I woke up hours later, freezing. My wife lay warm in her bag, all huddled up. She had the sense to get in hers despite it being hot. I had laid in vain trying like a lizard to regulate my body temperature. One thing about the desert, no matter how hot it is during the day, at some point, it gets cold at night. I quickly got into my sleeping bag and joined my wife in a deep slumber until the early morning hours.
On waking a second time, in twilight, with the sun ready to make an undoubtedly bold appearance, I lay there enjoying the warmth of my bag and the view of the red rocks engulfing us. Their tips were already glowing so I knew this moment would be fleeting. It was time to not only get up but to make a move towards civilization. Eight weeks in the desert changes a person, especially when you spend them in a tent. We would likely never be the same but that was okay, I was pretty sure the change had been for the better. But as incredible as the whole experience had been, it was time to move on. Summer was just around the corner and even us outsiders know that the desert is no place to spend it. The truth was we were no longer complete strangers to this magic land. We had grown to understand many of its nuances.
We were headed towards civilization if that is what you can call Las Vegas. I guess it's somehow an appropriate one in the desert, where extremes rule, be they of temperature, presence of water, or visual stimuli. It would be a glittery awakening but not nearly as stunning as the spires of Bryce Canyon or glowing red rock Arches. We would eat in a fancy restaurant but it would not have views comparable to simple campgrounds. We would sleep in a big comfortable bed but perhaps not as soundly as on the ground, next to the earth we had grown closer to.
Ok, maybe the bed would be a nice change of pace. We'd not been in one in sixty days and I was sure that was going to feel good. We'd changed a lot but maybe not quite that much.
Even if you don't like camping and have to use an RV, this is one campground not to be missed. Not only will you see the park in its best light (early morning/evening) but you'll enjoy the scenery right from your "front yard."
Fondest memory: The only reason I wasn't laying in a pool of sweat was I'd just taken a cold shower. Oh, and the humidity was probably around zero despite it being close to a 100 degrees. That was a considerable drop from the 120 it was earlier in the day but dry heat or not, it was still hot. As a gas station attendant in Tuscon had told me earlier in the trip, “dry heat: it'll cook you from the inside out.”
Laying on my sleeping bag in a tent sans fly in the Valley of Fire State Park at 10:00 PM, it was hard not to think back to that very morning when my wife and I both huddled in our 15 degree bags at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The tent was frozen and on breaking it down, the fly had to be thrown into a large garbage bag to keep the rest of our equipment dry. Arriving at the Valley of Fire some five hours and three states later, it was readily apparent that drying it out was not going to be a problem.
We had spent that morning at the North Rim, enjoying the early morning light driving out to Cape Royal and hiking down a portion of the North Kaibab Trail. It was just a taste as we had already done a backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon floor earlier in the trip and this was the beginning our farewell to the deserts of the American Southwest. The drive to the Valley of Fire took us through old friend Utah, a state we had spent the bulk of our adventure thus far in. Driving through Nevada, we saw numerous small town casinos advertising very enticing hotel and food specials. It would have been easy to stop but we had one more night of desert camping on our itinerary and Las Vegas awaited us the next day. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
If we had known just how appropriate the name “Valley of Fire” was, we may have opted for one of those cheapie rooms with a blasting A/C after all and did a day tour through this inferno en route to the city of sinners. But we had made our choice and despite the heat, it was a stunning sight and that was coming from two people who thought they had seen enough red rock splendor to last a lifetime.
The campground was another state park gem. Set right in gorgeous rock formations, the spots were well-spaced with each having a covered picnic table. We managed to get a good one already in the shade, making the heat bearable if you didn't move much. Free showers rounded out the amenities and we enjoyed one promptly, as much to cool down as to clean up.
It was too hot to cook, so we ate a salty snack to keep our mineral reserves up and drank plenty of water. With the sun finally headed towards the horizon, we headed off to explore and get some photos of the surely glowing red rocks. That they were and we mostly enjoyed them driving around the very scenic roads of this well maintained Nevada State park. We did a few short walks but it was too late in the season to really do anything overly strenuous.
Back at the campground once the sun had gone down, it had cooled off enough to make up some dinner. We enjoyed one last serene desert meal under the stars. On a cooler evening in the winter, the Valley of Fire must be one very special place to camp. I grabbed one more shower to cool off and we climbed into our awaiting tent. I had smartly not put the fly on as the chance of rain was miniscule and it made it not only slightly less hot, but also afforded us views of the endless sky above. Despite man's attempts to prove otherwise, we are very much part of the universe. These are the kinds of moments that remind you of that. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Favorite thing: The White Domes Loop Trail is a 1.25 mile trail that passes through slot canyons, past filming locations and near the impressive White Domes that gave the trail its name. Its a short, easy and incredibly scenic walk in the far corner of the park. The drive out here alone is worth the price of admission, but, if time permits, the walk is worthwhile as well.
Favorite thing: Rainbow Vista is located along the 11 mile loop road leading to White Domes. This area differs from the rest of the park as the fiery rock which made the valley famous yields to a wide spectrum of multi hued formations, running the gamut of the rainbow and terminating at the pure White Domes. En route you'll find Rainbow Vista, where the entire spectrum of color is in full view along the multi colored sandstone formations which appear so different than the crimson rock seen only moments before.
Favorite thing: Continuing north on the road past petroglyph canyon, there is a side road which leads to Fire Canyon. This entire main road is unbelievably scenic, but Fire Canyon is worth the extra drive. Like the entire area, Fire Canyon is so named due to the red sandstone which inhabits the landcape. This deep red canyon is a picture perfect spot and a great place for an up close view of the unusual rock formations of Silica Dome.
Favorite thing: This short trailis truly a journey through time. The half mile round trip trail leads through what is known as the Mouse's Tank. Petroglyphs abound in this area, scattered on rocks which surround the basin. Its a short and easy walk, but allow yourself some time to search for signs of ancient life etched within.
Favorite thing: The visitor's center is a pretty standard issue place, virtually undistinguishable from visitor's centers in any other park. But its a good idea to stop here if you're interested in learning more about the history of the area and the people who inhabited the region long ago.
Favorite thing: After driving past the beehives, there is a turnoff for the petrified logs. The logs were washed into the area from an ancient forest approximately 225 million years ago. There is a short trail which loops around the area, providing views of several different logs, which are each isolated in a fenced in area to protect them. There is another area near the east entrance which also contains petrified logs, but I wouldn't recommend stopping twice. Seeing something that existed 225 million years ago is interesting, but the logs are virtually identical and such viewing gets a bit repetitive.
Valley of the Fire State Park is located about 60 miles north of Las Vegas.
To get to the park from Las Vegas and points south, take I-15 north to the first Valley of the Fire exit (I think its 169 south) and follow the road to the west entrance station. From here, you can drive the entire road through the park and exit at the east entrance station, which gives you an opportunity to visit the Lost City Museum in Overton before returning to highway 15. If traveling from points north, simply reverse the above.
There is an entrance charge of about $5 per vehicle. NPS passports do not work here, nor in any other state park. The visitor's center is located about midway through the park and is open daily from 8:30-4:30
Favorite thing: Here, tilted sandstone are being modified into graceful shapes by the geologic processes of erosion. Water is the most active erosive agent. Remember, this is the desert & yet with time, all things are possible.
Creating Valley of Fire:
4) The beauty seen in the rocks is chiefly the result of erosion! Chemical erosion altered original materials & created brilliant colors. The rusting of iron materials created the reds while the leaching out of iron created the white sandstones.
Chemical action has also added soluble materials (lime & silica) to the groundwater. Both groudwater & rainwater are constantly dissolving the cement between the sandstone grains of the Aztec. Holes & hollows then resulted.
Contrary to common belief, wind has not been as active an erosion agent as water.
Creating Valley of Fire:
3) In the recent 70 million years, the earth moves & large rifts in the crust were rapidly filled with magma from below. Compression created huge faults & large areas of folded rocks. Such movements termed thrust faulting forces old marine limestone over the sand dune deposits of the Aztec sandstone. The earth movement continued to fracture & deform the rocks. The beautiful rock formations seen here have been created largely by fracturing of the Aztec sandstone. Fractures can also be caused by old sand dunes which cracked (without movement) due to earth pressures & are termed joints.
Creating Valley of Fire:
2) Then 200 years ago, the sea floor slowly rose. Oceanic plate began to move against the continent forcing the land near Valley of Fire to be lifted. As water became more shallow, fine muds were washed in from emerging land area. Life forms no longer could tolerate this & had no choice but to occupy the shallow water. Eventually, the sea retreated totally & water-saturated, ripple-marked muds dried & cracked in the warm climate. Exposure of sediments to air caused many of the iron compounds in the sands & muds to oxidize & form rust. These deposits in red, purples & lavenders are known as Moenkopi, Shinarump & Chinle formations.
During the 75 million years that mud-sand condition prevailed, approximately 4500 feet of these deposits were plastered over the limestones of Valley of Fire.
For 10 of millions of years, the park was a barren desert covered by lofty sand dunes. Wind carved & swirled the sands into fantastic & fanciful forms. Probing agents of the weather carved the sand dunes into sharp relief. This sandstone (named Aztec by geologists) extends over large area of Southwest as can be viewed from the great towers of Zion & Red Rock Canyon. Groundwater percolating through the sand & leached the oxidized iron thereby resulting in changes in tones on the sandstone from deep reds & purples to tans & whites. The passage of waters altered & transformed the chemistry of mineral grains.
Creating Valley of Fire:
1) About 600 million years ago, the Valley of Fire was actually submerged in ancient sea. Life forms thrieved under the sea then. During the Paleozoic era, the sea would retreat leaving piles of discarded shell & limy mudflats to dry & crack & harden under the warm sun. With each change of environment - sea temperature, chemistry or water depth, deposits of marine origin were accumulated. This ultimately buried part of Nevada with Carbonate sediments several miles thick. (These ancient sediments can be seen at the high ridge that fills the skyline across the valley south of the visitor center.)