Hiking through Valley of Fire State Park
Our next adventure took us into the Mojave Desert to Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. The Valley of Fire State Park is 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, just six miles from Lake Mead.
The park consists of approximately 35,000 acres. It gets its colors from the red sandstone that can appear to be “on fire” when the sun’s rays hit just right. Valley of Fire’s landscape is breathtaking. The red rocks are sandstone formations, shaped from shifting sand dunes more than 150 million years ago.
Once you get off I-15 at exit 75, you pass a gas station, then drive about 17 miles through a winding road to the park’s entrance (there is fee; cost depends on if you’re a Nevada pass, type of pass you want, etc). There is a 10.5 mile road that cuts through the park (it’s actually considered a Nevada Scenic Byway). Or you can stop at the visitor center, then drive north on a scenic road that passes several points of interest (the end of the road loops so you can head back to the main road).
Definitely stop at the visitor center. It provides lots of interesting information, as well as helpful staff who can show you (on a map) where to find different hikes or scenic views. An exhibit just inside the center’s entrance provides an informative overview of the history of the land – huge windows in front of the exhibit panels let visitors correlate the information with examples of the mountain/landscape. It’s fascinating to realize how erosion, weather patterns, receding glaciers, humans and time can so dramatically alter the landscape.
A scenic drive takes visitors throughout the state park, highlighting some outstanding views and amazing rock formations. I know some people wonder how rocks can be fascinating or pretty. Trust me, these rocks are. The red colors are so intense and the shapes so unusual. And knowing that the varying rock structures (arches, holes and more) were formed by nature over thousands (even millions!) of years is fascinating to me.
There are several areas to stop to get out of the car for pictures, picnics and hikes. Atlatl Rock has examples of ancient Indian petroglyphs, or rock art. Arch Rock is a very cool rock formation, highlighting an arch that was formed over millions of years. It’s suspected that the arch will eventually fall from the weight and weather. We hiked along White Domes, which offered different colors throughout the rocks. The White Dome trail leads to remnants from a set from the movie The Professionals, which was filmed in the 1960s. The park has been the scene from several other movies and television shows, including Airwolf (TV show), Star Trek, Transformers and Total Recall.
We stopped at Mouse’s Tank and White Domes’ trails. These trails are different from we’re used to – red sand covers most of the trail. It makes it a little challenging to hike through (and I felt like I should see a lake or ocean as I hiked through sand!), not to mention a little messy with red sand covering your shoes and socks. We poured sand out of our shoes after each hike! The trail at White Domes was rockier so we had to pay attention as the sand made for some slick footing at times. It was a beautiful hike as we’d encounter rock formations easily towering five or six stories above us.
If you tour Valley of Fire State Park, I recommend having a full tank of gas, food and water before you leave Las Vegas. Around two or three exits past the city, you definitely know you’re in the desert as things such as gas stations and food become much scarcer. There is a gas station just off the exit for Valley of Fire, however, not much between.
There are some camping sites and picnic areas available in the park. The desert certainly offers different landscapes to hike along and views to encounter. Rocks, cactus, creosote bushes and sand are the typical views for desert hiking. Of course these offer their own kind of beauty that only nature provides and demand an appreciation all their own.