Valley of Fire

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Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park totally blew me away. The scenery here rivals that of any national park that I’ve been to. I’m glad it isn’t a national park because that would just mean more tourists to ruin the experience. The cool thing is that it is only an hour from Las Vegas.

Windstone Arch was the one of the first things that I photographed at Valley of Fire as I found it by accident as it’s not listed in the park maps. I was driving around and happened to pull onto the side of the road to explore some of the small caves in the sandstone. After poking my head into a bunch of them as I walked around, I stumbled into Windstone Arch, of which the cave opening is probably no more than three feet high.

Though some other photographers have also photographed Windstone Arch in the past, the thing that I’m wondering is the publicity from posting photos of fragile places like this a good or bad thing? Historically, photography has been used as a vehicle for initiating environmental conservation efforts through legislation. But over the past 10 years or so, more and more people just do postcard photography without any concern for environmental conservation. Or the many general tourists who don’t even take pictures but end up causing a lot of stress on the environment as a result of their activities. The truth is that the increased visitation to our natural wonders has a lot to do with the proliferation of photography in today’s world.


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20 thoughts

  1. Richard, I see you found the Fire Cave at Valley of Fire. Some people have been calling it Windstone Arch probably due to David’s Muench’s book called Windstone, this mini arch is on the cover of it. First item on a google search for Windstone Arch pulls up the GPS coordinates. I’d rather spend the time searching for it but if it’s been photographed many times I’d just look up the GPS coordinates.

    You’re right about photography bringing masses to photograph certain iconic subjects. Valley of Fire has a few of these spots like Atlatl Rock, Elephant Rock, the Fire Wave and Arch Rock that are also very iconic of the place but there are many, many other interesting small and semi large arches through out the park. I think they could nick name the place Little Arches.

  2. Thanks for the backstory, Steve. I have seen David Muench’s Windstone book but didn’t notice it was the same scene. I’ll have to verify then re-caption the scene as Fire Cave if that’s the official name.

    I totally agree about “Little Arches”. They are all over the place waiting to be discovered.

  3. Richard, If you were really concerned about the fragile nature of the place, then why give out the real name? Photographing and helping to educate people on the beauty of nature can only help others appreciate it as well (IMO), but that doesn’t mean we have to provide GPS coordinates to each location we photograph… 🙂

    There are a few arches in the Alabama Hills which I know are being protected by those in the know, but they still share the wonder of them thru their photography.

  4. That’s a good question, Greg. That would make more sense though if it was an unnamed location that was difficult to get to but everyone that has shot this all calls it Windstone Arch or Fire Cave so there’s no reason to make a fake name for it or ignore the name. Now I would never give out GPS coordinates to any location, even Yosemite Falls. Why would any photographer ever do that?

  5. In my “real” job away from the camera, I run a history museum. As part of my job, I have to decide whether or not to make priceless, irreplaceable objects available for the public to view and sometimes touch and feel. If I have learned one thing in the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing this, it’s that people don’t care if they have no connection to an object. They can read about it, see a picture of it or even see a copy of it. But until they can touch, smell and *feel* something, they don’t have an emotional attachment.

    So, whenever possible, I arrange items to make them as inclusive as possible for the average joe.

    Not everyone in the museum world would agree – they would say that you keep the important things out of sight, back in the archives where they can be protected and preserved. But the problem with that in my opinion is that they only people who then really *care* about an object are the chosen few who get to see and touch them.

    I have the same opinion about the wild places I photograph. I believe it’s my job to get as many people out there as possible because if other people get to experience the awesomeness, power, and mystery of a place… then guess what – they *care*.

    I believe it’s my job to educate people about the proper way to treat things – or a place – and let them see for themselves what it’s like to watch the sun set over the desert. Because once you do that, you now have an advocate for that place.

    wow… sorry for the long soap box but this is something I’m quite passionate about.

  6. Hi Derrick. Thanks for sharing your insights as a museum curator. The points you make in your main profession also apply to nature in regards to the fact that they are both irreplaceable and have potential to draw a lot of attention.

  7. Interesting fiery image, Richard. I agree whole-heartedly with Derrick. The distinction that I would add is to agree with you as well Richard. The debate raised here has raged for years and is ongoing. David Brower, my father and the other Exhibit Format Series photographers believed in getting people out to see places, which in turn nearly always served to move them to save the places they had seen first hand. On the other hand, there is no reason to disclose exact tripod tracks or GPS coordinates because it encourages copying for copying’s sake, not protecting the land. Seeking out a certain exact location is a very goal-oriented project, not one as likely to encourage getting to know and love the place as much as merely mentioning the general location or park and letting people find their own vision of it.

  8. I am really glad to see you found this little gem on your own, Richard! I bet you must have been excited to see it…

    The GPS coordinates for this landmark have been widely disseminated online, as well as in an e-book on the Landmarks of Valley of Fire–deciding not to share the name here would probably do nothing to prevent people from visiting it, much less contributing to its “icon” status.

    However, the question still remains–how much to share. I doubt you, or anyone else, would willingly pull the ladder up on a location as a sort of “finder’s keeper’s” mentality, however I am beginning to wonder whether there is some obligation due to the fragility of these locations…

    …its not an easy question to answer.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  9. Thanks Greg. When I found it, I originally wondered if it was the same place I had seen in the pictures then once I starting shooting photos of it there was no doubt.

    I’m certainly no expert on finding things in remote locations but I’ve noticed some other photographers be vague in describing certain photos, which is probably what I would do if I discovered something fragile on my own then pray that no one finds it then shares GPS coordinates later on.

    The problem in my opinion lies in the “sharing” culture of the internet where people just freely share information online without any consideration for any impact whether positive or negative. Prior to the internet, I doubt anyone shared GPS coordinates in their coffee-table photo books.

  10. For the record, I have no idea of any official name this small icon.

    The Fire Wave is not an official name but there is a sign there now indicating a trail head that dissipates before you make it to the actual Fire Wave. It was named by a German tourist and it’s popularity is growing by the minute.

    I agree with you in not wanting GPS coordinates made public for items that are fragile and can be the average person. I don’t feel is everyting knows where they are they are protected. We’ve already lost one arch here in the last year. No one knows if it was vandalism or just nature in it’s course. I will be sharing quite a few images of the unknown arches in VoF but will not reveal their locations. I think not sharing the exact locations encourage exploration and draw people into the park only find there own discoveries.

  11. That’s a great philosophy to have, Steve.

    The Fire Wave seemed to attract several photographers that all wanted space in same small amount of real estate so I’m sure it’s even worse during the busier travel seasons.

  12. What a fabulous State Park. Photo locations are like getting a hunter to disclose where they are seeing deer or a fisherman which hole has the big ones.

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