The last trip on our Spring Desert Southwest tour takes us to little gem hidden in a valley east of Las Vegas. As with the rest of the Canyon lands in Utah and Arizona, southeastern Nevada has some really cool geologic erosion areas that are nestled quietly in a little place called Valley of Fire. Valley of Fire is a pretty small state park that holds bountiful imagery. And like the Canyon lands to the east, also contains arches, sandstone waves, hoodoos, gorges, slot canyons, petroglyphs, and painted rocks. The difference is in the size. Everything in Valley of Fire is a little smaller and closer together, its quite amazing that all of these features are within a 5 minute drive from each other, which makes it a perfect spot to do photography
Veterans of Aperture Academy workshops know the drill well, wake early, to bed late, rinse, repeat. Ellie and myself kept this routine alive for Valley of Fire as well. Our morning shoot was a little place called Nike rock. Once you have seen the rock formation, its hard to argue with the name, and this place is a great location for sunrise. With everyone up early and positively psyched to see some really weird formations in the park, this place doesnt disappoint. The other really interesting thing about this park are the amount of really interesting compositions one can come up with in the surrounding area of the "iconic" named feature. So once the sunrise color had waned, Ellie and I were kept very busy showing the students how to manipulate their cameras around the landscape to find interesting imagery. With spring wildflowers in full swing, this proved to be easy, and fun for the students.
Our next stop was a little slot canyon in the White Domes area, now this canyon, although not nearly as big as the popular Antelope Canyon, still has the same features and can be photographed the same way. A bonus here, is again, the surrounding landscape. Valley of Fire, unlike most of the places in this region, has its sandstone painted with multiple colors, like taffy that hasnt been fully mixed yet. Theres an amalgum of reds, whites, oranges, yellows and purples, just mixed in. That coupled with the amazingly green foliage, provides some stellar shooting opportunities.
After that we headed out to Elephant Arch, probably the most prominent feature of Valley of Fire, as, like the name says, its a wind eroded arch rock, that his been magically transformed into the shape of an elephant. So I spent some time with the group showing them all about how to produce sun stars and playing with where to put the sun in relation to the elephants body to achieve the desired effect. This is when it began to get a little hot. So we decided it best to head back the hotel for a midday break to cool off and eat some lunch.
The other prominent feature in Valley of Fire is the Fire Wave, where we would be spending sunset. Again, different layers of multicolored rock folded in on another to create this amazing wave with striations of color. But also in keeping with the theme of this park, the surrounding landscape is just as impressive, so shots of the wave naturally include it. With mother nature doing her thing in the sky, it was a great evening of shooting with the group, we had the place nearly to ourselves, and the group spread out and tackled shooting the area around the wave until the color had waned.
But wait theres more! Night shooting is also a part of the Valley of Fire experience. So before we headed back, we made one last stop at a man made feature to do some light painting with the stars above. I took the reigns of the illuminating the cabins. while Ellie made sure everyone was using the right settings from shot to shot. It was spectacular. Stars above, awesome light painted red rock cabins below, and the temperature was holding at 65. It was a great end to great day.
A little respite for the group today. No sunrise location was planned due to the late night of pretty awesome star shots, but we still had to get up early to take advantage of the indirect light. Once the sun gets overhead, its bad news for photography on a cloudless day, which unfortunately this was. So we made our way to a little secret thats pretty hard find unless youve seen it before, called Wind Stone Arch. With extra wide angle lenses fitted, we tackled the arch and surrounding area for an hour or so.
Next spot was a field we seen earlier just blooming like crazy with wildflowers, prickly pears and desert primroses. We spent a little time here teaching about macro photography, and letting our students switch gears a little to take in the surprise of all the color.
From there it was on to the petroglyph trail, where we used our longer lenses to photograph the ancient wall writings high up on the canyon faces. Its pretty amazing to think that thousands of years ago, someone braved free climbing this sheer flat wall to carve an intricate pattern, and then thousands of years later, soil, water and little seed would bloom into a bush perfectly placed right next to it. About this time it was starting to heat up again, so we headed back for our midday break.
Valley of Fire is also known for the sheer amount of commercial business it gets every year. It not only is a place for photographers, but the curving and undulating roads, coupled with the amazing scenery, make this a perfect spot for auto commercials, and even though they werent filming one this weekend, we did our best to grab some of the finest curving road shots this place has to offer before making our way back to the Fire Wave for sunset.
The area around the wave is so full of interesting scenes, that we take two days to give our students the opportunity the photograph it all. Most shot the wave the day before, when the light at sunset was fantastic. The light tonight was a little lacking, so it gave everyone the opportunity to explore - and for me and Ellie, to find everyone! It was an amazingly serene sunset, even though the light wasnt as good as yesterday, I, along with a couple other students spent some time reflecting on the beauty and quietness while the day wore down.
For our night shot, we headed over to Organ Rock, its a very weird looking formation that, I guess kind of looks like an organ or piano, but your imagination may be working differently than mine. I see a spaceship, and when we light it up from extreme angles with the stars in the sky, it really looks like a spaceship. We split the group in two and tackled shooting the rock from opposite sides to speed along the time. In all honesty the rock doesnt look like much in the day, but at night, all lit up, it looks pretty amazing. With the wind kicking up pretty fiercely, we decided it best to call it a night, good thing too as light painting in the dark it extremely difficult and I trip constantly, much to the enjoyment of everyone. Another great way to end the day of a great workshop. We had an amazing group on this one! Thanks from Ellie and I to all of you. Our Desert Southwest trip has come to a close, just 500 miles more back to the docking station for some much needed rest from life on the road.
Until next time,
Ellie, Scott and the entire Aperture Academy team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.