on August 24, 2006
There’s two kinds of metaphorical ‘fire’ in this Valley—geological and meteorological. Although it could be either, I’m betting the name stems from the park’s red, red rock. But as my local friend said, after 10 days in this region, you’ve seen plenty of places at least as impressive than this landscape. Although the red sandstone is a match for either the Vermillion Cliffs or Monument Valley, for the most part, its structure wasn’t as interesting to me, appearing more beaten down, worn, and irregular than many others we’d seen. We didn’t come for the rocks, though; rather, for what was on them. Thanks to two recommendations, we’d added Valley of Fire to our last full day’s itinerary on the Plateau, to see the petroglyphs on the trail to Mouse’s Tank. After a lengthier-than-necessary approach from I-15, we came in the east entrance. I got out to determine how to handle the honor-system admission. About six other cars were there.The heat was intense. It was 3pm on a mid-June afternoon, and it felt like a furnace. Dry heat, nothin’. We slipped $6 into the box, and headed to the Visitor Center. Thankfully, the AC in this dated building was very effective. Inside, a goodly number of older (1980’s?) exhibits described wildlife, the area’s history and native peoples, and the park’s checkered past. Valley of Fire was Nevada’s first state park—but only because eager boosters pushed up a 1935 dedication ceremony scheduled to open the state’s first four parks the next day. 10 years later, it was dissembled and sold piecemeal during a state budget crisis (the buyers tried to turn around and trade with the state for Las Vegas real estate).A few years later, Nevada came to its senses, reestablishing the park and extending its boundaries several times. Several interesting features are preserved here: Elephant Rock, the Seven Sisters, and the Beehives (red rock formations that look just like their names); all right off NV 169. You’ll find petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock and Mouse’s Tank.This place is best as a warm-up when heading east, and not a finale on your way out. We hustled by it on our first day, anxious to reach Zion. That wasn’t a mistake, and neither was visiting 10 days later (the mistake was not coming in the morning). If you have time, it’s worth stopping, but not worth putting at the center of your plans. However, if, like my daughter, you love petroglyphs—or want a good day trip from Vegas—just come.Directions:The park lies between I-15 and Lake Mead, an hour NW of Vegas. Take Exit 75 off I-15; it heads southeast into the park. Unless you want a longer, less direct, less scenic route, don’t head south from Exit 93, even if approaching from the north. We did that: it just slowed us down (and made us worry that we were completely lost after Overton).
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