Valley of Fire. Go ahead, read that again. Valley of Fire. The very name evokes images of falling brimstone, erupting lava and devilish flames licking at the sky. Years of role playing games have lead me to believe that locations named Valley of Fire should be avoided at all costs. In this case, however, I made the drive from San Diego to just outside of Las Vegas to explore this ominous sounding locale.
Valley of Fire is part of the Nevada State Park system and is, in fact, it’s oldest and largest state park. Dedicated in 1935 the park is home to petrified wood, petroglyphs and brilliant red sandstone formations. Sitting 50 miles outside of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the strip. Covering over 42,000 acres the limited number of marked trails make the park the perfect destination for back country explorers. The area only receives on average 4 inches of rain a year so if you choose to explore here make sure you bring ample water. High temps in the summer can push over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the threat of dehydration can be a constant companion for those who aren’t prepared.
While visiting the park we took Valley of Fire Road from the west entrance into the park. Valley of Fire Road runs through the park connecting the east and west entrances. The road winds through the park connecting the established trail heads and meandering past the two campgrounds housing 72 total campsites. Multiple day use areas throughout the park offer tables and picnic facilities for those simply wishing to take a break amid the beauty of the fiery landscape.
Dawn and dusk offer the best light in the park, with sunset being preferred by many photographers attempting to catch views of the sandstone “on fire”. We spent the better part of the day in the park both in vehicle and hiking through the back country. The popular landmarks were never very crowded, but the campgrounds were full and many of the day use areas were brimming with families enjoying the day. Make sure to be courteous while visiting and pack out what you pack in. This was one of the cleanest parks we’ve visited, state or national.
Exiting the east entrance to the park you can enter the Lake Mead Recreational Area. At over 1.4 million acres the Lake Mead Recreational Area offers almost endless opportunities for exploration. We took 167 south and explored many areas of the shores of Lake Mead. Ultimately near nightfall we took a road (Oasis Rd I believe) out into the wilderness and setup camp in a valley hoping to catch views of the Milkyway in the desert sky. Unfortunately due to the proximity of Las Vegas the stars were drowned out by light pollution from the city and we had to settle for a spectacular sunrise over the mountains the following morning.