Valley of Fire

Puffs of smoke and the screech of tires from touchdown dissipated into the darkness as my late night Jetblue flight taxied to the gate. “Welcome to Las Vegas. Your checked bags will be at carousel five” announced our flight attendant. After gathering my camera bag I shuffled off the plane with my fellow passengers and went to carousel five to get my luggage. It arrived quickly and I moved outside to get a taxi

The taxi line at McCarron Field is very organized. You get in the taxi line  which is monitored and managed by several efficient folks who move you to a location where a taxi and you arrive simultaneaously. The line took a few minutes to clear everyone and I took the opportunity to once again congratulate myself for getting a great room at Circus Circus for $27.

My fortiesh driver popped out of his taxi sporting a bright yellow mohawk bisecting his shaved skull and accessorizing tats over most of his body, including his skull. And of course he wore the appropriate Megadeath teeshirt with chains that could have been used as snow chains in Minneapolis in January. As we drove to Circus Circus, I initiated a little small talk and asked what brought him to Las Vegas. “About ten years ago I lived in Indiana when my ex-wife and her boyfriend kidnapped my daughter and moved her to Michigan”, he said. He proceeded to narrate a personal saga of retribution that included breaking and entering, car chases, weapons, heavy police presence across the midwest, incarceration and finally refuge in Las Vegas. Jeez! I’ve been picked up by Travis Bickel.

We stopped at a traffic light and he rolled down his window next to a car of fully decked out young women and sought their friendship by asking several personal intimate questions. The girls rolled their eyes and windows and moved on down the road. He did this several more times at other traffic lights using pick up lines that, according to him, almost always land him a girlfriend or two for the evening. It didn’t appear to be working. My head was on a desperate swivel looking for Circus Circus.

Valley of Fire State Park

Fifty miles northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest state park. After being in the park for a while, one gets the feeling that in some past time an ancient artistic God was challenged to decorate this land with the wildest possible array of sandstone sculptures and that he took his work seriously.

Sandstone Bumps

The park derives its name from the red sandstone formations created during the dinosaur age by uplifting of the land and refined over millions of years by constant wind and water erosion. It’s formations are unlike many other southwest sandstone formations which have a weathered smooth appearance from all the years of wind and water. These formations have a jagged look as if they were sandstone lava that just popped out of the earth’s crust and recently cooled.

On the Road

 Summer temperatures in the park can approach 120 degrees so the other three seasons are great times to visit the park.


This is an area called the Fire Wave. It’s one of the really cool locations in the park but confoundingly, it’s not on any of the park provided maps.

Atlatl Petroglyphs
Atlatl Petroglyphs

The Atlatl, the predecessor to the bow and arrow, was a notched stick used by ancient peoples to throw spears. You can see a depiction of it in the bottom center of this petroglyph image. It’s thought that this wall art was created about 3,000 years ago. Some of the images on the wall are obvious but others are still mysteries to the university experts. Sadly, the parts of this wall art that are reachable have now been protected with a hard plastic shell because some visitors to the park have seen fit to scratch graffiti among the figures.

Afternoon Light
Afternoon Light

This is the situation that photographers look for; shafts of light shooting across a grand landscape. In this case the main shaft of light illuminates formations in the center of the image, but there is also some light on the background formations in the upper third of the image.

Fire in the Sky
Fire in the Sky

I like the look of the fire raging in the clouds in this image. I wish I had found a better foreground that might have had a line of these bushes leading to the distant cloud fire.

Lines in the Sand
Lines in the Sand

This image and the next image are from a different state park, Coral Dunes State Park in Utah. They were both taken late in the afternoon with dramatic sidelighting.

Coral Dunes

There are special challenges involved in photographing sand dunes. Protecting equipment from the blowing sand is very important. On this day the wind was blowing a modest 10-15 mph but it carried this fine dust which will get into every part of your camera if it’s not protected. I used a plastic cover which was not 100% effective.

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Shrewsbury, MA


  1. Frank, there is a valley of Fire State Recreation Area in New Mexico also, near Carrizozo on the way to Ruidoso, about 140 miles S of ABQ. It’s a big red lava field. Regards, John


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