Category Archives: nature photography

Celebrate Christmas at Christmas Tree Pass!

So, it’s Christmas day in Southern Nevada: the luster of newly opened presents is already fading, a malaise of “Is that all there is?” is settling over the family room, and little storm clouds are brewing on the horizon of your children’s boredom. But outside, the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, and unseasonably warm weather beckons. What do you do? Why not pack the kids into the family car—or, better yet, SUV—and surprise them with an adventure along Christmas Tree Pass?

Accessible from Hwy 95 south of Cal-Nev-Ari or from Hwy 163 west of Laughlin, Christmas Tree Pass is a dirt-and-gravel scenic drive that leads to a display of decorated juniper trees. A few of my favorites from my recent holiday’s excursion are featured in this slideshow.


Christmas Tree Pass – Images by Jennifer Nelson

The trees are situated along the highest, narrowest, and most twisty part of the road (the middle, closer to Hwy 95 than to Hwy 163). Since no one lives along this back country byway, you’ll have no difficulty convincing the young ones that Santa’s elves created this high-country Christmas display out in the middle of nowhere.

That isolation, of course, means you need to travel smart. Yes, the 12-mile road is in generally good condition when it’s dry though a couple rutted and steep sections can pose challenges for low-clearance cars and inexperienced drivers. If the weather has recently rained or snowed, do not attempt this excursion in anything but a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Pack a picnic with plenty of water in addition to the juices and sodas your clan usually drinks. There are spots among the trees where you can park off the road and allow the children to explore. Yes, you’re in snake country, but even on winter’s warm days those creatures are hibernating. If you want to experience Christmas at other times of year, the trees will still be decorated, but you will want to be more cautious of where and how you walk through the rocky desert.

With the right precautions and a wondering spirit, traveling along Christmas Tree Pass can be a gift of experience the whole family will enjoy.

Praying Mantis eggs: Really?

One good thing about the recent deep freeze in Las Vegas is that the cold temperatures slowed the development of buds on my backyard apricot tree and gave me time for much-needed pruning.  The day after the cold snap broke its grip, I got busy with my loppers and shears.  Pruning helps me get reacquainted with the tree.  I not only assess its overall condition and shape but also study each branch’s health and sturdiness.  This year, my intimate examinations were rewarded with this unusual discovery.

Why would praying mantises in Las Vegas make egg cases so different in appearance from egg cases made by mantises elsewhere?

Unfortunately, this egg case was deposited on a branch that required pruning from the tree: sticking straight up from its parent branch, it had crossed and was rubbing against another, better placed branch. I was about to add the severed branch to the waste pile when I reconsidered discarding the egg case. I wasn’t thinking “praying mantis,” but I didn’t want to destroy the next generation of some other beneficial insect.  After all, the point of buying beneficial bugs and setting them free in the yard is so that their population will become self-sustaining.  I needed to discover more information about this strange, yellowish attachment.

Fortunately, I found the Xtremehorticulture of the Desert blog and its feature article, “Praying Mantis Eggcase Confuses Reader.”  No, not me: count me happy, though, that I am not alone in failing to recognize local mantis eggcases.  The “Reader’s” photo (posted at the blog) and comment about finding the eggcase on a different variety of apricot tree reassured me about my own mantis find.

As a result, the offending branch has been woven back into the apricot tree’s canopy.  Hopefully, the mantid nymphs will hatch on schedule and find my yard a happy home.  I’m happy that gardening provides so many opportunities to learn something new about the world around us.

Would I rather be in Corkscrew Swamp?

This weekend, with daytime temperatures in Las Vegas hovering in the 40’s (F) and nightly temperatures falling into the 20’s, my answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!”  Alas, I am not flying to sunny southwest Florida any time soon, so reminiscing about my January 2010 trip to Naples and the Audubon Society’s sanctuary there will have to help me imagine I am keeping warm. Good thing I took a few photos.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Images by Jennifer Nelson

If you can’t visit Corkscrew Swamp in person just now, why not enjoy the vicarious experience of finding your way to the solution of this online jigsaw puzzle featuring a tricky image of ferns, trees, and sky reflected in still water? Your computer needs Adobe Flash player, and you need patience and persistence for this 250-piece labyrinth!

» More free online jigsaw puzzles at TheJigsawPuzzles.com

Come Dine with Me?

Working on my primary New Year’s resolution—(re)organize my photo archives—I (re)discovered this image of a Mexican primrose and the goldenrod crab spider using one of its petals as a dining table.

Goldenrod Crab Spider / Misumena vatia – Images by Jennifer Nelson
Taking this photo, I was experimenting with using the low-voltage landscape lighting in my front yard to backlight the flower for a stained-glass effect. Finding the spider and the fly about to re-enact the drama of Mary Howitt’s classic poem was only a happy coincidence. Finding this photo again gives me an idea for another resolution: spend more time with the camera in my garden at night. What new fascinating wildlife encounters might I discover?