Simply stunning

Nevada’s inner beauty is set free by Deon Reynolds’ camera

I’ve lived in Nevada for close to a decade, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to appreciate this state’s unique beauty. When I first moved to Las Vegas from central Texas, a humid, green region, I thought I had been transplanted to some inner ring of Dante’s hell. And while I’ve still got some doubts about Las Vegas vis-à-vis hell, I have no doubt that Nevada is one of the most gorgeous parts of these United States. It just takes a little shift in mindset, and perhaps the help of a book like Nevada.

Nevada is a collaboration between photographer Deon Reynolds, an Oregon native, and writer Jon Christensen, a Carson City resident. Christensen wrote a four-part essay for the book that gives a rough history of Nevada and touches on many of the state’s important issues, such as water rights and mining.

I recognize that others may find these subjects fascinating, but much of Christensen’s essay is a bit too heavy on nature for my taste. I’m an urban girl at heart; I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a mountain from behind the windshield of my car, but I don’t necessarily want to jump out and climb it.

So I didn’t really perk up until the final section of the essay, “Prospect and Chance,” in which Christensen discusses the mining boom of the late 1800s and the growth of Las Vegas. He opens the section with a quote by John Muir, the pioneering environmentalist who founded the Sierra Club in 1892: “Nevada is one of the very youngest and wildest of the States; nevertheless it is already strewn with ruins that seem as gray and silent and timeworn as if the civilization to which they belonged had perished centuries ago.”

“Muir was hard on Nevada,” Christensen writes. “But then Nevada was hard on John Muir.” I’m sure many of us can relate.

OK, I admit—I did enjoy some of the nature-related stuff, especially a small blurb on packrat middens. Apparently, these little balls of pollen, seeds and other plants are preserved for thousands of years by the packrats’ urine. Scientists study the middens to track the “migration” of Nevada’s piñon forest, which is reportedly moving north at a rate of almost a foot per day.

Well, I’ll be damned.

The truth is, you may forget to read the essay your first time through Nevada, simply because Reynolds’ photographs are so powerful. What will probably first catch your eye is Reynolds’ ability to capture colors. The stereotype of Nevada as being a dry, brown wasteland is completely refuted by Reynolds’ lush oranges, blues, yellows and yes, even greens.

My favorite photo by far is a shot taken in Washoe Lake State Park. A dead cottonwood tree stands against a sky so richly blue it reminds me of photos of Earth taken from space. Jagged, fluffy clouds play off the stark whiteness of the cottonwood’s bare, lifeless trunk, and the muted greens of the hills and bushes below provide a calm resting place for the eye.

In this photo, death is gorgeous, and it demonstrates what it’s taken me so long to figure out. The beauty of Nevada is hard to appreciate; but once you do, it’ll change your definition of "beauty" forever.