“What could it mean?” was crossing my mind as I carefully tried to interpret the engravings covering an entire wall of fiery red sandstone within the Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada, USA). It was 10 AM, and I found myself standing on a metal platform in front of a huge rock formation, illustrating carvings of an ancient civilization that dates back to a time way before the common era. An adventurous feeling ran through my body while the hot morning sun started to burn my neck. Slowly, I made my way back down to the car. Although this place, known as Atlatl Rock, truly was amazing, my actual destination was located elsewhere. Somewhere within the Valley of Fire had to be a slot canyon, and I was destined to find it!

Hiking White Dome Canyon Trail

According to the map, the slot canyon was located at the far north end of the road leading through the Valley of Fire. After a drive of only 20 minutes, I arrived at the parking lot assigned to White Dome Canyon, which is a 1.2 miles loop including the slot canyon I wanted to see. Although the drive was relatively short, I watched the temperature climb to 7 °C. I forced myself to drink almost 1 liter of water before I was brave enough to leave the car and face the unforgivable heat. Right before the actual hike started, a friendly sign (Heat Warning: Hiking is not recommended) reminded me that temperature is a huge risk factor when hiking trails inside the Valley of Fire State Park

Warning sign indicating extreme temperatures as a potential health hazard. Photo: Thomas Später
Warning sign indicating extreme temperatures as a potential health hazard. Photo: Thomas Später

Starting with a sandy entrance of Slot Canyon

The first 10 minutes of the trail led me over a beautiful up and downhill passage, which included rocks and beautiful fine sand. “I wish the Californian beaches had sand just half a pretty” was running through my head as I went into a squad position to let my fingers gently wander through the golden powder. For a second, I even forgot that I was currently on a hiking trail.

Beautiful sandy entrance to White Dome Canyon Trail. Photo: Thomas Später
Beautiful sandy entrance to White Dome Canyon Trail. Photo: Thomas Später

By carefully moving (or sometimes sliding) down the trail, I successfully made my way to a plateau, where I found a first interesting and unexpected landmark: remaining ruins from a long-forgotten filming set of the 1965 movie The Professionals.

Remaining filming set of the 1965 movie The Professionals. Photo: Thomas Später
Remaining filming set of the 1965 movie The Professionals. Photo: Thomas Später

Entering the Slot Canyon

Once I passed this interesting location, it only took me a few more minutes to reach the entrance area of the slot canyon. If this hadn’t been a trail and I hadn’t been aware that there was a slot canyon, I would have probably overlooked it. A narrow and shady opening provided me with an amazing but equally mysterious way inside. Not only the impressively high walls to both my sides looked amazing, but also the contrast between the tall sandstone walls and cute little white clouds floating through a perfectly blue summer sky.

Fluffy white clouds floating through bright blue skies over the slot canyon.  Photo: Thomas Späte
Fluffy white clouds floating through bright blue skies over the slot canyon. Photo: Thomas Späte

The canyon wasn’t very long. In fact, without stopping, it would only take 1 minute or less to walk through it. However, not only the fact that there was desperately needed shade inside the canyon, but also its beauty made me stay there for about an hour. It felt so peaceful, almost forgotten. Forgotten in a time where modern life and daily stress didn’t exist. I sat down inside the canyon, closed my eyes, and let the surrounding sounds of nothing but wind push me towards an almost meditative state of relaxation. After taking some last pictures, I exited the canyon and headed back towards the parking lot, where I started the hike.

Author within the slot canyon located along the White Dome Canyon Trail
Author within the slot canyon located along the White Dome Canyon Trail

Outstanding beauty all along the trail

Although I had considered the slot canyon my main destination during this hike, the entire trail surprised me with unspeakable beauty. The constantly changing formation and colors of the stone formations paired with the blue backdrop just didn’t let go of me. I stopped after every turn and climbed every rock. At least that’s how it felt. Especially towards the end of the hike, long, open, and sandy trail stretches with high-rising rock towers on both sides created perfect frameworks for outstanding pictures. The higher the angle, the better the shot. With the gentle wind blowing through my face while staring through the camera’s viewfinder, I spaced out entirely. Fully submerged in the landscape around me, I pushed the trigger of my DSLR one last time before returning to my car. One last time for the day, but surely not for good.

Author standing on rocky elevation, preparing to take the last picture of his journey
Author standing on rocky elevation, preparing to take the last picture of his journey.

The beauty of the Valley of Fire State Park took a firm hold of me. And while the memory of this park holds on to me, I am holding on to the commitment of returning to this geological masterpiece as soon as I can.