“Snow Fall”: The best multi-media journalism, ever

This week the New York Times changed the face of the Web with a single story. “Snow Fall,” a deeply reported narrative story about an avalanche that killed several skiers near Stevens Pass, Wash.,  is the single best piece of web-based reporting I’ve ever seen.

Read the story here – but do it on a computer, not a phone.

Simply put, the Times presentation works for three reasons:

  • John Branch did a superb job writing the story. It reads like a New Yorker magazine piece.
  • The story has been formatted to take over your browser with a simple, clean and brooding presence. You don’t have a bunch of stupid links to click on. You don’t have to click through one quick page turn after another. The tone is right.
  • Most important, the multi-media information is presented as a clean and inviting addition to the story itself. It invites the reader, instead of demanding you click through boring links. It seduces you with subtlety. The graphics actually change on their own as you read the story.

Most multimedia work is terrible. It screams “look at me!” like an exhibit at a bad museum or like almost all educational software.

A wonderful job, one that may actually change the course of journalism.





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The desert in black and white

I took this photo last week while walking in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas. It’s one of many I shot that day and during the week; I’ve started printing them out both in 11 x 15″ and 22 x 30″ sizes for hand coloring later.

The exact place is on the return half, as you walk counterclockwise, of the long desert trail that loops around the park from the visitor center. There are a lot of interesting features along that section, like these yucca plants, that can be photographed against a varied and distant desert background. This shot was done with a medium telephoto lens (the Pentax 70mm/2.4). I also shot a lot that day with the 21mm/3.2.

The prints are coming out lovely. I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy painting them once I get a few more printed.

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Even more Las Vegas: Red Rock Canyon

About 20 miles west of Las Vegas, an easy half hour drive from the Strip, is Red Rock Canyon, a little BLM pocket park — OK, “National Conservation Area” — that’s our current favorite full-day place to go hiking around here.

Snuggled up against, no surprise, a red rock formation, the park has about 200,000 acres of desert mountain and wash that offer a full range of outdoor activities, from looking from the car (most popular) to technical rock-climbing. We lie somewhere between those extremes. We like to walk.

That seemed to come as a surprise to the volunteers staffing the information desk the other day when I asked for a copy of the sketchy map they used to give out describing a beautiful 12-mile hiking loop. They kept handing me the auto map and, when I asked for directions to the trailhead, pointing toward the road. No matter. The loop, which we’ve done a couple times before, is easy enough to navigate by dead reckoning, as you follow your way around the edge of a large flat bowl. The first half of the trail parallels the scenic loop highway and has a fair number of tourist hikers. The return half is less spectacular and more satisfying, a simple, lonesome path across open desert back to the car. We once met a Marine officer here, getting some exercise on his way to a new posting at the US embassy in Mexico City.

However you decide to see it, Red Rock is a beautiful spot — and great for photography. It’s $7 daily admission, $30 annual pass. Climbing requires a permit.  To get there, go up 215 from town and head west at the Charleston exit. You’ll see the sign on the right a few miles after leaving suburbia.



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More Las Vegas: Clark County Wetlands Park

Pond at Clark County Wetlands Park


As friends know, we don’t go to Las Vegas for the gambling.

You can lose money in foolish pursuits almost anywhere without flying hundreds of miles to get there.

One of the best reasons to go to Las Vegas is a little, almost completely undiscovered nature preserve on the eastern edge of town. Clark County Wetlands Park, a sprawling tract of gravel and mesquite just off of Tropicana Boulevard, has been gussied up over the last few years with the development of a 210-acre Nature Preserve.

With broad, paved, ADA-compliant walkways and carefully planted indigenous plants, the preserve is almost as goofy in its own way as the casinos of the Vegas Strip. It’s nature with labels. It’s a field trip waiting for the buses to arrive. It’s wonderful.

The preserve lies on the western edge of the Las Vegas Wash and is built around a fascinating jumble of ponds, streams, gullies and other water features. Alongside the trails are plenty of picnic areas, observation platforms, interpretive signs and even public restrooms.

A huge new visitor center, built on stilts to survive the inevitable flood, is scheduled to open in spring 2013.

We’ve been going to the park for years, and except for the occasional school bus load of elementary children, there’s practically never anyone there.

The preserve is a weirdly beautiful place. Birders love it. You can see egrets and other water birds, desert birds such as road runners, hummingbirds, bluebirds and raptors. Some of the trees are beaver-chewed, although I’ve yet to see a beaver in the flesh. Coyote sign is also everywhere.

It’s a great place to walk, to sit on a bench and read a book, to meditate on the meaning of life and — of course — to take hundreds of photographs.

The Nature Preserve is open dawn to dusk daily. Admission is free. No pets allowed. Official address is 7050 E. Wetlands Park Lane. Phone 702-455-7522 for more info.

The visitor center looks like it will be worth a visit once it’s open next spring.


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Got back last night from Las Vegas, one of our favorite winter haunts. Friends who know we go there scratch their heads. One used the word “incongruous.”

It’s not. Las Vegas isn’t about gambling for us. It’s about sunshine, hiking in the desert, weird Americana, cheap airfares and some of the best inexpensive food you can imagine. With all that, who has time to gamble?

As usual, things were happening in town. This time it was the National Finals Rodeo, the Super Bowl of professional rodeo, which was being held at the University of Nevada Las Vegas just down the street from our quiet hotel. It spilled over onto the strip, most notably at the MGM Grand, which featured a “Gold Buckle Room” bar with live video coverage of the action, and daily autograph sessions with the rodeo champs. Trevor Brazile, a nice young man who set some kind of record for winning all-around cowboy awards, was the star attraction. Cowboy wannabees and buckle bunnies lined up for hours ahead of his appearances to shake his hand and get an autograph.

Outside on the street, we found this sad little monument to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera: bottles of Corona and devotional candles on her sidewalk star.

Across the strip, we spent some time this trip exploring the new City Center complex, perhaps the poshest set of resorts and casinos on the strip. Crystals, Aria and Cosmopolitan are breathtakingly tasteful and kind of dull compared to their neighbors on Las Vegas Blvd. The complex offers five upscale art galleries, which sounds good until you see the art. (Think yet another Dale Chihuly outlet and some kind of Cirque du Soleil sculpture mart.) Intimidating bouncers scanned the crowd at the doors, which means that there is no crowd inside, which means the shops, selling Prada and similarly upscale brands you’ve never even heard of, have no one in them except their perfectly coiffed sales crew and burly security people.

The best places remain the pure Vegas fantasy spots: the Bellagio, New York, New York, Paris and the Venetian. The conservatory at the Bellagio is, as always, stunningly over-the-top gorgeous, funny and beautiful. Just picture a full-size polar bear made of 18,000 white carnations. You get the idea.

I took about a million pictures, of course, mostly in the desert during long delicious walks in the sun. I’ll post some of those as I get them edited.

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