Some of my photos are now for sale at ImageKind.

Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

Culture Index
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

U.S. Route 40: Reno's 4th Street

The historic U.S. Route 40, and before it the even-more-historic Lincoln Highway ran through the heart of Reno and Sparks, along 4th Street in Reno, and apparently both along Victorian Avenue and Prater Way in Sparks, as both streets are marked with Lincoln Highway markers after they split off from one another.

Many businesses arose along the route to take advantage of the highway traffic. When the freeway, current Interstate 80, was built, I believe in the early 1970s, these businesses were bypassed. Many have disappeared all together, the remnants of some remain, others struggle to stay in business, and a few flourish.

This is my journey down the old highway route, from west to east. I haven't had the chance to do much research on the subjects yet, and my photographs are for the present heavily sign-oriented. I hope to get a wider variety of photos next spring when I next plan to visit Reno.

20091021 Lincoln Highway Bridge Rail
Lincoln Highway Bridge Rails

When I went to Reno in 2003, there must have been some sort of sign indicating there was a site of historic interest that led me to pull off of Interstate 80 just west of Reno and photograph these old bridge rails from the Lincoln Highway. I found them in 2009 only because I remembered to look for them--the turn off on east-bound I-80 is only marked as "TRUCK PARKING."

A sign there indicates that the rails were originally located .9 miles to the east, where they were installed in 1914 by contractor A.F. Neidt.

20091022 Mineral Inn Spa & Resort
Mineral Inn Spa & Resort

Shortly after the bridge rails headed east on I-80, there is a turn off for West 4th St.--that is the old U.S. 40 route. Immediately upon exiting you are faced with the sprawling remains of an old resort, now fenced off with no trespassing signs. I found a way to get in, but respected the signs. But if you are curious what the grounds look like, here are some photos from somebody else.

The route into downtown Reno from here is quite scenic, following the Truckee River, which was lined with trees in full fall foliage when I made the trip in October. On the outskirts of town you hit what remains of the old motel row.

20090927 Silver Spur Motel
Silver Spur Motel

It didn't appear that there is a motel operating there, and I could not find a listing for the Silver Spur.

20090927 Washoe Steakhouse
4201 W. 4th
Washoe Steakhouse

Looked like a very nice restaurant.

20090927 Tombstone Territory
2255 W. 4th St.
Tombstone Territory

The name of this motel derives from its proximity to a cemetery.

20090927 Sunset Motel
2091 W. 4th St.
Sunset Motel

20090927 El Tavern Motel
1801 W. 4th St.
El Tavern Motel

20090927 Silver State Lodge
1791 W. 4th St.
Silver State Lodge

There is no motel to go with the sign anymore, but here is a description of the place from an old postcard:

Reno' Finest Motor Court
* Steam Heated Rustic Cottages
*Complete Electric Kitchens
*Free Steam Heated Garages
*Six Acres Beautifully Landscaped
R.J Reynolds, Owner - W.D. Crawford, Mgr.

20090927 Gold 'N' Silver Inn Restaurant
790 W. 4th St.
Gold 'N' Silver Inn Restaurant

In business since 1956. I've eaten there twice now. The eggs Castroville--eggs Benedict with artichoke hearts in place of Canadian bacon, were particularly good, but I didn't get a photo of that. You'll have to settle for a photo of meatloaf.

20091022 Meat Loaf

20090927 Donner Inn
720 W. 4th
Donner Inn

20090927 Chapel of the Bells
700 W. 4th St.
Chapel of the Bells

20091022 Crest Inn
525 W. 4th St.
Crest Inn

Not much of a sign, but the design of the building is a nice example of Googie.

20090928 Rancho Sierra
411 W. 4th
Rancho Sierra Motel

280 W. 4th St.
Lido Inn

20090927 In-Town Motel
260 W. 4th St.
In Town Motel

20091021 In-Town Motel

215 W. 4th St.
Bonanza Inn

200 W. 4th
Mardis Gras Motor Lodge

After this we pass through the heart of downtown Reno, N. Sierra, N. Virginia, and N. Center. Virginia Street is the old U.S. Route 395 route, pre-freeway, and is still Business 395. Along it the largest downtown casinos are located, particularly Circus Circus, The Silver Legacy, and El Dorado, which all flow into one another at the 2nd floor level, bridging the streets below and making one enormous indoor casino, restaurant, and bar space.

20090927 Louis Basque Corner
301 E. 4th St.
Louis Basque Corner

20091022 N.C.O. Railroad Station
325 E. 4th St.
Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad Station

20090927 Morris Hotel
400 E. 4th St.
Morris Hotel

20090927 Abby's HWY 40
424 E. 4th St.
Abby's Highway 40

20091022 Flanigan Square
701 E. 4th St.
Flanigan Square

Built in 1902.

777 E. 4th St.
Rancho 777

20090927 Lucky Motel
1011 E. 4th St.
Lucky Motel

20090927 Alturas Bar & Nightclub
1044 E. 4th St.
Alturas Bar & Nightclub

20090927 Brought to you by the number . . .
1113 E. 4th St.
Reno 8 Motel

1200 E. 4th St.
Sutro Motel

20090927 Hi Ho Motor Lodge
1233 E. 4th St.
Hi Ho Motor Lodge

301 Montello St.
Ernie's/Reno Salvage Co.

On the south side of the 1300 block on E. 4th St., just approaching Montello, there are a couple of beautiful art deco structures behind chained link fencing. Both the names Ernie's and Reno Auto Salvage can be seen.

20090927 Ponderosa Lodge
1400 E. 4th St.
Ponderosa Lodge

20090927 Desert Sunset Motel
1425 E. 4th St.
Desert Sunset Motel

20090927 Tahoe Motel
1650 E. 4th St.
Tahoe Motel

20090927 Hi-Way 40 Motel
1750 E. 4th St.
Hi-Way 40 Motel

1752 E. 4th St.
Farris Motel

One of the buildings for this motel has a really interesting rounded, staggered corner, but I haven't gotten a photograph of it yet.

20090927 Sandman Motel
1755 E. 4th St.
Sandman Motel

If I had to choose a favorite sign in Reno, this would be it.

20090927 Sandman Motel

20090927 Everybody's Inn Motel
1756 E. 4th St.
Everybody's Inn Motel

20090927 Gold Coin Motel
2255 E. 4th St.
Gold Coin Motel

I'm a little confused by this place, as the coin they chose to make golden is a silver dollar.

20090927 Casale's Halfway Club
2501 E. 4th St.
Casale's Halfway Club

20090927 Restwell Court
2525 E. 4th St.
Restwell Court

On February 18, 1979, three units were destroyed by fire at the Restwell Court Motel. It probably didn't last much longer than that and there is no motel building there today.

Then we cross over into Sparks.

20091022 Coney Island Bar
2644 Prater Way
Coney Island Bar

Opened in 1935, and named after an amusement park that used to stand across the street.

Prater Way & Victorian Ave. split.

2406 Prater Way
Pony Express Lodge

20091021 Copenhagen Bar
2140 Prater Way
Copenhagen Bar

20090928 the Elbow ROOM
2002 Victorian Ave.
Elbow Room Bar

20090927 Elbow Room Bar

19th & Prater Way
Ideal Shopping Center

20091021 Ideal Shopping Center

1861 Victorian Ave
Craig Motel

20091021 Tarry Motel
1828 Victorian Ave.
Tarry Motel

1800 Victorian Ave.
Safari Motel

20091021 Playhouse
1746 Victorian Ave.
Playhouse Lounge

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Nugget's Awful Awful Burger

For my birthday in 2009 I decided to take a quick trip to Reno to photograph vintage neon signs--my favorite pastime. I also wanted a classic dining experience, so I used Google and found out about the Awful Awful Burger.

The chain of Nugget casinos started by Dick Graves and his general manager John Ascuaga have been serving up the Awful Awful Burger since 1955. On that trip I tried the Awful Awful at Rosie's Cafe deep inside the massive John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks. The restaurant is large and quite nice, other than the usual garish casino carpets. According to a comment on Chowhound, the burger is served there the way it was originally served, as a double with two 1/4 pound patties. It comes with a choice of sides.

20090927 The Awful Awful Burger

I returned to Reno less than a month later, and this time had the Awful Awful at the little diner in the back of the small Nugget on the main strip of downtown Reno, Virginia St. Unlike Rosie's Cafe, this place had the classic feel I was looking for, with a small counter and stools. The diner is open 24 hours a day. The Awful Awful there is served as one large 1/2 pound patty, and served on top of an enormous basket of French fries. I saw several baskets of fries on the counter that looked untouched when I went up to the cash register to order. I ate quite a few fries with my burger, but also left my basket looking as though I hadn't had any at all. They must throw away hundreds of pounds of French fries every week at the greasy spoon.

20091021 The Nugget Diner

20091021 The Awful Awful Burger

I definitely preferred the burger at the little Nugget. It was very satisfying, although I wouldn't go as far as some people have in saying it's the best burger I've ever had--no way would I rank a well-done burger that high. But it was very good. The atmosphere was great too, and would be even more so had I gone late at night after a few beers, rather than for lunch. If you're looking for a family atmosphere, then Rosie's Cafe is the better bet, but if you want the feel of old Reno, then the little Nugget diner is the way to go.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photographing the California State Fair

20090830 Balloon A Rama
(View this image larger.)

Although I always loved to go to the Yellowstone County Fair when I lived in Montana, it took me 5 years to make it to the California State Fair after moving to the Sacramento area. And the reason I went was just to shoot a lot of photos with my brand-new digital camera.

I'm on my fourth digital camera now, and have shot the fair with all of them. Two years ago I took a Gorillapod and a compact digital camera and got my first long exposures of the lights on the carnival rides at night. Last year I went with a DSLR for the first time, my Nikon D40, and I brought a tripod. This year I went all out--I bought a season pass ($36 for unlimited admissions--regular tickets are $12 for each day) and visited the fair on 12 different days, bringing my tripod on several of them.

The purpose of this blog entry is just to share the highlights of the hundreds of photos I have taken at the state fair the last and offer some ideas for other photographers. More fair photos can be found in my set on Flickr, California State Fair, and select photos are now available for purchase in prints of up to 20 inches by 30 inches on my account at

(I've put small shots of photos that link to the Flickr page for each one, which shows a medium-sized shot, but I've also added links that take you directly to a larger shot than that [although not full-sized]. If you want to know the camera settings for a shot, click on the photo to be taken to the Flickr page, and on the lower right just below where it tells you what camera it was taken with click on "More properties." My photos from 2001 won't have that information.)

Midway Lights at Night

We'll start off with my favorite subject, and also the most difficult subject to photograph. Just after the state fair in 2006, I was looking at some great long exposures of Ferris wheels on Flickr, and was inspired. But I had to wait a year to try them myself (although I did make a rather lame attempt at the Sacramento County Fair in May of 2007). Armed with my Kodak Z740 Zoom, a Gorillapod, and a .6 neutral density filter, I made my attempt.

20070825 Grand Wheel

It took quite a bit of effort before I was able to get the shot above. Unlike a free-standing tripod, the Gorillapod needed to be attached to something. In scouting around for what to attach it to, I also noticed the problem of floodlights facing the camera. Finally I attached to a metal support for a sign next to one of the restroom stations. I had to use the neutral density filter to get a long enough exposure, as the smallest aperture on the camera is f/8, which didn't cut down the light enough. I took exposures at several different shutter speeds to make sure I got a result I was happy with. When I shoot neon signs, the camera often thinks I'm underexposing, as it averages all the black area in the background when metering. But in this case, I found for the results I wanted the camera thought I was overexposing--because I wanted to expose for those lights not just in one location, but as they keep moving about.

In 2008 I came back with the Nikon D40, a tripod, and more experience as a photographer under my belt. I thought it would be easy to match and likely surpass my work from the previous year. I shot a couple of nights, and was sorely disappointed with the result, so I had to go back a third time and get it right.

20080826 Grand Wheel

Another thing I tried in 2008 was what I was calling a digital double exposure. The technique is to shoot a long exposure with the lens zoomed in somewhat for half the exposure, then rapidly zoom out wide for the other half of the exposure, producing a close up shot within a wide shot, and a bit of streaking from the zoom.

20080826 Grand Wheel Double Exposure

It took a lot of practice, but I finally got a result I was happy with. It would be easier with a heavier and sturdier tripod than what I have.

In 2009, I found that I basically had to relearn how to shoot this kind of subject each year, as so much time had elapsed since I had last tried it. And adding to the difficulty was the fact that there wasn't much for crowds on many nights, so the rides were often just sitting motionless waiting for riders to come along and get on. I was also disappointed that the Grand Wheel was replaced with the less impressive Giant Wheel. But I made up for the problems by spending a lot more time at the fair taking photographs.

20090901 Giant Wheel & Monorail

This shot of the Giant Wheel would have come out pretty boring by comparison to my previous efforts, except that the monorail came by in front of it during the 30-second exposure, nicely filling out the frame. Another way to fill the frame was to include the ride next to the Giant Wheel, the Falling Star.

20090901 Falling Star & Giant Wheel

Having had some positive feedback from the previous two years shooting the terrifying-looking ride Evolution, I tried that one again. It took 3 nights of shooting to get the shots I wanted. First there is the ride as a whole:

20090901 Evolution: The Ride

And then I wanted to capture just the most interesting part of it, the wild spinning at the top:

20090906 Evolution: The Ride

The most beautiful ride at the 2009 state fair was a new addition, the Wave Swinger (the name is the ugliest thing about it), purchased from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. One of the employees of Butler Amusements told me that it took extra time to set up because of all the parts. I gave it a ride too, and it was awfully fun.

20090824 I like this one better

There were actually 3 Ferris wheels at the 2009 state fair, and the Sky Diver, which is also a wheel ride. The one by the West Gate had interesting lighting, but it didn't look like it would make for a nice long exposure to me. The lights kept changing colors, so I figured a long exposure would just produce a muddle of all the colors. But I decided to try some shorter exposures that would still allow for blurring--like 2 1/2 seconds, rather than the 30 seconds I used on the Giant Wheel. And I was pretty happy with the result.

20090904 West Gate Ferris Wheel

Finally I like a shot of the Gravitron Thriller I took just after sunset. As you can see, there was no line of people waiting for the next ride.

20090824 Gravitron Thriller

The Food

I take a lot of food photos, and get more response to those than any other photos on Flickr. But what I've noticed is that people respond more to the outrageousness of the food pictured--monster burgers, bacon, chicken fried steak, gratuitous deep frying--than they do to the quality of the photograph. Looking back on my food shots from the state fair, I don't care for most of them, but here are two that I do like.

20090823 Turkey Leg

A turkey leg in front of the Zipper. I like to do contextual food shots when possible, rather than just isolating the food.

20090826 Churro

A churro.

The Livestock

I've always enjoyed going to see all the cute critters. Unfortunately, they are difficult to photograph, as the Livestock Pavilion is dimly lit, as is the "Fur & Feathers" exhibit at building 6 in the Expo Center. The goat below happened to be near one of the openings to the Pavilion, where some ambient light came in. I still had to use ISO 800.

20090901 Wary Goat

The lighting is a little better at The Farm, where UC Davis puts a bunch of pregnant cows, sows, and goats to have them give birth over the course of the fair. The most popular is always the pile of piglets.

20090901 Piglet

20090827 Piglet

The Exhibits

On the ground level of the California Building the counties put up their exhibits to promote themselves each year. They try and tailor the exhibit to match the theme of that year's fair. As I love to explore California, I like to see the county exhibits and pick up travel information.

20010821 Los Angeles County
The Los Angeles County exhibit from 2001 (large).

20060902 Frog in a Bikini
The Calaveras County Exhibit from 2006 (large).

20090826 Water Monster
The San Joaquin County exhibit from 2009 (large).

Over in the Expo Center, there are several more exhibits. Building 1 gets the youth art, building 3 houses the exhibits related to that year's theme, building 4 is always some big promotional exhibit where they try to sell a lot of merchandise--in 2009 it was candy, and in 2007 it was toys. Building 5 houses "Industrial & Technology Education"--you'll see students' architectural plans, woodworking, robotics, all kinds of stuff. Building 7 is for the fine art competition--my favorite, particularly the photography. And in building 8 they display the "Creative Arts," like quilting, scrapbooking, and woodworking.

20070817 Computer Speed
Computer Speed by Nan Roe, youth art 2007 (large).

20090821 Rubber Ducky, You're the One
Rubber duck collection from the "Weird Wild Wacky California" exhibit, the theme for 2009 (large).

20070817 Rubik's Cube
Toys for sale at the toy exhibit, 2007 (large).

20060819 Scream
Scream by Egil Knutson in the 2006 fine art exhibit (large).

Freestyle Motocross

I don't know how long they have had this at the fair--at least since 2007. I'm afraid I didn't check it out until 2009, and then just because I had so much time at the fair I was looking for extra things to photograph. I saw the ramps and thought they would just jump their motorcycles, which would be impressive enough. But no, they do all kinds of acrobatic maneuvers while flying through the air. The stands are situated so that you are looking into the sun for the 5:00 and 7:00 shows, so I mostly shot from the midway on the other side, with the 5:00 show offering the best lighting. But I also went at 3:00 to the top of the stands so that I could get a Ferris wheel in the background for an interesting juxtaposition, even though the light wasn't great (but better than at 5 or 7 from that angle).

20090826 Tommy Clowers
Tommy Clowers (large).

20090826 Wheatland's Jesse Jolson
Jesse Jolson (large)

20090901 Myles Richmond
Myles Richmond (large).

20090901 The Rock Solid
Destin Cantrell (large).

The Chair Lift

I don't get to ride much at the fair with all of the camera gear I'm lugging around, but the chair lift was something I always did ride. It just took you from one end of the fairgrounds to another up above the crowd, with nice views. Of course, I snuck a few shots of people coming the other way. But in 2009 I was disappointed to see that the chair lift was gone.

20070825 Young Couple

20070825 Sucking Face

There are so many more subjects to photograph at the fair: the entertainment acts, the 10:00 fireworks show, kids (although I'm not comfortable photographing other people's kids), carnies, and toys. But these are the subjects I've had the most success with and wanted to share with you.

20090827 Sunset at Cal Expo