Located about one hour east of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada's oldest state park. Founded in 1935, the park protects 34,880 acres of red sandstone formations along the northern most tip of Lake Mead National Recreation Area which stretches into nearby Arizona.
The park gets its name not from the red rocks that vary in shade from deep red to terra cotta, but from the colors that appear just after sunrise and just before sunset. During these times the shadows hang long and the entire valley, located in the arid lowland Nevada desert, appears to glow a deep red. A land far removed from the bright lights and all you can eat buffets of Las Vegas, the park offers a wide variety of activities for visitors year round.
The Valley of Fire is an excellent park for auto touring with an outstanding network of roads allowing easy access to many features. The park is best accessed from the west entrance, off of Exit 75 on Interstate 15. The scenic road twists and turns for 32 miles to and through the park. After passing the west entrance it is easy to image John Wayne riding across the red desert rocks with an azure cloudless sky above.
The surrounding rock formations are incredible, and reminiscent of Arches National Park, far to the east in Utah. Strange formations carved by wind, water and heat abound, as well as many natural arches. One of the first features you come across is the Beehives. The Beehives are sandstone rocks that have been carved with a swirling pattern over time and resemble their namesake. Just a little bit past the Beehives, you can take a short loop trail to see some petrified wood, deposited 225 million years ago in the valley. The area is covered with fragments, however there are some intact logs that you can see while visiting. Remember that the gathering of petrified wood is a criminal offense.
Nearby is another spur road that will end at the trailhead that leads to Atlatl Rock. A long set of iron stairs climbs up a rock wall to an incredible panel of petroglyphs. Carved into the desert varnish between 300 B.C. and 1150 A.D., the petroglyphs of hunters, mountain sheep, spirals, birds, men and other objects tell a multitude of ancient stories, now lost forever in time. Ancient artists scratched the veneer off to expose the red stone underneath, leaving their mark for future generations to marvel at. Desert varnish is formed when minerals leech out of the rock from the extreme heat, leaving a thin black veneer on the surface. The petroglyphs are very fragile, touching them with your hands or doing rubbings will ruin them, so be sure to leave them alone.
Toward the center of the park you will find the visitor center. Inside its mercifully air conditioned walls there are a number of displays and exhibits that document plant and animal life, as well as the ancient cultures that use to live in the area. From the visitor center you can take a short spur road to the Petroglyph Canyon Trailhead. The short half-mile trail passes through the bottom of a canyon down a sand covered wash. As you walk down the trail be sure to look at the rock walls of the canyon for more petroglyphs. The ravages of time haven't been as kind on this trail, and the images are much harder to find. Along the trail be sure to stop and enjoy the pure silence that surrounds you, broken only by your labored breath in the desert heat and the soft crunch of the trail below you.
Find out more about Valley Of Fire State Park...