Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

Photo By: Sydney Martinez | @sydneymmartinez

15 TIMES I CAPTURED THAT #DFMI SPIRIT

By SYDNEY MARTINEZ | August 2017
Updated: October 2017

Adventure

Points of Interest

15 TIMES I CAPTURED THAT #DFMI SPIRIT | SYDNEY MARTINEZ

Shooting Nevada scratches that photography itch in so many different ways that it’s difficult to zero in on where to begin. The struggle is REAL. Sure, there are qualities about every single place on this planet that make it enjoyable to capture. But to me, there’s major allure about the collective sets of top-quality conditions photographers are always after, beautifully married with unusual places, locations or events going down in the Silver State. Maybe it’s that certain range of light that can only be found in the American West, with some amazing basin and range topography in the background, but paired with something oh-so-Nevadan like like a natural hot spring. It’s this incredible photo stew that, all mixed together, makes for one of the most unbelievable photographic enterprises out there.

The best part? These favorites I’ve spelled out below are all easily achieved on a trip to Nevada... you don’t have to be anyone special with a fancy credential, you’ve just gotta go do it. The easiest way to start is to begin, right? If you can bring a camera, then great; get that shot. But when you take the plunge into backcountry Nevada, don’t let the camera be a distraction. Grab onto those moments, live them, and really stay in it for yourself, even if it’s only for a short while.

BIGHORN MAGIC

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/4
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/4000
ISO: 1000
TRIPOD? No

When I can find a place that merges extraordinary scenery with the prospect of shooting wildlife, to me, that’s a hard lineup to beat. I have an unwavering adoration for all animals, and any time that I can spot any of these babes in the wild is a good day. This time, I was on a statewide motorcycle trip with my Dad, and we were scheduled to roll through Valley of Fire right during golden hour. This was no accident. With three cameras dangling from my body as I rode on the back of the bike, we wove our way in and out of some of Nevada’s most picturesque roadscapes I can really think of. There are plenty of others, but this is definitely a spot to visit if you’re a gearhead… tons of car and motorcycle commercials have been filmed at Valley of Fire, and the second your own tires hit the pavement, it just clicks. It’s INCREDIBLE.

Having spent the last few minutes of daylight shooting everything my eyes landed on, I was kicking myself for scheduling yet another trip to VOF without enough time. [This place deserves more than a passing visit; maybe there’s never really enough time here.] It was my Dad’s first trip to Valley of Fire, and I know it made his already-high expectations seem like child's play. He was pleased, but I was practically throwing a full-on, grownup temper tantrum… I know there are sooooo many desert bighorn sheep in the area and we didn’t get to see one. GAH! Sulking my way over to the bike, my Dad and I shared one final drink of water before hitting the road to our next stop. As I tipped my head back take a drink from the bottle, there it was: BIGHORN MAGIC. Despite that the shade had already crept over to where the bike was parked, the sun was still up in a spot to perfectly light a herd of wild desert bighorns, parading along the vibrant red ridges Valley of Fire is known for. Most of the herd disappeared over the ridge, or below the frame into the shadows, but this lady bighorn totally stopped, midstep. She was posing for me! My Dad and I stood there in mouth-breathing awe, as we watched 10 bighorns nimbly traverse the ridge and disappear off into the warm summer night. This is one of those moments that can’t be planned, one that you’ll never get back again even if you tried. It’s something I’m not going to forget about anytime soon, and the photo is a nice way to commemorate an encounter with wild Nevada.

TRUE DARKNESS, BABY

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: Rokinon Wide Angle 14mm-f/2.8
APERTURE: f/2.8
SHUTTER SPEED: 30 second exposure
ISO: 3200
TRIPOD? Yes

I began 2016 with one resolution in mind: really figure out to take a good astrophotography shot. Not just dabble in it, not just wander around in the dark and get a half blurry, poorly exposed shot of some glowing dots in the sky. But to really, truly nail a well composed astro shot, and do some legit post processing to make the thing pop. And boy howdy, thanks to my favorite professional photo excursion of the year, I figured out the right settings and equipment to use, and got a solid schooling in post production, to boot. I had been on a multi-day excursion enjoying so many things the oasis of Nevada has to offer… spending the day UTV-ing on a mountain of sand, eating just about the best vegetarian curry I’ve ever had in my life, and exploring some pretty damn cool Pony Express station ruins. That night, I staked my tent at Sand Mountain during the new moon. The stage was set… no excuses; I wasn’t walking out of the place without my astro shot.

New moons are always the best time for astro shots because clearly, it minimizes in light pollution. The game changer in this situation? Nevada is home to some of the last true dark skies in the lower 48… so dark that some scientists are calling it an endangered resource. I knew it would be dark on this new moon, but what was most impressive was the fact that there wasn’t any light interference from Fallon… only 20 minutes down the road. Hey, I’ll take it. I had to wait until about 1 AM for Ol’ Milky to rise above the ridge, but once it did it was worth every minute. I thought the bright green tent was the perfect accent, so I set the shot, opened the shutter for a 30 second exposure, ran behind the tent and hit it with my Lumineer Light Gun and sprinted to the front of the frame to hold the light for additional effect. I like this shot because the ray of light draws your eye right over to the Milky, and that green tent gives it such a galactic feel… even though I’m right in the heart of my very own galaxy.

CONSUMED BY THE MOMENT 

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark III
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/4
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/6
ISO: 3200
TRIPOD? No

I’ve had to protect my camera on the back of motorcycles, while summiting Nevada’s top peaks or wading chest-deep in hot springs, from 108-degree temperatures in the southern end of the state, and beyond. But never had I experienced the sort of challenges in the mix at the Black Rock Desert. Maybe it’s that entirely elevated level of satisfaction that separates this shot from the others. Conditions were tough to shoot in, but the ambient light, expression, and energy in the background transports me right back to this very moment… the type of feeling I hope to evoke in every shot, but isn’t always an easy order. I had gotten some pro tips on how to protect my camera from other photographer friends who’d shot Burning Man in the past, but there weren’t a ton of options that would outlast alkaline-laden dust for days on end. So I followed the advice of every single one of them and meticulously wrapped my camera body and lens in one-gallon Ziploc bags. With surgical precision, I taped all the exposed parts off—like the trigger button—with black electrical tape and thought OK, well here goes nothing. Besides the difficulty in protecting my camera through non stop dust storms, the other tough part was this: although I had permission from Burning Man to have my camera there, I still had to protect everyone’s intellectual property by asking every single person I photographed if it was OK before snapping their pic. I love that idea, but it was a total 180 from other public places I’d shot in the past. If it’s outside and “in public,” it’s fair game, right? Nope, not at Black Rock City.

By the time the fourth day rolled around, I felt like I was finally getting into the swing of things… though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully get used to adjusting a lens with a giant baggie around it. I won’t spoil it for any virgin Burners, but the emotion surrounding watching the Man burn is a pretty transformative experience. For yourself, but also through watching other people experience it all too. Though I was afraid to ask permission to photograph onlookers during the apex of their time in the desert, I couldn’t help but approach this participant. Ambient light from the Man burning was on point, as were all the other glowing light sources from art cars and costumes. When looking at this image, I blast right back to the human connection and palpable spirit of that wild week spent in Black Rock City that culminated with this exact moment.

PURE WESTERN TRADITION

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/5.0
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/1600
ISO: 1000
TRIPOD? No

From my time spent traveling throughout Nevada, there are fewer places that make me feel more whole than Elko. I hate to play the F-word card here—FAVORITE—but there is some kind of X-factor quality going on in northeastern Nevada that’s all around hard to put into words. Probably because the landscape, and more importantly the people who hang out around here pull a feeling out of you. It’s not something that really can even be put into words, but an emotion that you, too, will most definitely latch onto if you have a pulse. There are so many ways to feel connected to the landscape in Nevada—whether it be summiting peaks, soaking in hot springs, rock climbing, sending a line at the highest snow base in Tahoe—synchronicity with Mother Nature is around every turn. But it really hit home after I had the chance to spend an entire day with John Wright, proprietor of the legendary saddle making shop J.M. Capriola’s.

As I learned all about this uncommon yet inspiring business, I felt that wholeness chord striking with me again. Along with his colleagues at Capriola’s, John prides himself on maintaining a few simple principles. Channeling the varied uniqueness of the northeastern Nevada’s landscapes and the originality of its people, John’s saddles are not manufactured from molds or stamps. Each piece is customized and special in its own way. Far from just a craftsman turning out a product, he considers himself a veritable “Guardian of Tradition,” preserving the sacredness of tradition in every step of the process. Western tradition. Around here, you better act right, as well as teach your children the meaning carrying on those genuine values. That afternoon, I watched John gather a herd of cattle with his wife Susan and their two kids, Charlie and Audrey, passing on his set of simple but powerful ideals in everything he did. I shot this photo of Charlie on his horse, which symbolized everything I’d seen that day in one shot. He’s outfitted in some amazing leather and sitting atop a Capriola’s saddle, but also taking every cue from Dad. It’s not just the saddles themselves that are made with such wholesomeness that you get passed down out here; it's the way of life, too.

HUMBLING ENCOUNTERS IN NEVADA'S BACKCOUNTRY

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/6.3
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/320
ISO: 400
TRIPOD? No

I enjoy the legitimate bounty of outdoor recreation that goes down in the Silver State, but particularly learned to love hiking and backpacking when I started working on a story about summiting Nevada’s five tallest peaks. It’s weird; I think a lot of people who don’t know the real Nevada might assume it’s all flat and sandy, loaded with scorpions and rattlers. But anyone who’s been here can attest to the fact that this place is MOUNTAINOUS. The most mountainous state after Alaska to be exact. Hiking the five tallest peaks was a serious endeavor—one that took me into super remote parts of Nevada, based on topo maps that were made in the 70s. Dropping off-grid, plotting your every move on what seems to be radically outdated info? Talk about redefining the spirit of adventure that I crave so much.

This photo was taken while my husband and I summited Nevada’s third tallest peak—Mount Moriah. Of the five, this was 1000% the most impressive. There were so many qualities that made it that way—the face-melting fall foliage, true remoteness, bugling elk, you name it. A hike I will never, ever forget. There was not another soul on the entire mountain the whole day we were up there, and, following some old ass maps, we got a little turned around. Once we spotted the barely-there trail again, we realized we had to hike up a super sketchy, CRAZY STEEP wash to get back on track to summit. During these moments, especially when you’re at such high elevations, your body basically just turns into a machine. Check out mentally, or you’ll be in trouble. We chugged up this steep, shale-y face, focusing on being nimble, and then I remembered to look up. We hadn’t seen many bristlecones at our camp in Great Basin just yet, and though that park is known as bristlecone territory, I was so jacked when I looked up and saw we had hiked into an ancient grove of bristlecones on Moriah. Had we stayed on the trail, this experience wouldn’t have happened. A total happy accident. As I looked ahead to my husband confidently getting us to where we needed to be, my heart exploded with happiness. We were deep in Nevada’s amazing backcountry at a place we didn’t plan for, standing beneath a tree that had been growing before the reign of Cleopatra. In Nevada, there are so many ways to be humbled by what’s around you, and standing beneath a 4,000 year old tree with the person I love most certainly didn’t fall short.

FEELING PRETTY FREE ON THE ET HIGHWAY

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/9.0
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/2000
ISO: 1000
TRIPOD? No

I lucked out in many ways as a kid, but one of the best parts about my childhood was that I basically grew up on the back of a motorcycle. While other kids were figuring out how to rig up their Nintendos, my Dad was showing me how to bask in the backroads, exchange stories with the people you meet along the way, and say yes to things you normally wouldn’t begin to entertain in “real life.” It stuck with me. Even in college I’d spend summer breaks rambling through a collection of states on two wheels. But as life went on and that “realness” crept ever in, it slowly became more and more difficult to whittle away enough time to just disappear on the bike with my dad for a week...  At least until we figured out that Nevada was in fact the perfect road tripping state. It was time to get back to some serious basics.

The week this photo emerged from, we traveled close to 1,500 miles all over the dang state. There were so many amazing moments that unfolded without being planned—like bar hopping in Pioche with the locals, rubbing the Winged Figures of the Republic’s golden toes for luck at the casinos, and navigating through some really amazing slot canyons… both on the bike and on two feet. At one point we felt compelled to do a thing that you rarely can do anywhere else, something that you’ve gotta do to earn some Nevada street cred: lay in the middle of a flipping highway. The Extraterrestrial Highway. Although you might suspect that the Loneliest Road in America sees the least amount of traffic, the ET Highway has it beat. I mean, I’m not asking [or encouraging anyone else] to engage in a suicide mission here; be smart about it. The ET Highway sees something like less than 200 cars on its “busiest” day… use that noggin of yours, but trust me when I say that you can see AND hear cars from miles away. Standing in the middle of an open highway is pretty liberating in itself, but laying down in it? If there’s anything more freeing, can someone kindly loop me in?

SUNSET SOAKS

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/14.0
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/20
ISO: 1000
TRIPOD? No

Hello, my name is Sydney and I’m a hot spring addict. It’s true! Of all the things to do and see in this state, hot springing has my name all over it. There are springs that are super duper hot and perfect for a below zero wintertime soak and some that are cooler [think 90s temps] that are just the ticket for a summertime treat. It’s a total seasonless hobby, and with over 300 in the entire state to choose from, stalking these bad boys down has eaten up every ounce of my free time. Because what’s better than dirt road rambling for hours to find a perfectly masoned natural hot spring hot tub in the middle of nowhere. Nothing. There’s nothing better than that.

Spencer was my first. My gateway to becoming totally and completely obsessed with finding all the soakable hot springs in Nevada. On my baptismal trip to this natural hot spring, I was completely enchanted by everything going on in the Big Smoky Valley. You hear allllllll about this range of light situation going on in the west, and in the Big Smoky, it’s totally real. Some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life I’ve enjoyed while taking a dip in Spencer’s therapeutic waters, sippin’ on something all kinds of frosty. I’m talking about sitting in the spring, watching the most vivid sunset of your life as braying wild burros approach the overflowing pools for an evening drink—that kind of teary-eyed happiness. Although the shot above was taken on about my 23,487th trip to Spencer, I had been ripping around the backroads checking out new ghost towns and tried my best to time a sunset dip. I was 99% positive I was going to miss the light, but pulled into one of the four sources right in the knick of time, grabbed my DSLR, flung the door open and ran towards the tub, shutter blazing. A couple poor strangers who’d beat us to a soak didn’t even know what hit them—they were there on a date night and all I could get out was, I’ll explain in a second! Just keep doing what you’re doing! They had noticed the sunset, but after showing them the shot, they could barely believe how drastic the sunset was that night. I ended up making two new friends that night, chatting up other springs to check out until we were as pruny as California raisins. And that, my friends, is just the way I like it.

GETTING BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY [FELINE] FRIEND

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105
APERTURE: f/4.0
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/40
ISO: 2500
TRIPOD? No

Spending summers chasing kittens in the barn on your grandparents’ Nebraska farm will turn you into a real deal cat lady. I’m just saying. I am totally a dog person too, but there’s something about cats always appearing at my favorite Nevada pit stops that make my time there all the more endearing. When there’s a cat around, everything is better, especially if they’re completely covered in train soot and wouldn't have it any other way if they had the choice. I was shooting some photos for the East Ely Depot and decided that I’d never actually walked through the machine shop at the Nevada Northern Railway… this day sounded like a perfectly good time to rip that bandage off.

Guys, UNREAL photo ops await you at this place. The location has the look and feel of an unstaged movie set. There is an early 1900s blacksmith shop with all the original tools, 100-year-old locomotives that are still running, and mechanics wrenching on the flywheel, covered in head to toe grease. And then? Right as you’ve been completely transported to an entirely different era, something brushes up against your leg and snaps you out of it. It’s DIRT. A local celeb around these parts, and I’m the first taker, eating every second of it up. Yes, the cat is actually named Dirt… and has a few other comrades in his band of train kitties at the Nevada Northern Railway. In a few short seconds, Dirt stole the show entirely and I couldn’t help but follow him around the station, monitoring what was very clearly his daily routine. He’d slink around old machinery, and turn around, almost as if posing for my shots. I think the train master, engineers and mechanics thought my brain had gone round the bend; I was on this cat posse like white on rice, but I didn’t care. I grabbed a ton of shots of him—too many—and this one is my favorite. He looks like a fictional character, but he’s very much alive [and waiting for a good solid head scratching] right in the heart of Ely.

ALL THAT GLITTERS IS... HISTORY

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/20
ISO: 2000
TRIPOD? No

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking OK, why would I go to a museum about neon if I can see it literally every direction I look when swinging through Vegas? Yeah. My thoughts exactly. I didn’t really get what the Neon Museum was all about, but holy bejezus did that change after I visited. To me, neon always has a hard-to-match photographic appeal… there is so much of it “in the wild” so to speak here in Nevada. The stuff that’s wayyyyy outside of Vegas that seems to surprise you in all the right ways. I’m talking about moments that can’t be planned for, or replicated ever again. It’s amazing to see it live in action, but until I visited the Neon Museum it hadn’t truly hit me. Until they’d taken the reins, tons of these historic signs—the stuff that gives Nevada much of its identity—had been lost in demolition, or picked off by out-of-state sign collectors. Physical pieces of our history—emblems of the Silver State—were slowly disappearing. But then the Neon Museum became a thing and established the neon boneyard. A name that great certainly drives some hype, but yes indeedy it totally lives up to every last square inch of its reverberating glory.

The tour was cool because they offer a day and night time tour, which gives you the ability to latch onto two completely different experiences. I was so ready for the night time tour—I wanted to shoot some iconic Vintage Vegas signage. I was a bit surprised to see that the boneyard was just like you’d imagine it—full of neon, but not all of it was working. They’d been saved from demolition and private collectors, but weren’t fully restored… yet. Imagine my surprise, expecting a fully working tour, but then something amazing happened: the smooth talking guide who knew how to drop all the right historical bait, baby. A weird shift slowly started to happen, as I stood beneath 2-story neon that once defined the Strip with other tour-goers—the signs that pulled me in were the non-working ones. They were still so beautiful, so artistic, and something we don’t ever see today in modern day signage. Light balancing, especially without a tripod, was a bit of a struggle, but the shots I ended up liking best were those that framed both the restored, and waiting-to-be-restored signs because of the conversation it opens up...history nerd or not.

ALL THE WAY TO THE TIPPY TOP

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/22.0
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/640
ISO: 3200
TRIPOD? No

Any backpacker will know what I’m talking about when I lay this proposition down: what’s worse? Dragging along a bunch of gear you don’t end up using, or toting a load of stuff and you slowly unpack and wear every dang layer? It was a totally clear bluebird day when we hit the trail up Boundary Peak—the tallest summit in Nevada. My husband and I strapped on the gaiters and proceeded to scramble up Boundary’s non-existent trail free-for-all, and with about one mile of trail time left could finally see the top. What also came into view was an oddly ominous looking bank of clouds to the West. They seemed far enough away for it to not be a problem, and hopefully we’d just hike right above them, right? As we made our way out of the 12k-foot zone and into the low 13k elevation, a full-on blizzard socked us in. Like clinging to an undefined trail in mach 5 winds as you work your way up an icy ridgeline wasn’t scary enough. I remember looking at my husband in a real come-to-Jesus moment, saying, “Listen, I’m really scared right now. Like really scared. Are we going to be ok? We’re flirting with a true survival scenario if we get trapped in this vein for long.” After all, we were the only ones crazy enough to press on. He looked at me with a whole lotta doubt in those eyes, saying only “stay close” before turning into the storm. I mean he had a point...we were ALMOST THERE.

At one point, when we were only about 30 feet from summiting, we had to nimbly work our way around a car-sized boulder surrounded by 100% ice in order to keep going. I remember knowing if I made one bad move, it was a legitimate fall-to-your-death sort of situation. I’d slip and actually fall to my death down the side of the mountain. I stayed focused on my husband’s feet in front of me as we very slowly, very carefully trekked those last few steps to the top. He grabbed me, lifted me up and pulled me in for a moment I’ll never, ever forget. We’d done it! What a huge physical and emotional rush—we’d already summited Nevada’s other four tallest peaks for a story, and this was the last one… the best for last, right? I remember struggling to sign the summit log with very frozen fingers, cracking a very well-earned summit beer and motioned to head back down the ridge. We were already on borrowed time. Over the gale force winds, he shouted, “Wait, I have a surprise!” No presentation was needed, the second the tiniest breeze caught it, the Nevada State Flag exploded out of his pack and he had the biggest grin I’d seen in a long time. Try going through all that and protecting a DSLR in dry bag—the struggle never stopped—but was worth it to capture this moment. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget about on its own, but is that much more amazing to relive through photography. #DFMI

UNSTAGED MOVIE MAGIC, RIGHT IN THE #MIDDLEOFSOMEWHERE

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: Rokinon Wide Angle 14mm-f/2.8
APERTURE: f/2.8
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/6
ISO: 1600
TRIPOD? No

I think it’s safe to say it’s happened to all of us, right? You’ll be out exploring somewhere [hopefully Nevada,] turn a corner, and BAM. There it is. Something looking and feeling like you just walked on set of a hollywood production. A staged movie set that’s too good to be true. It’s happened to me before, it’s probably going to keep happening, and it definitely went down when I was on my way to a Nevada hot spring and needed a place to crash for the night. But that’s the thing: once you start counting on irregular experiences, regular hotels, restaurants, and attractions aren’t going to cut it. When I saw that some guy had purchased an entire ghost town and turned original miner cabins and other structures into a ghost town bed and breakfast, this place had my name spelled out in flashing red lights. I needed to hit up the entire town of Gold Point, and what seemed to be a slam dunk of a lodging situation.

Everything about this place was completely amazing—the proprietors had a story that was just about as “Nevada” as it gets, the allegedly haunted miner cabins were exactly how they described them online, and it was off grid. Borderline #WeirdNevada, too. I showed up around sunset, and by the time I got through a homemade dinner [and maybe a few glasses of wine] the owner, Herb, offered to take me on a nighttime tour of his empire. Obviously, that’s a YES. I shot some astro shots of perfect headframes, saw legit Wild West scaffolding with a real noose dangling from it, and toured other cabins available for reservation… outfitted with TVs he deliberately leaves on all night for “the ghosts.” The last stop was the saloon—a historic, and modern day symbol of any Nevada town. From his demeanor, he’d already shown me the highlights of his tour… I didn’t really know what to expect of this bar, solely based off his energy. But, just like the other supposedly haunted cabins, all the lights were on in the saloon, too. Imagine my surprise to see this scene before me, right? The creaky, weathered wooden door swing open and what lay before me was so totally right out of a movie set, I still can’t flipping believe it. To him, it was ordinary, but I would’ve paid him every last cent I had to crush a cold beer at that counter. Instead, he let me get my shot [luckily I still had my wide angle on from shooting astro] and gave me just a taste. Maybe it was all part of Herb’s plan… if so, it WORKED. This was the first time I’d visited Gold Point, but after seeing this amazing “set,” you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be my last. 

A SPIRITUAL RESET AT TOQUIMA

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105mm
APERTURE: f/5.6
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/60
ISO: 400
TRIPOD? No

That entire ‘being humbled by the factual age of something’ I was talking about earlier with the Bristlecones? Yeah, that same sort of situation seems to work its way in all over the state, all the dang time. Just when you’ve sized up a basin as nothingness, merely a desolate plain of sagebrush and roadkill, it pops into view, front and center. That could be one of my most favorite qualities about Nevada, in fact—you have to work a bit to see its beauty, but once you do, there’s no turning back. This exact scenario went down a few years back when I was traveling some back roads, just south of HIghway 50. I was new to this section of the state, back when I was really first cutting my teeth when it came to backroad adventure.

I’d heard about a sacred cave used by ancient Shoshone… somewhere around a cool 3,000 years ago. With that info dangling in front of me like a carrot, I double checked the spare, loaded down with water, and prepared for a day in the backcountry. It was one of those textbook afternoons you catch yourself daydreaming about in the following weeks—the type where you find yourself driving for hours without crossing paths with one other person the entire day. As I made my way out of Big Smoky Valley and up Pete’s Summit, there was this attention-grabbing rock face up on the ridge to the north. As I neared it, Toquima Campground became a thing, so I thew it in park and hiked up an impressively well-maintained trail to a very serious grate, protecting what was now very obviously Toquima Cave. Though it was a bit of a bummer to see such an intense gate, I get it—I mean the place still holds such tremendous spiritual value for modern-day Shoshone tribe members. The silver lining? The gate was built with some consideration in mind, so not to prompt visitors to try to break into this thing, and  my camera lens fit perfectly in between the rungs. You can bet THAT was no accident. As I peered inside the cave, everything in front of me exceeded all expectations. I’d been super duper familiar with petroglyphs (rock carvings), but not pictographs, which are drawings on the rock surface. I was totally enamored, and quickly understood why the pictographs in front of me are considered to be the best example in North America—the shapes were total imagination activators, and the colors were so vivid it looked like someone had just made these drawings that very day. Most of all, the cave certainly had a vibe… an unmistakable presence. You didn’t need to know this place was important, it just was. I snagged what felt like dozens of shots, though I couldn’t even get up very close to the pictographs. I ended up with dozens of what were practically the same shot, but I couldn’t stop—I was entranced. As I 180-ed around to head out, the view from the cave hit me and it suddenly made sense why the cave is still so sacred. That afternoon at Toquima I felt renewed, having been in such an important place. But that view over the Monitors! Yow, talk about elevating an already transformative afternoon in off-grid Nevada.

THE UPSHOT OF WILDFIRE SEASON IN NEVADA

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105
APERTURE: f/6.3
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/320
ISO: 1000
TRIPOD? No

To me, summertime in Nevada is always a bit of a magical time because of the day to night transformation. Whether you’re in northern or southern Nevada, the days are typically swelteringly hot, yet transform into this alluring, desert evening that is nothing short of exotic. Over the years I’ve lived in Nevada, I start to crave that magic hour—the narrow, 30-ish minutes of time during golden hour, just before the sun drops over the mountains. It’s spectacular enough just about any time of year, especially when paired with iconic stretches of road Nevada has become so well known for. And, if you’ve spent any time in Nevada in the summer [or any part of the American West, really] you’ll know that wildfires can get pretty cray.

Having traveled the Loneliest Road hundreds of times, I could practically drive from Reno to Ely blindfolded. I know every valley, noteworthy mountain range, Pony Express ruin, dive bar, landmark, American Indian site, hot spring, you name it. Despite all that, there always seems to be something to catch me off my guard… it’s that good. My husband and I were flying down 50 on our way to Ely’s famed Bathtub Races, and as we rounded the bend the sun practically blinded me in the sideview mirror. I hadn't noticed [as we were driving away from the setting sun], but the giant wildfire that was burning at the time had made Nevada’s already nutty range of light explode into this bright orangey-pinky face melter of a sunset… as if the fire had spread to the sky, too. “Oh my God, PULL OVER!” I blurted to my husband. And with no traffic in sight, I walked right into the middle of the highway and just stood there, mesmerized for a few minutes. Truly, this thing was unlike any other sunset I’ve experienced in Nevada, to date, and standing there in the middle of the Loneliest Road taking in a scene like this is something I can’t ever forget about—the shot was very minimally ‘shopped… I only really adjusted contrast a bit to make it appear like what I was seeing in real life.. Right as the sun was dropping over the ridge, I pulled out my DSLR and snagged this shot. It’s maybe the ONLY thing positive about wildfire season in Nevada... but man, what a way to commemorate those summer nights in the Silver State.

FACE-MELTING FOLIAGE WITH A FEW FAVORITES

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: EF24-105
APERTURE: f/4.5
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/5000
ISO: 400
TRIPOD? No

Just as much as a desert sky can explode with kaleidoscopic vibrancy, I learned that fall foliage in Nevada can too. I’d been hearing about this astronomy festival that goes down at Great Basin National Park for months… I have always been into astronomy, but couldn’t quite understand what all the hype was about. This was during that same time when I was after Nevada’s five tallest peaks, and considering there were two right around Great Basin, what better time to bag both while getting a good solid astro rundown from the pros? My husband was in, and it didn’t take a whole lotta arm twisting to get my best friends to hit the road with us. None of us had really spent much time in Nevada’s only national park… it was on the opposite side of the state but laced with overwhelming intrigue.

Throughout an action-packed four days, we got our first taste of true darkness [I’m talking about the type of situation where you can’t see your hand in front of your face without your headlamp on kind of dark], hiked above 13,000-foot elevation for the first time, and drank in some unbelievable scenery… the type of stuff that looks like serious green screen movie magic. There is a lot that’s hard to fully describe about the entire shabang—I’m not really sure that I’ve had a weekend that stacked up to the type of punch this place collectively offered that weekend since. I took a ton of shots throughout those four days, but there’s something about this image that buttons the whole thing up. We were in a new place, super excited to be there and ready for whatever experience unfolded before us next. I snagged this shot just as we were getting ready to hit the Summit Trail to Wheeler Peak that morning. It was one of those “Holy crap get over here for a pic, guys” kind of moments. It took us about 4 hours to summit and descend, and when we returned to the same spot later in the day, the light had changed a bit and just wasn’t the same vibe. The fall foliage and view of Jeff Davis and Wheeler are about as a good as it gets and the foliage remains to be the best I’ve seen in the entire state [or for that matter, anywhere in my life] and sums up what was a stellar experience in one of my favorite places in Nevada with the best company to boot. The shot might not be any sort of amazing technical feat, but was a sliver of time out of a weekend I’m still not totally able to match.

THAT MOMENT WHEN #DFMI SHOWED ITSELF TO ME

CAMERA: Canon 5D Mark II
LENS: Rokinon Wide Angle 14mm-f/2.8
APERTURE: f/2.8
SHUTTER SPEED: 30 second exposure
ISO: 3200
TRIPOD? Yes

Ever been on the road and had one of those “Ah-Ha” situations go down when all of your favorite things magically collide in one moment? Yeah, that happened for me in the most perfect couple of days in what I’d describe to be Nevada’s most remote section: Soldier Meadows. You’ll have to work a bit to access this super remote chunk of the tippy top corner of the Black Rock Desert, just below Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, but holy wow it’s worth it. There are a handful of first come, first served BLM-maintained cabins, and you can bet if I’m going to be hanging around there there are going to be hot springs. There are a few springs that belong to the folks who run the Soldier Meadows Guest Ranch, but also this actual hot spring river that has been pooled up into little pockets of heaven on earth. Plus, there’s a fascinating American Indian presence in the region, placards describing how the hot springs were savored by pioneers who had just endured the Black Rock Desert’s iconic dry lakebed while making their way west and depended on the hot springs as a place to stock up on supplies, bathe, and get their bearings before continuing on. There’s an endemic species of snail that lives in the hot springs [never would’ve guessed it, right?] and as a whole, everything about this place felt pretty damn freeing… a place I’m lucky to make it to once a year, but pays off every single time in ways you have to live for yourself to fully comprehend.

We’d spent the day messing around in High Rock Canyon, tracking down secret hot springs using paper maps, chatting with the few people we saw along the way, disconnecting with society and reconnecting with each other. During our last night before hitting Burning Man, we decided to take a dip in one of the larger pools—the ones belonging to Soldier Meadows Guest Ranch. At the last second I decided to grab my camera, and I’m pretty damned happy I did; all my favorite things managed to merge in that spring. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed the milky way until we jumped into a hot spring the same size and depth of a standard swimming pool. The light pollution you see in the bottom left of the image was light pollution from Burning Man —some SIXTY miles to the south from where we were. I took a few long exposures, not realizing the minute I was currently in until reviewing the shots later. Maybe that’s the beauty of a true #DFMI moment, it resonates differently with everyone and can mean whatever you want it to. It has a sort of diversified power that not many other sentiments do. Because astrophotography AND hot springs always seem to be the ringleader of my extracurricular activities, and because my husband and I found ourselves totally off the grid that night—literally swimming around in it—it exudes everything Don’t Fence Me In means to me. Couldn’t have happened anywhere else, couldn’t have been planned out, and sincerely couldn’t have been with any better companion. The magic was in the moment, baby. A #DFMI moment I feel lucky to have caught.

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