In an unassuming valley just an hour north of Las Vegas lies one of the best little secrets in the American Southwest. Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park has it all, nestled throughout this small area are canyons, multicolored rock formations, arches, sandstone waves, slot canyons, bighorn sheep, and petroglyphs. Its the perfect little place to see some of the coolest wonders of the American Southwest, without having to make a longer journey to the many (more famous) National Parks. On our Valley of Fire landscape workshop, we take our students to some of the best spots this park has to offer in the two days we spend there. And with good light, this gem in the west can dazzle both Ellie and myself, time and time again.
Like any Aperture Academy workshop, we spend the first night with our customary orientation, learning about each other, and what our students can plan on seeing, and more specifically what they want to learn and work on in the time they have in the park. After everyone is introduced, questions answered, and itineraries set, everyone is advised to get a good nights sleep for a big day in the park from sun-up to sun-down. This time of year sunset is eerily early at 4:30pm, so we had planned a little treat for the group once we had finished shooting sunset the first day.
Day one, dawn, and into the park for our first glimpse of the cool rock formations over at Nike rock. The clouds must have been on break that Saturday, but still had nice light to work with on Nike rock, which has a colored rock "swoosh" not unlike its namesake. I'm not sure if the company even knows its there, but it would be pretty cool to someday see an add featuring the formation that so closely resembles the iconic logo. After the sun rises, the area around Nike rock is abound with other interesting rock formations that Ellie and myself are eager to show the class. Onwards to the slot canyon! The White Domes trailhead is next on our list as it has the biggest slot canyon in the park, and the light hitting its interiors this time of day makes it a great stop. Again, the area along the trail is teeming with photographic opportunities, which we are more than happy to work the students to explore and help with compositions. Last on our list this first morning, is the Mouses Tank trail, which has the bulk of the best preserved petroglyphs in the park. The basketweaver Anasazi, its thought, carved these glyphs sometime between 300BC and 1100AD.
Walking along the trail we spend time looking up and finding the ancient artwork, and using our zoom lenses to capture them. What a morning, with everyone feeling a little hungry and the sun rising to its highest, we headed back into town for a midday break before our next trip out to the famous Fire Wave. The Fire Wave area in the park is pretty large and we give the class two sunsets to explore and find interesting compositions, but the Fire Wave itself is the main attraction. Its hard to describe how cool it is to be on the wave and just wait for sunset in the peaceful, perfect surroundings, with nearly no other souls in sight. We shot the the Fire Wave and surrounding area until sunset, and then walked back to the ApCab and did some early evening light painting with the van as our light-painter along the winding road. I drove as Ellie walked around and made sure everyone had the settings right from shot to shot. After the class got their fill, not too long after dark, we headed back into Overton to dine with the group.
Day two, we headed out to another oddly colored rock formation known as Crazy Hill. Its pretty crazy how the sandstone in this park got its features. Pinks, purples, yellows, oranges, reds, and whites are all sandwiched together in some sort of prehistoric rock taffy. And the clouds we ordered had showed up, making the area glow with the morning light, as if the rocks werent impressive enough. After Crazy Hill, we ventured over to another crazy formation, known as Wind-Stone Arch. You'd never know it was there unless someone told you. I dont even know how to describe it. The wind and water can do amazing things over millions of years, and the sandstone in Valley of Fire is pretty brittle compared to the Navajo sandstone of say, Zion, which is much more hard. The last crazy formation on the docket this morning was Elephant Arch. Again, wind and water can do amazing things if given enough time, and this arch is no exception. Its fascinating that it actually looks like its namesake, usually you have to use your imagination with things like this, but not here. The sun was a little higher in the sky now, and just about the perfect time to teach the class about placing a "sun-star" right where the eye of the elephant would be. Its one of those shots that you have to see on the back of your camera to fully appreciate, and once to get it, its a great little skill to pull out when shooting directly into the sun. Break time already?
We headed back to Overton for a meal and some post-processing tips at the hotel. I talked about how to combine multiple images together using basic skills in Photoshop, and Ellie did some basic workflow in Lightroom as well as some image review. Ahh the Fire Wave calls again. We stopped and took some pictures of the winding road - this time in the daylight - before making the short trip in to the greater wave area for round two, with some clouds! The sunset was spectacular! Ellie and I both helped the class out with proper filter technique, and we all just enjoyed the lightshow that mother nature gave us. A short walk back the van, and short ride back into town, had us all join together again for a farewell dinner (those chili fries were AWESOME!) But not as awesome as the new friends we made and the old ones we reconnected with on this stellar workshop!
Until next time, Scott Donschikowski, Ellie Stone and rest of the Aperture Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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