The scenic path to Valley of Fire State Park is 70 miles Northeast of Las Vegas. In Henderson, Nevada, turn onto Hwy 564, and that leads you onto a road called Northshore which follows the edge of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It is a peaceful road that winds through white dome-like mountains and every once in a while you get a glimpse of the shocking blue lake next to you. If you’d rather get to the park quicker and avoid the 10 dollar NRA fee, take Interstate 15 North of Las Vegas until you see the Valley of Fire Highway; this route will get you there in about 55 miles.
We left from a hotel 5 miles from The Strip called Sam’s Town. It was the nicest room for 30 bucks that I’ve ever gotten. That’s one good thing about Vegas, since they are counting on the money that you’re more than likely going to spend at their restaurants and casinos, a vast majority of the rooms are high quality and given away at a very competitive price.
It was the middle of May and the concrete Highway was baking by mid-morning. We turned off on the Valley of Fire Highway and immediately Las Vegas faded away like last night’s dream. Bright orange fins sprouted up from the flat desert plains right before our eyes, and from a distance in the hot glowing sun, they did indeed look like flames on the horizon.
Valley of Fire is a burning jewel in the middle of the desert. A quick turn off of screaming, congested Interstate 15 and you’re driving down a road surrounded by red sandstone that was created when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Inside the park you can explore 3,000 year old petroglyphs and hundreds of unique rock formations such as The Poodle, The Piano, Elephant Rock, an Arch and something that looks a little like the famous Wave in Southern Utah.
There is a primitive campground in the park which we did not stay at but would be a beautiful place to set up camp, especially in the cooler months as it does not offer much shade. There are several shaded picnic sites strewn about. There is a neat Visitor Center where you can look around at the plant and wildlife exhibits as well as local art, and if nothing else, it’s a great place to cool off.
Valley of Fire is home to many lizards and snakes as well as the rare desert tortoise. I was really hoping to get a lucky glimpse of one of them but unfortunately we didn’t come across any.
The Anasazi people lived in this area from 300 BC to 1500. They were believed to have been farmers in nearby Moapa Valley and their visits to Valley of Fire were mainly for hunting and religious purposes. Climb a high metal staircase that hugs a tall orange fin to get a good look at some of their ancient writings at Atlatl Rock, a place where they may have held religious ceremonies:
The day we were there it was nearly 100 degrees, so come prepared with a lot of water, especially if you’re going to hit the trails. In the Winter it can be anywhere from freezing to 75 degrees, and in the Summer it can get as hot as 120. We didn’t come to The Valley as well prepared that day so we only got a little ways down a few of the trails, but what scenery we did take part in was astonishing. Here are some views from a valley-like trail heading towards The Mouse Tank:
Rainbow Vista is a lovely expanse of multilayered rock which was made even more beautiful that day with the Spring wildflowers surrounding it:
One of the best sections of the park was where we pulled over to take a look at The Piano:
From where you stand at The Piano, you will have a prime view of Poodle Rock:
The formation that isn’t listed on the map but I thought deserved noting was this Fire Cave:
What is incredibly innate about The Valley of Fire is all the individual exploring that you can do there. There are stairways of rock leading to dark mini-caves, there are trails that end in the middle of nowhere, there are dozens of shaded niches all over the place, making it a would-be perfect spot for a massive game of hide-and-seek. Climbing isn’t allowed just anywhere so you have to look out for the signs but for the most part, I’m pretty sure we were all right:
Arch Rock is a charming little arch exposed to the sun and sky on the far Western portion of the park:
I’m not sure if we were allowed to but we climbed up to it because I had to get a better view. After losing all my Arches NP photos, this little one seemed to me like a parting gift:
It’s just not the same viewing an arch from so far down below:
Here is what I like to call Valley of Fire’s Wave:
Incredibly, this rock looks exactly like an Elephant, which is why (big surprise) it has been given the name Elephant Rock:
Because of Las Vegas being only 60 miles away, the sky does not have the sapphire-blue quality that the majority of the Southwest does. There is just too much leftover haze from the city hanging in the air, but this more subdued blue is still a startling contrast against the blazing orange and red rock.
From what we learned in the Visitor Center, the park is an excellent spot for star-gazing. For anyone taking a trip to Vegas who wants to get out of the city for a day or two and experience the stark and alluring land of Nevada, Valley of Fire is the perfect place to go.
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park, made so in 1935. It is rare to find a place with so much contrast, filled with a rugged beauty and so many secrets. If you’re in the Las Vegas area there are two things I would suggest not missing, especially if you don’t reside in the Southwest region of the US. The first place being the Grand Canyon, and the second Valley of Fire State Park. This park is on the list of places that I did not get nearly enough time at and must return to explore one day.