Chances are you’ve heard of Las Vegas, Nevada. Yes? We thought so. But have you heard of Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas? No? We’re not surprised. Neither had we. But it is an awesome place that’s just an hour northeast of Vegas (it’s close to Lake Mead and just off of I-15) and is really worth a look. We only discovered it because we met some young European travelers who said we had to go there. We had the time on our way back from Zion, so we figured, why not? We are so glad we took the time and actually wished we had more time to spend there. The photographer in me especially wanted to be here at sunrise and sunset, but it is beautiful at any time of day!
Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest state park, and while you’re driving there, you really can’t imagine there’s anything around worth making a state park about. Let’s just say it’s not the most spectacular scenery on the way in. Just as you’re getting to the park, though, you begin seeing the red sandstone formations, and the lightbulb goes on. It’s like a mini-Arches National Park has popped up in the middle of nowhere!
We were there in the afternoon on a mid-June day, and it was hot. Really, really hot. That was the bad news. The good news was, no one else was crazy enough to go there when it was so hot, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves! There’s a short drive through the park where you can see lots of beautiful formations.
We scrambled over the rocks and crawled through holes. And watched for snakes (which might have been paranoia or not, but we weren’t taking any chances). We took loads of pictures (I’m sure you’re shocked!). We looked at petrified wood and incredible petroglyphs that were created between 300 B.C.E. and 1150 C.E. by the ancient people who inhabited this land (the Basket Makers and the Anasazi Pueblos). It’s amazing that these things are still around hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years later.
We were also very lucky to see a pair of bighorn sheep wandering through the rocks. Their coloring was great camouflage in those rocks! They were really close to the road and let us watch them for quite a long time, just moving along slowly and eating. A basic rule of animal watching is, if you’re causing the animals to change their behavior, you’re too close. We adhere to that rule, and these sheep clearly didn’t feel threatened by our presence on the road. Seeing as how our mountain climbing skills are somewhat limited, comparatively, that was probably a safe bet on their part. They’re incredibly agile on those rocks.
Bighorn sheep have horns that grow continuously throughout their lives. By seven years of age the males usually have a full curl and their horns can weigh thirty pounds or more! The horns of the females do not extend to the full curl. Other hooved animals like deer, elk and moose have antlers which they shed each year, not horns.
The park has a visitor center as well as camping and picnic facilities. There are several short hiking trails and a few places where rock climbing is allowed. There is a nominal vehicle entrance fee when entering the park ($10 in 2013). If you’re in Las Vegas and have half a day or more to spend exploring the outdoors, you should definitely visit Valley of Fire!
What travel advice have you taken from other random travelers? Sometimes the most unexpected travel destinations are the best! Enjoy your week or your weekend!