Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A great place you probably never heard of

with 39 comments


Not until researching our impending trip to the Southwest did I learn about Valley of Fire State Park, which is an hour’s drive northeast of Las Vegas in Nevada. The “Fire” in the name refers to the orange sandstone that characterizes large parts of the area, rather than to the high temperatures in the desert for much of the year. We experienced the color but not the heat: when we spent an afternoon there on October 24th the temperature was pleasant, in part because of overcast skies that led to occasional drizzle and for a while downright rain.

Have you ever seen such orange sand?

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2016 at 4:56 AM

39 Responses

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  1. Steve, this is stunning. Having spent some time in Sedona and driving through the Painted Desert, I still carry the memory of the intense and unusual colors of those places with me.


    November 24, 2016 at 7:02 AM

    • Sedona is certainly good. We enjoyed seeing the rock formations and Oak Creek Canyon (site of yesterday’s picture) and the Holy Cross Chapel. Because of those attractions, however, the area has gotten overly touristy. Valley of Fire is a good hour from Las Vegas and has no amenities other than a visitor center, so it’s much less frequented. Given your liking for Sedona and the Painted Desert, you’d enjoy Valley of Fire. I hope you get the chance to visit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 9:07 AM

  2. You’re right that I’ve never heard of the place, and you’re right again that I’ve never seen such orange sand. The contrast in color between the rocks and the sand is pleasing, and interesting. Seeing only the rocks, I would have assumed the sand would be darker. This is one of those photos where the cloudy sky really does fit, helping to emphasize the somewhat moody and mysterious rocks.


    November 24, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    • I’m okay with the skies in some of the photographs I took at Valley of Fire that day, including this one, but the overcast and the low light prevented me from getting many of the pictures I’d otherwise have taken. In particular, I missed playing a turquoise sky off against the many warm colors of the rocks and sand.

      Valley of Fire is a pretty large place, full of the mystery you and enchantment you referred to. We got to see only some portions of it, and even then only in a cursory way. Cheap flights from Austin to Las Vegas are available, so I think in the year ahead we may well fly back there and rent a car for a week or so.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 9:53 AM

  3. Apart from the striking orange sand, the weathered textures in those rocks are amazing. If the sand were red, I’d think you made this one in Australia.


    November 24, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    • There is that similarity, isn’t there? (I speak based on pictures I’ve seen, not on personal experience with the interior of Australia.) I was especially taken with the textures and colors of the sandstone and would really like another chance to depict them under better circumstances. Let’s hope you get a chance to visit the place as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 9:59 AM

  4. It is really striking against the cloudy skies.


    November 24, 2016 at 8:48 AM

    • It works in this case but in many cases I really wanted an azure sky to contrast against the many warm shades of the rocks and sand. Next time!

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 10:01 AM

      • I knew you were going to say that. 🙂 Blue is nice but I find clouds exciting.


        November 26, 2016 at 9:24 AM

        • And it takes at least some clouds to have a great sunset. At the end of the day (literally, not figuratively) we got some good light and even part of a rainbow.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 26, 2016 at 9:37 AM

  5. I’ve never heard of that either. Thanks for making me aware of it.
    A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,


    November 24, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    • Same to you. Texas has Enchanted Rock (so close to you, and which I hear was mobbed yesterday, given the good weather and the holiday week), but Valley of Fire outdoes it a zillion times. Go there if you can.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 10:04 AM

      • Well, Enchanted Rock is being mobbed today, and will be again tomorrow. I really need to book/earmark the Valley of Fire.


        November 24, 2016 at 2:18 PM

        • A way to get to the Valley of Fire is to take one of the cheap flights sometimes available to Las Vegas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 24, 2016 at 3:33 PM

          • That’s definitely an idea. Thanks for the suggestion. But we might also include it into another “RailTrailsRoadTrip” or, as we did years ago, visit Mary’s children in California, going there by car.


            November 24, 2016 at 3:55 PM

            • We chose a car trip this time so we could stop and see any interesting places that came our way. I’ve thought about flying to Las Vegas specifically for the Valley of Fire and perhaps a few places near it. There’s something to be said for driving only hundreds rather than thousands of miles. We toyed with the idea of flying back in December but temperatures out in the desert then get pretty cold.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 24, 2016 at 4:11 PM

              • What I regretted on our recent road trip was the fact that way too often there was no way to stop to take pictures when we were on really scenic roads.


                November 25, 2016 at 1:15 PM

                • Yes, that happened to us at times too. Sometimes, especially in the mountains, there was no safe place to pull over and park. I had to let some good pictures get away from me.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 25, 2016 at 1:20 PM

                • I keep wondering if a motorcycle would be the solution. But then, I’m too old for that. 😉 To learn how to ride one, I mean.


                  November 25, 2016 at 1:27 PM

                • Since you carried bicycles with you, couldn’t you have parked your car at the first convenient place, even if it was a mile away from a scenic spot, and then ridden your bicycles back?

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 25, 2016 at 1:33 PM

                • We could – and possibly should – have. But sometimes it would have been quite a few miles, and on roads without any shoulder. They were not that well travelled, though, but we still feel somewhat uncomfortable then.


                  November 25, 2016 at 3:43 PM

                • Understood. Prudence sounds like the right policy in those circumstances.

                  When we drove up to the summit of Mount Diablo in California we were surprised at how many cyclists were going up and down that road. On our return drive, one cyclist came down so fast that he passed our car at a good clip, weaving back and forth with the curves in the road as he sped by. I worried that he was going to kill himself with such reckless riding.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 25, 2016 at 3:57 PM

                • Going uphill becomes more and more difficult for me. but I can still very well understand the thrill of speeding downhill. But as much as I like it, I wouldn’t overtake a car unless that car was very slow. I must admit, that, when I speed downhill, I just blank out any thoughts of what might happen, e.g. if my front tire suddenly blew. I’ve done 50 miles plus per hour, and if anything goes wrong at that speed, it’s a straight shot up to knock at St. Peter’s door. But I’m slower now.


                  November 25, 2016 at 4:58 PM

                • Right. At a speed like that, a pebble in the road can spell death.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 25, 2016 at 7:34 PM

                • True – unfortunately.
                  Have a great weekend,


                  November 26, 2016 at 8:33 AM

  6. Been there! Beautiful rocks! And the day we went almost deserted.

    Caroline smith

    November 24, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    • You’re the first commenter who’s been there, and you were fortunate to find the place almost deserted. That’s a good way to enjoy it. Other places we went (e.g. Zion, the Grand Canyon, Sedona) swarmed with people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2016 at 12:51 PM

  7. This is amazing. So vivid and rich.
    I am reminded of a visit to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah about 100 yrs ago or so (give or take). Maybe not quite, but certainly long before I had a digital camera.
    It was on a road trip with three friends that went from Vegas where we flew in to Salt Lake City where we flew out again via various canyons, parks and moonscapes. It was a most memorable vacation. Such a fascinating part of the planet.
    Who knew that rocks could be so many different colours! We obviously missed a gem. Didn’t see this striking place.

    kardz by kris

    November 26, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    • On this trip we also visited Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. At some point in the series of posts about our trip I’ll show a few pictures from there. The main difficulty for me as a nature photographer was the many tracks and footprints in the sand dunes that often prevented me from photographing what I wanted to.

      As for Valley of Fire, it’s indeed a striking place and well worth visiting if you get a chance to go to back to Las Vegas. I certainly plan on returning, hopefully at a time with a clear sky so I can play its blue off against the many warm tones of the rocks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2016 at 2:11 PM

  8. I don’t think I have seen orange sand .. 😃


    November 27, 2016 at 1:47 AM

  9. Wow! Great picture. I definitely will add that stop on our next road trip. Thanks!


    December 5, 2016 at 11:04 PM

    • You’re welcome. I’ve toyed with the idea of flying back so I could enjoy the place under better weather.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2016 at 5:27 AM

  10. A few years ago, my husband and I decided to take our Jeep on our Vegas vacation and one afternoon we drove to “The Valley of Fire”. It’s stunning. Like you mentioned, the orange sand…such pretty colors, especially at sunset.


    January 19, 2017 at 12:26 AM

    • Hooray that you’ve been there. I think you’re the only person who’s commented here that has been there. Let’s hope we can go back.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2017 at 7:14 AM

      • I think a lot of people don’t look beyond the casinos for entertainment, which is unfortunate, Las Vegas has so much natural beauty just off the strip!


        January 19, 2017 at 12:37 PM

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