Destination: Valley of Fire 2

Take a Road Trip 
to this Beautiful 
Nevada State Park

Why take a road trip to the Valley of Fire? It’s close, inexpensive and fascinating.

Less than 60 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, Valley of Fire feels like another world. So much so, it was selected for the outside Mars scenes in the movie “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as numerous other movies, TV shows and commercials.

The site is the first Nevada State Park, and was dedicated in 1933, around the same time work was commencing on the Hoover Dam. Not coincidently, the park abuts Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the east at the Virgin River confluence. It is considered part of the Mojave Desert.

The park covers 46,000 acres and ranges in elevation from 1,320 to 3,009 feet above sea level. Though the park is open year-round, the most popular seasons are spring and fall when daytime highs are in the mid-70s. Summertime temperatures can range from 100 to 115 degrees and winters can get down into the 30s at night.

Entry is only $10. If you would like a campsite it’s only $20 and $10 more for utility hookups.

The visitors center is a great place to start your exploration. Open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the prehistoric and recent history of the region as well as the geography, ecology, flora and fauna.

Next, you’ll set out on Valley of Fire Road, a 10.5-mile ribbon of pavement connecting the east and west entrances. Along your route, there is much to see and you will find much to do.

What to do

Pull over at one of the many trailheads and go for a hike. Trail lengths and difficulty vary so be sure to pick up a visitors guide and map before leaving the visitor center.

Spectacular, breathtaking and awe-inspiring are but a few of the ways you might find yourself trying to describe your experience on the trail to those back home who didn’t join you. And of course, you won’t want to forget to pack your camera.

You are going to have to eat so why not make it a picnic? Sure there are designated areas, but there’s no reason not to be adventurous and create your own little oasis trailside.

Sure, Valley of Fire is close enough to be simply a day trip but if you’ve got the time why not stay over? Camping is an outstanding way to take in even more of this wondrous landscape.

What to see

Whether taking a long view from the car window, up close and personal while on a hike or an intimate encounter just sitting on your picnic blanket, if you look closely you’ll see things you’ll remember for a lifetime. It may be a desert but a diverse mix of plants are everywhere such as the beavertail and cholla cactus, burro and creosote bush and brittlebush. And, in the spring you’ll likely see indigo bush, the desert marigold and the desert mallow.

Even more exciting is the animal life. You’ll have to be particularly attentive because it is rare to see the creatures during the day since they are primarily nocturnal. If you are fortunate enough to camp out overnight you might see several species including lizards, antelope ground squirrels or a black-tailed jackrabbit. On the other hand, you’ll want to keep your distance from the coyotes, snakes and spotted skunks. More likely to see during the day would be a red-tailed hawk, raven, sage sparrow, house finch or even a roadrunner. The pinnacle would be to cross paths with the beloved but rare desert tortoise.


If that weren’t enough, the real reason most people travel to Valley of Fire is to take in the curious combinations of strange rock formations, bizarre color schemes and ancient wall writings called petroglyphs.

Wind, water and natural chemical erosion have carved familiar likenesses such as a piano, a beehive, a duck, an elephant and even a collie dog out or the sandstone. From white to dark red and everything in between, the sweeping designs will stop you in your tracks.

A photo cannot do the spectacle justice but go ahead and get the shot anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

Back in the garage

So close to Vegas yet a world away, Valley of Fire holds the opportunity to see and experience nature with a most unusual and astonishing backdrop. I highly recommend you take the time, pack up the car, the kids and the camping gear and head north to Valley of Fire.

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