It’s hard to pick a trail to hike in Valley of Fire State Park. There are so many of them, and they all have something amazing to view. But possibly one of the densest collections of colorful crags can be found along the White Domes Trail. This 1.1-mile loop trail meanders through a narrow slot canyon and other whimsical red and orange sandstone rock formations that not only draw hikers from around the world but filmmakers as well.
Film Locations Along White Domes Trail
Scenic locations often draw the lens of Hollywood location scouts. Why build a set when nature has already provided the backdrop? And while many parks have hosted a notable production or two, the connection is often left to film buffs to research or as a side note in the visitors center. Rarely does any of the original set remain. Such is not the case on White Domes Trail, where there is a display at the trailhead calling out its cinematic history, and a piece of a set stands along the trail.
A long film history: Valley of Fire has been the background of The Good Son (1993), Breakdown (1997), Star Trek—Generations (1994), Beast Master (1982), When Fools Rush In (1997), One Million Years B.C. (1940), Steven King’s “The Stand” (1994), Kill Me Again (1989), Father Hood (1993), Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and The Professionas (1966).
The Professionals (1966)
The first notable stopping point along the White Domes Trail is a striking depression among the colorful sandstone cliffs. It is also the setting of the 1966 film The Professionals starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, and Claudia Cardinale. The screenplay is inspired by A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O’Rourke. In this Wester film, a wealthy Texan hires four men to rescue his wife from bandits. This scenic canyon stood in for a Mexican village. A rock wall of a hacienda still stands along with an information panel.
The Grave of Captain James T. Kirk
The Professional may have multiple informational plaques and set along White Domes. But other notable productions have graced this trail. None is more likely to strike at the heart of popular culture as Captain James T. Kirk’s grave. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew survived many improbable close calls before the original Star Trek captain was forcibly retired in Star Trek Generations (1994). The legendary lead died in a battle with the evil physicist Soran on Viridion III. In the film, Picard buries Kirk under a pile of stones with his insignia on top. While the stones, insignia, and other remnants of the original filming process are now gone, hikers can still find the filming location on White Domes Trail.
White Domes “Narrows” Slot Canyon
Right after The Professionals filming location, hikers descend into a wash and travel west to a short, narrow slot canyon. At points, the orange sandstone walls of the Narrows are only a couple of feet apart but stretch high overhead. This surreal slit in the sandstone results from sporadic flash flooding as water channeled through the wash encounter this large body of sandstone and gradually carved through it. The smooth, rippling walls are testament to the force of the water during a rainstorm. Do not enter the wash in the case of rain nearby. Water falling far upstream can still result in a dangerous flash flood, and the Narrows leave little opportunity to escape.
That’s not t say you should never walk through the Narrows. In most cases, this tight, whimsical walk is perfectly safe, and it is one of the hike highlights. Walking this relatively short canyon with one hand on each wall is an awesome experience. Frankly, we even backtracked to talk through it a few times before moving on.
Hikers exit the Narrows in the continuation of the wash. While the trail shifts to the north after the slot canyon, it’s worth wandering a little further up the wash for more whimsical rock formations. Then continue hiking north for some breathtaking vistas before returning to the parking lot.
Hiking White Domes Trail
Reaching the Trailhead
White Domes Trailhead is located 5.7 miles north of the Valley of Fire Visitor’s Center at the end of White Dome’s Road. The road itself is an experience, winding past some fantastic rock formations before hikers even have a chance to get out of the car. Once there, the trailhead features a large, paved parking lot, restrooms, and information panels.
Approaching the Loop
Most hikers take the White Domes Trail clockwise, and we’d recommend the same. The initial steep descent into The Professionals canyon is much easier to tackle while traveling clockwise with a gentle rise along the trail’s remains. Granted, we did encounter an older couple that made the astute observation that those with knee trouble may want to tackle the trail in a counter-clockwise direction to take the steep section of trail uphill.
Safety on the Trail
White Domes Trail is a short trail but can be dangerous in poor conditions. The trail is exposed, uneven, and alternating between rock, gravel, and sand. Be sure to wear appropriate sun protection, durable shoes with good treads, and pack adequate water. Do not climb rocks both for safety and out of consideration of these delicate formations. There are climbing areas designated by the park elsewhere.
Given that White Domes Trail runs along a wash and through the “Narrows” slot canyon, it can be perilous during a rainstorm. Avoid low-lying areas and ravines should the weather turn stormy. Weather can change quickly. Refer to weather conditions before traveling too far. (Granted, White Domes is a short trail, so a general awareness of current weather conditions should suffice.)
Finally, while wildlife is generally a perk of visiting wilderness areas, it can also be a hazard. Venomous animals such as rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, and scorpions are found in the Valley of Fire. Do not approach these animals on the trail.
White Domes Trail is a constant delight. Unlike many unimpressive slogs to a rewarding vista at the terminus, White Domes travels through a constantly shifting and dramatic series of rock formations. We enjoy the slot canyon so much that we walk through it several times before we continue hiking. By the end of the loop, the terrain has inverted from claustrophobically close sandstone walls to an expansive vista. Then we duck through a gap in a stone wall and return to the parking lot. The trail is rough, narrow, and uneven, but that grants a sense of really hiking through wilderness rather than a groomed park. And the result is awesome.