Tired of the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas? Had enough of the concrete canyons and smoked filled casinos of Sin City? Not sure if it’s day or night (there are no clocks allowed in Vegas casinos)? Then you should do what I do as often as I can when I visit Vegas — make a trip to Valley of Fire State Park and escape into the beautiful desert world that comprises much of Nevada. No neon lights, no massive buffets, no dancing fountains (in fact, little water anywhere)! Beyond usual Mojave desert landscapes, Valley of Fire has wonderful and interesting rock formations that alone are worth the journey. The park is is located 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Las Vegas and is worlds apart. I love visiting this place and never tire of its wonderful scenery and hiking opportunities.
Valley of Fire is the oldest state park in Nevada, dedicated in 1935. The park isn’t very large by American standards, just 42,000 acres (17,000 ha). It sits between 2,000–2,600 feet (610–790 m) altitude and adjoins the far end of Lake Mead by its confluence with the Virgin River. The park derives its name from red sandstone formations (about 150 million years old) created from sand dunes in the age of dinosaurs.
The effect of time and the elements have beautifully sculpted the rock into some unusual formations. The color of the stone when the light of the rising or setting sun hits it gave rise to the name, “Valley of Fire”, as I think you can appreciate in the following photos.
There is evidence of aboriginal activity in the park dating from around 300 BC to 1150 AD. Nice examples of primitive art (petroglyphs) are found at several sites within the park, some of which are easily accessible.
The park is transected by a single main road, with several side branches also worth exploring. Popular activities include camping, hiking, picnicking and photography. There’s a nice visitor center whose rangers who can help you plan your adventure; the center has some simple but informative displays.
Every turn of the road wil beckon you to stop and enjoy the changing landscapes. There are hundreds of great vistas and even a simple drive through the park on the main road is worthwhile. But take a little time, linger, and get off on the side roads or a hiking trail. Some places of interest (recorded in alphabetical order) that you might want to make a point of stopping at when you visit Valley of Fire include:
Arch Rock: A small but beautiful arch of the type you see in large numbers at Arches National Park in Utah. As with all arches, it’s formed by the erosive effects of wind and water, and like all will in time collapse.
Atlatl Rock: An An atlatl (at’-lat-l) is a tool used to throw a spear, giving it distance and rotational spin. The ancient Indians used these weapons and illustrated them in their petroglyphs (rock carvings) at Atlatl Rock. There’s a tall steel ladder that takes you up the rock and brings you face to face with many old petroglyphs. like the ones you see above. A campsite is also found here.
The Beehives: These are dome-shaped and banded sandstone formations that resemble their namesake.
Elephant Rock: An extensively eroded arch probably near collapse, which vaguely resembles the shape of an elephant.
A note of precaution. This desert can get VERY hot in the summer. It’s so dry that you likely won’t even feel yourself sweating as all water evaporates quickly. It’s critical that you have a lot of water with you and that you make a point of sipping it often as dehydration and heat stroke are serious risks. Best to visit this park between late fall and early spring, when it is really at its finest and you can explore it without exhausting yourself in the heat.