Carol Highsmith
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The elephant in the room.

LocationFairfax, VA


One of my favorite photography experiences was to capture the elephants at the Barnam & Bailey Circus. I had just received my new 100-megapixel Phase One camera, and I wanted to test it out. I wanted to see not only the quality but also how it acted in low light. I was thrilled to take images at two or three shows and watch the elephants perform. Now that the Greatest Show on Earth has closed for good, it makes me realize the importance of my work. These images are for the world to use and enjoy now and for the ages, without restriction.

Bodie, bygone.

LocationMono County, CA


It was a treat to meander through Mark Twain county, just east of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, where I came upon forlorn Bodie. I say “came upon” as if I’d stumbled out of the brush and beheld it miraculously. Actually about 199,999 other people visit the old ghost town, southeast of Lake Tahoe, every year. That’s all right, to me it still seemed like my Voyage of Discovery, like Lewis & Clark.

Double crossing.

LocationJackson County, CO


Cowhands Scott McKay (on the white horse, Hays) and John Guthrie III (on Gunner), and Scott’s dog, Ty, cross the North Platte River at Park Range Ranch, a guest ranch that includes a working cattle operation in the Park Range — a spectacular series of Rocky Mountain peaks overlooking the “park,” as Coloradans in these remote parts call their valleys. Ah, regional idiosyncrasies! This scene in one of America’s most sparsely settled counties (Jackson) blew me away.

Oh, Grammy, how I love ya.

LocationRidgway, CO


I was puttering around and photographing in tiny Ridgway in the Colorado Rockies one day when someone told me I should go down the street and knock on John Billings’s door. I’d be in for a surprise, the person told me. And how! In his basement, John crafts the 580 or so of the Grammy Awards’ iconic trophies, which he designed, to be presented at Hollywood’s ceremony 850 miles away. How’d that come about? Too long a tale!

Carnival krewes.

LocationNew Orleans, LA


Saucy New Orleans, and its annual Carnival culminating on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), fit the cliche: You love ’em or you hate ’em. Count me among the lovers! I’d prefer my own little parade rather than hordes of tipsy tourists with sharp elbows screaming “Throw me somethin’” on Napoleon Avenue or Canal Street, but the music, food, and history, and Louisiana’s joie d’ vivre make it intoxicating, even without a brandy milk punch in your hand.

The valley so whoa.

LocationNavajo Nation, AZ


Why is it that many of America’s most splendorous sights are way, way far away from just about anywhere? The Grand Tetons and the Grand Canyon (I’m sensing a grand theme) and Arches National Park are like that. And so is this spectacular place: Monument Valley, a cluster of vast, stunning sandstone buttes on Navajo Nation land straddling the Arizona-Utah line – though mostly in Arizona. Let’s see: splendorous, grand, spectacular, stunning. Sorta sums up this special place.

A yellow brick stroll.

LocationBeech Mountain, NC


Ashley Harkins as Dorothy skips my way along the Yellow Brick Road at the Land of Oz, a delightful storyland park, high in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The park, which reimagines Frank Baum’s classic story of the Wizard of Oz and Dorothy and a wicked witch, opened in 1970. It now puts on performances only once a week in June and in special shows each fall. I was enchanted to catch Dorothy after one of them.

Get your kicks.

LocationKingman, AZ


One of my favorite experiences as I travel across America nine months of every year is to hop on Old Route 66. I’ve probably taken it twenty times a year. I can’t help thinking about what it must have been like in the days when it was “the Mother Road” across America’s plains and desert. I love to stop at the Hackberry General Store in northwestern Arizona, where you can almost hear the old jalopies pull up for some gas, grub and a cold soda pop, and the only bathroom between Peach Springs and Kingman.

Siegfried and Roy’s leading lion.

LocationLas Vegas, NV


I look back on this “photo op” with delight but also sadness. Siegfried (left) and Roy posed with one of their closest feline friends in their Mirage Hotel apartment, after the Las Vegas superstar illusionists invited me right up onstage to photograph among the elephants and big cats. It was magical in more ways than one. A few weeks later, as you probably know, Roy nearly died in an encounter with a spooked white tiger on stage.