3789 ft (1155 m) – 1013 ft gain
Away from hotel early, going for two days in a row. If I must hang around Vegas for the week, I can focus on a few highpoints in some of the smaller local ranges. Continuing east of the city, I shift southward from the Frenchman Mountains to the River Mountains above Boulder City and Lake Mead. I drive into Boulder City before sunrise and find the trailheads of Bootleg Canyon, a local mountain-bike mecca.
Film takes time, and processing Velvia is a bit of rough, and not so welcome, chemistry, or so I have come to realize. When will the 35mm slides return from the lab? It has a been almost two months since I summited River Mountain and shared time with the ram. How will the photos turn out? I’ll update the post with a few scans of the images, good or bad, as soon as they arrive.
I drive up-canyon a short distance and find a good parking area out of the way of any bikers that might show later. Starting out on one of the signed single-tracks, I soon abandon the trail to traverse the broad alluvial fan with several dendritic, inset gullies, eventually finding an access road that runs below a twin set of power lines. The crackle of Vegas punctuates the quiet morning as the endless hunger of paradise draws from the dammed river. The lines cut the pass between the River Mountain highpoint and the prominent scarp of Black Mountain to the south. I must get out from under the line, so I turn north to go direct up volcanic slopes – easily the steepest slope I have been on in a while. There is no trail. I step among the puzzled boulders of talus aprons and colluvial cones below two sets of outcrops before gaining the summit ridge. Easy rock-hopping winds north to a small summit cairn and some benchmarks. The summit has good views of the lake and a landscape of solar facilities to the south – both scars of our quest for power, clean as it might be.
My mountain walks remain a mix of exploration, simple and personal, and documentary photography. While I am happy with many of the images I create on these walks, I do not think I am investing the amount of time or getting myself into positions with subject that tell the story of the mountain range and its setting. This goal is practically ignored on these pre-workday scrambles; I am basically just peak-bagging. But today I decided to limit myself to film, working with my 40-year-old Canon AE-1 and Velvia 100. It feels good in my hand, like so many days in the mountains and deserts of my past.
Once at the summit, I drop down along the standard trail – the summit register is a rather elaborate ammo-can, it is a popular destination. This will mean intersecting the powerline road again, but that will have to do. As this unfortunate thought burrowed into my head, I heard rock fall and talus crunching and scittering; then silence. Then again, and again. Tracing the sound back to the slopes just behind me, I finally notice a solo bighorn ram climbing easily to the col I just left. He is fabulous. As I’m dropping along the standard trail, I hear talus crunches somewhere nearby. Waiting for a short while, they repeat. I then notice a solo bighorn ram climbing to cross my recent track. He’s fabulous.
Only moments ago, before leaving the summit, I had changed to a 70-200mm lens hoping for a wildlife encounter. I had been thinking possible a desert tortoise or a pair of ravens, not a large, majestic ram. I have learned since that the River Mountains have a large, introduced population of desert bighorns, but, still, it felt a wonderful surprise at the moment. I practically burned the whole roll of 36 exposures on this guy. I hope I am getting the focus correct, this well-used lens is new to me. I’m shooting f/8 and typically around 1/125 or 1/250 of a second. Usually too slow for wildlife, but I am completely novice at working wildlife with analog film stock and camera. On digital I could jack up the ISO and get a high shutter speed, but film is not as flexible and requires talent to get results. Probably could have opened things up a bit, but I only have another stop or so with this lens. I am typically using one stop down to account for the bright sky, at least I think that is what I am reading from the camera. If the camera suggests F8, I set to F8 but then adjust shutter speed to have camera show F5.6 on the meter. I think it is telling me I am shooting one stop too fast/dark, this being my goal. We will see. I hope it they are not under exposed. The ram moves deliberately from the col to the ridge and then disappears. Even if I botched the photographs, the walk provided a few special moments with the wonderful animal.
After dropping along the rough access road, I reverse my trajectory across the alluvial fans. Hoping to intersect a roadrunner or other interesting birds, I find nothing but quiet under blue morning sky. A good walk to begin another workday on the road.
Please respect the natural and cultural resources of our public lands.