Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park protecting 35,000 acres of awesome rock formations and cultural sites. The park’s brochure offers several trail options including their version of Utah’s Wave, White Domes, Rainbow Vista, and Mouse’s Tank, many revealing Native petroglyphs. Yet there’s more to explore than we realized. Bill bought a great map that we didn’t open until after we’d left. So a return trip is definitely in order as it’s only about a three hour drive from Kanab.
Grabbed campsite #2 in the Atlatl campground and then went for a late afternoon ride in the park via the Visitor Center. ‘Primitive’ camping with water, table and shelter at $20/night included our entrance fee which I think is $7/day. For $30 RV sites include water and electric, $10 more to dump. The Arch Rock campground was closed for the season.
Unfortunately we arrived on Friday of a three day weekend and being only 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via I15 meant lots of weekenders. In fact the first night some male idiot in the campground was hollering and swearing at the top of his lungs making rounds of campsites. Luckily our neighbor got an AT&T signal and called 911. About midnight all was quiet again and the next morning a Park Ranger said a friend of his was called to take him home to Vegas and told not to come back. Trails, roads and overlooks were crowded on Saturday and Sunday.
Before hitting the trails Saturday morning we drove a few miles north of the park to Overton’s Lost City Museum. We both wanted to check this out but I also wanted an internet fix and had no signal in the park. Formerly known as the Boulder Dam Park Museum, the facility was built by the CCC conservation corps in 1935 and was operated by the National Park Service to exhibit artifacts from the Pueblo Grande de Nevada archaeological sites before being inundated by the waters of Lake Meade. Now owned and maintained by the State of Nevada providing education, outreach and research opportunities. The displays of artifacts are impressive and well protected under glass, thus no photos. Interpretation covers the Ancestral Puebloans, miners and settlers with a 10 minute video putting the story in perspective much quicker than reading what I thought was way too many signs. Bill bought a book about the CCC at the book store/gift shop while I drooled over a $500 squash blossom necklace.
Once back to Valley of Fire we began to hit the highlights. Blew off Elephant Rock trail as the parking lot was jammed and the roadside parking filled. Yet we had the Cabins to ourselves and chose which one we wanted to move into. The three cabins were constructed of native sandstone by the CCC shortly after the park was established and used for many years to shelter campers and travelers visiting the park. Each one had a subtle uniqueness, a curved wall, orientation of the fireplace, and a wonderful view.
From the Visitor Center we drove the White Domes Scenic Byway north starting with a climb and curves around towering rock which the big horn sheep climb too. Luckily I found a wide shoulder to park on instead of being caught in the sheep jam and worrying about getting rear-ended. But that’s about all we saw of the sheep anyway, their rear ends. In fact I’d say there was a lack of wildlife, maybe because there were so many people.
Almost an hour later of slow drive through the rock-n-roll landscape with limited overlook parking we hoped for parking at the end of the road for the White Domes loop trail. And boy did we get lucky with a large space in the otherwise full lot, plus cars were lined along the roadway. Of course that meant the trail was crowded and being this is an on-leash dog friendly park we met many pets and owners. Sasha is way more social than Bill and I on the trail.
Sand, rock and roots beckoned us into this Mojave desert landscape. Valley of Fire lies in a geologic transition zone between the flat rocks of the Colorado Plateau to the east and the broken and faulted limestone mountain ranges of the Basin and Range to the west. The uniqueness of the park has drawn film makers since the 1920s when Hal Roach started filming westerns. The ruins of a Mexican hacienda remains from 1965 for the movie “The Professionals”. Other movies filmed here include “One Million B.C.”, “Electric Horseman”, and “Star Trek Generations”.
Beginning with 180 million year old (myo) sand dunes now called the Aztec sandstone—and the same as Navajo sandstone on the Colorado Plateau just named by different geologists—topped by 500 to 300 myo gray limestone which was shoved horizontally to the east about 145 to 100 myo on top of the pink sandstone and ultimately, about 70 myo, tilted the layers causing a thrust fault. Later erosion by the power of water opens fractures creating slot canyons which may widen in time. I am amazed at the circus-tent stripes revealed.
The landscape is vast but I also like to look at the little things, nature’s art sculpted by wind and water leaves behind incredible textures and patterns. I have the need to touch the rocks, part of hearing their stories.
And then there’s all the colors in this sandstone pallet like wide pastel brush strokes across the rocky mounds. Ground water traveling along faults and fractures rich in red iron, purple limonite and yellow goethite form the rainbow colors and if washed out completely leave the rocks white.
The park’s brochure says the White Domes 1.25 mile loop trail takes about 45 minutes but of course we took a little over a lollygag hour and could have lingered longer but wanted to see the Fire Wave which deserves a post of its own.
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