A Valley Burning In Red And Pink Fire
Valley Of Fire State Park
Just one hour north of the glittering town of Las Vegas lies the beautiful Valley of Fire State Park. We've been there three times already and never failed to stop there on our trips in the Southwest. However, as its one of the lesser know and smaller destinations in the huge variety of breathtaking places in the area, we never spent the time there it actually deserves, until our last trip in March of 2015.
After a few days of business travel in Las Vegas, our hearts were thirsty for some solitude, our heads overwhelmed with the lights and noises and smells of the city. We left in the morning hours and planned to spend the day and the night there to have enough time for some daylight hikes and to take in the beauty of the sunset and sunrise hours.
While you could certainly spend much more time here, we managed to squeeze in a couple of great hikes and left with memory cards filled with beautiful images of this wonderful place.
Our last trip was primarily inspired by the fantastic eGuide A Closer Look at Valley of Fire by Synnatschke Photography. Those $4 were well spent as this eBook led us to a few hidden spots and helped to walk past the more traveled routes for some really special photo opportunities.
Out of respect for the great work and endless hours they must have put into creating this guide, we'll showcase the spots and our photographic interpretations but will not disclose the detailed waypoints. Please download the eBook on their site for these, the guide also features a lot more spots than we could have explored in two days.
Where to stay
Unless you're staying Vegas and plan to make it a day trip, you got two options for Valley of Fire: Camping in the park or staying in Overton. The State Park offers a couple of campsites but these fill up fast so make sure make reservations early. Camping is your choice when you want to stay in the park and enjoy resting under the thousands of stars visible in the clear nights of the desert. The Lake Mead area might be a third option but the drive up is similar to the distance from Vegas.
The city of Overton is no place you'd like to spend much time, but its close proximity to the Eastern entrance to the park makes it a good one to spend the night. From what we've researched the North Shore Inn is a decent place to stay. As it was booked out already, we had to stay at the Plaza Motel. This motel doesn't have a website and is definitely not what you'd call a nice place to stay but its close to the park, clean and has wifi - that was enough for us. It also came in quite cheap, haven't paid less than $60 for a room in a very long time.
Where to eat
There is no food in the park and the closest city is Overton. For a quick bite at a late hour or some groceries, your best bet would probably the supermarket in Overton. If you come in before 9pm, you could also try the Pizza place Carleys which offered a decent pizza. There are a few other places including a McDonald's but we haven't tried these yet. For the next time, we'd probably get an Instant BBQ or some charcoal and some Hot Dogs and make our own dinner at one of the picnic sites in the park.
Best photography spots
The park can be divided in three main areas, all of them feature beautiful spots for sunrise, daylight, sunset and nighttime photography: The main road, the scenic loop road and the scenic drive road. The following spots are just the ones we got to and really enjoyed, there are numerous more than can be explored.
The main road is basically the west-east connection and primary road to cross the park. Coming from Vegas, you'd enter it from I-15 at the main entrance station. The day use fee is $10 (cash, check or credit card accepted), camping comes with $15 per night. The other two areas below actually also start at the main road, the first one you'll pass (coming from the west entrance) will be the loop road with its campgrounds and famous rock formations like Atlatl Rock. Great photography spots along the main road are Elephant Rock and the Cabins at Lone Rock. Elephant Rock is a great spot at any time during the day and can be reached in a short hike from the eastern entrance parking lot, just a few steps up the hill. We've visited the cabins during day and night time and these are an especially spectacular photo opportunity during a starry night. Check out the pictures in the gallery, we shot the cabins about an hour after sunset and used a flashlight to light up the cabins underneath a clear night sky full of stars.
Scenic Loop Road
The Loop road starts right after the west entrance and features Atlatl Rock, the Beehives and Arch Rock. We stopped here for a well hidden but special place, primarily known in the southwest photographers community - Windstone Cave. We'd like to refer to the eBook for specific directions to this fragile and special place. It's hard to find but worth the search, check out the photo we took in the gallery. While searching for Windstone Cave, we've discovered another beautiful rock formation and named it Dinosaur Arch, as it reminded us of a Dinosaur.
The Scenic road or also known as the road to the white domes area is where we spent most of our time. You can see beautiful arches, vistas, slot canyons and more along this couple miles of road winding through multicolored rock valleys. Shortly after the first parking lot on the right side of the road, you can start the hike to Rainbow Vista and Fire Canyon Arch. It's a rather easy hike with minor elevation changes leading to a colorful vista of the multi colored rock formations.
Our favorite spot and probably the main reason to get here is the Fire Wave. Not as famous as it spectacular big brother in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness "The Wave" but not less dashing in its beauty. This sandstone formation comes with hundreds of different slices and shades of red, formed by wind, weather and water into a wave shape. There is a rather easy hike there from the parking lot #3 but don't forget to take lots of water, the temperatures easily go up in the 100's in summer. Beside the main trail, its possible to get there from further down the road through a beautiful white and pink slot canyon (Kaolin Wash). Check out the eGuide for further instructions, the gallery below features a few impressions of this nice hike. In terms of best time to get there, this is a prime spot and area for sunset photography, the golden hour brings out the multiple shades of color in the area and the wave seems to explode in light.
During the day, the White Domes area is also a great place to explore and hike. The White Domes trail takes about 45 minutes and leads through a slot canyon. A great loop and ideal mid day photo opportunity to capture the falling in light into the slot canyon.
For sunrise, we decided to hike down into the White Dome area, just south of parking lot #3. Instead of crossing the street towards the Fire Wave trail, we hiked down the parking lot to search for a few magnificent places featured in the eGuide and found Fire Cave, Thunderstorm Arch and Crazy Hill. It's nearly impossible to find them without the directions in the book as the photos below in the gallery make those appear much bigger than they actually are. This was a great hike during the beautiful morning light, no one except us was around and we spent more than three hours exploring this colorful wonderland of rocks, canyons and desert.