Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Nevada’s Valley of Fire

with 34 comments

Two years ago today we visited the wonderful Vally of Fire State Park about an hour northeast of Las Vegas. The place may be best known for its “beehive” formations.

On a smaller scale, I saw prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) and desert holly (Atriplex hymenelytra).

Following my pattern at Zion, I kept photographing as long as the light lasted. Though the day remained heavily overcast and we got some real rain for a while, late in the afternoon the sun briefly emerged beneath the lowest clouds and its light drenched the formations in warm colors—the fire in the Valley of Fire. You can see that I photographed the rocky Art Nouveau castle below when the shadows had already started climbing its base. A minute or two more and the magical illumination was gone.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 24, 2018 at 4:45 AM

34 Responses

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  1. Waiting for those last rays to slide under the clouds is always a good bet….lovely.


    October 24, 2018 at 5:00 AM

    • In this case I wasn’t waiting for it, hadn’t even thought about it; it happened unexpectedly and I hurried to take advantage of the sudden opportunity, which I knew would be short-lived.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2018 at 5:55 AM

  2. Beautiful!


    October 24, 2018 at 8:49 AM

  3. These landforms are fascinating, and I love how you have portrayed them here.


    October 24, 2018 at 9:10 AM

    • You can imagine how happy I was to have these things as subjects, and you can imagine me moving around on the rocks to frame things in pleasing ways.

      Have you ever painted any landforms from our southwestern deserts? That would be quite a change from your Illinois fare.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2018 at 9:54 AM

      • Yes, I can well imagine you moving about to get exactly the right shot. Your patience pays off, too.
        I painted a landform from Montana once, for my dad. Otherwise I prefer to stick to what I know and have a relationship with. When I travel I’m just a tourist. Although, our trip to the Carolinas was very inspiring. You may see some paintings come out of that.


        October 26, 2018 at 9:20 AM

        • Okay, looking forward to those Carolina paintings.

          I know what you mean about feeling like a tourist in faraway places. I do have a much better grasp of what’s going on close to home. Nevertheless, the formations and landscapes in the west are so dramatic that, stranger or not, I jump right in and do what I can to record things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 26, 2018 at 1:42 PM

  4. Wonderful shots, this deeply-eroded stone really conveys “ancientness.” The sandstone there really seems to soak up light, under that overcast, more like embers than fire, beautiful.

    Robert Parker

    October 24, 2018 at 9:58 AM

    • The deep erosion included formations known as tafoni, not shown in this post but at


      where the second picture is from Valley of Fire.

      While I initially resented the overcast and wished for blue skies to contrast with the warm colors of the rocks, I later figured the gray skies worked too, as you pointed out. Chances are that if I ever return I’ll get clear skies, which are the norm in the Nevada desert.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2018 at 10:07 AM

      • I’ve sometimes found pebbles or rocks with that kind of honeycomb, around NY, but never big rock faces.

        Robert Parker

        October 24, 2018 at 10:18 AM

  5. Great post and pics! This is a place I would like to visit in the not too distant future. Thanks for sharing the info.


    October 24, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    • You’re welcome for the sharing. I’m happy to let people know about this place. Colorado isn’t that far from Valley of Fire, relatively speaking, so I hope you make the trip soon. I hadn’t even heard of Valley of Fire before our trip, but it ended up being one of the highlights.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2018 at 10:49 AM

      • 8 hours 39 minutes from Ridgway, CO … I could do that!


        October 24, 2018 at 10:53 AM

        • Oh, if only I were that close Valley of Fire. Google says it’s about a 20-hour drive from Austin.

          You should go for it, especially with cooler temperatures settling in now. Late autumn is a great time to visit the Nevada desert.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 24, 2018 at 11:01 AM

  6. Those rock formations are astonishing, the one in the lower photo looks like a fabulous modern sculpture!


    October 24, 2018 at 3:14 PM

    • It does, although I stretched “modern” back a century to Art Nouveau. The southwestern states are a wonderland of rock formations.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2018 at 4:12 PM

  7. The variety of textures in the first two photos is amazing. Even with a quick glance I found a dozen that were distinctive: eroded rock, cacti, tangled roots, clouds, and so forth. It’s clear that a person could spend a year there and not see it all: or a lifetime, for that matter.

    The last photo was evocative in a different way. No art nouveau castle or warm embers for me — at least, not until I can see past my own associations. Suffice it to say it brought to mind my first visit to a leprosarium in Liberia, and my first encounter with people whose faces had been disfigured in the way that I saw in the rock formation: particularly, the larger face with the missing nose. It’s rare that I have such a visceral reaction to a photo, but this one really did it: beauty and the beast, wrapped up in one glorious rockpile.


    October 24, 2018 at 8:53 PM

    • Valley of Fire really is a photographer’s delight, so much so that I could’ve shown many more textures than the ones you see here, which were the fruits of less than a day at the site.

      If I reached an association with Art Nouveau, your liberal imagination far outdid me with a vision from a leprosarium in Liberia, along with a link to folklore in the form of Beauty and the Beast. I’m not sure I’d seen a face at all till you mentioned it, much less a diseased one. I like your description at the end: “one glorious rockpile.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2018 at 6:46 AM

  8. I am fascinated by the geology in the western states. That beehive formation is very cool. My kids would have been all up in it ‘cause that’s what they do.


    October 25, 2018 at 7:44 AM

    • Somebody missed an opportunity in naming a western state. Along with Montana (mountain) and Nevada (snow-covered) we should’ve had a Geologia. Oh well, a western state by any other name still offers geology galore, so I won’t complain.

      Yes, the beehives are cool. I suspect the authorities don’t want people climbing on them, but the park is large enough that rangers are rarely in evidence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2018 at 7:52 AM

  9. Opuntia is such an odd genus. There must be many out there that have not been identified yet. You know how it is when we find something and want to key it out with information that is already documented, but it just does not work.


    October 25, 2018 at 9:17 AM

  10. Hi Steve ..that last shot is something else, love the colours and light


    October 30, 2018 at 12:19 AM

    • Yes, I really lucked out when the setting sun briefly dipped below the clouds and lit everything up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2018 at 6:45 AM

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