The most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken was on State Route 169—or more specifically, the part of the highway that went through the Valley of Fire State Park. It was breathtaking! I’m telling you, as far as state parks go, this one is a must-see—especially if you’re visiting Las Vegas, where it’s situated only 55 miles away. That’s less than an hour by car, and even quicker by helicopter.
The most memorable thing from my trip to the Valley of Fire was being greeted by amazing rock formations—the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I felt as if I were getting the red carpet treatment, but here, instead of flashbulbs, everywhere I looked there were rocks gleaming in a variety of gorgeous shades of red. And would you believe these beautiful rocks are always changing? With the movement of the sun, their colors deepen and their shadows alter, making the formations take on totally different appearances from sunrise to sunset.
My first stop was to the Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center. The staff is very friendly and I got a little inside information about the park’s background and geology. I always find I enjoy things more when armed with knowledge. I also discovered there are a ton of things to do at the Valley of Fire—from hiking and picnicking to camping. You can even cool off with a swim at Rogers Springs or Lake Mead, which are located nearby.
Another highlight of my visit to the Valley of Fire was doing the short, fairly easy White Domes loop trail. It’s just over a mile long, and I remember passing through several unique settings during the trek. I navigated rocks on a dry wash bed, scuttled on soft sand and even entered a narrow canyon—where the red rocks dazzled me yet again. About halfway through, I came across the remains of the film set from The Professionals, which was shot at the park in 1966. That was much better than viewing movie memorabilia at a museum and it cost less!
Of course, I highly recommend a drive on the six-mile scenic loop where you’ll find that many of the Valley of Fire’s most popular rock formations (like Arch Rock) are just steps away. It’s a somewhat rough unpaved road, but well worth the bumpiness as you can drive right up to most of them. Many are named for animals or other objects—such as the Beehives, Atlatl Rock and Elephant Rock—although in some cases the resemblance is a bit of a stretch. I did like the Seven Sisters formation, which is a beautiful grouping of tall, red boulders in the midst of the flat desert. These rocks had an eerily sacred presence that gave me a feeling of inner peace and tranquility.
Overall, you cannot beat the natural beauty of the Valley of Fire. It’s a great place to visit. I know you won’t be disappointed.
Written by Travel Gal, Renee Libutti
Formed more than 150 million years ago, the Valley of Fire certainly provides you with a glimpse back in time. It’s also a place of rare beauty where the rocks take on every possible shade of red imaginable. Here’s some trivia about this natural wonder located in the Mojave Desert just 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas—so you’ll be well informed when you join all the other visitors who flock to it annually.
By The Numbers
- At 36,000 acres, the Valley of Fire is Nevada’s largest state park.
- Don’t get the Valley of Fire in Nevada mixed up with the Valley of Fires in New Mexico, which is a popular recreational area comprised of many miles of black lava fields.
- The bright red colors at the Valley of Fire are a side effect of iron oxide (better known to many as rust!) found in the rocks. Manganese and other oxides are responsible for the black pigmentation, called “desert varnish,” that you’ll see on other rocks.
- You’ll want to bring water with you because you won’t find much of it at the Valley of Fire. The area receives only four inches of rain each year—and often that comes from a single thunderstorm in July or August.
- You can get some water from the Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center. A well was drilled 1,500 feet beneath the ground. Power lines that provide electricity to the center are also buried 940 feet underground.
- Among the species of wildlife you can see in the Valley of Fire are bighorn sheep, badgers, coyotes, white-tailed antelope squirrels, rattlesnakes, ring-tailed cats, desert tortoises, ravens and lizards.
- There are nearly 20 miles of roadway in the Valley of Fire. The main road runs from west to east. You can enter on either side and the drive is gorgeous in both directions. A scenic six-mile loop also forks northward from the visitor center, where you’ll find viewpoints and the most popular trails.
- When the Valley of Fire first opened as a state park, it averaged 9,000 visitors each year. Today, about 250,000 people visit annually.
By The History
- Petrified logs and stumps from ancient forests that existed 225 million years ago—before the Valley of Fire was formed!—can be seen at two locations in the state park.
- About 200 million years ago, a deep ocean basin covered the area that would become the Valley of Fire.
- The Valley of Fire was formed about 150 million years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs. First, the floor of the ocean rose, and in the years that followed, a great shifting of sand and shaping due to the geological process of wind erosion took place. Valley of Fire History.
- Among the prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire were the Anasazi Pueblo peoples. They visited from 300 B.C. to 1150 A.D. for the purposes of hunting, gathering food and conducting religious ceremonies. Since there was little water, it was impossible for them to settle in the area.
- In the 1890s, a renegade Paiute Indian named Mouse worked on a ferry that crossed the Colorado River. After a drunken episode where he shot up an Indian camp, his employers fired him and dumped him off in Arizona, where he killed two prospectors. Intensive searches for Mouse were conducted, but he hid in a natural basin in the rocks at the Valley of Fire. On July 11, 1897, a posse finally tracked Mouse down and he was shot and killed. His hiding spot, now known as Mouse’s Tank, is located at the end of the most popular trail at the Valley of Fire.
- A large brick monument of a cross was erected at the Valley of Fire in June of 1949. It honors pioneer travelers including Captain John J. Clark. The retiree of the 13th New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment had been driving a wagon along the Arrowhead Trail and died of thirst in June of 1915.
- The Valley of Fire State Park was established in 1935. It is Nevada’s oldest state park.
- You don’t need a horse and buggy to get to the Valley of Fire today. Every mode of transportation is possible. You can go by car or bus or even by helicopter—where you can land on top of a remote plateau.
- The Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center was built in the late ’60s. It was remodeled in the late ’80s and features the same red color as the sandstone cliffs behind it. There are plans to remodel and expand it in the near future.
- Since 2005, every year in November, the annual Valley of Fire Marathon is held.
Written By Yvonne Newman
Want to explore one of Nevada’s largest and most amazing state parks? From hiking to taking photos and studying geology, here are 10 of our favorite ways to enjoy the Valley of Fire.
- Get a tan. During late spring and summer, temperatures at the Valley of Fire are well over 100° F, while autumn and winter tend to be quite mild. Since the average annual rainfall is four inches (with most of that coming from sudden thunderstorms), you’ll almost always be able to catch unobstructed rays!
- Study the rocks. There’s no better place for a geology lesson than the Valley of Fire. Along with loads of the famous, fiery sandstone, you’re also likely to discover a variety of limestone, shale and conglomerate rocks.
- Climb the rocks. In front of the Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center, there’s a giant rock that people—especially kids—like to scramble up. Or you can ascend Atlatl Rock, a giant boulder that sits on top of a sandstone outcropping. A stairway has been built there that leads to a platform where you can get a close look at some of its petroglyphs.
- Scout famous movie sites. Did you know that scenes for the movies Transformers, Total Recall, The Professionals and Domino were shot at the Valley of Fire? Trekkies love to visit the spot where Captain Kirk fell to his death in the film Star Trek Generations—it’s located on Silica Dome.
- Watch a movie. Inside the Valley of Fire State Park Visitor Center, you can see a short film detailing the park’s history. Then, you can walk through an exhibit of critters native to the area—including snakes!
- Take photos—and lots of them! Opportunities abound at the Valley of Fire around every turn of the road or trail. This place is truly a photographer’s dream, as the rock formations take on completely different hues depending on the time of day. From sunrise to sunset, the scenery is simply spectacular!
- Spot Nevada’s state animal. The bighorn sheep is known to roam at the Valley of Fire. Ask a park ranger for the best places to try to encounter them. It’s amazing to catch a glimpse of these regal and massive desert animals in the wild.
- Tour The Cabins. In 1935 the Civilian Conservation Corps built three stone cabins near the base of some high cliffs at the Valley of Fire. They are located just a short stroll from the highway. You’ll be surprised at how cool the air feels inside these rudimentary one-room shelters.
- Hike…or don’t hike. At the Valley of Fire, you’ll be able to find several challenging treks if you’re the athletic type. The White Domes and Arrowhead loop trails are two good examples. And, if you’re a non-hiker, you can enjoy some excellent views from the car. There are also two short trails—Mouse’s Tank and Elephant Rock—that are less than half a mile in distance.
- Get married. You’ll never find a more romantic place to be at sunset than the Valley of Fire. Imagine this: you look into your betrothed’s eyes, and off in the horizon you also see the sun reflecting in a way that makes the rocks look like a sea of flames—the perfect symbol of your love! Plus, you can make your wedding even more dreamlike by being transported to and from the Valley of Fire in a Maverick helicopter!