More often than not, when travelers think of Southern Nevada, two larger than life icons come to mind, Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. Certainly, both of these man-made wonders have their share of visitors from all parts of the globe.
As much fascination as these places hold, I, like many other RV enthusiasts, enjoy the open road and the colorful grandeur that only Mother Nature can provide. Valley of Fire State Park is one of those unique natural settings that tend to mesmerize all who visit.
Having been dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire is Nevada’s largest and oldest state park. It gets its name from the red sandstone formations, which are the result of a very complex series of geological events that started over 150 million years ago. Beginning with massive sand dunes and then adding the effects of the uplifting and faulting of the region along with many years of erosion give us the wonderful spectacle we see today.
This region was used by prehistoric dwellers as far back as 300 B.C. and later by the Anasazi Pueblo farmers from the nearby Moapa Valley. Based upon much that was learned through the rock art left by these early people, it is believed that the area was used for religious ceremonies, hunting and food gathering.
The park is only 55 miles from Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and well worth the trip! Dependent upon the time of the year, visitors can get the added bonus of finding many of the indigenous plants, as well as the several varieties of cactus in bloom. Bird-watchers can be alert for roadrunner sightings, along with more common species such as raven, sage sparrow and finch. Area wildlife include coyote, kit fox, spotted skunk, jackrabbit and antelope. It is unlikely that the average motorist would encounter many of these creatures, as they tend to be nocturnal in nature.
Spring and fall are the preferred seasons to visit. Winters are mild, but can be a bit chilly for some, with low temperatures near freezing. Summer highs usually exceed 100 degrees during the day and can reach upward of 120 degrees!
The park has two campgrounds with a combined total of 72 sites, which are on a first-come, first-served basis. Some sites are available with water and power for an additional $10 per night over the dry camping rate. Individual campsites afford shaded tables, grills and water nearby. Restrooms and showers are also conveniently located for campers. (One of the campgrounds is open year-round; the other closes for the winter.)
Numerous miles of hiking trails are within easy reach. Because of differences in terrain, length and weather, it is recommended that hikers check in with the visitor center to determine appropriate trails based upon conditions. The visitor center also has many interesting books, postcards and souvenirs available for purchase. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding Christmas Day.
There are around a dozen unique park features to enjoy, ranging from petrified logs to magnificent red rock formations with colorful breathtaking vistas. The entrance fee for day use, payable upon entering the park, is a modest $10 ($8 for Nevada residents).
Additional information may be obtained by calling Valley of Fire State Park at (702) 397-2088, or by visiting http://www.parks.nv.gov/vf.htm.
Donald J. Cook is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada between Reno and Virginia City. Retired from a career involving state and local government, he and his wife travel throughout the country in their RV.