Much of Nevada is open wilderness, much of it gorgeous. This offers a great respite from the pandemic. Even if you are in a crowded metropolitan area such as Las Vegas, beautiful areas with nice fresh air, stunning vistas and old ghost towns are not far away. I’ve chosen a mix of natural beauty, ghost towns and unusual photographic locations. Let’s begin!
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Death Valley National Park
Although most of Death Valley National Park is in California, part of it is in Nevada too. Or if not, it is more easily accessed from the Nevada side.
I like to stay in the tiny town of Beatty. It’s cheaper than staying in the park. And because it’s higher in elevation, it’s noticeably cooler too. But even better, one of the town’s bars, The Happy Burro, has some of the best chili you’ll ever taste.
Titus Canyon and Leadfield
Beatty, a tiny town in Nevada, gives you great access to Titus Canyon. The dirt road leading to Titus Canyon begins odd Highway 374 and angles across the desert to the mountains not far away. You cross the border into California just before heading through the deep, towering canyon.
Sure, I’m fudging a little since it’s just barely in California, but you have to access this from the Nevada if going by vehicle.
Stop to check out the remains of Leadfield ghost town before continuing the rest of the way to Scotty’s Castle Road. Worried about oncoming traffic? Not here. It’s one way. Although a high clearance vehicle is recommended, I’ve actually seen a tiny Toyota Yaris make it all the way through.
The canyon rocks can get blown out at midday, so earlier or later in the day are better for photography.
Are you interested in photographing a ghost town, a house made of bottles and an odd outdoor art installation? If so, Rhyolite is your place. Located just outside Death Valley National Park and close to Beatty, this is a great place to explore and photograph.
At night, despite some light pollution, it’s still dark enough to photograph the Milky Way. And during a full moon, it’s fantastic for light painting, star trails and other long exposures.
There’s not much left of Chloride City. However, it does offer some of the best views of the Death Valley basin you’ll ever see. I met someone from Beatty who would drive up here every Friday after work, crack open a beer, and watch the sun set over Death Valley.
Great opportunities for photography here too, and you will probably have the entire place to yourself. Social distancing doesn’t get much easier than this. And again, I am bending the rules here since it’s just barely across the border, but again, it needs to be accessed from Nevada unless you have a high-clearance 4WD and know what you’re doing.
Heading south on Highway 95 from Beatty, turn right at a dirt road opposite the abandoned cement plant. Then head southwest toward Death Valley and the mountains. Then just keep going up, up, up, eventually taking the first left road when you get close to Chloride City.
You will need a high clearance vehicle for this and not be afraid to find your way via map or independently. After all, there are no road signs for anything. This is for the more adventurous.
Remember, too, that this is the desert. You should always bring tons of water and supplies, check the weather, and be prepared.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
This beautiful place is located in close proximity to Las Vegas. It’s a great place to get away for the day if you are in the vicinity. Moenkopi Loop Hike is a good, safe place for night photography. There is also a seasonal waterfall at Lost Creek.
And of course, the Scenic Loop is quite accessible. This is a 13-mile loop which offers many places to pull over to take photos, hike or have a picnic. As with many places such as this, sunrise or sunset are often the best places to take photos due to the quality of the light.
Valley of Fire State Park
Would you like to see strange-shaped red rocks and mountains, sweeping vistas, tons of hiking, petroglyphs, strangely striped rock formations, natural stone arches, historic stone homes and more? And would you like it all amazingly accessible so if you were in a hurry, you could hit the highlights quickly? If you answered yes, Valley of Fire is for you.
Just an hour north of Las Vegas, this is one of those magical, vivid places that people come for wedding photos, photography, hiking, camping and more. Visit Elephant Rock as you drive in.
Make sure you visit the camping area to see Arch Rock, Atlatl Rock and much more. Unusual rock formations surround the camping area. This place would be great for night photography or photography during sunrise or sunset, when it sets the already red rock ablaze. This is also located near the Lake Mead National Recreation Area along the Colorado River.
You should definitely not miss Fire Wave, which is near the White Domes hiking area. Fire Wave has these fascinating stripes of varying colors. For some reason seeing this always makes me think of ice cream.
Nelson ghost town
Perhaps more accurately known as El Dorado or Techatticup Mine, this is a very popular place for photographers, music video directors and otherwise curious visitors. This was an area rich in gold, silver, copper and lead, and the site of the largest booms Nevada ever experienced. And typically accompanying this is a lurid, bloody past as well.
There are a number of weatherworn buildings, machinery, strange Mad Max-like vehicles, the remnants of a Texaco gas station and more.
One of the more unusual sites is a small aircraft plunged nose-first into the desert floor. This is not a real plane crash, however. A film crew set this up for the 2001 crime film “3000 Miles to Graceland.”
This often-visited site is south of Las Vegas, near Boulder City, and draws almost one million visitors a year. As it should. It’s located in a beautiful place and is an engineering marvel, miraculously holding back the mighty Colorado River.
As of this writing, the Visitor Center Tours and Exhibits are closed. For now, you could park in one of the free parking areas and walk across the dam. There are plenty of great photo opportunities.
Goldfield is an almost-ghost town. But at one point, it was the largest city in the state of Nevada, and most likely the wealthiest. Goldfield also had a bar that was so long to serve the customers, it had 80 bartenders!
You can explore various areas of the town on foot or by car. Check out the Goldfield Hotel, once the most luxurious hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. Some say that it had Champagne flowing down the entryway steps on opening day. And still more say that the hotel is now haunted. Many TV shows and documentaries have featured the Goldfield Hotel.
Also be sure to visit the high school, the old arch column of a saloon and more. Day or night, you will have endless opportunities for photography.
And if you enjoy strange outdoor art installations, visit the International Car Forest of the Last Church, just outside downtown along a dirt road. This has approximately 40 vehicles jammed into the earth at unnatural angles, with most of them painted (and repainted … and repainted …) with graffiti and art. This is a popular area for photographers during the day as well as at night.
A nice way to pamper yourself is to have dinner in the opulent Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, the “Jewel of the Desert.” Or perhaps stay there. You will be whisked back in time, but not too far back … it still has modern amenities.
While in Tonopah, consider also stopping (or staying) at the Clown Motel. Also consider visiting the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. This is the site of the original mining claims that led to a giant rush that made Tonopah a boom town.
Ely is considerably farther than the other locations. This is on Nevada’s eastern side, perched along the “Loneliest Road in America.” This remote mountain town was a stagecoach stop and trading post as well as one of the country’s chief copper mining regions.
The Nevada Northern Railway began in the early 1900s. Today, visitors from all over the world come to ride its historic steam and diesel engines. These rides consist of original railway locomotives, passenger stations and buildings that served the copper mining region. These original coal-fired standard-gauge locomotives — over 110 years old — still run, and offer a rare opportunity to photograph and ride them. Check their website for train rides and photographic opportunities.
One can also use the town of Ely as a central area for exploring Great Basin National Park, Cave Lake, Lehman Caves and Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park. All of these places have endless photographic opportunities as well.
Nevada has many fascinating places waiting for you to explore and photograph. I hope you have fun!