I’d read good reports about it but hadn’t really done a lot of research. I’d copied out details of what to see and I moved out as soon as I had the car rental keys in my hand. The road north from Las Vegas is straight and, when you turn off after just over 50 kms, it’s straight again, albeit with only one lane either way, even if it does go into a few dips. I’m keen to get my rock photography under way and the road climbs to the edge of the valley and there’s a nice view but, it’s the desert big horn sheep that I hit the brakes for. I catch a glimpse of them beneath a steep drop and head over to get a picture.
They scatter like scared rabbits when I lean over to get a snap but, the camera won’t focus. Quickly I try to rectify the situation, taking the lens off and on etc. Nothing works. Despair reigns. For the next two weeks I’ll have no functioning camera. I try manual focus and it clicks but the picture doesn’t come out. There’s a strange blackness with some light here and there. I change battery (like that’s going to work!) but it’s what you do in desperation. The lens gets removed again and then, inspiration! There’s a mechanism that leaves your shutter open. I click that, then click it shut and, bingo, camera is working fine again. The sheep, however, have moved well away.
Where I’ve stopped looks down the valley and around three quarters of an hour is spent here scaling the steep ramparts to get a better angle and then scrambling back down what seemed like an easier route from above but isn’t. Still, that’s why we have hands, to stop us sliding down.
2 miles on is the entry gate where a cheery woman takes my cash. At this point the reason for the name of the valley is readily apparent. There’s a rugged outcrop of deep rust red misshapen rocks in the distance that’s imposed itself on the landscape and that’s where I head next. A dirt loop road takes you around one side but I can’t help stopping at least four times and exploring its uneven nature. It seems that wherever you walk there’s some sort of picture. All this chews up probably another hour because there’s an arch and petroglyphs around the far side that have to be visited. Eventually I reach the visitors centre and a worm in my brain keeps wriggling and saying “Why is the centre so far into the park?”
Not to worry, I can buy a Fanta here (did you know it was invented in Germany in 1941 and has 100 flavours?) to quench some of my thirst and refill my water bottles. Warnings abound on the internet about the importance of bringing fluids though they mostly refer to summer…..or so I thought! I’d already drained my two containers and was refilling them already.
I learn that from here there is more to see, the main part apparently, but what form it takes I don’t know. From the central area the road dramatically does a short climb right into an elongated rock formation and, at the crest, you can see it traverses a couple of miles through it. More places to stop and another half hour slides by.
Then, cresting a small rise at the far end, the day suddenly changes. The panorama from here is breathtaking. It’s called Rainbow Vista and it’s hard to know where to look first. All manner of hues are sprinkled on the horizon. It’s photography heaven. Days could be allocated to this area, which is probably why there’s two campgrounds inside the park! The word “wow” keeps tumbling out of my mouth. It’s better than I dared hope for because, mainly, I’d come to see The Wave, a patterned piece of rock that’s shaped like a roller when viewed from a certain position.
It’s hard to drive more than 500 metres without pulling up but eventually the end at the White Domes is reached and it’s time to head off for the second last time with the cameras. Because I’m tired I forget the ranger’s instructions about this walk. Down you go and turn right into a slot canyon. By the time I arrive nearly at the bottom half an hour later I’m overcome by desire to get up where some other tourists are high above and that’s where I head. It’s good but my legs are looking for some energy source.
Back at the car there’s only one thing left to see, Fire Wave, and it’s back about a kilometre but in a totally different direction. To get there you first go past a dramatic upright outcrop, the end of which is named Gibraltar Rock. Like so many features in the park, it seems so out of place. Well over 100 metres high, it’s mildly popular with rock climbers.
Lots of movies have been shot in the park. Star Trek Generation was almost exclusively shot here and the outside scenes of Mars from Total Recall were just a couple of many, which is why I shouldn’t be surprised to see a crew turning up for the golden hour at Gibraltar Rock.
Down at Fire Wave there’s a scattering of tourists and a few have to climb all over it, something to do with man dominating nature I expect. However, it’s the trip back that gets me excited. There are all these different coloured bands in the foreground and Gibraltar Rock as a backdrop and the bands are constantly changing.
If you’re into photography, this place is a must-see. On reviews some make comparisons with Zion and Bryce and say how much better they are. For me, it’s not better or worse, but different, and it’s different in spades. So much variety in such a relatively short space gets my recommendation.