Soft vs. Hard Shell Rooftop Tent for Photographers in you

A Trip to Beautiful Southern Nevada

I am back after 6 weeks of hiatus from this blog. I meant to publish this 2 weeks ago but life disrupted it. I would still like to share some gear tips for photographers and some of the beautiful places I visited along the way.

Originally I planned to go to Lone Pine to Alabama Hills and Yosemite but continued California Wildfires and smoke prevented that again. I had the same trip planned in July that was canceled because of the same.

This time I decided to explore other parts of Nevada and decided to go to Valley of Fire State Park, Northeast of Las Vegas. The trip is almost 8 hours from Reno. There are only a few small towns in between. The largest towns were Hawthorne, NV where they have the largest Ammunition Depot in the world, Tonopah, NV which is a mining town in higher elevation, and Beatty, NV which is a charming little town at the gate of Death Valley National Park (13 miles away from it). The trip was beautiful with mostly classic Nevada-style.

Beatty, NV is a charming town where you can find nice hotels to stay in if you please, and there is a lot of Wild Dunkies (Burros) roaming around and in town and people just stop their cars and get out to pet them. Pretty cute, friendly and charming wild animals.

On my way to Las Vegas, the smoke from California Wildfires reached almost to Tonapah before it finally cleared. I got hungry along the way and found the cutest little kiosk in a tiny place called Mina, NV, and got one of the best authentic burritos I had in a while. The name of that place is “La Casita”. Definitely recommend it.

I had bought Overlanding gear for my Toyota 4Runner with a special rack from Front Runner including extended gear and a Rooftop Tent by Thule installed by a great shop in Reno called Rack 2 Roam. I like camping but I dislike the time it takes to set up and I wanted to be mobile especially as a photographer.

In Beatty, NV, I found a nice place to boondock where no one was around except for wild burros here and there. Setting the tent up was easy and took 10-12 min and it is a great big size tent where 3 people can sleep comfortably. The fun was the next morning! Sunrise was around 6:30 am and as a photographer, you have to be at least 30 min before sunrise in your location to shoot. It is almost impossible to get this tent back together in the dark, so my morning shooting scenarios were out of the question. It was a rude awakening for me! I realized I bought the wrong style of tent. Finally, when the sun was up, I put the tent back together but even then it took a good 20-25 min.

So if you like to overland in a Rooftop Tent, and don’t care about photography, and want a comfy large tent, buy the Thule which is priced affordably. If you are a photographer and want to set something up and down in less than a min to get ready to leave to your campsite for a photo shoot which means in some State Parks like the Valley of Fire, to drive from the campsite you slept in, to hiking trails or locations for the photoshoot, then you need something different, which is called a clamshell Rooftop tent, and many companies make them (more on next blog).

On my way from Beatty, NV to Las Vegas, I bumped into an unreal place called “Big Dunes“. It is about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. It is remotely visible from the road. There are two paths to get there and I took the dirt road for 4-5 miles to get closer to it and shot some photos but did not spend much more there (hopefully next time!). Below are some images on that.

There are tons of Joshua trees as you get closer to Las Vegas, and they are pretty. I met an awesome MBA classmate (Krist) and his wife for lunch in Vegas before heading to Valley of Fire State Park to camp. The most scenic route from Las Vegas to there is when you tell your GPS to take you to Lake Mead first. Park entrance was free for me because I had the yearly National Park Pass I bought. Once you are in the Lake Mead area, you can change the address to Valley of Fire on your GPS and you go through a very scenic route to get there. Definitely worth the drive. It was 3rd week of September and it was hot during the day and cooled off only to 74-76 degrees during the night.

The time to hike multiple trails in the warmer times of the year in the Valley of Fire State Park is 60-90 min before sunset and 60-120 min after sunrise, otherwise, it gets too hot. Some trails were closed due to intense heat and the safety of hikers.

Cooler seasons are better to visit, like around November and after. I got lucky that evening and found the very last camp spot in Valley of Fire which was first come first served. It was an unreal place surrounded by the beauty of nature and a red-painted valley. Unfortunately, it was almost a full moon and Astrophotography was a no-go but never the less beautiful.

The next day I set out to do a bit of photography but taking down the tent in darkness was a chore and I did not get to shoot any Sunrise photos but I decided definitely to exchange that tent when I get back and get a clamshell one. On my way back to Reno that day I stopped by in Las Vegas at an awesome Persian Restaurant (Hafez) and had an amazing Kebob before I hit the road.

The California smoke from Wildfires rolled into Vegas that day. I decided to go to the Mount Charleston Recreation Area just north of Las Vegas and camp out there for the night. Such a great place to visit. Some sections of it reminded me as if I am in Switzerland. It is beautiful and surrounded by good camping and trails.

Unfortunately, there was more smoke and few campsites I checked in Mount Charlston were full so I headed back to Beatty, NV hoping to take a quick trip to Death Valley National Park but the smoke got worse and worse during the drive, and once I got to Beatty, NV it was dense and I decided to stay there overnight but could not use my tent to overland so I stayed in a nice Motel called “Death Valley Inn“. I ate at Smoking J’s Barbecue that evening and the food was awesome and a Must-Try if you are in that area.

I headed back the next morning to Reno which was a little over a 5-hour drive.

Nevada has a lot to offer. You just have to be willing to drive to it. The landscape is different but beautiful in its own way. I will be back in November or December to Valley of Fire to hike more during the day where the sun is not so hot and take more photographs and hopefully see the Big Horn Sheeps in action there, which I was not able to in this visit.

Please check out the Fall issue of Nevada Magazine. You will see the most magnificent picture of Valley of Fire with the Big Horn Sheep in the front. Quiet the shot! I almost shot on the same spot but did not get lucky with the weather, timing, and subject in the foregound. I am subscribed to it, but this magazine will be free as of 2022 for all the Nevada fans

See you on the next blog!