We're out in Rainbow Canyon off U.S. 93, taking pictures of rabbit brush and cactus set against the pink and red volcanic cliffs that gave this wash its name. A car stops in the middle of the road, and the driver, looking both curious and baffled, asks us what we're photographing.
His name is Earl, and he's driving an old Dodge with a Slant Six engine and a factory four-speed. Here in the Las Vegas outback, things like that matter.
I explain that we like the play of color, the weathered rock, and the iconic Western-ness of the scene ― all of which, by the look on Earl's weathered, iconic, and Western face, is far more novel to us than it is to him. "Don't mean to be rude or nothin', but I just never seen anyone taking pictures of brush before," he says.
With that, the conversation turns to water, rangeland politics, and Earl's engine ― subjects more appropriate than photographic aesthetics when you're talking on a remote Nevada road. We go on for a stretch before he declares, "Well, I done talked your ear off by now. About my opinions and all." Earl looks around. "Glad you're enjoying this country." Then he drives off.
While Earl may not be convinced of this area's tourist appeal, a spring or fall drive up U.S. 93 into Lincoln County offers a chance to see how much of the West once was. Within a few hours north of Vegas, you'll find historic towns, Nevada's greatest concentration of state parks, and hidden surprises, from lush grottoes and dramatic geological formations to long-lost glimpses of pioneer days and Native American sites.