The Rocky Terrain of the Valley of Fire — Photo courtesy of Andy GrantAbout an hour and a half north of Las Vegas off Interstate 15, you'll find one of Mojave's hidden gems. The Valley of Fire State Park was the first Nevada state park. It holds petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings), Big Horn Sheep, and surrealistically shaped red sandstone rock formations. The Valley of Fire has long been a favorite location for movie makers, and Star Trek fans might recognize some of the terrain from the movie "Generations." It's the perfect place for a day trip away from that casino-encrusted road called the Strip. Before you head to the Valley of Fire:
- Stock Up Before You Go
That means fill up your gas tank, take water and food, and for good measure make sure your car has sufficient fluids and good tires. You won't be heading in the wilderness, but you will be within a short distance of it.
- Take A Map, Not Just GPS
Here's the thing about remote areas and GPS systems: they don't always work well together. Just to be on the safe side, if you're unfamiliar with the area, invest a few dollars in a regular, old-fashioned map.
Valley of Fire State Park — Photo courtesy of Frank KovalchekOnce you're prepared, head north on Interstate I15 and take the turn-off to the Valley of Fire. You'll see a tribal smoke shop and fireworks shop on the right next to the turn-off. A two-lane road will lead you into the Valley of Fire.
The rock formations in the Valley of Fire lend themselves to names like Elephant Rock, the Seven Sisters, and Mouse's Tank. Spectacular hues of red run the full spectrum from fiery reds (thus the park's name) to subdued pink. Look for places to pull off the road to snap pictures, and be sure you've got plenty of room on your digital camera to store lots of photographs. Early morning and late evening light are the best times to capture the area's stunning colors.
Elephant Rock in the Valley of Fire — Photo courtesy of Ken LundInside the park, make sure to visit the visitor center to learn about the area and the ancient people who lived there. You can also get maps of trails and picnic areas; camping is also available, although the few spaces fill up quickly. One of the most popular trails is the Mouse's Tank trail, which takes you close to the ancient petroglyphs and is an easy, level hike.
After you've explored some trails, continue your drive through the park on the Valley of Fire Highway. You'll eventually come to Northshore Road, which skirts the edge of Lake Mead. For added adventure, you can continue straight across Northshore Road and pick up the dirt road to what was once an overlook of Lake Mead. Since the waters have fallen drastically in recent years, the ruins of St. Thomas, a town which was once under the waters of Lake Mead, are now above ground. The dirt road is well-graded and a four-wheel-drive is not necessary.
Turning right on Northshore Road will take you around Lake Mead for a long, scenic route back to Las Vegas. Turning left will take you into the farming communities of Overton and Logandale and back to I15.