Valley of Fire is appropriately named. The rocks here are often of a very bright orange/red that looks like burning embers. It is also really hot in the summer – – temperatures can go above 100° Fahrenheit. The park feels a lot to me like the national parks located in Utah – parks such as Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The eroded sandstone tilted by geologic forces is certainly reminiscent of the Grand Staircase area to its east.
The park is a photographer’s playground. There are many great shots to be had if you have the time and inclination. I’ll detail a few of the highlights.
Valley of Fire is blessed with a lot of arches. There are probably hundreds of small ones that are little more than windows. These are great fun to play around and my kids have enjoyed exploring them when they were grade school age or younger and when teenagers.
Besides that, there are several larger arches that are worth looking for. Several of these are able to be seen from the road or very near it. The most famous is probably Elephant Rock, so named because of its clear resemblance to an elephant. This can be found near the east entrance. Another worthwhile arch is Arch Rock. You will need to watch for this one, as it blends in with its environment when viewed from your car. There is a nice loop trail near this one to let you see it more clearly and explore some other named features.
The park is full of plenty of other interesting geologic formations. The Beehives are a collection of stones resembling giant bee hives as the name implies. Rainbow Vista is a place where you can see the upheaval of stone layers with pale white mixed with bright red and orange layers.
There are also Petrified logs in one area – these are not the best examples by any means and are protected behind a fence, but stop by if interested. The best examples of petrified wood I’ve seen is not surprisingly found in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
The loop trail at Atlatl Rock presents some easily viewed petroglyphs, required only a short hike and a climb up a few stairs. For a more extensive viewing of petroglyphs, try Petroglyph Canyon Trail, which is a 0.75-mile round trip hike that presents many great examples of petroglyphs. Believed to have been carved by the Anasazi/Ancient Pueblo peoples some 850-1500 years ago, they show an interesting array of people, animals and shapes. The trail has a lot of images along its length.
There is a natural tank of water on this hike (not drinkable) called Mouse’s Tank (named for a trouble-making Paiute Indian in the 1890’s). While returning from that tank, at the sign that directed you to turn left toward Mouse’s, continue straight up the branch of the of the canyon you are hiking and proceed for about 100 yards to the back of the canyon. Look to your right for a short box canyon and there is a natural arch above it. This is a nice detour if you have the inclination.
A popular place for photography is the Fire Wave. It is similar to The Wave, a more famous feature that is by reservation only in the Coyote Buttes area of southern Utah. The Fire Wave requires no such reservation and is not that visited (for now). It is located along the road to the White Dooms – park in Parking Area #3. See the map further down for a more specific location.
Have a Careful Adventure
Valley of Fire is not the most dangerous of places to visit in the American West by any means, but please us appropriate precautions. Poisonous Rattlesnakes do inhabit the area and while encountering them will be rare, avoid putting hands and legs into crevices and under rocks. While walking, it is always best to step on a rock than to step over it, as the snake may be laying on the other side and misunderstand your intensions.
Besides snakes, the temperature at Valley of Fire can get oppressively (and dangerously) hot. Cover your head, don’t overheat and take plenty of water with you. It is safest to stay on well-marked trails and avoid hiking alone.
Valley of Fire State Park is in southeastern Nevada about 50 miles from Las Vegas. You’ll find plenty of lodging and restaurants within a short drive of the park. There is some camping available in the park (reservations recommended), but keep in mind the temperature before deciding if it is a good idea for you.
If you are staying in Vegas and desire a bit of the outdoors, then this is a better choice to me than the more visited Hoover Dam. It makes a nice day trip from Vegas if you like the outdoors and the park certainly has the requisite remote feeling once you are within the park.
Nevada isn’t just for gambling or those hunting for Area 51. See some more natural areas worth visiting here.
The United States is blessed with an abundance of scenic areas to experience. For a list by of great places to visit by state, with useful advice, go here.
Here are a few hi-res pictures of the park to get you interested.