VALLEY OF FIRE, Part 2—Beauty in the details

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I owned three early mornings in the Valley of Fire. Being a prime photographers’ destination, having the place to myself when the light is so ideal really surprised me. But I wasn’t complaining. No distractions. No influences to sidetrack me. No need to share a prime location. A wonderful sense of having free range. Oh yes, this was the atmosphere that I yearn for. And here, at this special park, it was being handed to me on a plate! And this place was calling to me—from every rock and canyon.


As special as the late afternoon colors are, the early light of morning has its own character and appeal. Before direct sunlight hits those rocks, creating dark shadows and bleaching out their vivid colors, the rocks’ myriad hues and nuances show through in the soft light of dawn. And that was what I hoped to see, and capture with my camera.


It’s not all about flaming colors and changing light, when seen in overcast or pre-dawn skies, you’ll notice pastel shades and catch the textures that are embedded in the rocks. Pale pinks and apricot hues mix with turquoise and aquamarine sandstone. Perhaps this is where Southwest designs came up with their color schemes? Right under your footsteps—it’s all about Nature’s handiwork.

If you know where to look, you’ll find a few incredible slot canyons formed within these rocks. Early morning is when you want to explore them, before bright sunshine penetrates between the walls and washes out their subtle colors. I had read about Pink Canyon, somewhat off the beaten path. An incredibly colorful little canyon, its shades of pink are like nothing you’ve ever seen . . . at least made out of rock.


As you go further into the narrow canyon, the rock walls create incredible patterns. With sensuous curves and flowing lines, you wonder how this was ever formed. No solid rocks could be shaped like this. Or come in colors like I see. And yet, they do.


The sculpted sandstone patterns and their pastel, Easter egg colors make Pink Canyon breathtakingly beautiful.

If you ever visit this park and manage to locate this unique canyon, I guarantee you’ll find it special. It’s just one of the jewels that make Valley of Fire a treasure, and a privilege to behold.


But there are other such treats hidden away in these rocks, and that’s why early the next morning I was enticing Chris to come along. My plan was to hike the White Domes Trail, which would be very popular later in the day. We’d have a great place to ourselves and the best part was another very pretty slot canyon.


The trail is really a microcosm of the park itself—having plenty of colorful formations, towering rock walls, sand-swept washes, and a delicately-hued slot canyon called The Narrows. The trail also passes by the location of an old movie set, where a ranch site was constructed for filming The Professionals (1966).
If you take the loop trail counter-clockwise, you’ll come to the slot canyon from this view—a much more scenic presentation. On a hot day, the canyon is a rare shaded treat. For us, in early morning, it was rather chilly.


Although summer daytime temperatures here can soar easily to 100 degrees, winter and early spring have perfect hiking conditions. Whereas, you wouldn’t like seeing the park in scorching heat, in late February the park is yours to explore. That is exactly what we did. Searching out the noted landmarks that Valley of Fire is noted for . . .

Its distinctive arch formations . . .



Some even having been named. Such as Mantis Arch . . .


and the most popular arch rock of all—Elephant Rock.


To look at this harsh desert landscape it is difficult to believe that ancient people once came here. Evidence of their lifestyle has been left behind in petroglyphic drawings. A few archaeologists believe that people lived here as long ago as 15,000 years, although that assumption has been unproven. Most would agree that groups of people were present about 4,000 years ago. Small enclaves of families roamed and hunted in this area. And the drawings they made are still seen today in certain areas of the park.


Mouse’s Tank Trail passes through Petroglyph Canyon. It is easy to view various drawings etched into the dark patina known as desert varnish, that forms on the surface of many of the rock faces.


The trail also offers more slot canyons to explore—an entire maze of them, with more interesting rocks intertwining. And a very startling sight, we found patches of green vegetation. Here in the most arid of places???


Automobile touring was a favorite American pastime by early in the 20th century. The Arrowhead Highway originally ran through the Valley of Fire and was used as a scenic route to the fascinating Lost City archaeological sites. Theatrical pageants were staged to attract visitors to them. In the 1930s, stone cabins were built with native red sandstone by the CCC as a shelter for these passing tourists. Consisting of only one small room, whose walls and floor were made of stone, they were primitive by today’s standards. Nevertheless, they each had a working stone fireplace and a window looking out on postcard views. What more do you really need?


If there is one particular landmark that symbolizes the Valley of Fire, it surely would be what’s known as the Fire Wave. Once its location was not made public, and to find it meant a lot of searching. Then word of mouth and googling revealed its location and the word spread. Within the past year, the park has laid out a marked trail to take you to this most unique formation. The trail is scenic, and well-used. And I took it more than once.


Almost there . . . these rock formations with the distinctive patterns are the preview to what is coming next. Prepare yourself!


Stupendous . . . astonishing . . . unbelievably stunning. You’ll have your own words if ever you happen to come. And as the light changes, so do the colors. Different, but always amazing.

And then, came our last afternoon. One last time to see the Valley light up. To see the textures and colors pop out. How to do it? Where to go? How to choose? Could I split myself in two?


Colors upon colors . . .


Overlapping shapes . . . and lines than intertwine.


All shapes and sizes . . .


with textures to set your head spinning.

1x-SW-4120 (2)

This is what’s meant by being “the golden hour.”

I ended the day at what’s fittingly named Rainbow Vista. Nearby a sign reads:

You are looking across 150 million years of time. The great maze of canyons, domes, towers, ridges and valleys before you are carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth. This is wild, virtually untouched wilderness. It is an ‘Adventure in Color’ for you to experience by car and on foot.


That pretty much sums up our experience here at the Valley of Fire.

Next morning, we were on our way once more, another prime destination on our horizon.


From a wondrous place that won’t soon be forgotten,

1x-southwest-2113Airstream Travelers,
Melinda and Chris


About AirstreamTravelers

A 2016 Pendleton Airstream suits our lifestyle perfectly. It's a commemorative edition celebrating the 100th anniversary of our national parks. In our efforts to see as many of those parks as we can, the two of us are now spending several months each year on the road. We hope our posts and accompanying photos give a vivid description of where we travel, illustrating to our followers what's out there, just over the next horizon.
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