Valley of Fire is a small State Park just north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Dont let its size fool you though, theres more than enough interesting landscape here to fill an entire week of heavy photography. This little gem in the desert, is ripe with vermilion rock formations, wind carved caverns, colorful sandstone, numerous arches, an amazingly picturesque road system, and even bighorn sheep! The park is also not very often visited by photographers which makes shooting here a breeze because most times theres just no one around! Its no wonder why the Aperture Academy does photographic workshops here, its a perfect little gem in the desert. With myself and newest ApCad member Phil (who has years of guiding experience under his belt in Yosemite) we aimed to take our group of students to photograph the hidden gems of this lovely little park in the desert.
Things were off to a great start already as we were coming into the park, the forecast for the workshop stated clear skies, but it was evident that there was some activity above which was a welcome surprise! We started off our morning shoot with a stop at Nike Rock, so named because of the trademark swoosh embedded in the red rock in our foreground. With the wispy clouds lighting up a little, our group began shoot away as the colors started to materialize overhead. After sunrise, Phil and I led the group around the area for some exploration of the many colorful and weird formations abound in the Valley of Fire landscape. Seemingly everywhere you look, theres an opportunity to find and photograph something interesting.
In an unexpected turn of events, we spotted some Bighorn Sheep along the road to our next stop, so we decided to grab our long lenses and give our group a go at some wildlife photography! Although Bighorn Sheep live within the park boundary, its pretty rare to see them right off the roads, so stopping to photograph them was a huge bonus for our morning. After tracking the sheep for a while, it was time to take a midday break.
After a nap and some lunch, we headed back into the valley and made a stop along the road for a beautiful shot highlighting the curvy road as it majestically undulates though the desert landscape. Then it was off to our sunset spot at the Fire Wave.
The wave area is a large region just off the road, and full of spots to isolate the curving colorful rocky formations, but the real star of the show is the wave itself. As luck would have it, some clouds moved in and began to light up right over the formation just around sunset as our group waited in awe of the light show mother nature put on for our enjoyment. Giddy as everyone was, Phil and I had no trouble helping everyone achieve beautiful shots as the last light illuminated the area. After a short walk back to the van, and a little longer drive, we returned to the confines of our hotel for the next adventure. Not a bad start for the first day!
A little more high clouds came into view on this morning as we headed out towards Crazy Hill, a small sandstone "hill" with a huge swath of colors which look like they were deliberately spilled on its surface. Unfortunately this morning the clouds didnt light up as dramatically as we had hoped, but they did look pretty awesome against the colorful rocky surface. With sunrise in the bag we headed down the road to two of Valley of Fire's "harder" to find formations.
Windstone arch, and Three Fins arch, are two pretty amazing formations carved into the red rocks near the entrance to the park. They are not obvious to find, as they are in fact hidden inside small "caves" not much bigger than a person. But once you're inside the little caves, they are an amazing sight! Its a wonder what wind and time will do to soft brittle rocks. We spent time dividing the group up between the two formations and had a blast conjuring up different compositions as everyone had a slightly different take on what they wanted to photograph. And with the best light fading, we packed up and headed for one last spot for our morning.
The White Domes Trail is a small loop trail that packs a punch photographically. Theres so much to see in just one mile, but we were focused on getting the group to the slot canyon area before the sun was too far overhead. The slot canyon is a pretty cool feature amongst all the other interesting stuff in the park, and its multi-colored rocks and sandstone formations nearby made our morning pop! Phil and I led the group around showing them some pretty interesting formations, and helped to try some different compositions before heading back to our hotel for another midday break.
Since the Fire Wave is without a doubt the coolest place in the park, we shoot it twice at sunset. Again the area is so full of interesting stuff to see and photograph that we never have any difficulty coming here twice and pointing out all the different opportunities there are for interesting and creative shots. After our group shot, we sat in wait for another majestic sunset among the rocks. Unfortunately, it wasnt meant to be. All the clouds that had been with us during the morning burned off, and were content to use the airglow from the retreating sun to shoot in the fading light. All in all, we had a great time shooting, some fantastic weather when it mattered, and came away with new friends, awesome images, and a greater appreciation for the caliber of beauty that resides in one of Nevadas premiere parks!
Until our next adventure,
Scott, Phil 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.