Thursday, October 3, 2013

Photo Essay: The Obvious Path Through the Valley of Fire



"Is it obvious?"

I was getting some advice as to where to walk for an hour or two in the Valley of Fire, on an early morning detour north of Vegas before heading back to LA. As usual, I was alone. And it had been a long time since I'd first visited the park, when we hadn't done any real hiking.

As she was recommending I take the trail through the White Domes, the woman at the Visitor's Center said, "I think it's obvious, but..."

I sniffed.

"OK," I said, knowing how easily I can get lost.



Stopping over at Rainbow Vista to slog through the red sand for a bit...



...and gaze out at the rainbow-colored stone formations...



...I then headed to the White Domes trailhead, where the rock and sand turn from red to white.



It's a bit less slushy of a walk there...



...and lush with vegetation after an unusually rainy summer...



...as the trail takes you down into the canyon, where it becomes rockier.



At first, it is pretty obvious, and easy to spot some of the landmarks, like the remaining set piece (the hacienda wall) from the 1966 movie The Professionals, which was shot in the White Domes area.



You start to see how time and the elements have carved the path through the rocks...



...and you just follow the curvature of the formations on either side of you...



...until finally reaching "The Narrows," a brief slot canyon that rises high above those who pass through...



...with colors and shadows and deep depressions...



...a slot that you practically have to squeeze through on foot...



...not big enough to accommodate even a normal human armspan.



For us claustrophobes, thankfully the open sky above is visible nearly at all times, letting plenty of daylight in.



And in the slot canyon, there's no question as to where to go.



After the slot canyon, I encountered a sign for an unmaintained mountain trail which I had no interest in exploring, so I ventured forth...



...following the carvings as I had before...



...until the trail became even more rock-laden, cluttered and littered with ankle-twisting stones of various sizes and weights, obscuring any footprints of my hiking predecessors.



It then opened up into a wash, where rains had deposited plenty of other debris, and where I saw only one or two other sets of footprints, compared to the heavily-tracked trail I'd been following all along.



Noting that the rock had turned back from white to red, I checked my GPS, which confirmed that my location wasn't far from the road, but I was heading in the wrong direction. Surely not far off course, but not sure where I was, I had to turn back. If I had to retrace all of my steps all the way back to my car, so be it. I'd simply reverse my route and go back through the slot canyon.



Back at the opening of the slot, I looked to my left and noticed the trail marker that I'd missed when I'd exited the slot, having looked straight ahead - which seemed to me the obvious choice - instead of turning to look to the right.



A bit farther up, the rock-lined trail and the predominance of footprints reassured me that I was back on track, despite the reddish pallor that was creeping onto the sand below and the desert vistas in the distance.







The White Dome trail is the most popular route for visitors, and for good reason.



There's lots to see...



...including one of the few arches in the park.



Although I'd started the trail with a couple of fellow hikers and photographers...



...I'd been alone since before the slot canyon...



...(and even more alone when I went the wrong way).



I didn't even see a lizard or a snake or a bug or a bird or anything...



...just me, alone with Nevada's geologic past...



...the layers of time rising from the earth...



...showing a rainbow of scars...



...under a deep blue sky.

I thought I'd visited the Valley of Fire during my first-ever trip to Vegas sometime in the late 90s perhaps or early 2000s, but when I returned last week, it didn't look at all like the scenery in my memory. Where were we? Where had we been? Some other part of the park, with light-colored, smooth, low boulders easy for climbing and perching? I have little recollection of that time in my life anyway, and little to no contact with my traveling companion from that trip, so now it's just a faded, dogeared postcard in my mind.

I'm glad I take photos of everything now, not only to have a long-term record of my travels, adventures, and encounters, but also, in the short-term, to retrace my steps easily and find my way back, if the obvious way isn't quite so obvious to me.

It's good to know where you've been. Sometimes you have to go back there.