In the summer of 2005 Melissa and I spent almost four months road tripping throughout the West while living in a tiny little trailer we affectionately named “Harvey the RV”. We had no itinerary, just a general route that started in Denver, Colorado and went north to Glacier NP, west to Bellingham, Washington and then meandered south all the way to southern California, finally wandering back home through Arizona and Nevada. One of the great joys of traveling without a plan is the ability to look at a map, see something potentially interesting nearby, and just…go. Valley of Fire State Park was one such gem of a find.
We passed through Las Vegas, Nevada headed north on I-15, nearing the end of our trip, when we saw a small sign on the side of the highway for Valley of Fire State Park. The name certainly sounded interesting so we consulted the map and saw that the park wasn’t too far off the highway. Of course, iPhones and mobile internet weren’t really a thing in 2005 so we didn’t have the world at our fingertips like we do now. There was only one way to know if Valley of Fire was worth a stop: turn off the highway and point the truck toward the park!
As we all now know, Valley of Fire is very well worth visiting. I live in Moab and have traveled extensively throughout the Desert Southwest, and nowhere have I seen such colorful sandstone as this little park. Red, orange, white, yellow, purple - it’s as though a rainbow collapsed on this landscape and left its colors draped over the rock. The colors aren’t the only attraction, though. Slot canyons, arches, hoodoos, frozen stone waves - the features lend themselves quite nicely to an outdoor photographer’s eye.
Not having any familiarity with the park at all we decided our plan of attack would include hiking everything we could fit into a two day stay. One of the first hikes we did was the White Domes Loop, an easy 1.1 mile trail that included a short section through a somewhat unremarkable slot canyon. Unremarkable, at least until you exit the canyon and find yourself walking through the scene in the image above. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I was lucky in that the striped sandstone was the recipient of some really lovely reflected light - the perfect type of light for this scene. I tried several compositions, which wasn’t an easy task as I had to splay the tripod legs out over each side of the narrow channel between the sandstone and point the camera almost straight down. I’m not exactly a tall person, and the sight of me trying to glimpse the composition through the viewfinder had to be almost comical. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to see this one on the laptop screen later that evening.
I believe I was one of the first to photograph this scene. At the time, Valley of Fire wasn’t the uber-popular destination for photographers that it is now, and social media didn’t exist to promote these places to the masses. In the years since I’ve seen quite a few versions of this image, some that are even better, but I’m proud of the fact that the only inspiration I had for my own image came from within.
Canon 1Ds Mark II
Tokina 28-70mm lens at 28MM focal length
1/8 sec at f/22 (I didn’t need f/22 but still hadn’t really figured out aperture at the time)
RAW, processed in Adobe Lightroom and Nik Software
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