There is perhaps no other place in the American Southwest where the sandstone erupts in such a range of color—from pastel pink to orange, cream, gold, and deep red—as Valley of Fire State Park in southeast Nevada. As one enters the Las Vegas-area park, the scenic White Domes Scenic Byway first cuts through the vermilion cliffs of Aztec sandstone but then, after a crest, explodes into an assortment of vibrant hues. Within the jumble of protruding outcrops lies a maze of interlocking canyons, hidden arches, and other treasures—a portion of this Martian landscape can be explored on the popular, one-mile White Domes Trail, situated at the end of the scenic drive. Specific attractions include a short but brilliant slot canyon and the remains of an old 1960s movie set.
The White Domes Trail is named for the tall, cream-colored sandstone humps that rise from the basin at the end of the Valley of Fire’s White Domes Scenic Byway. Parking in the small lot here is scarce, but there is often some available along the road shoulder. Head south for the sign marking the start of the one-mile loop, and begin to make your way up a sandy slope between two stony fins.
After rising to a gap, a pronounced declivity offers views southward to a candyland of pink, golden, and creamsicle hues, with striations and cross-bedding offering texture to the rounded knobs. The White Domes Trail begins a sharp, steep, and stony descent that requires careful footing even as the park has developed usable steps for much of the decline. After navigating the thin passage, the path finds sand again and levels off, with the terrain opening up into a wider sink.
There are stone ruins off to the left—but these are no ancient dwellings of a native tribe nor even a homestead cabin used by an adventurous squatter. Rather, they are remains of a movie set for a 1965 film titled “The Professionals,” a relatively popular Western starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode. Valley of Fire has occasionally been used as a backdrop for other films, including “Star Trek Generations”—as the wayside at the site explains.
It is a short walk from the movie set down to Kaolin Wash, a usually dry drainage that cuts east-west through the sandstone wonderland. Orange, pink, even purple hues are on display as hikers bear right in the wash, soon entering a narrow slot canyon—and an easy (obstacle-free) one at that. Here the walls rise high but thin to as low as four feet apart, and the gleaming entering the slot produces fantastical colors and photogenic bends.
The slot is short but beautiful, culminating at an opening where the trail exits the wash and rises up to a higher shelf below the White Domes. Take the marked, sandy path as it follows a minor arroyo; bear left at a split at around ½ mile, following an onward channel via a northerly tread.
Soon the trail rises above the wash and continues between clutches of sandstone, with the soil turning a ruby color. At 7/10 mile, crest a saddle where one can see a small archway off to the right and views north to the vermilion outcrops, with the Mormon Mountains rising in the distance. Off to the left, one can also spot a high arch in the Aztec sandstone outcrops.
Soon the rather level track enters a new wash, and the onward route cuts through a narrow notch in the red sandstone, where the extensive tafoni resembles a beehive. After squeezing through the gap, the immediately bends south and parallels the road for a brief period, ending back at the parking lot where hikers started one mile earlier.
The White Domes Trail is a short, relatively easy walk (with one steep descent) that should take visitors around 30-45 minutes.
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