Valley of Fire State Park
25 Jan 2014
It is great to have some photography buddies who are always ready for an adventure. Years ago I had passed through the Valley of Fire taking a detour off Highway 15 coming off a great 5 day shoot through the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, into Western Colorado and back via Natural Bridges and Canyon Land Parks. It didn't impress me at the time, but technology improvement in cameras and my interpretative skills have greatly improved over the years. So when one of my buddies called and said look at some great things people are doing in Valley of Fire State Park, I decided to take up the challenge.
Now to be honest with you I like the desert better at night than during the day. Driving across California I get up at 2am to get across the desert because I can stay awake driving at night, but not during the day. It seems so ... boring during the daylight. Yes sand dunes can look great in the early light, but really after seeing some great shots of dunes, they kind of wane. I need a moon or something else to help me with dunes. Deserts, I need the night or I need the fire, or I need to push myself to interpret better what is in front of me.
The park itself is geologically divided by ancient rock in the South, that somehow got more recent rock underneath it. Rock with dinosaurs underneath rock with sea crawly things. Its not suppose to be that way. As you move North then, the rock is red sandstone, then transitions to the Navajo type sandstone with stripes of red, white, blue, pinks, and browns. Sandstone holds up in compression, but not in tension, so it forms arches. And there are hundreds of arches here. That is important, because a lot of photography works like a window. We frame it and put it on a wall to put a window in our wall. Shoot through an Arch, and you have a window.
So I had this great idea for shooting at night at the park with all kinds of things. Our first day we arrived from LA a mere 5 hours later on the road to the park. My last shot posted in this essay was our first item to photograph, their "Fire Wave." Waves in sandstone have become famous starting with the "Wave" in the Paria Wilderness area of Southern Utah. That was where a couple of people died this last year when they apparently lost their way back to the parking lot. Easy to do, I needed my GPS to help me find the notch you hike through to then walk a couple of hours to the Wave itself. Miss the notch and you will wonder in the wilderness. Before this trip, my buddy and I had used Google Earth with its sun mode to study various things to photograph. Google Earth is amazing, the resolution almost makes it look like a real photograph now. I studied where to take sunrises, sunsets, and things that looked great with stars. Arriving the first day we had time to walk to their "wave" and also light paint the Nike rock. I also picked up Arch rock at night, but that shot was so cool I submitted it to 1x.com for the curators to examine. See my link on my profile. We also got the lead shot of this article, Elephant Arch. By 8:30PM we need to eat and find a place to sleep. Turned out the campground was full. That meant finding BLM land and sleeping where ever. Got up at 4:30AM the next day, to be able to hike a mile in the dark through canyons and set up for sunrise to capture "the fire." You see, during the day, there is no fire. Yes it is called the "Valley of Fire" but it is the Valley of Flat during the day. It just has fire during the sun coming over the horizon or setting on the same. The rays light up the rock. Try it on Google Earth and you will see what I mean. It really does glow red.
After getting the fire shots, we walked back out and wanted to prepare to do more arches with stars that evening, so we hit the visitors center to talk with the park ranger. "Stars? You can't be in the park after sunset," he said. The only place after sunset you can be is in the campground. My buddy and I looked at each other like what? "Park is closed and you will get fine if caught," he added. I asked about the road through the park (the previous night we found other people also light painting all kinds of things next to the road at night). "Nope, not even along the road. If you stop its a fine." I thought, well ignorance the night before was sure a blessing. Unbelievable that no one could see something like my Elephant arch shot. But I persisted. Well can one get permission to shoot at night. He said it was up to the Park Supervisor, and he was out for lunch.
So I waited, 1PM, 1:30PM, still not back. Finally before 2PM he shows. Yes we can get a permit, but it has to be in writing. So my buddy asks for a piece of paper. "It will take 3 weeks to approve," he said to us. Well that kind of kills getting shots that night. After having our balloon pop, we asked him about arches. He only knew about a few arches out of the hundreds there. (we already had found those). One arch on center of all the pictures of the park he couldn't locate. (Actually later I did locate it and shot a better picture of it for him. To date they haven't contacted me for it). We left spent the next few hours hiking the banded sandstone part of the park. The lines everywhere was driving me crazy. Finally as the sun was setting I found what I was looking for, the storyline about waves and I started shooting like a crazy man. Happy to have found shots that were telling a story and not just abstracts we set up for a sunset, but clouds moved in.
I turned to my photo buddy and said, hey we don't have night shots here, how about trying out that Red Canyon State Park on the other side of Los Vegas, and we were off. He thought there was a camp ground there we could get into. Turns out they closed that park at night also. I guess they treat campgrounds like prisons or something at night in Nevada. You can get out, but not back in. Welcome to America, the land of the free. Now finding a place to sleep West of Vegas is quite a trick, but that is another story.