Winter Steam Photo Weekend Spectacular

Historic Railroad Steam Engines, Rolling Stock, and Maintenance Equipment

Enjoy a weekend with our winter trains

If you think you were born one hundred years too late to witness the glory of steam railroading, then we have good news for you: you weren't. There still exists a place where steam locomotives rule the rails.

Hidden away in the high desert of east central Nevada is a time capsule like no other, the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. Annually during the first two weekends in February, time travel is possible. Come to Ely Nevada, set your watch back a century, and photograph railroading as it was in the last century.

winter steam photography

What can you expect during the photoshoots?

World-class photographic opportunities, steam locomotives pulling vintage freight and passenger cars that are original to the railroad. Here, trains are still made up with wooden cars whose origins date back as far as 1872. The crews will be in period dress, adding to the experience.

So why come to Ely in the winter? If you think that Steam locomotive 93 looks good on an 85-degree day in August but wait till you see it on a frosty February day. Billowing white clouds of steam plus plumes of black & gray smoke towering above the canyons and valleys. Snow? Weather here can be capricious! It can range from blizzard conditions to cobalt blue skies sometimes within minutes. In the past we've experienced every type of meteorological conditions that wintertime Ely experiences, including shirtsleeve weather. But regardless of the weather, the show goes on.

Why choose the Winter Steam Photoshoot?

Participants have won numerous photo contests, recording timeless scenes of a historical railroad that are second to none. Many of the "Winter Spectacular" photos rival the best that National Geographic has to offer.

Of course locomotives, rolling stock and tracks are a big and obvious part of this railroad. But its just part of what makes a railroad work. You also need the infrastructure: Enginehouse, machine shop, carpenter shop, blacksmith shop, depot and dispatcher building. Oh and don't forget, the locomotives go nowhere without stopping at the coaling tower and water standpipes. We have those too, the original ones!

What will we have running for our upcoming photoshoot?

We'll have steam pulling our original wooden passenger consist made up of a RPO/baggage car and passenger car. This consist has been serving passengers and departing from this depot for over a century now.

Should there be a mishap on the tracks here, we'll send for the big hook; our original century old operating steam powered wrecking crane. Don't worry - even if there is no mishap we will stage one to demonstrate the big hook in action, under steam

Once the tracks are cleared, it's time to get on with the business of railroading. Freight trains can once again roll and so will ore trains. We will roll our fleet of original ore cars with our original locomotives.

No self respecting railroad would be without boxcars - and the NNRY is no different. A fleet of our original wooden boxcars with arch-bar trucks, built in 1912 are in top condition and are ready for their next load.

people taking photo of the steam train
A photo shoot is an opportunity to photograph the original Nevada Northern Railway equipment as it was during the day. Our photo shoots have the original equipment operating on their original rails and in their original context, such as ore trains, passenger trains, the Steam Crane, Snow Equipment, and the Outfit Car. On a photo shoot, we load up at the station, head a few miles down the track and then everyone unloads. The train moves back, comes ahead, stops and the cycle is repeated two or three times. Then the train moves forward picks everyone up and we move down the tracks to the next photo opportunity. During the weekend we switch locomotives and train sets.
No, if you elect not to get off at a particular photo location, you’re welcome to stay on the train. But you will need to stay on the train until the next photo location.
The grounds, buildings, yard, and the entire right-of-way will be for the exclusive use of those who have tickets for the event. Everyone will need a ticket, whether you are watching or taking pictures. The railroad is a non-profit foundation. The photo shoots are an important fund raiser for the museum. Funds raised from the photo shoots help keep the wheels rolling throughout the year.
No, you must purchase a ticket for the full event
Two and a half days of some of the most outstanding rail photography opportunities in North America. Also we have a continental breakfast and a hot lunch for participants on both Saturday and Sunday. Transportation to Ely, lodging and others meals are on your own.
We start Friday at 1:00 pm. Friday is also the day of the night photo shoot. Saturday and Sunday we start about 7:00 am and quit about 4:30 pm. The exact schedule for your weekend that includes which line we go out on, and when, is given to all participants Friday afternoon. It will be based on up-to-then minute weather and equipment positioning.
The railroad has three branches, the mainline, the Hi-Line and Keystone about 28 miles of track. We will be out on all three branches.
The railroad has three branches, the mainline, the Hi-Line and Keystone about 28 miles of track. We will be out on all three branches.
Ely is located in east central Nevada, equal distance from either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, either city is 240 miles away. If you are going to fly in, choose Las Vegas over Salt Lake City. Our weather pattern is west to east. If a storm moves in, chances are if you fly in Las Vegas you will only have snowy roads for 50-100 miles. If you fly into Salt Lake City you’ll have snowy roads for 240 miles with lake effort snow as an extra bonus. Reno is 350 miles away, Boise 387 miles, Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angles are all about 550 miles away. There are no interstate highways, but very good, well-maintained two-lane roads. Nevada does a great job keeping the roads open.
If you’re flying, choose Las Vegas over Salt Lake City. Our weather pattern is west to east. If a storm moves in, chances are, if you fly in Las Vegas you will only have snowy roads for 50-100 miles. If you fly into Salt Lake City you’ll have snowy roads for 240 miles with lake effort snow as an extra bonus. But coming from Las Vegas you might only have 50-70 miles of snow.
Ely is at 6,500 feet above sea level and very dry, pace yourself and drink plenty of water. Our air is thinner and our UV rays are more intense. Yes, you can get a very nasty sun burn in February.
The weather can range from clear blue skies to blizzard conditions. The temperature can vary from 50 degrees above to a -20 degrees below zero. Dress in layers! The days can be quite warm but as the sun goes down, so does the temperature! There can be a 50 degree difference between day and night.
Most of us spend way too much time at a desk, so you will be in good company, regardless. There will be a lot of walking and standing. You must be able to climb into the railcars. Sometimes there is a three foot drop from the last step to the ground. We may need to climb up and down hills to get the best shots. We will be walking through sagebrush, snow, ice, mud and occasionally dry ground. Wear waterproof hiking boots and gaiters for deep snow.
Ely has over a century of experience providing lodging to visitors to the high desert. The community has a couple of chain motels and plenty of independent hotels and motels. Click the link to see the list
No, nor do we have Uber.
You can bring them, but you will not be able to use them while participating during the photo shoot. Please keep your drone and selfie stick in your car or motel room.
Prices and Discounts

You may also want to consider our Still Photography Workshop.

Advanced reservations are strongly suggested since this event usually sells out.

Do not drive to Ely unless you have a confirmed reservation.

Winter Steam Spectacular 2023MemberNon-Member
Either Weekend$638 $750
Both Weekends$1,020$1,200
Still Photography Workshop$995$1,170

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