I awoke in darkness. Gusty winds shook my tent, as if angry spirits from times past were taunting me, Blair Witch-style. And so it went, all night long. Anytime sleep would come, the winds would kick up, reeling me back into the reality of wakefulness.
"What time is it"? My hands stumbled in the darkness next to my air mattress, feeling around for my phone. I finally located it and checked the time. Already approaching 7 AM. Time to get up. If I learned anything during my stay at Valley of Fire State Park, best to start early to beat the crowds. Besides, the plan for this new day was to visit one of the most popular trails at Valley of Fire State Park. The White Domes. Being peak season, I knew better than to delay.
I jumped in my car and headed off towards White Domes Road. By this point the sun had risen, but the early morning light was still soft and glowing.
After driving several miles to the very end of White Domes Road, I made it to the White Domes trailhead parking lot. Nobody here. The first hiker of the day! With enthusiasm, I grabbed my gear and hit the trail. For now, this place was all mine!
Like many places in this park, the trail cuts through some deep sand. Very fine, beach-like sand. Oh darn, I wore sneakers. Sneakers and sand. Not a good combination. But, too late to turn back now. Must take advantage of this opportunity and get some good footage. Won't be long before hordes of people show up, right?
And then a revelation. The blustery conditions that withheld sleep throughout the night erased any trace of those who passed through this place the day before.. Now there were only waves and ripples in the sand. Total purity. Mine would be the very first footprints of the day.
As with every morning I had spent in this park, I was surprised that not a single person beat me to this. I was sure I was late. Maybe it's because the crowds come from nearby Las Vegas, day-tripping it, and have not yet arrived? Whatever the reason, I was not complaining. I pushed forward, descending between towering, silent sandstone domes.
After a short while, I spied a strange looking formation off in the distance. It didn't look natural. I could see some sort of signage near it.
As I got closer, it looked like the remains of some sort of adobe building. A wall perhaps? I consulted a nearby sign which explained that this is what remains of a movie set from the mid 1960's. A film known as The Professionals. How neat! I wasn't expecting this.
As I filmed and took some pictures, I wondered if in modern times this sort of thing would be permitted. Hopefully not, but regardless, it was a very cool thing to see out here.
After spending a little time reading about the Hollywood history of this area, I knew I needed to push on. Still no sign of anyone else descending down to my location, and I didn't want to tempt it. There is nothing better than having places like this to yourself. Nobody around to get in your shots. No human noise pollution. Perfection!
As I proceeded away from the old Hollywood set, I felt the sandstone starting to narrow in on me. Could it be that the slot canyon was not far off?
As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the sandstone walls heightened and I was deep in it. The slot canyon. The walls were only feet apart now. The shadows brought about the feeling of late dusk. I had to remove my sunglasses for a moment to make sure it was still morning.
This section was absolutely amazing. The best part of the experience yet. There is something to be said about slot canyons. The feeling of being a tiny ant which nature could crush as easily as I can blink an eye.
As awesome as walking through the slot canyon was, the journey was short. Just a few hundred feet or so, but I loved it so much that I went back and forth through it multiple times. Maybe four or five times. Lost count. But, I was still alone, with not another person in sight. Best to take advantage of this moment and film, film, film!
After multiple passes through the canyon, I decided to exit. As I exited the shadows of the canyon, I was greeted by a blast of exquisite color. Bands of grey and red sandstone, very reminiscent of uncooked bacon. It looked like liquid stone, suspended in time. So smooth. So flowing. How is any of this even possible? But there it was, the impossible right before my eyes.
As I reoriented myself, it would seem that we were beginning a gradual ascent back towards the parking. To my left was fiery red sandstone, reminiscent of a Martian landscape, contrasting beautifully against the light colors of the domes present in this area.
Yet as soon as it began, I realized that I was at the trail's end. White Domes Road was in my sights, with the parking lot not far away.
What a perfectly engineered trail! I felt like I was either walking edownhill, or on flat ground the entire time, even though I knew I had to have reascended at some point. Maybe I was too mesmerized to notice walking uphill back to the parking lot? Who knows? All I know is that the trail was short and easy, and filled with stunning things to see.
And as I walked the few final feet back to the parking lot, still not a person in sight. The lesson was reinforced. Always start early. This methodology hadn't failed me yet, even in this peak season.
So yeah. The White Domes Loop Trail. This one should be a no-brainer. Don't miss out, and get your lazy bones out of bed early!