I first passed through Carson City on my way back from a photo trip to Lake Tahoe. It didn’t take me long to decide that this charming capital city, nestled at the foot of the Eastern Sierras, with desert stretched out for miles to the east, was where I wanted to spend my retirement years.
The cost of living was a big improvement over my hometown of San Diego, but that was true of many other cities. What captured my attention about Carson City was the historic downtown, with a beautiful tree-lined main street, and a gem of a capitol building. I soon discovered there was also a rich historic district just west of the capital, showcasing all manner of Victorians and other fabulous oldies.
Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg for a photographer. Driving no more than an hour in any direction from Carson City, gave me access to every kind of landscape photography. I could be shooting lush valleys and the majesty of the Eastern Sierras one day, and waterfalls and lakes the next. If I wanted to dig into history, there were historic sites scattered throughout the region, harkening back to the heady days of the gold rush and mining for silver.
That’s just the landscapes. It wasn’t long before I discovered the area abounded with an amazing variety of wildlife. Let’s not forget the seasons - all four. Here was a whole new world for a city girl to explore.
Frosty Photo Adventure
It was my first winter in my new home, and with it came more than three weeks of below freezing temperatures. Sound brutal? Maybe to most folks, but as a photographer, freezing temperatures provided some unique and very special photo ops, and my first chance to get published.
The 100 year old Fleisch flumes still stand along Highway 80, between Reno and Truckee. They are a series of wooden flumes that were used to float logs down from the mountains to Truckee. The freezing temperatures had caused water leaks in these picturesque wooden flumes to freeze, creating the most spectacular ice formations you can imagine.
A couple photographer friends and I ventured out one very cold day, to see if we could capture the beauty of this icy scene. We traipsed across perilous snow covered bushes and rocks, falling through every other step, until we came right up to the edge of the Truckee River. In front of us stood a wondrous sight, straight out of an icy fantasy world. We were all spellbound, and immediately started shooting. After about an hour, I started laughing out loud. Awoken from their trances, my friends asked me what the heck I was laughing about. I asked them if they realized that we had not uttered one word for an hour! The sight of these walls of ice formations was so breathtaking; it literally left us all speechless.
Crimson Rhapsody in the Sky
Lake Tahoe is only 20 minutes due west of Carson City up Highway 50. Surrounded by the Sierras, it’s one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, where you find crystal clear water ranging in color from turquoise to every shade of blue. A million photo ops surround this stunning work of nature, but my personal favorite remains a little cove at Sand Harbor called Diver’s Cove.
I still have to laugh when I remember capturing this [cover image] photo. I was shooting a pretty ordinary golden sunset towards the west, not realizing something spectacular was developing to my right. I happened to take a glance in that direction, and “Holy Cow!” The sky was on fire. What happened next was right out a speeded up Keystone Cops film. You never saw anyone grab their gear and tear around a cove so fast. Sunsets are here and gone in an instant, and I was not about to miss this one.
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The Birth of a New Photo Passion
I still love shooting all the beautiful scenery right outside my door, but I was about to discover a whole new world of photography. To think, I almost sold my long lens just after arriving here. What a mistake that would have been, because it didn’t take long to discover the wild horses; the awesome variety of migratory birds -- baby owls; bald eagles; black bears; beaver; quail; and even a mother raccoon toting her baby to a new nest.
Shooting every kind of wildlife is a treat for me, but nothing quite matches the thrill of getting up close and personal with our black bears. Lake Tahoe is loaded with black bears, but you have to be very lucky to spot them. Bears are solitary creatures that avoid humans, and that’s how we want them to be. The exception to their shy ways is when the salmon run up a couple of creeks at Lake Tahoe.
This is a great opportunity for photographers who can’t manage a trip to Alaska to see the grizzlies, to be able to encounter their less aggressive smaller cousins the black bears, while they are otherwise occupied fishing.
With a great deal of respect for the power of any bear to take your face off with one swipe of its massive paw, we photographers ever so cautiously seek out these great creatures, while they are busy seeking out a yummy meal of salmon in the creek. It takes exactly the right conditions, allowing the salmon to gather in shallow pools while spawning, to attract the bears. Even though they are fattening up for winter hibernation, they are opportunistic creatures that are only interested in easy pickings.
The mother bear in this photo was no more than 20 feet away from me and another photographer when I took this shot. She wouldn’t have tolerated us this close normally, but her cub had taken a fish and run back into the forest behind her. It’s both humbling and frightening to be that close to such a big bear, knowing she could cross the space between us in mere seconds.
Later that day, as it got dark, this same bear was not so calm with her cub in tow, and scaled a 40 foot embankment to chase us away. You know how they say to stand your ground, put your hands up high and try to look big? Forget about it! This was like a scene out of Jurassic Park II, where Alan Grant says “don’t move a muscle”, then looks around to see everyone is gone. We ran like our tails were on fire.
This post is a part of our Lore series where we invite local writers to share their perspectives on the Capital in which they live. If you want to write about your State Capital please get in touch. We are especially interested in hearing from unique and underrepresented voices. I want to give a big thank you to Sandi for sharing her story.