Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire is a breathtaking experience in wide-open spaces, vast sky, and marvelous, colorful geology which rivals the Painted Desert. All the more charming because of its limited scale, you experience a wide variety in a short distance. It’s the perfect day trip, doesn’t require a 4 wheel drive (although that’s always more fun and opens up new possibilities), and will get you back for dinner on the The Strip.
Take I-15 north out of Las Vegas and you pass the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and head into open desert. Just a half an hour from Downtown Vegas and you turn at Crystal onto the narrow Valley of Fire Highway (NV 169) drawing you east into brown nothingness capped by an endless cerulean sky.
Stop at the Indian casino and gas station for supplies because there are no food or drink vendors in the Park.
Twist and turns herald the change of landscape and a final turn with a sweeping view of the valley ahead highlighted by a narrow strip of blue that is an arm of Lake Mead in the distance. This is a Nevada State Park with a ranger station at the entrance collecting $5 fees per car and dispensing maps and other travelers’ aids with courtesy and smile.
The famous iron oxide red rocks crop up from the desert floor, forming amazing sculptures from ancient sand dunes captured millions of years ago and slowly eroded into exotic and intricate designs by eons of wind and rain. Some are craggy, with wild eyes of caves and caverns staring blackly in the afternoon sun. Some are like beehives, carefully layered and smoothly undulating in their battle with time. Some are animal shapes, so expertly crafted that not even a vivid imagination is required.
First stop of interest is Arch Rock with an adjacent camp ground. Next on the same loop is Atlatl rock where the Park Service has built stairs for viewing of a set of petroglyphs (Native American Rock Art). An atlatis a notched stick used to throw primitive spears; its use as a hunting weapon depicted in the carved characters.
The area with petrified logs contains a windy dirt path where you are more struck by the silence of the desert than impressed with the scanty few logs displayed behind protective chain link fence. A lizard perfectly camouflaged hints at the abundant wildlife masked by the harsh terrain.
The Visitor Center is well-designed, blending into the backdrop of rusty rocks with a series of displays to educate on the geology, the Native American history and the role of "white man." Caution: there is no restaurant or snack bar at the Center. I re-iterate that you really must bring your own food and drink to the park.
Taking the road from the parking lot of the Visitor Center towards White Domes is really the most spectacular part of the day. The views are breathtaking, with the pavement winding through a narrow canyon-like gulch only to open onto a magnificent vista of rainbow colored rocks framed by white mounds in the distance under an umbrella of azure sky. Red sand lines the sides of the road, accentuated with deep green growth stubbornly defying the arid harshness of the mars-like landscape. Small blooms and flowering succulents appear magically where nothing should thrive.
You can exit the Park by way of NV 169, going north to Overton for a beer or an ice cream, then joining I-15 to speed back south to the City. Or you can exit to NV 169, turn right, then right again on NV 167 (Northshore Dr) for a charming scenic tour back to Las Vegas through still more beautiful terrain.