The area was also a well-known landmark to early settlers as they passed through the reserve on their way to find riches, or more often heartbreak, in the gold fields of California and later to establish homesteads in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s estimated that more than 50,000 emigrants passed through the city in the mid 1850’s. Evidence of their journey can still be found at Camp Rock and Register Rock where they left their names written in axel grease.
The geology which created this city of strangely formed spires and boulders is very similar to another well-known climbing destination and more famous Joshua Tree National Park. At both Joshua Tree and City of Rocks, small localized faults slowly cracked the overlying lava deposits. These cracks allowed water to seep in and, over millions of years, erode the l
lava into large boulders, as well as, carry away the surrounding debris, leaving the landscape we see today.
Along with the rock climbers, City of Rocks is home to a variety of plants and wildlife. Mule deer, coyote, bobcat, mountain cottontail, jack rabbit, yellow-bellied marmot, and chipmunks frequent the reserve. Spring wildflowers include lupine, phlox, columbine, paintbrush, asters and balsamroot.
For photographers, the reserve offers a wide range of opportunities. Groves of aspen trees can be found in the northwest section of the park near Finger Rock, sweeping vistas overlooking the valley can be found near the Bread Loaves formation and the Emery Pass picnic area. For a more intimate view, several trails from Bath Rock and the various camping areas along the park road lead down among the boulders, South Creek and Center Creek. Weathered pinyon pine and panholes offer great foreground elements for compositions of the boulders and spires. With the largest concentration of boulders located on the western side of the valley which faces southeast, sunrise will typically provide the best light although wonderful images can also be taken at sunset and at mid-morning or late afternoon.
The equipment you will most likely want to carry with you are a wide-angle lens in the range of 16mm to take advantage numerous foreground interests and a moderate telephoto in the 200mm range for isolating lone pinyon pine or rock formations and any wildlife you may encounter. A polarizing filter will also be very helpful for increasing color saturation and removing reflections from vegetation and the light-colored granite.
If you are shooting wide angle landscapes with a strong foreground element you may also want to consider focus staking by taking several exposures at various focusing distances throughout the scene and combining them later during your post processing.
The reserve is open year-round with spring and autumn months being the best for photography in order to capture the spring wildflowers and fall colors of aspen and alder. Winter can also be a beautiful time for photography, however, keep in mind that the reserve is at an elevation of 6,000 feet and snow is frequent. Travel to, from and inside the reserve can be difficult.
If you are traveling to the park from the direction of Boise follow I-84 East to exit 216 to Declo and turn south on SR 77 to the Conner Creek Junction. At the junction turn west on the SR 77 Spur and follow it into Almo. The visitor center and the park entrance are just south of the post office.
Coming from the direction of Salt Lake City follow I-84 west to exit 245 at Sublette and turn west towards Malta. From Malta take SR 77 straight through Conner Creek Junction where it becomes the SR 77 Spur and follow it into Almo. The visitor center and the park entrance are just south of the post office.