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Seeing things: a ghost town through the eyes of a photographer

Christopher Smith
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The abandoned cafe in Warm Springs, Nevada, ghost town.

“You need to start reminding me to bring the big camera when we stop,” Chris Smith, Desert Companion's art director, said as we got back in the RV after visiting the jerky store in Crystal Springs, Nevada. "I don't want to get lazy and rely too much on my iPhone."

So, at the next stop on the DC editorial team's Great Big Road Trip (working title), less than a quarter-mile down the road, as Chris, our editor Andrew Kiraly and I piled out to pose in front of the "Extraterrestrial Highway" road sign, I reminded Chris to bring out the serious hardware.

There wouldn't be another stop for a while on the famous highway 375 between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs; the Little AlieInn in Rachel, outside Area 51, having already been extensively written about, we decided to forego its dollar-bill-decorated ceiling and keep driving. Chris took the wheel and I rode shotgun while Andrew sat at the dining table and composed his jerky review.

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I gazed out the passenger window at Nevada rolling by. Joshua trees marching toward the Mt. Irish Wilderness on our right. Vast swaths of rangeland dotted with black cows, stark as crime silhouettes against the sage-colored background. The pink and brown sawtooth skyline of Rawhide Mountain on the western horizon.

I notice when a landscape stirs feelings of awe and humility, but my eye isn't professional. If this scenery is beautiful to me, I wondered, then what must it look like to Chris, with his trained and experienced way of seeing? All this color and light, to him, must be like a bacchinalian buffet to a food critic.

We arrived at Warm Springs in the late afternoon. A herd of sheep grazed near a ramshackle barn, and sulfur-tinted water gurgled in a stream alongside the ghost town's defunct cafe. I pulled out my camera phone for a few photos to send my husband. And then, after snapping some shots, I watched the professional at work.

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.