Before even arriving, I knew Valley of Fire had great potential—in spades. It is a photographer’s Mecca and much had been written about it. A one-of-a-kind place, a miracle in the desert, spectacular scenery, nature at her most creative. Like a lure to attract prey, it had been just beyond our reach while here at Lake Mead. Until now. We were leaving this haven by the lake after nearly two weeks. This state park was only a short drive away. Our next destination. To say I was full of anticipation would be a serious understatement.
America’s Southwest landscape has certain common denominators—ancient ruins, slot canyons, rock arches, desert scenes, all come to mind. Perhaps even more synonymous with this area are the red rock formations. Much has been made with those as the subject matter. Red rocks have put Sedona on the map, and we did a lot of gawking there. We had seen the towering red rocks at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Fantastic shapes abound. Arches, Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley gave us red rock landscapes, and we came away with plenty of photos from all three. Just a few days ago we had a taste of red rocks at Red Rock Canyon State Preserve, but that would turn out to be just an appetizer for the main course. And that entrée was here . . . in Valley of Fire State Park.
The scenery begins as soon as you drive through the entrance. One minute you’re in the monochromatic Mojave Desert, all grays and browns; and then—like a switch being thrown—the landscape lights up. In a overwhelming, startling, in-your-face way! Even the ground is glowing red. Welcome to one of the most fantastic places you could ever hope to see. Valley of Fire is beyond your wildest dreams. You’ll soon see.
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. Dedicated in 1935, the area was part of the land that the federal government had set aside for the Hoover Dam Project. Once the dam was built, and the Recreational Area created, the red rock area was not needed and it was conveyed to the State of Nevada. Today this state park consists of a first class Visitors Center, two campgrounds (one primitive and the other with hookups) having a total of 72 sites, miles of interesting trails and some of the most outstanding scenery you’ll ever lay eyes on.
Encircled by high walls of red rocks, the Atlatl Rock Campground is a picturesque location to be parked in. The primitive Arch Rock Campground is equally scenic, with many of the sites much more isolated and private.
It was mid-afternoon and despite having decent scenery right here in our “backyard,” I was anxious to take in the main attraction. With only a 3-day stay planned, there was no time to waste. I gathered up my research and we drove away. The prime location, the Valley itself, was only a few short miles away.
And then—you’re there. From high ground, it’s spreading out below you. The show has begun, and from the prelude it grabs you. Pretty tremendous. Incredible rocks. And talk about Technicolor!! It’s all out there waiting to be explored. You can’t help but want . . . crave . . . a closer look. We headed in.
It’s the colors of the rocks and formations that are so astounding. To view so many shades and hues within the scope of a single view is what sets your head spinning. Tans, yellows, oranges, reds and magentas, and all the tints in between—that’s what you’re seeing. How can it be???
The red sandstone formations were created from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Underlying this is the gray rock of limestone made up of the countless plants and animals that once flourished in an ancient shallow sea a couple hundred of million years before.
Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. The fossilized sand has been carved into great mazes of canyon, arches, ridges, domes, and valleys.
However, the park’s name isn’t derived from the colors of these Aztec sandstone formations. Stay around until the afternoon sun is dropping closer to the horizon—its name will become self-explanatory. The sun’s rays will drench the rocks, creating a luminosity that seems to resemble glowing fires. Oh yes, now THAT is the time to be in the Valley of Fire.
You don’t just come to the Valley of Fire to drive around looking at rocks and taking pictures. There’s plenty of good trails, both long and short, to take you into the landscape. Having a close-up view of these rocks will open up an entirely different perspective, one that you might find as rewarding as the Grand View. To do equal justice to these more intimate scenes, I’ll leave that for the following post.
For now, I’ll leave you here, as evening changes the complexion of this rugged place.
First, in light that illuminates . . .
. . . and lastly, in twilight’s subtle shades.
Making every minute count in the Valley of Fire,
Melinda and Chris