Monique and I took a few weeks last fall after our wedding photography season started to wind down to head out and visit Southern Nevada. Despite living in Reno for the last 15 years or so, I have never actually explored any of the desert southwest part of my own state. We headed down 95, passing through some funky old towns and even ghost towns (to come on another blog post,) spent a few days at the Valley of Fire State Park, which was one of the highlights and a must visit for anyone passing through southern Nevada, then up the eastern portion of the state to Cathedral Gorge and back home. This blog post focuses on the Valley of Fire state park a few hours outside of Las Vegas.
First, try to go in the off-season. The weather is great here pretty much all the time, but folks still insist on packing in here in the middle of the summer when temperatures can hover above 100 degrees. I believe the campsites here are first-come, first-serve, which is refreshing, so if you have a big RV or a generator, aim for Atlatl rock campground. More space and more noise, so your generator noise won’t stand out so much. Arch rock campground is smaller, you couldn’t fit a big RV in most of it, and may be generator free. But it is awesome! Pass the main area and pick a spot on the back loop, preferably on the west side of the road. The cool rock formations of these campgrounds make them nearly private and seem bigger than they are. If you can’t get a campground, don’t worry. The place is surrounded by BLM land, and if you head out the east entrance and down toward Lake Mead, the lake is so low that you can pretty much pull a camper out onto your own private peninsula in spots. As for what to visit, the park isn’t huge and there aren’t a lot of hiking trails. I found the campgrounds to be at their emptiest around 10am. Check out the fire wave, but try to use a map and your noggin to figure out a shortcut other than the designated park trail. Not only is it shorter, it is way more scenic. But since there is only room to park about 3 cars there, if you figure it out, don’t tell. The main paved road that heads back toward the wave offers some great cross-country hiking on the sandstone formations (literally, petrified sand dunes with amazing color variations.) I favor the west side of the road for exploration, but cool things can be found on either side. This really is the highlight of the park, wandering around through mini canyons and colorful rock formations, but it can be hot and without trails, you won’t be taking granny on this one. There are some cool petroglyphs at Atlatl rock, but some jackasses have written their names around them. There are much more along the trail to the mouse tanks, but they are harder to get close to. Probably why they don’t have peoples names written all over them. Be sure to check this blog again in a few weeks to find some beta and a super-secret, amazingly cool, middle-of-nowhere spot to visit close by Valley of Fire. Check out my online archive of Nevada State Park images as well my full archive of images available for license or reproduction.
The Elephant Arch at Valley of Fire state park is one of the easiest to reach, being right along the road at the east entrance.
Monique hiking along some of the strikingly colorful rock formations at Nevada’s Valley of Fire state park.
Monique atop The Fire Wave, which is one of the signature formations in the park. Not quite as impressive as the wave in Utah, but at least you don’t need a permit to go there.
Sunset at The Fire Wave at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada. This particular spot seems to really draw in the photographers, though I thought there were way more interesting formations if you just went exploring.
The Fire Wave at sunset. We had pretty boring skies while we were here most of the time. But if you want my opinion, don’t even bother photographing here during daylight. The light is almost always harsh, plunging one side of the wave or the other into shadow. Hope for a glorious sunset or sunrise and you should have a great picture.
I had to do this shot because as I was way back shooting the sun setting over this formation (2 pictures ago) a group of photographers rushed in, out of breath and obviously angry that they missed the light. They stomped right into my composition, though to be fair, they probably didn’t notice me one ridge back. Anyhow, one guy finally wedges himself in the little bowl and starts exclaiming, “This is it! This is the shot, blah blah…” So after I left I went down there to see what all the fuss is about. This is shot at 14mm and was the closest thing I could come up with from that angle that was remotely interesting to me. How do you think it compares to the other photos.
This picture I liked way better than any of the wave shots. The best thing is, it is part of a shortcut to the wave. You will never find this if you follow the “designated” trail, so get out your topo’s and happy hunting.
This is part of that same shortcut.
This is one of my favorite rock formations mostly because of all the color. you have to hike about 20 minutes from the road to come across it, but all the hiking here is relatively easy.
Another vantage point.
This is a small, but colorful arch near the campground. There are hundreds of these micro-formations throughout the park
Mr. Tarantula. We wanted to see desert tortoise, but had to settle for this
Sunrise at Valley of fire. This was almost a great day.
Another shot from the same sunrise. It was grey, and raining, but since I only had a couple of days I stuck it out with my jacket over my camera and waited. About 1/2 hour after what should have been sunrise, the clouds started breaking giving me some nice light on the rocks. The light rain kept up and a rainbow began to form. I started salivating thinking I really had a great picture coming on, then all of a sudden it went dead grey again. This was as strong as the rainbow ever got.
Balancing rock is one of the formations right next to the visitors center. There is a trail up to it from the bottom, and the road winds right by it with no place to stop except below it, where the backgrounds were boring. I wouldn’t have taken a picture of this rock, except while coming down from my sunrise shooting, there were beams of light passing behind it.
Some cool stone cabins built by the CCC in the early 1900’s.
Some of the more interesting rocks and colors can by found by hiking cross-country, mostly to the west of the main road.
More of the colorful rock formations west of the main road.
Monique really tunes in to details on the rock, like this lovely lady.
And these geometric patterns.
Me lounging in the rocks above our campsite.
The view from our campsite. Didn’t expect a sunset on our last night, then the clouds popped up out of nowhere. Not enough time to get back to the wave, plus I was already into a few beers at camp.
The back way into the Arch rock campground. If you have a big RV and a noisy generator, go to Atlatl rock campground to be with your brethren. If you are tent or car camping or in a van or small RV, Arch rock campground is amazing!
Looking down at our campground from high on the rocks above. We are hidden in our little Aliner on the bottom right. Because of the rocks, most of the campgrounds on the outside of the road have a very private feel.
If you can’t find a spot at one of the two campgrounds in Valley of Fire state park, don’t despair. Head out the East entrance, make a right and head south about 5-10 miles. There will be a paved road on your left heading to Lake Mead and passing through a very small settlement along the way before turning to dirt at what used to be a boat ramp. I think it’s Five Cove Rd, but it could be the road to Stewart’s Point. Anyhow, once you pass the boat-ramp (now about a mile or so from the water,) pick a dirt road and carefully follow it. If your really lucky, it will take you to a spot like these guys.
Lone Bighorn Ram walking across some of the more interesting rock formations at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada.
Bighorn sheep peek-a-boo! My sunrise shot didn’t really pan out, but as I walked back to the car all soaking wet, I saw this herd.
It’s good to be the king. Nevada bighorn ram and his herd at Valley of Fire. Get up early if you want to see these guys. They seem to vanish in the middle of the day.
The herd in the first light ready to get out of the open and away from the coming tourist throng. Glad I was up at dawn, by myself of I never would have seen them.
Finally, Star Trek nerd scavenger hunt. Find the bridge where Capt. Kirk died. Movie productions used to leave a lot of crap out in the desert after their shoots, until tougher environmental laws forced no-impact production methods.