In the Valley of Fire

If you read my last post, Winter in the Basin, you know that my trip ended in Las Vegas, Nevada, except that it didn’t.  The next morning after arriving in Las Vegas I drove north a little way out of town to explore Valley of Fire State Park.

To get to the park, you would drive northeast out of Las Vegas on Interstate 15, and take exit 75. Just follow this small 2 lane road east for almost another 30 miles, and you will arrive at the park. Valley of Fire State Park is only about 6 miles from the northwestern edge of Lake Mead. As you exit the interstate, you would have no idea that the exotic landscape exists as it is completely hidden behind a small mountain range.

Valley Vista wp
Looking northward into the park from parking area P1 along White Domes Road.

The park gets its name from the reddish sandstone that was deposited in this area about 150 million years ago. The geology here is fascinating as the sandstone is actually much younger than the older rocks which have eroded away above the sandstone. Much of this older rock was formed about 500 million years ago. As the Pacific plate pushes eastward underneath the North American plate and pushes it upward, this tectonic action has created an incredible amount of upheavals, faults and folds in the rocks. Over many millions of years, this older rock had weathered away from the near constant wind and sometimes rain and snow. What it exposed is simply incredible. I’m going to take you on a photographic tour of the park now.

This area has been inhabited by humans for several thousand years. Not too far from the visitor center, you will encounter a turnoff known as Mouse’s Tank with a short hike through some excellent ancient petroglyphs. Some of these petroglyphs date back around 3000 years while others are much more recent, dating from the 1100s.

Ancient art 1 wp
These are some of the older petroglyphs not far from the trail head.
Ancient graffiti 1 wp
It’s really best to just take time and look around, especially up.  The ancients really seemed to prefer the desert varnish for their artwork, probably as it makes for some nice contrast against the red rocks.
Ancient symbols 1 wp
More examples of the ancient art and symbols.  I have never encountered anything like the design at the upper left in all of my travels around the southwestern United States.

Going further into the canyon I began to encounter some really interesting rock formations. I have to admit that some of this terrain reminds me a lot of Arches National Park and Capitol Reef National Park over in Utah. The sandstone is quite similar, and although I haven’t checked it out, it is probably from a similar geological time frame. I was in this canyon in the midmorning, so some of the lighting is not always the best in my photos. But I think it will give you an idea as to what is in this park.

I know you are going to ask, so I will just tell you now — yes the sky really was that blue, and yes the colors really were that vivid.

Vertical Rocks 1wp
The train in the park is quite rugged and it is really interesting and ever-changing around each corner.
Vertical Rocks 2wp
Some of these rock formations are quite large and imposing.  These cliffs tower above the narrow trail.

Farther into the canyon the train began to change a little bit again as did the light. I hadn’t seen any petroglyphs in a while, but I was able to catch this really interesting scene. Fortunately not as many people were at this end of the trail, so I was able to spend a little bit of time composing my photograph.

Shadow arch wp
Off to the side of the trail was this small arch which was serving as a window into the next little canyon.  The place is simply fascinating.

By now I was getting hungry, so I decided to drive north into the park to see what was going to peak my interest for the afternoon. I arrived at a parking area simply labeled as P1 about halfway into the park on what is known as White Domes Road. This seem like a good place to park and catch some lunch, so I just sat in the back of my truck watching the world go by thinking about this beautiful place and everything it has to offer. By the way, I didn’t mention this earlier, but being a state park the entrance fee was only $10 US. That’s an incredible value. Here are a couple of views from the parking area that I hope you will enjoy.

Rainbow wp
This is looking eastward from an area between Mouse’s Tank and the P1 area.  It is known as Rainbow Vista.


Yucca wp
As I was eating my lunch, I kept seeing all of these people hiking down into a canyon to the west of the parking area.  I caught this yucca plant with its old bloom as the afternoon sun was shifting.

One of the other interesting things that I encountered in the park was an incredible collection of supercars passing through along the road as I was eating my lunch. I have never seen so many exotic automobiles in one place at one time. There were numerous Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris. I even saw a few McLarens which are really rare in the United States.

Anyway, as I kept seeing all these people coming and going from this little canyon as I had been eating lunch, I decided I better go exploring. I figured there was going to be a lot of photographic opportunities in this canyon, so this time I took my backpack with all of my photo gear as well as some snacks, extra water and a jacket. This is what I saw along my journey into the canyon.

Pools wp
As the sun moved into the western sky, the colors really started to pop.  I saw this pool of water with this bright yellow in the rocks.
Color Bands 1 wp
And now I was seeing even more colors in the sandstone.  Simply amazing!
Stripes 1wp
Venturing further into the canyon yielded more exotic colors and strange formations.

I was so busy taking photographs every few feet that I have no real idea how far I hiked into the canyon.  By the the time I turned around, I saw no other people. Every time I crested a little ridge, I saw another spectacular view. Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere. And as the afternoon progressed, the light just got better and better. Here are some more photographs from my little journey.

Small arch 1wp
Here is another small arch with these vivid stripes in the sandstone.
Waves wp
More strange color bands in the sandstone.

These are some of the final shots that I took before I figured I should find my way back to the truck which proved a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Fortunately I had taken a GPS reading of my truck location before I headed out. I had crossed numerous values and ridges and was quite a bit farther away than I had realized.

Bumps and stripes wp
This was looking westward into a steep canyon that appeared to have no outlet.
Color blaze wp
,I have never before seen so many colors in sandstone all in one place.  Honestly, it was really hard to leave.
Purple stripes wp
The strange rock formations are like nothing I have ever seen.  And these purple stripes really were this vivid!

What an absolutely incredible place! Valley of Fire is a place that I will definitely be returning, and I hope it’s fairly soon. I only got to see a tiny fraction of the park, but what I saw was just completely fascinating. By the way, the visitor center is really beautiful on its own, and it has very interesting displays inside which cover everything from the natural geology and geography of this place to the ancient native settlements to more modern history.

If you’re ever in the Las Vegas area and you’re looking for something to do outside of the city and away from the casinos and the hustle and bustle of the Strip, then I highly recommend you take the little drive up to Valley of Fire State Park. You won’t be disappointed.

I hope you enjoyed my little photo tour of the park, and I hope that if you go you will post some pictures of your own. Thanks for stopping by.