There are plenty of amazing sights to see on a trip to Las Vegas, but I contend that Valley of Fire State Park rivals the best of Sin City’s glitz and glamour with its awe-inspiring natural wonders.
The park, located approximately an hour northeast of Las Vegas off Highway 15, features 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops, ancient petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years.
A little bit of history
The Aztec sandstone in Valley of Fire State Park is from the Jurassic period and is the remnant of the sand left behind by the wind after inland seas subsided and the land rose. Early man moved into southern Nevada as far back as 11,000 years ago. The most obvious evidence of occupation is the petroglyphs carved into the rocks by the Basketmaker culture about 2,500 years ago, followed later by the Early Pueblo culture. Paiutes were living in this area in 1865 when Mormons settled at nearby St. Thomas at the south end of the Moapa Valley. Farming, ranching and mining occurred in the region along a narrow stretch of water.
A rough road was built through this area in 1912 as part of the Arrowhead Trail, connecting Salt Lake City with Los Angeles. In the 1920s the name was coined by an AAA official traveling through the park at sunset. This person purportedly said that the entire valley looked like it was on fire; hence the name. It was also during the 1920s that the archeological richness and recreational possibilities of the area were recognized and about 8,500 acres of federal public domain, the original Valley of Fire tract, were given to the State of Nevada.
In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the first facilities and campgrounds in the park. On Easter Sunday in 1934, Valley of Fire was formally opened as Nevada’s first state park. However, the park didn’t receive its legal designation from the Nevada State Legislature until the body convened in 1935.
What to see
The best thing about Valley of Fire State Park is you can spend two hours on a driving tour of the highlights with minimal walking involved and get a worthwhile experience or immerse yourself in the desert wonder and spend a few nights at one of the park’s campgrounds.
This park is also ideal for aspiring professional photographers — or those seeking the ‘perfect selfie.’
Those visiting the park as a half-day trip from Las Vegas should make sure they don’t miss these points of interest:
Beehives — These sandstone formations not only demonstrate the unique design that can be created by nature, but is an excellent representation of geologic cross bedding. Those are the grooved lines going in different directions. The layers or beds represent different layers of silt that are deposited at different times. The beds indicate the angle of the wind or water was moving at the time the material was deposited.
Atlatl Rock — An atlatl is a device used for launching a spear; usually a short cord would around the spear so that when thrown into the air the weapon will rotate. The ancient Indians used these weapons and they are depicted in the petroglyphs (rock carvings) located at Atlatl Rock. It’s a unique experience looking at originals carvings that someone drew over one thousand years ago. Altatl Rock alone makes the trip into the desert worth it.
Petrified Logs — Petrified wood has laid outside long enough to become a fossil. All the organic things have been removed by sun, wind, water and time, and have been completely replaced with minerals. Logs and stumps washed into Valley of Fire about 225 million years ago and are visible in two locations. The logs are several colorful tree trunks lying close to the road, safely fenced off for all to enjoy.
Elephant Rock — As its name implies, this is an arch in the shape of an elephant. The rock is right next to the road, but as parking is limited on Valley of Fire Road, it is best to park in the nearby parking lot and take the 1/3 of a mile trail to reach the formation. The parking lot also features a white frame with “Valley of Fire State Park” at the bottom and situated for the perfect ‘I was there’ photo opportunity.
Visitors with a little more time should consider hiking to one of the park’s other highlights:
Mouse’s Tank Trail — This 0.8-mile trail to Petroglyph Canyon offers hikers the chance to see wildlife and is good for all skill levels.
Rainbow Vista Trail — This 1.1-mile hike offers scenic views of beautifully colored sandstone and is good for all skill levels.
Prospect Trail — This 10-mile hike features beautiful wildflowers and spectacular rock formations. It is moderately difficult.
Know before you go
Valley of Fire State Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. There is a $10 per vehicle entrance fee.
Pets are welcome, but they must be kept on a leash of not more than six feet in length and they are not allowed in the Visitor Center.
It may be tempting to climb on the gorgeous rock formations, but climbing is limited to specific areas of the park. The Visitors Center can provide a list of permitted climbing areas.
The use of drones or any remote-controlled aircraft is not allowed.
Last, but not least, this state park is located in a desert, which means spring and fall are the best times to visit as summer temperatures exceed 100 degrees daily and can reach up to 120. Make sure you have enough water for each member of your group to stay hydrated before starting a hike.
For more information about Valley of Fire State Park, including campground sites, visit http://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire