View Full Version : National Parks/Photography Near Las Vegas

Terry Hull
31-Dec-2007, 07:35
I admit to being in the dark on a 10 day March 4, 2008 trip west. I would like to visit places like Tonopah, Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Yosemite, but don't want to get involved in snow, jeep rental, etc. My questions are as follows: Are routes 95/6/395 "usually" free of snow in March? I assume from researching this site that Yosemite/Kings Canyon and Sequoia are higher risk of early March snow than say Death Valley? Any general commments on how 10 days time relates to distances would be helpful.

Thank you y prospero ano nuevo!

31-Dec-2007, 09:23
Others know the area far better than me, but in my two trips that way in late Feb-early March I saw snow once and it was easily driven in with a standard rental with front wheel drive.

Richard Raymond
31-Dec-2007, 10:11
Except for the Sierras all of the roads will be open. To get to the western side of the Sierras will require a trip around rather than across to get to Yosemite, etc. The valley will be open in Yosemite but not the higher elevations like the road to glacier point. You can get to most anywhere in Death Valley in a car as long as you understand about driving on rough gravel roads to get to some of the more out of the way places like to the race track (and as long as driving on dirt/gravel roads is permitted by your car rental contract).

North and east of Las Vegas everything will be open except for the roads to the top of Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park, the road to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and maybe Cedar Breaks. No problems with Zion or Bryce.

Best I can do without knowing more. Will be a good time of the year for desert flowers and pictures of full streams/waterfalls.

John Kasaian
31-Dec-2007, 18:01
March should be a great time to visit. The seasonal passes crossing the Sierras may or may not be open, but you can expect that 88 which runs South of Lake Tahoe will be open as well as the pass above Lake Isabella in Kern County (I think it's Kern County anyway!)

It can snow any time of the year in the mountains!

When going up 395 be sure to take the June Lake Loop and of course Bodie.

On the Western side, poke along 49 instead of dogging along 99 all the way down (or up)

Hey, if you're lucky the Whoa Nellie Deli will be open in Lee Vining! If not there's Schaatz Bakery in Bishop and Mammoth.

On the Western side The Basque Hotel in Fresno has wonderful Basque food. The Willow Steak house in Jamestown is a great place for steak. The White Horse in Three Rivers also has a very good reputation. For good chinese food, seek out Moy's in Fresno. For good mexican food go with the recomendations of the locals (municipal employees are the best sources and IMHO never eat mexican food North of Fresno)

FWIW, the Calaveras Celtic Faire is usually held in March and the Guiness reputedly flows like the spring run off of Calaveras River. The Gold Rush country is full of good wineries too.

Have a great trip!

3-Jan-2008, 21:18
Terry, I'd like to add a couple of points to John's excellent info.

Make sure your rental car has tire chains, since they may be required on national park roads at any time.

The pass at the southern end of the range to which John refers is Walker Pass (CA 178) the drive along the roaring Kern River during spring runoff is awsome! The road ends at US 99 in Bakersfield.

If you head up into the Lee Vining area on 395, take some time to visit Mono Lake and, if the road is open, Lundy Canyon.

Highway 49 (CA 49) is a wonderful drive through some spectacular country and Gold Rush towns. Here's a second vote for the steak at the Willow! Also, the Murphys Hotel in the town of Murphys (on CA 4 east of Angels Camp) has a prime rib you can cut with a sharp look.

There is also the Calveras Big Trees State Park on CA 4 east of Murphys. There are some nice groves of Giant Sequoia and a nice campground, as well. This could be an alternative if the groves of Sequoia in Yosemite or Sequoia NP are blocked up with snow.

Enjoy your trip!


Eric Woodbury
3-Jan-2008, 21:56
http://www.neonmuseum.org/ is in Vegas. Never been, but some folks like it. If you haven't been to the G Cyn, then you should. My wife thinks Zion is the best place on earth. Many like the Valley of Fire, just don't tell the rangers you're pro. I love DV and it will be nice there at that time. Beatty and surrounds are nice, to the north is Goldfield which offers some nice old buildings in good shape. Tonopah is more like a modern ghost town. It isn't old enough to be pretty. The roads you mentioned are almost always clear. Sometimes the grade up to Mammoth can get snowy. I like Cathedral Gorge St. Park. It all depends on your tastes. I wouldn't try to go to the Western Sierra. Too far and you just don't need to go that far. You'd be passing up so much good stuff. Even the new Strip in LV is interesting in an abstract way. Go to

http://www.huntingtonwitherill.com and then to 'galleries' and then 'virtual reality' for one of the best photographic treatments of LV. Have fun, you can't lose.

Terry Hull
4-Jan-2008, 07:07
Many thanks for your help. I noticed when I contacted Death Valley via email they were interested in why I was coming to the park. It turns out once I mentioned a tripod they were interested in whether I was a professional photographer. Aren't these places open to anyone?

4-Jan-2008, 09:26
I would suggest this for some background reading on the photography permit issue.


And now for the goods. I would recommend that you buy Laurent Martres Photographing the Southwest books to help plan your trip.

Las Vegas is just 2 hours from Zion and Zion is sweet. I don't think you'll see much greenery yet in March and you'd probably want a dry suit if you were to hike the Virgin River Narrows or the Subway. But the park will be open and there are fantastic opportunities all through the park even if you don't get into the water. This would definitely be a highlight of your trip. My wife and I did a circuit of the North Rim GCNP, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef. Zion and Capitol Reef were our favorites.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is relatively close to Zion) will probably still be closed for snow, but the South Rim will be open.

You might look into Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch slot canyons or getting a permit for Coyote Buttes where "the Wave" is located.

I can't speak to the Death Valley/Yosemite stuff, but apparently its quite nice.

John Kasaian
4-Jan-2008, 09:30
Many thanks for your help. I noticed when I contacted Death Valley via email they were interested in why I was coming to the park. It turns out once I mentioned a tripod they were interested in whether I was a professional photographer. Aren't these places open to anyone?

A lot of it depends on the mindset of whom you're talking too. Commercial shoots, and shoots requiring limiting or restricting public access require paperwork and rangers are obviously charged with seeing that the enjoyment of parkland isn't "hogged" by production crews without compensation.

I've run into the same problem at Ft. Point in San Francisco.

A single photographer with an old camera and a tripod, IMHO, will be left alone except, perhaps in the summer when there are seasonal rangers who might be unaware of park policies.

I've run into this situation and it is the "worst case scenario" imaginable.

Do a search of this site for an NPS document on photography in the national parks and make a copy to take with you in case you run into a ranger whose skull has conformed to the crown of his/her ranger hat. From what I make of it, photography in the national parks is to be encouraged.

Anyway, read the NPS document. Unless you're shooting a commercial for General Motors, filming a remake of North By Northwest, preventing visitors from moving about safely, building bonfires to illuminate rock formations, or cluttering up the scenery with tracks, dollies and portable generators you should be OK :)

Rather than take a combative attitude toward park personnel, I suggest talking to as many as you can. Let them know what you're after and how long you expect to be in the area. They live in the nieghborhood and can (and should IMHO) be a great scource of information on how to access out of the way spots and more importantly they'll come after you if you get lost or injured (or let you know if there is a socially challenged bear lurking nearby)

Realistically you're more likely to be hasseled by other park visitors, who will approach you in order to point at your camera and say:
"Is that a Hasselblad??"

Don't worry and have a great trip!

Richard Raymond
4-Jan-2008, 11:49
As someone who is photographing in the parks on a regular basis I have not had any ranger or park official say anything other than whether a good road was open or that they saw something interesting somewhere and it might be a good chance to go get a photo. I am shooting with both 8X10 and mamiya RB equipment so I do stand out.

Zion will be nice but you won't be able to get in the river at that time of year. The water will be too high and cold to hike the narrows. The Park generally opens the narrows in late June...sometimes not until July...depending on the snow melt and spring storms. The snow pack is a little deeper this year (more like a normal year than the drought years we have been having) so the Kolob plateau may not be open all the way up to Lava Point.
PM me if you have any specific questions and I would be happy to advise.

Best of luck.

Jim Ewins
4-Jan-2008, 22:03
California's Eastern Sierra, A Visitor's Guide by Sue Irwin is a gold mine of information for photographers. Cachuma Press- was $18.95

5-Jan-2008, 07:34
I've never been to Death Valley, and I'm sure that things have changed, but Ansel Adams published a guide to photographing there (available used, B&W of course), and Edward/Charis Weston's "California and the West" should put you in the proper emotional mood.
I envy you this trip (maybe someday -- sigh). Have fun.

Dan V
5-Jan-2008, 13:29

Terry Hull
6-Jan-2008, 18:15
I have a tentative route for the 10 day trip, and wonder if it is trying to cover too much ground, or too little. The purpose again is black and white LF landscapes, both commercial and natural. I plan to drive during the middle part of the day, hoping I can drive about 4 hours per day.

1. Vegas to Death Valley via Pahrump. Three days in the park (Motel Death Valley Junction)
2. Route 190 thru DV Park and south on 395 to 178W stay 1 night East of Bakersfield
(I assume this will likely be free of snow)
3. 65N or 43N to route 49? Stay near Mariposa two nights
4. 49N to route 108 ( or is route 4 or route 88 going east better?)to route 395. (2 days someplace in the area)
5. 395 south to the Bridgeport Mono lake area-depending on Yosemite weather
6. The remaining days to Bishop, Tonopah, Goldfield and then back to Vegas.

I guess I am trying to determine if this route makes sense. Again thanks for all your suggestions which I have tried to incorporate.

Dave Wooten
6-Jan-2008, 18:58
You might touch base with "Ranger Bob"....he posts on APUG, is a photographer and is currently working as a ranger in DV.

John Kasaian
6-Jan-2008, 19:22
Ebbett's Pass (4) is lovely, but one of the last to be opened (usually) 88 is usually kept open year around as it services Kirkwood. Sonora Pass may or may not be opened by then.

The Gunn house in Sonora is a cool B&B (and not too far a drive from the Willow Steak House.)

If you like rusty metal the old Sierra Railroad in Jamestown is a museum these days. They'll most likely be operating on a limited basis since it won't be "tourist season" yet which it to your advantage----no crowds! It is a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with locomotives undergoing various stages of dismantling and restoration.
Oh, and be sure to take an extra suitcase to hold all those petzvals Jim will sell you as you pass through Tonopah:D

After all the fun you may want to rest your road weary bones at the hot springs in Mammoth on the road back.

If you happen to find the celery canyon in Death Valley please let me know :)

Have a great trip!

Eric Woodbury
6-Jan-2008, 21:30
Death Valley Junct. to most places within DV is a long ways.

Highway 108 will be closed. It is most of the time. Figure on going all the way to Tahoe to cross or going back to Walker pass.

Depending on your timing, you might get over from 178 to 65N by Wofford Hts, Glennville, Posey, or similar. That is pretty and lonely up there. Very nice. Only one high spot.

You'd do well to be able to camp or sleep in car.

Carry a detailed map.

Terry Hull
24-Jan-2008, 07:40
Sorry tokeep going to the well on this thread, but I am trying to determine given the kind of photog I like which routew makes sense:

1. Las Vegas to Tonopah to Bodie, Bishop, and then to Lone Pine area followed by a few days in Death Valley.
2. Las Vegas to Death Valley to Fresno to Mariposa to Sonora to Bodie /ishop and Lone Pine, before returning to Vegas.

I arrive LV mid day 4 March and depart LV Early 10 March.

I like to photograph both commercial and natural landscapes, in B&W, and I prefer not to do an inordinate amount of driving in my non-4 wheel drive vehicle.

Are the ghost towns along route 49 duplication to those in the Tonopah area? Is route 49 worth the extra drive?

Any suggestions are helpful and appreciated.

Richard Raymond
24-Jan-2008, 08:55
Now that you only have 5 days I recommend that you stay on the eastern side of the Sierras (Plan 1). Arrive LV and travel to Tonopah on the first day. Then go west and south at a more leisurely pace giving you time to photograph. If you are planning on overnighting in Death Valley I would recommend Stove Pipe Wells. From there you can get the dunes, go north to the crater, travel south on the west side of DV and get some views and some mining ruins and some cone shape charcoal kilns. Catch Bad Water, Artists, overlooks and the spring flowers in the south pass on your way out to Vegas.

Terry Hull
24-Jan-2008, 11:45
Sorry-Mistake on dates- I arrive LV 4 March and depart 10 March. Thanks

28-Jan-2008, 01:50
Pyramid Lake and the Virgin Valley for some remote shooting.

28-Jan-2008, 06:08
Death Valley is an amazing place, easily the best "park" trip I've ever gone on. I spent 7 days tenting, hiking, and shooting just inside the park boundaries and still didn't see half of it. My friend and I had a rental SUV to get us back on some of the remote 4-wheel trails in the park, no way a car would have gotten through some of those areas.
The detailed pdf map from the park website was very helpful in helping us find remote roads and areas to camp.

Take your time and have fun!!!

Terry Hull
18-Mar-2008, 17:46
I completed my 10 day photo trip, and want to thank you folks for the input. Death Valley is simply amazing, and certainly could have spent the entire ten days in that spot. I stayed one day too long in Joshua Tree, but liked the drive through the Mohave Desert. I liked some of the smaller, mostly deserted towns such as Keeler, Darwin, Goldpoint, etc. I also though Red Rock Canyon outside of LV was unexpectedly beautiful.

Thanks again!

John Berry
20-Mar-2008, 02:31
Make sure your rental car has tire chains, since they may be required on national park roads at any time.

That's a for sure. When I went to yosemite, There was a little snow on the ground, coming in from the west. They wouldn't let two wheel drive in without chains or cables. The gas station was doing a bang up business selling to people with rental cars. I have four wheel drive but still had to have chains with a trailer behind me.
Hear is a story. I turned around and went to the nearest campground just outside the gate (thousand trails I think) they had some spaces for non members. Went back and bought the overpriced chains. They were good quality truck chains and $130.00. normally they sell for $100.00. Car cables were $40.00 at that time (about 2000 I think). Went into the valley and did some shooting. Came back out at the end of the day and there was a ranger in the road with three cars stopped. I pulled up and he ask me if I had 4x4 and I said "yup", he said I could go on. The others had the choice to sit in the car or go to the park hotel. That night I was pissed off that the security guard for the campground drove that damn jeep by every hour. "I'll take care of this crap tomorrow". Next day I drove to the campground to get a spot in the park. As I drove into the lot, I saw a ranger with two people and their cars, with the broken out windows, making out reports. I drove right on by and went and payed for another night of security guard.

24-Mar-2008, 10:16
I completed my 10 day photo trip, and want to thank you folks for the input. Death Valley is simply amazing, and certainly could have spent the entire ten days in that spot. I stayed one day too long in Joshua Tree, but liked the drive through the Mohave Desert. I liked some of the smaller, mostly deserted towns such as Keeler, Darwin, Goldpoint, etc. I also though Red Rock Canyon outside of LV was unexpectedly beautiful.

Thanks again!

Great to hear, sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I definitely agree on Death Valley, one of the neatest places I have ever been, 10 days would be well spent there.

Did you get some nice days of shooting?