Posted by: kerryl29 | July 16, 2012

Day 9: Red Canyon Morning, Cedar Breaks and an Introduction to Valley of Fire State Park

Day 9 consisted of a great deal of travel.  I was leaving the Bryce area after the early morning shoot and driving to Overton, Nevada, gateway to Valley of Fire State Park.  The drive was about 200 miles but roughly the first half of that distance would be on winding state roads, climbing to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation through Cedar Breaks National Monument before descending back to around 3000 feet above sea level.  It was going to be approximately a five-hour drive.

I decided to shoot at daybreak back at Red Canyon, a spot I detailed in the Day 8 post.  The sunrise forecast was for very cold temperatures and completely clear skies.  Given the lack of clouds, I decided that another morning of misery freezing on the Bryce Canyon rim wasn’t the best choice for dawn.  It would be plenty cold in Red Canyon, but I was less likely to have to deal with the wind.  And that’s pretty much how it played out.  The temperature at daybreak was 28 degrees (F).  It was chilly, but I moved around more than I would have at Bryce and didn’t feel nearly as frozen as I had the previous two mornings.

Red Canyon Sunrise, Dixie National Forest, Utah

I’ve included only a couple of images from the morning shoot, including the shot of desert flowers that I took on the way out.

Desert Flowers, Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest, Utah

When the morning light faded–and it didn’t take long–I packed up and began the trip to Nevada.  I took one of the scenic routes–Utah State Route 143 through Cedar Breaks.  The road climbed steadily, through impressive stands of aspen.  Though it was the middle of May, the trees were only in the budding stage–a function of the high altitude.  I remember thinking that this area–pretty as it was–must be absolutely spectacular in autumn when the aspens turn gold…mid- to late-September, I estimated.

I reached an overlook into the canyon at Cedar Breaks and stopped to take a few shots, one of which you see below.  The temperature was in the mid-50s, I’d estimate, and there was still plenty of snow here and there.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

The overlook was at or near the high point of elevation on the trip.  From there, the road descended through the deserted ski resort area of Brian Head and ultimately ran into Interstate 15 at Parowan, Utah.  I took I-15 south towards Las Vegas, and about two hours later exited the highway at Nevada SR 12/169 east toward Overton.  It was mid-afternoon.  By the time I hit Valley of Fire State Park, it was about 3:30 PM.  I was now in the Pacific Time Zone; sunset would be around 7:30.  The temperature was approximately 100 (F) in the shade;  it had been below freezing at Red Canyon that morning, so I was experiencing some serious temperature variations.

I first became familiar with Valley of Fire State Park about 10 years ago and immediately put it on my list of places to go.  I was now getting my chance.  I had a very good, detailed photo guide to the park at my disposal, but I found myself kind of overwhelmed with all of the new visual stimuli.  I entered the park from the east and decided, in the interest of time, to see if I could find some of the compelling park features near the east entrance.  This involved a two-mile roundtrip trackless hike over open desert.  I was game.

As hot as the temperature was, it was actually pretty tolerable in the shade, due to the 5% relative humidity.  This is the “dry heat” that the region is so famous for and, jokes to the contrary notwithstanding, it does make a difference.  But my desert hike was going to be entirely devoid of shade.  The temperature was over 110 in the sun and that’s what I was going to have to deal with and, make no mistake, it was hot.  I brought a couple of quarts of water with me, as a precaution.  Oppressive heat aside, the hike wasn’t difficult–it was essentially a flat surface walk, with the exception of the occasional dip and rise associated with crossing dry washes.

I was looking for Pretzel Arch.  I had GPS coordinates and my handheld GPS, but it was still a pretty tricky search.  Finally, I climbed up a rock outcropping, and turned around…and there it was.  I walked around the arch itself and could see–as advertised–Lighthouse Arch as well.  I found a location where I could shoot one arch (Lighthouse) through the other (Pretzel) and set up there.  Some cirrus clouds had moved in during the afternoon and provided some pleasing skies, just as the light was becoming very nice.

Pretzel and Lighthouse Arches, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I took a slightly tighter shot as well, and converted it to black and white for comparison.

Pretzel and Lighthouse Arches black & white, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

By the time I got back to my car, it was about 6 PM.  I had hoped to get some scouting in this day, so I could hit the ground running the following morning (sunrise was 5:30 AM; I would have to be up by 4 AM each morning to have a chance to be in place at least 30 minutes before sunrise).  But now, I wasn’t sure where to go at sunrise the next day.  I had a choice–scout for the following morning or try to find a spot to shoot sunset that night.  I chose the latter.

One of my “must shoot” spots at Valley of Fire is a feature known as the Fire Wave, a fascinating striped sandstone edifice.  I decided to find that feature that evening.  Unfortunately, the clouds that had been so prevalent during my Pretzel Arch shoot, had drifted away and I was looking at a bald blue sky.  Still, the light was becoming more exquisite with each passing moment.

It took me about 10-15 minutes to drive to the parking area that was the jumping off point for the Fire Wave and then a hike of about one mile on a semi-official (marked, but not very well) trail.  It was worth the trouble.

The Fire Wave, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I didn’t have a lot of time to shoot.  Within minutes of my arrival at the Fire Wave, the light began to fade.  I really hadn’t had the opportunity to survey the location–I just had to take the first few interesting perspectives I saw before the light disappeared completely.

The Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Fire Wave, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

As I made my way back to the car in the dark, I ruminated on how much I dislike shooting like this–under pressure with the light fading, no clear plans for the following morning; in essence, being unprepared.  There was nothing I could do about the problems the following morning except to go to a photo guide-recommended area in the dark and hope for the best,  but I made plans to do some thorough scouting in the heat of the middle of the following day.  I had two full days and a third morning at Valley of Fire and I was determined to make the most of it.  I had already decided that I would make at least one more trip to the Fire Wave–earlier this time, to scout the area so that shooting in the best light would be possible.  I wasn’t yet certain whether that would be on Day 10 or Day 11, but it was definitely going to happen.

It had been a very long day and I had to prepare to rise at 4 AM the following morning.

Next:  Day 10–The White Domes Trail, Sandstone Abstracts and Fire Canyon



  1. Fabulous!

  2. Kerry,
    Your shots are gorgeous and you just introduced me to the Valley of Fire State Park which I’m adding to my list. You describe quite well the frustration of arriving at a place, and needing time to plan where the shoot will occur while the light changes rapidly. You certainly have no problem capturing it though. Thanks for sharing.
    Kathy (the one who shot the barn next to you in WV)

    • Thanks, Kathy.

      Yeah, I really hate scrambling around uncertainly, like a chicken without a head, while shooting opportunities go wanting. This is the reason that I always try to schedule enough time in a place that I really want to capture. In the case of Valley of Fire–I really can’t recommend this location too highly, not incidentally–I was able to overcome this problem during the final 2 1/2 days there, but only because I had another 2 1/2 days set aside.

  3. The way you write and the way you shoot makes me feel like I am taking the journey with you, except for the heat, thank goodness.Stunning rock formations and love that pale turquoise sky with the red rock.And the lines in the fire wave-wow..Great range of values in the black and white photo and like the inclusion of close-up photos in the mix. Are you going to publish in a travel magazine?

    • Thanks, Jane.

      No immediate plans to publish anywhere other than here, though I reserve the right to amend that statement in the case of a hypothetical lucrative agreement. 🙂

  4. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. You go through such long lengths to be able to visit and capture these beautiful places. Talk about an extreme temperature change in a day – crazy stuff ! Love your post!

    • Thanks very much. Yeah, the temperature extremes that day were something else…

  5. Wonderful work, Kerry. I do so wish I had been able to do this journey with you. Thanks for the renewed inspiration to visit some of these bessed places!

    • Thanks. And be sure to put Valley of Fire on a list of places to go…

  6. AMAZING, Breathtaking Photos – I love the Red!!!

  7. This has been a superb adventure…I haven’t even minded the getting up early part! Super commentary and great photos to illustrate each segment!

    • Thanks, David.

      Three more days of getting up at or before 4 AM and then it’s all over. 🙂

  8. Gorgeous rock formations, especially those arches. I’ve never seen images of that pretzel before. It sounds like you suffered a lot but at least you have something to show for it. Well done!

    • Thanks, Angela.

      I didn’t suffer too badly; I hope this doesn’t come across as though I did anything Herculean, because I certainly didn’t. Some substantial temperature swings which were, at some level, anticipated. It was a bit hotter at Valley of Fire than I expected and a bit colder at the extremes of the day at Bryce than I planned on, but nothing particularly serious either way.

  9. Wow …how the light really affects the wave shot. Really like the b/w of Pretzel Arch. Super informative write up.

  10. Thanks, Mike.

  11. Hi there! I nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Check out the link here –
    Your photos and adventures inspire me to get out and see the world!

    • Thanks very much, Meredith. That’s very kind of you. Once I finish this series of posts, I’ll look into the award specifics.

      Thanks again.

  12. […] finished off the Day 9 post grumbling a bit about how discombobulated I was.  Valley of Fire appeared fascinating, but I […]

  13. […] was time to return to the Fire Wave.  I had been there, briefly, at sunset two days previous, but I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore the location properly…and I had […]

  14. Great set of shots Kerry! One of these days I will venture out west and visit these amazing places. Until then I can be inspired by your photos!

    • Thanks, Michael.

  15. Wonderful, Kerry! I love your images! We just got back from AZ, Zion and Bryce…but I also got some shots at Red Canyon. Your Red Canyon daybreak photos of the same “monuments” I shot at mid-day are awesome. Light makes all the difference….but unfortunately, time on a trip doesn’t always allow!
    We absolutely loved our trip and look forward to returning!

    • PS….I’ve now added Valley of Fire State Park to our next trip!

      • Good move. Valley of Fire is phenomenal. Just be wary of the heat; you wouldn’t want to be there in July or August.

    • Thanks very much Judy. Good to hear that your trip went so well. I hope you’ll be posting some of your images.

      Re quality of light–absolutely!

  16. […] Day 9:  Red Canyon Morning, Cedar Breaks and an Introduction to Valley of Fire State Park […]

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