Elephant Rock is one of the main things to see in the Valley of Fire. It’s a distinctive rock formation that you can photograph from both sides. Like its name suggests it does resemble an elephant head with its trump.
How to get to Elephant Rock
Valley of Fire is about one hour from Las Vegas. Elephant Rock is located right after the park’s entrance when you come from the east. The parking area is also the place you need to pay your entrance fee. If you are coming from Las Vegas, you will need to drive 7 miles (11 km) after the west entrance.
A short walk (5 minutes) leads to the rock. It will end up near the road again, and Elephant Rock will be on your right, a few feet over you (see image below).
When to get to Elephant Rock
The rock stands against a hill and it’s facing the east. It means the evening light never reaches the rock. Sunrise is the best time to photograph it. In November (and surely around February), the sun rises in the southeast, making it possible to frame it inside the trump (see image at the top).
What to expect
Valley of Fire is a busy place due to its proximity with Las Vegas. The earliest in the day you visit, the better. In November, we spent the whole sunrise alone, but was not the same in midday.
Nevada does not see many clouds, so expect a clear blue sky. Shooting with the golden light can mitigate this, especially if you do not include too much sky.
What to bring
As usual, a tripod is useful for sunrise, especially if you want to bracket when shooting towards the sunrise. A wide-angle lens is mandatory if you are shooting from behind Elephant Rock because there is not a lot of space. I would recommend a polarizer to make sure you capture the rich colors of the rocks.
Go around the rock! Do not only shoot from the side of the road, or you will miss the best vantage point.
If you are shooting from behind Elephant Rock, choose your composition carefully. There’s can be many distracting elements, including people and the road. The latter is hard to avoid, but you can try to go low.
When shooting from below the rock, try to make Elephant Rock stand out from the other rocks, or you will not see the shape of the elephant. Shooting low is a good way to do it.
Elephant Rock is a definite must-see in Valley of Fire and you can get great pictures at this location. Mind your surroundings: do not shoot from the middle of the road if no one is watching the traffic for you. If there are other people, remember to be courteous and take turns to photograph the rock.