2013 Valley of Fire

Photo Notes

Valley of Fire State Park

Area Around Arch Rock Campground

This is one of the best areas in the park to wander around during late afternoon. Note that the western ridge cuts sunset early, about 50 minutes. From "Goblin Condos" and south toward the highway is best. The area right around  Windstone Arch is target-rich. This is also a great area for shooting Desert Bighorn Sheep. We shot a big ram and a ewe on one day and the ram again a week later. The ram seems to cross the ridge back and forth between the Atlatl Campground and the gravel scenic road. There are also a myriad of possibilities for lighting caves or arches in this area for astrophotograhy. The ground is quite open and easy to walk, even in complete darkness. It's nearness to a main road is also a great advantage.

Fire Canyon Overlook

Our best sunset shot was from the ridge that includes Fire Canyon Arch. The arch is one of my favorites in the park because of its lighting just before sunset and because of its viper shape. Keep going south along the ridge to one of the flat areas of the ridge and shoot east toward Silica Dome. The farther you go south on the ridge, the more "chocolate" sandstone you get in the foreground.

El Portal Arch

This can be a late afternoon or morning shot. Even if it's late afternoon be sure to shoot it from the back side also. Allow plenty of time to shoot here because there are tiny arches, alcoves, caves, and windows everywhere. We shot for 90 minutes in a very small area. This is one of the last arches lit in this area at sunset because it's high on the ridge.

Parking Lot 3 Area

This is primarily an early morning area. Fire Canyon Arch will be in shade if it's too early, so you may want to buypass this one and go straight to Thunderstorm Arch. This is a very ordinary looking arch in an extraordinary setting in early light. From Thunderstorm Arch, Crazy Hill is downhill and to the left (southeast). The best shots may be from below the hill. The color pallete is unbelievable. An alternate and easier route to Crazy Hill is to park on the concrete apron of the wash just below Fire Wave (Kaolin Wash) and hike crossountry northwest to the top of the saddle. You will look right down on Crazy Hill and can decide how much work you want to put in for the best angle. It looks like the best view might be from almost directly south of it, although nearly any view shows the striking streaks of color. This is also a good area for Desert Bighorn sheep. I saw 3 ewes here and there were lots of tracks in the area. If you hiked down from Parking Lot 3, retrace your steps up the canyon and shoot Fire Canyon Arch with the full face lit.

Parking lot 3 is also the trailhead for Fire Wave, although it can also be reached by parking on the concrete apron of Kaolin Wash and hiking downstream. After the first ridge on your left, find a gentle slop up to the slickrock and continue hiking crosscountry to Fire Wave. The Fire Wave is best shot about 45 minutes before sunset and shortly after sunset. The best shot is from the very edge of the rige down in the depression below the wave.

Site 32

I know it's strange to list a campsite as a shooting location, but Site 32 is the exception. The moon rose right out of our front window every night on the nights after the Harvest Moon. The nights before the full moon, we could shot the moon just over the ridge above our campsite. We shot moonset at sunrise over the opposite ridge of the campground. Although, it wasn't from our campsite, we saw the bighorn ram as we left the pay station and drove back toward the campsite. We've had scenic campsites before, but none of them provided the shooting opportunities that we had here.

Our Favorites

Best Sunrise - Fire Canyon Arch Area

Best Moonrise - Fire Canyon Arch Area

Best Moonset - Parking Lot 2

Best Arches - Fire Canyon, Little Mosquito, and Thunderstorm

Best Cave - Windstone Arch

Best Places to Wander Around - El Portal Arch and Windstorm Arch areas

Best Panorama Location - Ridge above Crazy Hill

Zion National Park

Petroglyph Canyon

Park at turnout with split-rail fence on right. Drop down into the canyon and walk under the road through the culvert. Hike to the end of the wash and climb up the photographer's trail right below the big pine tree. The best potholes ( 37.228354°, -112.910411°) and reflection shots are at the top of that bench. This is also a great place for a panorama shot. Keep watching the saddle on  the right for bighorn sheep. We have seen rams here the last two times. Note the good crossbedding patterns on the ridge on the left as they lead the eye either toward the huge tower at the end of the canyon or the hoodoo at the top of the canyon on the left. The reflection areas here are much shallower and sandier here than at Pothole Canyon and dry out much faster. If it rains, shoot here first. Once you pass the initial open area of the canyon, the subjects are limited. One subject we liked this year is three trees growing along the left edge of the canyon where there appear to be 3 columns of sandstone "hanging off" the cliff wall. The lighting is tough, so this one may take a couple of tries.

Pothole Canyon

Park at the very large turnout and hike down the road a few hundred yards to drop into the canyon. Then simply start hiking up the open canyon looking for potholes ( 37.223704°, -112.915289°) with water that reflect the towers at the end of the canyon. There are two or three benches to climb to move up the canyon, but none are difficult. We hiked up about 0.85 miles and stopped before the last larger ridge. By that time, we had already found 5 or 6 good pothole areas for shooting.

The Arch

This arch ( 37.224497°, -112.893426°) is at the east end of the park shortly before you reach Crazy Quilt Mesa where Pine Creek crossed under the road. If the timing is right, a single cottonwood tree can provide dramatic color from its spot beside the creek. The arch is high on the canyon wall with slickrock sandstone leading from the creek edge up to the cliff. Look for patterns in the sandstone across the wash that lead the eye to the arch and a second group that lead the eye to formations looking nearly straight east. We also found a new favorite tree that stands high on the canyon wall atop a little sandstone balcony.

Slickrock Sunset Shot

The slickrock sunset shot ( 37.224202°, -112.898127°) used to be my favorite late afternoon shot with a scraggly juniper growing atop a sandstone pillar. We discovered the juniper had been sheered off about two feet above the rock and was now more of a postrate tree. The rest of the scene still works for sunset with The Arch on the left wall and a huge crossbedded mesa on the right. From the parking turnout you look east across three sandstone benches toward Checkerboard Mesa. Trees atop the final ridge stay lit while Checkboard Mesa is shaded for an interesting contrast shot. There is also a ridge nearly straight north from the parking turnout with some very interesting trees and a great square mesa that stay lit until the final rays of the sun fade.

Bighorn Sheep

We saw bighorn sheep every time we drove up into the slickrock area. They seem to be concentrated along the stretch of the road near Petroglyph  and Pothole Canyons. The ewes tend to congregate in larger groups while the rams seem to move from area to area throughout the day. Finding bighorn seems to require only that you drive the main road in early morning and late afternoon and keep you eyes open.