Oakland to Fresno to Bakersfield to Mojave to Las Vegas to Boulder City to Hoover Dam to Death Valley to Lone Pine to Bishop to Mono Lake and all the Little Towns In between to Oakland

Sunset Over Las Vegas
The Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace shot from the top of Paris, Las Vegas at sunset.

Piled the wife and kids into the Buick last Friday morning and headed out for open road. Spent 5 days pretty much shooting non-stop. Mostly focused on neon, especially in and around Las Vegas.

Some thoughts and highlights of the trip.

1. Bakersfield’s a magical place. Only the second time I’ve ever shot there but I have a feeling that I’ll be back many times in the future. Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace is something everyone should try at least once in their life. A good steak, big beers, and a wonderful performance by Buddy Allen Owens, Buck Owens’ son. Bigger country western stars come play there too. David Alan Coe was on the list as an upcoming act. The vintage neon in Bakersfield is remarkable. Some of the best in California. The Silver Fox, Guthrie’s Alley Cat, the Fox Theater. We stayed at the Marriott this time for something like $60 a night. Last time we stayed at the Doubletree. The Marriott’s probably the biggest hotel in this small town and I liked it better. They had photographs of Bakersfield neon in the rooms. 100 degree plus heat that felt great at night.

2. We stayed at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, for also insanely cheap rates. I’ve stayed at the Strip plenty of times in the past, but never stayed on Fremont Street and wanted to shoot a lot of the older neon around that area. Saturday night was over $100, but Sun-Thurs was around $50 a night. The Golden Nugget probably has the best pool for kids in Vegas complete with a waterslide that goes through a shark tank. The wife and kids spent a lot of time at the pool while I was out around town shooting. I was warned about the Golden Nugget by a few in my family. My brother told me I’d be checking out after the first night. I have no idea what they are talking about. I liked staying there as much as anyplace else I’ve ever stayed in Vegas.

3. This was the first time that I really got off the Strip and spent significant time exploring broader Las Vegas. There are so many broken old motel signs. So many old broken people. There’s a significant homeless problem in Las Vegas. Encampments of them camped out in tents in Northern Las Vegas. They seem to keep it all away from the strip save an occasional panhandler or guy selling water on the bridge walkways between Strip casinos. You see a lot more of it though just South of Fremont Street where many of the old Vegas motels have become de-facto housing for the poor.

SteveStar View Motel
I ran into Steve down South of Fremont Street. My write up on him here. The neon sign for the Star View Motel being demolished.

4. The best meal we had was at the Mexican restaurant called Diego in the MGM Grand. A wonderfully modern designed place in red and spectacular Mexican Food. Be sure to order the guacamole which they have a guacamole person make for you in front of you adding in the ingredients that you’d like. We also had tacos at the Pink Taco at the Hard Rock which were very good as well.

5. I think that there are more billboards for lawyers in Las Vegas than anyplace else I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure why this is the case.

Making Sure Sin City Still Shines Brighter Than Creations DarkThe  Great American DesertThe Destruction of the American MotelPoolside at the Golden Nugget
clockwise starting upper left: shooting silhouettes at the Bellagio Fountain, Death Valley, a reflection of the poolside shark tank/waterslide at the Golden Nugget, the Star View Motel being demolished

6. Boulder City is a charming little town and worth the drive south down below Vegas. It’s on the way to Hoover Dam and from what I understand largely prospered as a place for people building the dam to live way back when. I wanted to hit Boulder City to get many of the neon signs there. While I was there they were literally tearing down the old Starview Motel on the main drag with a backhoe. I got some photos of them tearing it down. It’s a great old vintage sign and another that is sure to be gone soon with the motel being torn down. Sometimes shooting these old neon signs feels like a race against time.

7. I was unimpressed by Hoover Dam. I’m not sure why exactly. It’s a spectacular work of architecture. It could have been the fact that I visited at probably the worst time to shoot it (high noon). I think it could be an interesting place to photograph early in the morning or in the evening closer to sunset.

Lawless Center
The Lawless Shopping Center in North Las Vegas is similar in style to many of the smaller 50s-60s style vintage neon signs that can still be found in Las Vegas in areas off the Strip.

8. The trip up to the top of Paris, Las Vegas is worth the price. Find a two for one coupon in one of the freebie tourist brochures that are everywhere in Vegas. Plan ahead and try to get up there about a half hour before sunset in order to shoot the tail end of the sunset from up there. Thanks to Lee for suggesting this. I made it up there on the tail end of the sunset and missed probably some better shots if I’d gotten up there a half hour earlier.

9. This trip was the first time I’d been to Death Valley. It’s truly something. I wish I’d had more time to spend there. I’d love to shoot it at night someday. Deciding to take the long picturesque way home from Vegas, rather than the faster I-15 to I-5 way was my favorite thing about the trip. It made for a really long drive but there is so much natural beauty through Death Valley and the Sierras.

I processed just a couple of photos which I’ve included in this post. I’m so far behind on my processing and I’m not sure how exactly to deal with that problem. In all I took 7,444 frames over five days on this trip. More and more I’m seeing road trips like this as a model for the type of photography that I need to be doing.

The only problem with my level of shooting these days is that I’m shooting so much that my RAW undeveloped files are growing and growing and growing. Right now I’m working on processing images from last December and getting further and further and further behind. My thought though is that someday when I’m old and gray my body will begin to fail and my distribution of time will shift more towards processing and less towards shooting and maybe then I can catch up — although apparently photography Garry Winogrand died with 300,000 still unprocessed so I suppose that’s always a risk.

Anyways, many, many more photos in the months/years ahead from this trip.

You can see my bigger collection of photos taken in Las Vegas here.