What Is It Like To Photograph Valley of Fire State Park?

 In 2016, I made my first trip to photograph Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  I arrived with little knowledge of the park other than pictures I had seen in a magazine so I stopped in at the Visitor Center.  There I expected to find maps on the park’s photography destinations. Instead, I left the Center empty handed. Although the Center was filled with great facts about the park and hiking trails, it sorely lacked any meaningful photography information.

As late as 2019, the Visitor Center still had no maps or information on the park’s photo hot spots. In fact, I discovered the park did not even officially recognize many top photography subjects with the exception of Fire Wave and Arch Rock. Therefore, I decided to create this blog about tips for photographing Valley of Fire as a guide for other photographers.

But first, I believe it is important to know a bit about a destination to effectively photograph it.  So let’s dig in.

Where is Valley of Fire State Park?

Valley of Fire State Park is about an hour northeast of Las Vegas and 15 minutes south of Overton, Nevada. It is the largest state park in Nevada with over 35,000 acres. 

a map showing the location of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada

What Makes Valley of Fire So Special?

Aztec sandstone and limestone rock formations in surreal colors and shapes fill the landscape in the park. In fact, it’s looks like a landscape from outer space!  This is a place where the rocks literally glow like embers of a fire at sunrise and sunset and even the sky gets into the act.  It truly is a Valley of Fire.

Also, nestled within this bizarre landscape are desert bighorn sheep, old cabins, historic petroglyphs, and so much more: Valley of Fire State Park.

The park has one main highway running east and west called the Valley of Fire Highway with two entrances and the spectacular White Dome Road by the Visitor Center that travels through these colorful rocks.

Map of Valley of Fire

White Dome Road

Valley of Fire Photo Stops:

Pink Canyon/ Pastel Canyon

Pink Canyon, aka Pastel Canyon, is a section of the Kaolin Wash located at Wash No. 5 off  White Dome Road. The Wash pulloff is between parking lot 2 and 3 on the right side of the road. Pink Canyon is a photographer’s paradise with stunning pink curved walls begging to be photographed. In fact, this is my absolute favorite part of Valley of Fire.  

Photograph this Canyon in the early morning hours when you are able to park at the Wash pulloff.  Just be aware you will have to move your car by 9 A.M. 

Gear:

      • I recommend wide angle to medium telephoto lens in Pink Canyon.
      • A flash is beneficial depending on the composition. If you have one, bring it. 
      • Consider photographing from a monopod instead of a tripod. Although I photographed the canyon with a tripod, there were tight sections where I wished I had a monopod. 

Time:
Begin photographing the canyon at least an hour before sunrise and continue photographing it until the light becomes too harsh.  

Fire Wave

  • Fire Wave is one of the most popular destinations in the park for photographers especially at sunset.
  • Fire Wave is reached by an easy 3/4 mile hike directly across the street from parking lot 3 off White Dome Road.

That is the good news. But the bad news is that because it is a easy hike, the location gets a ton of traffic. In particular, photographers tend to stake out their positions in the Wave hours before sunset by leaving their gear all over it. For instance, in the photo below, I had to move way to my left to avoid capturing six backpacks that were in the classic deep curve of the wave.  

However, the Fire Wave hike itself offers a number of great opportunities to photograph amazing rock formations and patterns so plan to take your time on this hike.

Gear:
Same as Pink Canyon but without a need for a flash or reflector.  Also here I prefer a tripod to a monopod.

Time:
Sunset is the prime time as mentioned above however, it is very crowded.  Therefore, consider adding a predawn wave shoot if time permits.

Valley of Fire Arches

Note- Most names here are not official and may be called other names by different sites. However,I have tried to use the most commonly used names.

The park contains many arches with only a few having an official park name.  Surprisingly, most of the park’s arches have been named by visitors which explains why one arch may have many different names. Bob’s Arch List is one of the best online resources for Valley of Fire arches that I have found.  Of note, the arches in Valley of Fire are on a much smaller scale than arches from Arches National Park.  See: ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

 Now let’s take a look at a few arches I recommend photographers put on their shot list.  But don’t stop with these 5 arches, there are so many more to photograph.

Windstone Arch

The arch is located on the campground loop road on the left shortly before the road connects back with the Valley of Fire main highway. It is located in the second group of rocks, not the rocks closest to the road.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is also located on the campground loop road and well marked.  Here I recommend photographing the Arch from the road in the afternoon and from a path behind it in the morning hours.  Both views are good.

Fire Cave

To locate Fire Cave, head into the wash at parking lot 3.  When the wash opens up, head to the right then start looking to the left for Fire Cave Arch.  

Fire Canyon Arch

This arch is just a short walk off Silica Dome Road by a wash between White Dome Road and the end of Silica Dome Road. Look for a rock that looks like a turtle and you are close.

Elephant Rock

The Arch is located close to  the east entrance to the park and can be photographed both from the road and from a trail that begins at a parking lot. 

Recommended Photo Gear and Time of Day:

    • Windstone Arch is a very tight space that is best photographed with a wide angle lens and preferably a monopod. The legs of a tripod will get in the image! A lens cloth is also very handy due to the amount of dust in the arch. Best photographed in the mornings just as sun has risen to pop light into the Arch. 
    • Arch Rock, is best photographed with lens in the wide angle to 200mm range, a tripod and a polarizer.  Can be photographed both in early morning and late afternoon hours.
    • Fire Cave -I found lens in the range of 35mm worked best however I only photographed this arch once. Early morning hours work seem to be the best times but compositions inside the arch itself I believe are possible at different times of the day.
    • Fire Canyon Arch can be photographed with wide angle lens as well as telephoto lens depending on the composition. Here again a polarizer and tripod are recommended.  I photographed this arch in mid morning. 
    • Elephant Rock is best photographed with a wide angle to 70mm lens on a tripod and with a polarizer. This is a great sunset location but can be photographed at many different times of day. 

Striped Rock

Striped Rock is across the road from Wash 5’s Pink Canyon pulloff.  This is a wildly colored rock referred to unofficially as Striped Rock. One look and it is easy to see how it got it’s name.  Although the rock is visible and can be photographed from White Dome Road, it is best photographed by hiking around the rocks in front of it.

Gear:
Depending on where you photograph the rock formation, I recommend using lens in the 28-200 range as well as a tripod and polarizer. However, use a polarizer very carefully to avoid unnatural looking colors.

Time:
Morning light.

Crazy Hill Area (Directly in front of Parking lot 3 off White Dome Road)

Crazy Hill area is located off parking lot 3 on White Dome Road. There is a spectacular rock formation called Crazy Hill that is reached by walking the wash in front of the parking lot then veering right once the wash opens up.  I did not find the hill on my first or second trip and only found it on my third trip too late in the day to photograph it. Still it was a stunning sight and one I will definitely go back to photograph.  

Besides Crazy Hill, the entire area is a photographers delight with wonderful compositions everywhere you turn including two great aches.

Time:

Early morning is best.

A Few Other Photo Stops:

Silica Dome Road

Silica Dome Road is on the right off White Dome Road as enter the area.  Although the area may not initially look as spectacular as other stops off White Dome Road, don’t be fooled. Parking at a pull off and hiking around will lead to some cool arches including Fire Canyon shown above as well as interesting limestone formations and an array of interesting rock patterns. 

Beehives:

The Beehives are located directly off Valley of Fire Highway on the western side of the park.  After photographing the Beehives, take time to walk the area to discover a number of other good photo subjects.

Balance Rock:

This rock is by the Visitor Center and is best photographed from it’s western side in late afternoon light.

White Dome Area and Hike:

I did not photograph this area due to a knee injury I sustained the previous day. However I highly recommend spending time photographing this area especially a slot canyon and abandoned movie set. 

Atlatl Rock:

This is the site of a historic petroglyph off the campground loop road that should be on every photographers shot list. Again due to a knee injury, I was not able to climb the stairs to the petroglyphs.

To view additional images from Valley of Fire please visit: Valley of Fire Gallery

Wildlife:

Desert Bighorn Sheep are quite plentiful in the park at all times of day and make great photography subjects. They even hang out by the Visitor Center waiting to greet you upon arrival!

Gamble Quail hang out under a bird feed behind the visitor center and are quite easy to photograph from the patio in the mornings. 

Other park wildlife include snakes, lizards, turtles, coyotes, bobcats, jackrabbits and squirrels.

Best Time to Visit Valley of Fire:

The best time to make a photography trip to Valley of Fire is from late October through the end of March. During the rest of the year, it can get so hot that the park can temporarily close trails. I have photographed Valley of Fire twice in November and once in February and the weather and photography were perfect every time.

Housekeeping Items:

Bring tons of water with you!

  • Lodging– There are two first come first serve campgrounds in Valley of Fire. Atlatl has hookups for $30/night and Arch Rock is dry camping for $20/night.  There is an Ok, not great shower facility located at Atlatl for use by both campgrounds.
  • Camping -Outside the park there is plenty of BLM land for boon docking just south of Overton, Nevada as well as a motel and a couple private campgrounds in the nearby town of Overton, Nevada. I recommend Snowbird Flats or Poverty Flats which you can check out at BLM Camping Near Valley of Fire.
  • Food- There is not much in the way of restaurants except for a McDonalds in Overton. There were a couple other restaurants that I did not try so can’t comment on those but heard Sugars was good.
  • Grocery– There is one small, somewhat expensive but adequately stocked grocery store in town. If possible shop in Las Vegas before arriving at Valley of Fire for best food selections.
  • Bees: Valley of Fire does have African Killer Bees and care should be taken in case you begin to encounter any of the scouter bees. Turn around immediately.  Also, the bees are always looking for water sources, so keep your campground dry to avoid attracting them to your site.

Final Thoughts

Valley of Fire is an incredibly fun destination to photograph. However, because there is so much going on with all the rocks, it can be overwhelming to photograph. Of course you will want to use wide angle lens to capture this crazy landscape but take time to:

    • Photograph with a lens in the 100 to 200mm range
    • Use a macro lens to work abstracts
    • Shoot high and low
    • Give yourself plenty of time in each area.  

The photo opportunities are endless. I hope each of you enjoy your trip to the park as much as I enjoyed photographing this park.

Thanks for joining me on a “Road Trip Friday” adventure and be sure to check back soon for my latest photo destination.

 

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