We love Las Vegas! But every once in a while, as the song goes, be leaving Las Vegas is the thing to do. (But not for long! There’s too much fabulousness to explore here in Sin City to stay away for long.)
A day trip to the desert is the perfect way to explore what else the great state of Nevada has to offer, and one of our favorite places to explore happens to be only an hour’s drive from the city. It’s the Valley of Fire State Park, and it’s the oldest and largest in Nevada.
The prehistory of the Valley of Fire State Park
If you’re a shutterbug, you’re in luck: this ancient, beautifully lit place is a photographer’s fantasy, especially if you happen to be here around sunrise or sunset.
About 150 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed these parts – yup, they did – fault lines and uplift shifted around some massive sand dunes. Those sand dunes then ossified in place, turning red from the great amounts of iron in their makeup, and became quasi-permanent red sandstone formations that came to resemble fire. That, friends, is how the Valley of Fire State Park got its name.
Prehistoric and historic inhabitants of the area were here between 300 B.C.E./B.C. and 1150 C.E./A.D. They include the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo, who farmed in the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. You can see their rock art, or petroglyphs, throughout the park.
The Visitor’s Center
When you visit the park, which is only six miles from Lake Mead, make sure to go straight to the visitor’s center: you’ll gain access to remarkable exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory and history of the area. And if you like native snakes, you’ve got to check out the exhibit on reptiles.
The Mouse’s Tank
By far the most popular stop in the park, the Mouse’s Tank boasts not only gorgeous arches and hiking, but petroglyphs created by the ancient peoples who inhabited this place.
Bird Watching and other Animal Sightings
The park offers opportunities for spectacular migrant and resident bird sightings: you might see ravens, house finches, sage sparrows, and even roadrunners. Other animals include snakes, lizards, coyotes, jackrabbits, antelope ground squirrels and kit foxes, as well as the rare and protected desert tortoise.
Hike, Bike or Drive Thru
The park is friendly to hikers, but there are also good views to be had from your car or from just beyond parking areas. There are also several shaded picnic areas. We recommend visiting during the spring or fall, as winter can bring rains and the summer can be quite hot. In the spring, you’re likely to see the new blooms of desert marigolds, indigo bush and desert mallow.
Valley of Fire State Park
Open Daily, 8:30a.m.-4:30p.m.
Vehicle entrance fee (usually around $5)