Posted by: kerryl29 | July 29, 2012

Day 10: White Domes Trail, an Extensive Scouting Excursion and Fire Canyon

I finished off the Day 9 post grumbling a bit about how discombobulated I was.  Valley of Fire appeared fascinating, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to do any scouting and I’d already taken less than full advantage of one sunset as a result.  Sunrise the following day was going to be more of the same because I really didn’t have a planned spot, nor would I have the opportunity to find one.  I was just going to have to hope I got lucky.

Sunrise was about 5:30 AM, so I was up at 3:45 the next morning and on the road by roughly 4:15.  As I hit the park boundary between 4:30 and 4:45 there was already a visible glow in the east.  My destination was the end of the scenic drive portion of Valley of Fire, where the White Domes trailhead was located.  I decided on this area because I knew that I wanted to hit the White Domes Trail immediately after sunrise.  My hope was that, somewhere in this area of the park, I’d miraculously find a spot that was suitable to shoot dawn and the sunrise itself.

I was not entirely successful.

I parked the car at the deserted Parking Area #4 and looked around.  I saw a large rock outcropping a few hundred yards to the east, and hoped that this would be a good spot to shoot the cloudless sunrise sky.  I quickly climbed up the rocks and perched myself rather precariously on a narrow, slanted ledge 30 or 40 feet above the valley floor.  There was enough ambient light at this point to see what I was doing.  It wasn’t the easiest spot to work with, and there wasn’t much of a foreground, but at least I had a clear view of the mountains to the east, where the glow was already worth shooting.

Dawn, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I shot with the 24-70 mm lens at first, while the sky gradient was still relatively soft, and then quickly switched to the 80-400 to isolate one area as the sun was coming up.

Sunrsie, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

After the sun crested the distant ridge, I gathered up my things and walked back to the White Domes trailhead.  The White Domes Trail is an easy 1.25-mile loop that winds through sandstone mounds and a dry wash before reaching its main attraction–a slot canyon.  The trail is apparently quite popular and frequently crowded, but one of the advantages of being out before the crack of dawn is that the crowds can be avoided.  I had the trail all to myself this morning.

White Domes Slot Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The slot isn’t particularly long, but it’s quite high and extremely narrow at points.  I had to turn sideways at one point to keep my small backpack from scraping against the walls.

White Domes Slot Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

At the far side of the slot, the end result of the most recent flash flood–each of which completely changes the look of the place–was evident.

White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I took my time on the trail, as usual, and by the time I was done the good light was gone.  It was time to spend the rest of the morning–and the early part of the afternoon–making up for the absence of scouting the previous today.  I didn’t take my camera equipment with me on these excursions–I just brought a bit of water and my GPS, to mark spots.  I spent the mid-morning period seeking out some arches and other features at different spots along the scenic drive.  All of these involved wandering down ravines or dry washes, well off the beaten path.  Fortunately I had GPS coordinates, but much like my description of my search for Pretzel Arch the previous day, the GPS coordinates just put me in the neighborhood.  I still had to find the features themselves, some of which were remarkably well-hidden.  But I eventually found Thunderstorm Arch and the Fire Cave, both of which I earmarked for a shoot the following morning.  I also discovered the aptly named Crazy Hill and I spent a great deal of time walking around it.  I resolved to return to Crazy Hill late in the afternoon, when the light would be better.   In the late afternoon, I spent some time scouting out locations along the park’s Loop Road:  the famous Windstone Arch, Piano Rock, Arch Rock and Atlatl Rock, the host of a number of Anasazi petroglyphs.  All of these were deferred to the following morning as well.  Finally, in early afternoon, I made the drive down the gravel road to Fire Canyon to check that out and spent some time in searing heat wandering around, before concluding that this might make a good sunset spot for that day.  With luck, I might actually have some clouds.

I felt a lot better about things now that I’d had the opportunity to scout and put a plan together for the rest of my time at Valley of Fire.  I also had been lucky enough to spot some wildlife–a bunch of small lizards, a sizable herd of bighorn sheep and a jackrabbit.

I went back to the Scenic Drive at mid-afternoon to check out a location to shoot abstracts which, I hoped, would be in open shade–both for exposure and tolerance purposes as the temperature in the sun was by now above 110 degrees (F).  I found what I was looking for and spent roughly two hours shooting sandstone abstracts in a spot, mercifully in open shade, only a couple of hundred feet off the drive.

Sandstone Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I’m convinced that a photographer could, should he so desire, spend the rest of his life shooting abstracts at Valley of Fire and never come close to exhausting the possibilities.

Sandstone Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I would have spent more time at this spot, but I wanted to return to Crazy Hill–you’ll understand the informal name of the feature once you see it–before heading back to Fire Canyon for sunset.  Crazy Hill is probably only a quarter of a mile or so from a designated parking area, but there’s no trail that leads there.  You have to head down a ravine and wander around a bit.  It’s worth the trouble, believe me.

When I returned to Crazy Hill–gear in tow this time–I decided that the entirety of the feature itself needed to be shot in early morning.  The background needed soft light, and that wasn’t going to happen this afternoon.  Still, I’ve included a partial shot of the spot to give you an idea of what Crazy Hill looks like.

Crazy Hill, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

But the area around the hill itself was in open shade, and that meant yet another source of abstract imagery.

Crazy Hill Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Crazy Hill Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

I would return to Crazy Hill, to give it the full landscape treatment, the following day.  For now, it was back to Fire Canyon for sunset.  I was encouraged because it appeared that there would be some clouds in the western sky that I might be able to take advantage of.

And that turned out to be the case.  I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset and stayed until about 30 minutes after the sun was down.  It was, hands down, the best sunset I’d seen to that point on the entire trip.  At first it was mostly just nice light.

Silicon Dome and Fire Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

But after awhile, the full effect of the sunset began to manifest itself.

Fire Canyon Sunset, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Fire Canyon Sunset, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The real show began after the sun went down and the clouds turned pink.

Dusk at Fire Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Dusk at Fire Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

It had been a long day, but a productive one.  I was counting on a repeat tomorrow, my last full day at Valley of Fire.

Next:  Day 11 – Crazy Hill, Arches Galore, Atlatl Rock and a Return to the Fire Wave


  1. I love Valley of Fire, such a nice contrast to LV’s glitter! Nice tones and shots.

    • Thanks. Yes, Valley of Fire is a truly remarkable place.

  2. I especially love the Crazy Hill Abstract. They are all beautiful photos!

    • Thanks very much.

  3. Brilliant selection

  4. Some amazing shots here

    • Thanks, much appreciated!

  5. Glorious collection! I especially like that first sunrise but there are many beauties.

    • Thank you very much!

  6. Love all those subtle pink hues. Well done, Kerry.

  7. Gorgeous, love the abstracts!

    • Thanks, Angela.

  8. Your journey through these sandstone hills and valleys is truly remarkable. The list you provide of points of interest are truly mindboggling and I can only imagine the mileage you put in while scouting for photo spots. Your photos are spectacular, and I am jealous that I’m not out on the trail with you.

    • Thanks very much. That’s very kind of you to say.

      • if you’re ever looking for a hiking/photo buddy, think of me!

        • Will do!

        • Um…I really mean it ! Would love to have a photo/hiking buddy. Hard to find people to keep up with me ! 🙂

        • I understand. I sent you an e-mail.

  9. Very nice! We love Valley of Fire and are out there every week.

    • Thanks, Melissa. I wasn’t familiar with Valley of Fire until about 19 years ago, but from that point on it’s been on my list of places to shoot. I finally had the opportunity to scratch that itch and it only made me hungry for more.

  10. Again, extraordinary photos Kerry! This sure has been a fantastic vacation you have taken us on!!!

    • Thanks very much, David.

  11. Thank you for sharing your solution skills as well as this scenery. I always thought there was probably some beautiful country around the gambling casinos and you have proven me correct.Enjoying the trip and descriptions immensely.Am going to share your link in Facebook.

    • Thanks for the comment–and the FB link. Very much appreciated.

      Valley of Fire is about an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas Strip, so access isn’t a problem at all. And the place is absolutely phenomenal! I highly recommend it. There’s a terrific e-book to photographing the park that I also recommend to anyone who is serious about photographing the place.

      • Yes it is good to know that because as a tourist you don’t always have time to scout.I regretted not reading Darwin Wiggett’s ebook on the Icefields before I went -got to the same places and it would have helped me get better photos..

  12. These are all beautiful shots!

    • Thanks very much!

  13. […] Day 10:  White Domes Trail, an Extensive Scouting Excursion and Fire Canyon […]

  14. Gorgeous photography…and what a beautiful land.

    • Thanks Scott; much appreciated.

      • You’re very welcome.

  15. Awesome pictures. It is next to impossible to capture all of the colors out there and your pictures come very close! Great shots! Discovered this place last week and a couple recommended Bryce. We are going back in April on our way home from Bryce. Would you mind helping direct us to Pink Canyon and Crazy Hill? I am fairly familiar with the layout of the park, common trails, etc. I have a decent idea as to where Pink Canyon is, but not exact. A bit clueless with regard to the Crazy Hill location. Looks to be in the area of White Domes?

    • I’ve e-mailed you. 🙂

  16. Very Good work of a much under rated place. I spent a day there during a recent December trip southwest. Your photos make me want to spend at least three days there on my next trip

    • Thanks very much and I totally agree with your assessment of Valley of Fire. Ideally I think I’d like about five days there, given how many great spots there are to shoot (and how relatively short the best shooting times last).

  17. I love your work. Do you mind sharing where in the valley of fire, the crazy hill and/or sandstone abstract photographs were taken? Did you happen to visit the fire wave? thank you.

    • Thanks.

      I have no problem sharing information about the spots you mentioned, but it’s extremely difficult to give you useful information because these locations aren’t accessible by trail. All of these spots are in the general vicinity of the scenic drive. I’m sending you an e-mail with some additional info. 🙂

  18. WOW amazing!!!!! :)) I was in Valley of Fire last year, but we couldn’t find the Pink Canyon and I didn’t know about the Stripped Hill, Crazy Hill and Slot Canyon! I’ve read that it’s not easy to find it. Do the park rangers know how to get there and do they explain or show you where you have to go to find it? I’m going to Vegas again this June, so I have to see these amazing places!! 😀 How long does it take to walk there? Last July it was 43°C and we couldn’t stay outside the car too long in Valley of Fire! Because as the name says, it’s really a Valley of FIRE! 😉 Next time we should go early morning or late afternoon!
    If you could help me find these beautiful places, would be so great! 🙂 Thank you! 🙂

    • Thanks. I have no idea whether park rangers will help you find some of these places, which are off-trail, or not.

      I get a lot of inquiries about locations in Valley of Fire and I direct everyone to the same place:

      At the above link, you can purchase an ebook that serves a photographer’s guide to the park. It will tell you how to get to all of the places you asked about (and a whole lot of others to boot), and, as a bonus, includes GPS coordinates. It costs four euros (at current exchange rates, less than $4 US), which is an absolute steal. I have no personal interest in the ebook (i.e. I don’t make any money from sales); I simply know how good a resource it is–I used it extensively myself when I was at Valley of Fire a few years ago.

      • Thank you very much!! 🙂 I will definitely buy it, thanks! 🙂

  19. […] park’s Loop Road, I found it remarkably difficult to find.  I’d spent some time during the previous day’s scouting session wandering around in search of […]

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: