When the bright lights and craziness of Las Vegas have burnt you out; when you’re done with the bells and whistles of the casinos and the neon lights of The Strip are indelibly etched into your mind’s eye it’s time to strike out and see a different side of Nevada. The Valley of Fire is Nevada’s very first State Park named in 1935 to reflect its fire-red sandstone formations and petrified sand dunes. A tour of The Valley of Fire, set in the wild beauty of the Mojave Desert, offers a dramatic and refreshing contrast to the city.
Just 50 miles North East of Las Vegas you’ll find a startlingly different world from The Strip. The sun highlights a landscape ablaze with colour; russet-red, ochre and amber merge into a landscape of rock arches, domes and colourful vistas shaped and contoured by wind, water and weather. Vibrant layered sandstones, shales and fault lines in the rock form the varied and fascinating landscape of The Valley of Fire State Park.
After entering the state park and passing through a rippling red terrain, the result of continuous faulting and soil erosion, we came to our first stop at The Beehives. These are large sandstone structures which have been subjected to years of erosion by wind and water to form this unusual beehive shape.
Atlatl Rock and Petroglyphs
The next stop on our Valley of Fire tour was Atlatl Rock – atlatls are ancient weapons that preceded the bow and arrow in many parts of the world and are one of man’s first mechanical inventions. We climbed up a metal staircase attached to the rock to view some ancient petroglyphs thought to be over 4000 years old carved by native American cultures. There were symbols that looked like footprints, trees, water and long-horned animals. The photo of the petroglyphs below was taken just behind Atlatl Rock and show up the carvings more clearly. There are many areas throughout the state park where petroglyphs can be seen and we also took a short hike up a canyon trail later in the tour where we spotted more. Our guide was very into petroglyphs.
The three cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps soon after the Valley of Fire became a state park in 1935 for travellers visiting the park. There’s a picnic area nearby where we stopped for lunch and saw some ground squirrels skorting around – the cute little creatures know where to go for easy pickings. There are many trails in the Valley of Fire and camping facilities for staying overnight.
Rainbow Vista is a very different viewpoint from the red terrain you can see as you enter the Valley of Fire. The road here reaches the top of a low ridge looking out for many miles over a vast area of multi-coloured rocks. The road gives an idea of the scale of the area.
Just a short hike from the visitor centre is a famous Valley of Fire formation – Balanced Rock. How the top boulder stays balanced on the rest of the stack I’ll never know but I’m guessing it won’t be too many years before the balance tips.
There are other highlights in the state park which I was disappointed that we didn’t see. At one point we parked up at the track to the White Domes stood in the car park and then left two minutes later without any explanation of what was there and without taking the one mile round hike to see the the area, the slot canyon or the multi-coloured rocks, caves and windows. We didn’t get to see Elephant Rock, Fire Canyon or Silica Dome and towards the end of the tour we were dropped off at the visitor centre to look around for 30 minutes. I feel the 6 hours we had could have been better spent seeing maybe just one set of Petrolglyphs and taking in one of the other park highlights i.e. one of the arches and the Wave of Fire.
We took a tour of The Valley of Fire with Pink Jeep Tours at a cost of $134 per person.
Where is the Valley of Fire?
The valley of Fire State Park is about 50 miles north east of Las Vegas in the Mojave desert.
Entrance Fees for Valley of Fire?
The current entrance fee is $6.00 per car and if you’d like to camp it’s an additional $8.00 on a first come first served basis.
The visitor centre is open 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM each day with exhibits on the area’s history, geology and wildlife.
How to get to the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas
From Las Vegas, take I-15 (NE) to SR-169 South (exit 93)
Valley of Fire Map
Click here for a PDF map showing the Valley of Fire highlights, hiking trails, parking, camping and picnic areas.
We visited at the end of April and it was HOT! Take a hat, plenty of water and sunscreen.