White Domes Trail – Nevada, USA

This week’s journey with the Junes – to the White Domes of Nevada’s spectacular Valley of Fire State Park – is a particularly special one in our book. The 1.1 mile desert loop trail through these unique sandstone formations was the first hike we took together as husband and wife after marrying in August 2013. It is still – despite many incredible adventures since – one of our fondest hiking memories. We hope you’ll enjoy this trek just as much as we did!

Funnily enough, half the joy of hiking the White Domes trail is getting there – indeed, we’ve encountered few roads in the United States with vistas as breathtaking (or colorful!) as Valley of Fire, a 43,000-acre Aztec sandstone playground 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The White Domes are nestled at the northern edge of the park, requiring a roughly 15-minute drive (from either of the park’s entrances) through dramatic landscape that truly appears licked by flames.

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We located the White Domes trailhead just beyond a small, paved parking lot at the end of White Domes Road. A day use area – including restrooms, covered picnic tables, and a kiosk detailing the area’s history and geology – were also located here. During our visit in late November, the lot was virtually empty, and the trail only lightly trafficked (during a later visit in March, however, the lot was completely full and the day use area packed with visitors).

An information panel on the trailhead kiosk described the landscape ahead as “a Mojave desert wonderland of ever-changing scenery”. This description could not have been more accurate! Within 100 yards of the parking lot, we found ourselves gazing upon an otherworldly scene of sweeping desert vistas, soaring sandstone cliffs, and rock faces of nearly every conceivable color. In a park full of jaw-dropping panoramas, the White Domes are truly one of the most spectacular.

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From this vantage point, the sandy trail sloped down toward the desert floor; a moderately difficult descent aided by a handful of stone steps.

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Upon reaching the desert floor, we hiked south toward what appeared to be the crumbling ruins of an old stone wall. These “ruins” were in fact the remains of a movie set, erected in the mid-1960s for The Professionals, an American western starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, and Claudia Cardinale. At one time, the set extended as far north as the modern day use area, where a large, Mexican-style hacienda (now demolished) was also built for the production.

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We continued south along the trail as it dropped into a wash just beyond the ruined film set. Turning right at the signposted base of the wash, we found ourselves at the entrance to a slot canyon. The rose-hued sandstone walls of the canyon – aptly nicknamed “the Narrows” – closed around us almost immediately after we entered, at times narrowing to only feet across.

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Our journey through the canyon was disappointingly brief (only 200 feet), and we emerged from its cool confines onto an open wash. The signs posted here indicated the trail continued not through the wash, but rather to the right, through a gap between towering, multi-colored sandstone formations. An information panel along the trail described how minerals in the sandstone produced this spectacular array of colors:

“The Aztec sandstone derives its characteristic red color from iron oxide in the rock. How the iron got into the rock layers is a subject of debate among geologists. Some theorize that it leached downward through the porous sandstone from overlying rock layers. Others note that some areas in the upper levels of the sandstone are white, without iron oxide. They suggest that the White Domes and other areas in the park indicate that the rock has been stained from the bottom up by water circulating minerals from the iron-rich layers found beneath the Aztec formation.”

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At 0.7 miles, the desert opened to our left, offering expansive views of deep red sandstone ridges to the north and west. We stopped briefly to rest (and remove copious amounts of sand from our shoes) at a small stone arch on the right-hand side of the trail.

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At approximately 0.9 miles, the trail turns briefly east before making a final sharp curve to the south, running parallel to White Domes Road as it winds toward the day use area and parking lot.

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This hike – although short – was unlike any other we’d ever taken (or any we’ve taken since). Between the crumbling movie set, surprise slot canyon and one spectacular vista after another, White Domes was a truly unforgettable hiking experience. Also, we managed to avoid stumbling across a single rattlesnake (or other creepy-crawly-slithery demon of the desert), so that was a huge plus!

Thanks for viewing! – B. & T. June

Next week’s journey: Auerbach Castle – Germany

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