Nevada: A diamond in the rough

  Our country’s driest state does not treat humans gently. “The desert was one prodigious graveyard,” wrote Mark Twain about his arrival in Nevada in the 1860s. “And the log chains, wagon tires, and rotting wrecks of vehicles were almost as thick as the bones.” Today, many people perceive Nevada as a gambling mecca surrounded by barren desert.

But a more accurate and colorful portrait appears in Earthtones: A Nevada Album — first published in 1995 and newly released in paperback. Earthtones pairs 66 color photographs by Stephen Trimble with six essays by Ann Ronald.

Ronald reasons that an appreciation for alkali flats and empty space is an acquired taste. “Almost all of us have been taught a worldview that prefers green and blue to ocher and beige, that values redwoods and oceans more than rabbitbrush and sinks,” she writes. “Dryness generates beauty of its own.”

Ronald counts the gifts that a dry climate can offer: the blooming claret cup cactus, the dark anvil clouds that glower on the horizon, a fleeting moment with mountain goats. “What may appear lifeless and alien from a distance becomes quite vibrant and familiar when viewed from a desert armchair.”

From cracked mud playas to icy peaks, the Nevada of Ronald and Trimble is still an austere expanse — but it’s also a place that rewards persistence and patience with aesthetic satisfaction.

Earthtones: A Nevada Album, essays by Ann Ronald and photographs by Stephen Trimble, University of Nevada Press, 2002. 136 pages, 66 color photographs. Paperback: $27.95.