Wild West Adventure (4 of 4): Nevada

With most of our vacation spent traveling from one amazing National Park to another, I was ready to finally relax and take some time to digest everything I had seen. I picked Las Vegas as our final stop because I thought it would be a good place to unwind, and because I had always wanted to see the city made famous by its embrace of all things excessive. I wanted to find out why so many people say they love Vegas, and can’t wait to go back. I wanted to love Vegas too.

200mm @ 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 400

Is it okay that I wasn’t that impressed with Las Vegas? Is it okay that I actually kind of loathed it? Because, honestly, after a week of exploring some of the most superlative-worthy natural wonders in the U.S. with my wife, I was a little underwhelmed by “Sin City.”

165mm @ 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 800

It’s not that the free-for-all party environment and endless supply of every conceivable vice didn’t appeal to my inner frat boy at some base level, it’s just that I expected something more exciting than a larger, slightly less putrid Atlantic City. Still, I wasn’t going to squander an opportunity to get out on the famous “Strip” and capture the gaudy spectacle that Vegas becomes after sunset.

70mm @ 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 800
175mm @ 1/800, f/3.5, ISO 1600
200mm @ 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 3200
200mm @ 1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 1600

Not that it came as a big surprise, but as I made my way around the city, I quickly came to a stark realization about the difference between the glamorous Vegas that we’re sold on TV, and the dark, ugly, dangerous Vegas that lies just beneath the surface. In fact, that’s all Las Vegas really is, veneer. The city is a shiny, gold-foil wrapper around a darkness so palpable is practically oozes despair.

The city’s myriad casinos lure in the the weak, foolish and unwitting with the siren call of ringing slot machines and pulsing music. Happily emptying their wallets for the illusory chance to strike it rich, the aimless masses drink their way into the sweet, numbing coma of inebriated hope as they push their remaining chips all in. Outside, the tourists scream by with their rented cars, rented clothes and rented lovers, each of them oblivious to the city writhing beneath them, oblivious to the death rattle of a million dreams seeping out from the gutters at their feet, oblivious to the horrors reenacting themselves nightly in alleyways untouched by the flickering neon glow of Las Vegas. They are all merely shadows in a city where light is only a disguise.

50mm @ 1/640, f/2, ISO 3200
50mm @ 1/40, f/2, ISO 3200
200mm @ 1/10, f/3.5, ISO 1600
50mm @ 1/125, f/2, ISO 1600

Check out more high-res shots from the trip in my set on Flickr.


  1. Hello Warriorwriter,
    My name is Joselyn and I work for In-N-Out Burger. We love your photo of the In-N-Out sign in Las Vegas and wanted to know how we would go about getting your permission to use the photo. Please contact me at jzamora@innout.com so that we may discuss further.
    Thank you in advance!

  2. Hey Isaac, Awesome photos! Your picture of the flier stuck in the fence is exactly how I remember Vegas too…it is not at all like you see on t.v.

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