60 miles NE of Las Vegas
The 36,000-acre Valley of Fire State Park typifies the mountainous, red Mojave Desert that surrounds Las Vegas. It derives its name from the brilliant sandstone formations that were created 150 million years ago by a great shifting of sand, and that continue to be shaped by the geologic processes of wind and water erosion. These are rock formations like you’ll never see anywhere else. There is nothing green, just fiery red rocks swirling unrelieved as far as the eye can see. No wonder various sci-fi movies have used this place as a stand-in for another planet. The entire place is very mysterious, loaded with petroglyphs, and totally inhospitable. It’s not hard to believe that for the Indians it was a sacred place where men came as a test of their manhood. It is a natural wonder that must be seen to be appreciated.
Although it’s hard to imagine in the sweltering Nevada heat, for billions of years these rocks were under hundreds of feet of ocean. This ocean floor began to rise some 200 million years ago, and the waters became more and more shallow. Eventually the sea made a complete retreat, leaving a muddy terrain traversed by ever-diminishing streams. A great sandy desert covered much of the southwestern part of the American continent until about 140 million years ago. Over eons, winds, massive fault action, and water erosion sculpted fantastic formations of sand and limestone. Oxidation of iron in the sands and mud—and the effect of groundwater leaching the oxidized iron—turned the rocks the many hues of red, pink, russet, lavender, and white that can be seen today. Logs of ancient forests washed down from faraway highlands and became petrified fossils, which can be seen along two interpretive trails.
From Las Vegas, take I-15 N to exit 75 (Valley of Fire turnoff). However, the more scenic route is I-15 N to Lake Mead Boulevard east to Northshore Road (NV 167) and then proceed north to the Valley of Fire exit. The first route takes about an hour, the second, 1[bf]1/2 hours.
There is a $10-per-vehicle admission charge to the park ($8 for Nevada residents), regardless of how many people you cram inside.
Plan on spending a minimum of an hour in the park, though you can spend a great deal more time. It can get very hot in there (there is nothing to relieve the sun beating down and reflecting off of all that red), and there is no water, so be certain to bring a liter, maybe two, per person in the summer. Without a guide you must stay on paved roads, but don’t worry if they end; you can always turn around and go back to the main road. You can see a great deal from the car, and there are also hiking trails.
Numerous sightseeing tours go to the Valley of Fire; inquire at your hotel.
What to See & Do
There are no food concessions or gas stations in the park; however, you can obtain meals or gas on NV 167 or in nearby Overton (15 miles northwest on NV 169).
At the southern edge of town is the Lost City Museum, 721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd. (tel 702/397-2193), a sweet little museum, very nicely done, commemorating an ancient ancestral Puebloan village that was discovered in the region in 1924. Artifacts dating back 12,000 years are on display, as are clay jars, dried corn and beans, arrowheads, seashell necklaces, and willow baskets from the ancient Pueblo culture that inhabited this region between a.d. 300 and 1150. Other exhibits document the Mormon farmers who settled the valley in the 1860s. A large collection of local rocks—petrified wood, fern fossils, iron pyrite, green copper, and red iron oxide, along with manganese blown bottles turned purple by the ultraviolet rays of the sun—are also displayed here. The museum is surrounded by reconstructed wattle-and-daub pueblos. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 17 and under. It’s open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm, but closed Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1.
Information headquarters for Valley of Fire is the Visitor Center on NV 169, 6 miles west of Northshore Road (tel 702/397-2088). It’s open daily 8:30am to 4:30pm and is worth a quick stop for information and a glance at some of the informational exhibits before entering the park. Postcards, books, slides, and films are for sale here, and you can pick up hiking maps and brochures. Rangers can answer your park-related questions. For online information about the park, which is open sunrise to sunset, go to www.parks.nv.gov/vf.htm.
There are hiking trails, shaded picnic sites, and two campgrounds in the park. Most sites are equipped with tables, grills, water, and restrooms. A $20-per-vehicle, per-night camping fee is charged for use of the campground (plus $10 for utility hookups); if you’re not camping, it costs $10 per vehicle to enter the park.
Some of the notable formations in the park have been named for the shapes they vaguely resemble—a duck, an elephant, seven sisters, domes, beehives, and so on. Mouse’s Tank is a natural basin that collects rainwater, so named for a fugitive Paiute called Mouse, who hid there in the late 1890s. Native American petroglyphs etched into the rock walls and boulders—some dating from 3,000 years ago—can be observed on self-guided trails. Petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock and Petroglyph Canyon are both easily accessible. In summer, when temperatures are usually over 100 °F (38 °C), you may have to settle for driving through the park in an air-conditioned car.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.