorama stitched from four frames.  I was always pleased with the way it came together, but just recently tried converting it to b&w, and I think I like this outcome better.

Midweek Monochrome 9-11-19

September 23rd marks the first day of autumn this year, but that is normally an irrelevant day in this part of the US.  This morning I had the air-conditioning turned off and the doors open for the first time in a while, so perhaps this season will be different.  I read a few months ago that the El Nino currents were still in place, which would account for a lack of a summer monsoon season.  Another wet winter and spring would certainly be welcome, especially if followed by another spectacular wildflower season.

The cooler air also means we’ve made it through the worst of forest fire season.  Our forests have been spared from significant sized fires.  Surprisingly, of all places, the worst one this season was in southern Arizona.  The Woodbury Fire lasted for about a month and consumed over 120,000 acres.  Rugged terrain, inaccessibility, and summer heat were the contributing factors keeping that one from being extinguished quickly.

My closest mountain retreat, pictured above, did not have to deal with closures or fires this summer.  Every autumn, I keep feeling like we just made it through another round of Russian Roulette.  So many dry years, and just enough careless people visiting the forests push the odds in favor of the fires.  Let’s hope for a few more El Nino winters.

Monochrome Madness: MM 209

No matter what the temperature, I will rarely head out to take photographs if there are cloudless skies.  Sometimes clouds just add an element to the skies that reduce the sterility of the scene.  They always reflect light, and usually soften the light to some degree.  When the clouds are thick enough, they can provide a natural light painting to a landscape that cannot be duplicated in post-processing.  In the photograph above, a little bit of direct sunlight was hitting the cliffs in the middle-ground, while some filtered light was reaching a little further back to highlight the ridgelines.  Heavy clouds were lingering beyond, making for a dark mood in the back of the canyon.  I also had a brief cloud darken the foreground, helping to bring the attention to the cliffs.  I never would have pressed the shutter had this been a sunny day.

This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week.  To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.

Monochrome Madness: MM 208

Last week we had a late season winter storm which brought snow to the mountains and a decent amount of rain to lower elevations.  I went out to hike around the rainwater pools before they evaporated, and was fortunate to have plenty of fast-moving clouds for long-exposure photos.  This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week.  To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.

Monochrome Madness: MM 201

My last shot from my hike in the fog last week.  As I was taking this, my camera was being covered with tiny droplets of water.  This is not a telephoto shot – these trees were right in front of me.  On a sunny day you would be seeing hundreds of trees from this spot.  Glad to be near the end of the trail, I didn’t think it could get any darker or thicker than this.  On the drive down, it did manage to get even worse before finally breaking through at lower elevations.

This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week.  To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.

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