Exploring the Valley of Fire State Park
Las Vegas is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for many reasons. I’m actually very fond of the city since it makes for a fun weekend getaway with or without kids. But, there comes a time when one needs a break from all the glitz and neon lights. We’ve been going to Las Vegas for many years and multiple times a year but finally made it to the aptly named Valley of Fire State Park about 50 miles away recently. See what this unique natural wonder has to offer and why we can’t wait to return.
The park was Nevada’s oldest state park. It was named for the red sandstone formations around the area that looked like they were on fire with the sun shining on them. These formations were the result of sand dunes shifting 150 million years ago. Erosion and forces of nature have contributed to the formation of the current landscape.
It was an easy, non-descript drive through the desert to get to the Valley of Fire. Once we entered the park from the west, we clearly saw how the park got its name with the distinctive red rocks looming in the distance. We were here last September when the temperature was around 98ºF (36.7º C). It felt like we were walking into an oven as as soon as we stepped off the car so the name was also fitting. I don’t know what we were thinking! We thought we’d be in the car most of the time.
It was such a surprise to see such a spectacular scenery of fiery red rocks rising from the road. The main road took us to some very interesting rock formations that almost looked like they belonged in an otherworldly landscape.
The first rock formations we stopped at were the Beehives. These unique sandstone formations really did look like giant beehives. They were examples of what’s called “geologic cross bedding” which were layers that have been deposited over time. The grooved lines going in different directions showed how the wind or water was moving when it deposited the material.
There were other rock formations near here for visitors to climb. It was a great natural playground for the kids. The varied rock colors were just astounding.
Despite the rough surroundings, there were actually prehistoric visitors here who hunted, gathered food and performed religious ceremonies. They included the Basket Maker people, the Anasazi Pueblo Farmers from a nearby fertile valley. Atlatl Rock had wonderful examples of ancient rock art or petroglyphs made by some of these ancient people. The have been here for over 4,000 years. It was fun to try and decipher what the symbols meant.
It was named due to depiction of an atlatl, which was a throwing stick, on the petroglyphs. We had to climb steel stairs to ge to the top to see the numerous petroglyphs. I’m glad there was a bit of a separation between the platform and the rocks so visitors can’t touch or destroy them.
Unfortunately, we saw these graffiti as well on some of the rocks elsewhere in the park. It’s infuriating how some people just can’t seem to enjoy the outdoors responsibly without leaving their mark.
Arch Rock was nearby and wasn’t very big. If you weren’t really looking for it, you’d probably miss the sign. It was a small arch on top of a group of rocks.
Don’t miss the White Domes Scenic Drive. This led to the most northern part attraction are two large white stand stones. There was a scenic 1.5 mile trail here for hiking which we didn’t do. We definitely plan to go back in cooler weather to the park since we didn’t get to hike many of the trails due to the extreme temperature. Desert heat in the summer is brutal!
Along the scenic road was a unique combination of white sandstone, red rocks and the desert landscape. There were some pull outs and overlooks to enjoy the scenery and to let restless kids climb rocks or walk on short trails.
We drove to an overlook that provided a beautiful panoramic view of Fire Canyon’s fiery red sandstone rock formations. The Fire Canyon/Silica Dome area was one of my favorite spots. The varied colors were just amazing and we really got to see the diverse scenery and rock formations here.
Near the East entrance which we used to actualy exit was the short 1/8 mile Arrowhead Trail led us to on of the park’s most popular formations – Elephant Rock. I guess you have to use your imagination a bit to see that it looked like an elephant. Do you see the elephant in the rocks?
One of the very few structures in the park is the Visitor’s Center. It was a great refuge from the heat within the air-conditioned building. There were restrooms here, a souvenir shop that sold snacks and limited beverages. Don’t miss the exhibits on the park’s history and geology which were very interesting.
We also go a close-up look at some of the desert plants that thrive in this harsh environment right outside the visitor’s center. I love blooming cacti and it’s always amazing to see these sturdy plants.
The Valley of Fire State Park was such a geologic wonder. Most of the formations can be viewed from the comforts of a nice, relaxing drive or can be explored further with hikes on well-maintained trails. It’s a small park but a great place to explore as a family even for just a few hours. My kids loved climbing and exploring the rock formations and little caves. This desert beauty was a wonderful diversion from Las Vegas’ hectic scene and crowds and definitely worth the drive even with the heat.
Visiting Valley of Fire State Park Basics and Tips
- Entrance fees $10 per vehicle per day and collected at fee booths or self-pay stations.
- Park is open daily (except Christmas) from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.
- There were two entrances (East and West) to the park. The West is from visitors coming from I-15 while the East is by Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
- If you’re visiting during the summer, temperatures can typically reach over 100ºF (37.8º C); Any time other than summers are ideal times for visiting. You can also go early or go late in the day to avoid the crowds and it may be a it cooler.
- No lodging available except for first-come, first-serve campsites. RV camping is also available.
- Gas up before you enter the park or as soon as you exit the freeway. There are no stations inside to fill up.
- Bring plenty of water, snacks and food. There was no restaurant or convenience store here or even vending machines. There were a few shaded picnic areas. Water can be refilled at a portable water station inside the Visitor’s Center.
Have you visited the Valley of Fire State Park? Would you visit if you were in Las Vegas?