On my last springtime hike into Red Rock Canyon, things had changed dramatically in just two to three weeks from the previous journey into the same canyon. The plants had taken over, making the trip more obstacle course-like than before, and water levels in the creek had dropped with even some pools completely gone. There was plenty of life around, including these butterflies feeling spring in the air. This shot was somewhat challenging, as I had to use my body and hat to shade sun hotspots that were dotting the frame otherwise, while autofocus was not seeing things as I did.
All this hot weather has me reminiscing about a couple months ago. This photo was from behind one of the waterfalls in Red Rock Canyon. It was late into springtime, and the flow was diminished from earlier in the year, but refreshing nonetheless.
The desert seems so magical in springtime because in most years, there is an abundance of water flowing through the creek beds. The normal lack of rain through late spring and the inevitable rise in temperatures deliver a one-two punch that just makes it tough to want to get back out there. I couldn’t choose one photo from this hike in April, so this week I have two.
Back in springtime, we had some days that were absolutely beautiful for hiking. No, not the sunny ones. The ones with clouds and rain threatening, even if hardly producing. Those were also great days for photographs, especially in b&w.
About a month ago, when things were still cool, I returned to a hike I had done three weeks prior. In a spot close to where I encountered a dragonfly on that previous visit, I saw this hummingbird. He had little tolerance for me being close, so this was through a decent telephoto lens. The tree he was favoring was swaying in the breeze, so he was moving in and out of the shadows while he perched on this branch. I just kept clicking until I was sure I had some variations I liked.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Hard to believe this was just three weeks ago. Snow flurries were on the mountain, thunderstorms were rolling through town. Now the spring/summer temperature yo-yo has begun. Not for long, I’m sure, as summer is inevitable.
Red Rock Canyon has a bit of a deceiving name. Unlike Zion or Grand Canyon, there is not one distinct canyon running through the middle of the park. Instead, it is a long linear steep cliff with canyons that disect the cliff in several places. From the road, the geology gives the impression that these canyons would be much the same. Venture in, however, and all the differences become apparent. Some have water beyond the mouth of the canyon, but can be dry well into the canyon. Year round water in some, but dry creek bottoms are more common. Waterfalls can be found in most canyons, seasonally, but there are no real similarities between them. Brothers, not twins.
The trails into the canyons are similar – hike about a mile or so in open desert until you reach the mouth of the canyon, then follow the path of least resistance. The official trails don’t really go into the canyons, so following the wash bottoms is the route further in. Eventually, there is a bunch of rock hopping, tree branch ducking, and sliding between boulders. Just the kind of workout someone on the mend needs. Like me! Even with restrictions in place, getting out for exercise has been allowed here. The road to many of these canyons has been closed to vehicles, making it more work for people to access, thus keeping the crowds down. A demanding workout with fresh air, beautiful scenery, and almost no people has been a win-win-win scenario. For me, healthy legs means healthy heart and lungs, and less chance of getting sick.
All the images here are from my two recent hikes into neighboring canyons. On one, I had cloudy conditions most of the day, and the soft light was essential for getting the photos I did. On the other, clouds were predicted for most of the day, but soon vanished. Temperatures down in the desert were pushing triple digits, but a breeze was coming through and it was very comfortable here.
One of the things I’ve noticed through the years is the change in the water into springtime. After the snow has melted, and the creek flows decrease, algae forms in the pools, and as these pools dry up, green tinted rocks remain. I even found algae forming on a waterfall.
On the second hike, I started getting photos of something I don’t normally come across – tiny critters. I was sitting in the shade of a large tree cooling my feet in the water when I observed a brightly colored dragonfly. It had chosen a tiny exposed root as its perch, and after ten minutes, it was still there. It would fly away occasionally, but always return within three seconds. After clearing away some larger rocks so I could lay on my stomach somewhat comfortably, I inched closer with my favorite macro lens. By the time I finished, I was about 3 inches away and could now observe that the dragonfly was in the middle of lunch. Every time it jumped away and returned, it had some tiny insect in its mouth. He could have cared less about me. Shortly after leaving that area, I came across a lizard on a rock. I knew it wasn’t going to have the same tolerance for me as the dragonfly, but I managed a few close-ups without it moving a millimeter. It has also been frog hatching season, and I managed to capture this tiniest of frogs. I could have picked up any one of these rocks with one hand, but the pine needle in the back really gives it a frame of reference.
For now, the creeks still have water but the levels have been diminishing with each passing week. My favorite part of spring has to be the redbud trees in bloom. I wanted to capture them with partly cloudy skies, but the full sunshine actually worked well.
Stay healthy everyone!
“There are more important things than living”
That quote comes from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick yesterday. Judging by the protests to reopen the country, and the crap I’ve seen on social media, I’m sure there are thousands (or more) in the US who share this opinion. If only we could communicate with the dead, I’m sure we would change some minds.
What this really boils down to is selfishness. Thoughts of “this isn’t my problem” and “let someone else clean up after me” are prevalent in all aspects of these people’s lives. This goes beyond any virus, and extends to how they treat our planet. They don’t believe science as it pertains to the virus, and certainly not when it comes to global warming. We’ve had other virus scares in recent years, but since none of those had the transmission rates of Covid-19, these people just pass this off as a hoax. Similarly, the earth has had periods of global warming before, none of which had the acceleration that our carbon footprint promotes, so the disbelievers write this off as natural occurrence.
During this time of social distancing, our state has closed the popular outdoor recreation areas, but left some parts open. One such area has access on a road closed to vehicles, making it a much longer hike than usual. The photo above comes from there during yesterday’s hike. You would think that people who come out to breathe some fresh air and make the effort to connect with nature would be respectful of nature. I was so disappointed to be coming across freshly deposited trash along the way. I make an effort to clean up when I find this trash, but people like me can’t be everywhere.
Instead of using this quarantine time to get upset and wish for a return to a normal life, maybe we should examine what brought us here. The earth has shown that it is capable of keeping us in check. Our normal life needs to change to be in tune with the planet while listening to science. In the long run, there really is no one coming to clean up after us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.