Some people love it, and some people hate it! What am I talking about, Las Vegas and I should know as I have been there many times over the last 16 years for conventions and working at Photoshop World. Las Vegas has a lot to offer for a travel photographer in the city itself, besides a hangover or lack of sleep, but there is so much natural beauty around Las Vegas that with a little planning, you can return home with some great landscape photos.
Within a few hours of Las Vegas there are some fantastic state and national parks and even more if you want to drive a little farther. If you have the time, you could visit and photograph at four national parks and some great locations like Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. Let's get started with our Las Vegas landscape photo safari.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is the closest national park to Las Vegas, with about a 2 1/2-hour drive. It is the hottest of all the parks, with temperatures reaching over 135 degrees in the summer that makes this a winter trip. There are some incredible locations to photograph. A few are Bad Water, Mystic Dunes, Zabriskie Point, and the hardest to get to The Racetrack. Most of the park is paved and easy to get to, but the road up to the Racetrack is the worst road I have ever been on, and the last time we blew two tires on the road and did not even make to the location.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is over 3 hours away, but it is one of the coolest parks to visit. You can hike to the top of Angel's Landing, which is a terrifying hike at the end, but an incredible view of the valley awaits when you get to the top. You can also walk up the virgin Narrows, which means you will walk in the water most of the time along the 600-foot cliff on either side of you. If you are lucky, you might catch a photo of the mountain goats that inhabits the park.
Brice National Park
If you made it to Zion, then an hour trip farther along will take you to one of my favorite national parks to photograph, Brice National Park. Photographing from Brice Point early in the morning will give you a fantastic view of the "Amphitheatre" with all the "Hoodoo." You can hike down into the valley among the hoodoos that wind and water have sculpted from the red rock cliff.
Page, Arizona, has three great locations to see and photograph; Horseshoe Bend, Lake Mead, and of course, Antelope Canyon. Two different Native American families run Antelope Canyon. One controls the upper canyon and the other the lower canyon. The upper canyon has the famous location where sand is thrown in the air to show the light rays. But I have found that the family that runs the lower canyon to be very friendly to photographers, and I have come away with great images.
Horseshoe Bend has to be on every photographer's bucket list, and I have been there many times. Remember to be careful as there is no railing and a thousand-foot cliff, and to get the image you want, your tripod needs to be very close to the edge. It is best to capture your images either before sunrise or after sunset as the canyon's contrast during the rest of the day is too severe. If you still have time, many places around Glenn Lake will give you opportunities for photography.
Grand Canyon National Park
You will see advertisements all over Las Vegas for the Grand Canyon tours of the canyon's south rim, which I still have never done. I have photographed from the north rim of the canyon coming back to Las Vegas from Page, and I can't wait to spend some time exploring more of this incredible canyon.
Monument Valley Park
From Las Vegas, Monument Valley may be a stretch, but I have done it in the past. You have two options to get into the park, you can ride with some of the local guilds or drive your car in, but you will need a high clearance vehicle as the roads are terrible!
Red Rock Canyon
Only about 30 minutes from Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. There is a 13-mile Scenic Drive where you will see geological features such as towering red sandstone peaks and the Keystone Thrust Fault, as well as Native American petroglyph and panoramic viewing spots.
Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire is over an hour's drive from Las Vegas and gets its name from the red sandstone formations. It has 2000-year-old petroglyphs carved on the red sandstone, and if you have a fantastic sunset, you will see how this state park received its name.
You may not be able to drive over the dam anymore, but it is a sight to see. If you only have a short time to go outside of Las Vegas, Hoover Dam is an interesting designation with some excellent vantage points to photograph from. There is a tour to go inside the dam, making some people nervous when they see a drop of water, but remember the dam is still hardening.
Nelson Ghost Town
Nelson was once Nevada's most profitable gold and silver mine and is now also used as a movie set for Hollywood. The family that runs the ghost town has restored many of the buildings, and you will find all sorts of exciting things and places to photograph, but remember to watch out for the jumping cactus, I know from experience.
Remember the next time you are going to Las Vegas to add some time onto your trip for a photographic adventure, and you will come back with some great images and not lose all your money!