Rocks, rocks and more rocks! Wouldn’t you think that after visiting Red Rock Canyon, our appetite for viewing more of nature’s spectacular red rocks would have waned but rest assured, that wasn’t the case. Our 400+ photos will attest to that! But no worries you can stop groaning and breathe a collective sigh of relief, we won’t bore you with all of them!
Slightly more than an hour’s drive from all the glitz and glam of Vegas would land us in a magnificent 40,000 acre geologic wonderland and Nevada’s first and largest state park. Valley of Fire State Park, established in 1935, is named for the brilliant red sandstone formations which are the remnants of the sand dunes left after inland seas subsided and the land arose. They are the products of complex uplifting and faulting, from the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth over 150 million years ago.
Early man moved into southern Nevada as far back as 11,000 years ago. Petroglyphs carved into the rocks by the Basketmaker culture about 2,500 years ago are the most obvious evidence of occupation, followed later by the Early Pueblo culture. Paiutes were living in this area in 1865 when Mormons settled at nearby St. Thomas at the south end of the Moapa Valley. Along a narrow stretch of water in the region allowed the occupants to farm, ranch and mine. More history about the area can be found here.
For our journey on this bright sunny day, instead of taking the fastest route via the I-15, we chose the more scenic route, taking I-215E to NV-564 (Lake Mead Highway) to NV-167 (Northshore Road) to the East entrance of the park. As you can see from the photos below, it was a beautiful drive, little did we know it was pale compared to what we would see in the Valley of Fire!
About Valley of Fire State Park
For day use, the entrance fee is $10.00 per vehicle (Nevada residents). The fee for non-residents is $15.00 per vehicle. The fee for entering the park via a bike is $2.00 per bike. You usually pay this fee at the booth located at the entrance of the park. However, if nobody is there when you arrive, look for a self-pay station nearby. There, you’ll find envelopes and a payment box. Make sure you have the exact amount in cash if using the payment box.
Besides the spectacular scenery, this park has a lot to offer. The Visitor Center located at the intersection of the Valley of Fire Road and White Domes Road (also known as Mouse’s Tank Road) provides information through exhibits about the geology, ecology, prehistory, and history of Valley of Fire and the surrounding area. Books and souvenirs can be purchased in their gift store. Hiking trails for every level abound as shown in this hiking trail map.
And after a strenuous day of hiking, visitors can settle in for the night at one of the two campgrounds which offers a combined total of 72 units. Atlatl Rock Campground offers 44 tent and RV sites with hookups and Arch Rock Campground which has 29 sites for tents and smaller RV sites (no hookups).
Campsites in both campgrounds are equipped with shaded tables, grills, water and restrooms. A dump station and showers are also available. A camping limit of 14 days in a 30-day period is enforced. The fee for camping is $20.00 for NV residents per night. The non-residents fee is $25.00 per vehicle per night plus $10.00 for sites with utility hook ups. All campsites are first-come, first-serve although in 2023, Nevada State Parks will be implementing a reservation system. For more information click here.
And for those of you who are movie buffs, a number of films, TV shows, commercials have been filmed here since the 1920’s. One of the first more famous movies to be filmed on location amid the red rocks was the caveman epic “One Million B.C.,” which, excluding roll-over receipts from “Gone With the Wind,” was the top-grossing film of 1940. In 1990, the landscape doubled as the surface of Mars in the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Total Recall” the seventh biggest grossing movie that year.
In 1994, it became the fictional planet Veridian III from “Star Trek Generations” which brought the original Star Trek and Next Generation casts together. Valley of Fire can claim the distinction of being the actual location of death of legendary Star Trek character Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, at the park’s Silica Dome, accessed via the park’s scenic drive.
Other films include: Ballad of Cable Hogue; Beer; Bells of San Angelo; Billion Dollar Threat; Bite the Bullet; Cherry 2000; Confessions of a Hitman; Duets; Father Hood; The Good Son; Heldorado; Hell’s Angels ’69; The Hitcher; Iron Eagle; Kiss of Fire; Love Among Thieves; Mission: Africa; Nightwing; The Professionals; Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Roadside Prophets; Seven Ways from Sundown; Sheriff of Las Vegas; Solar Crisis; The Stalking Moon; The Stand; They Ran for Their Lives; Viva Las Vegas; Airwolf; Criss Angel Mindfreak; Domino; and Transformers.
The distance of the main highway (Valley of Fire Highway) between the east entrance (from Lake Mead/Hoover Dam) to the west entrance (I-15/Las Vegas) is 11 miles while the Mouse’s Tank Road which heads northward from the Visitor Center is 6 miles. The map below shows the numerous features of the park. Note a pdf version of the map as well as other information can be found here.
Here are some of the highlights of the the scenic spots within the park. Note more photos can be seen in our Valley of Fire photo album.
Below is a satellite view of the area with the actual route we traveled highlighted by our dash camera, the line colors represent relative speed:
And here’s a video of the drive!
Next to the east entrance station is the formation known as Elephant Rock. It can be seen from the entrance station but for a closer view, there is an easy .2 mile out-an-back trail.
And shortly thereafter the spectacular scenery started!
John J. Clark Memorial
About 1/2 mile from Elephant Rock is the John J. Clark Memorial. As you can see from the photo below, Mr. Clark died from thirst in 1915.
CCC Historic Cabins
Great spot to not only absorb the beauty of these formations but to enjoy a picnic lunch as well. Because of the size of the formations, it was hard to capture these rock formations in a photo.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Visitor Center which is open from 8:3-a.m. to 4:30 p.m. has exhibits about the geology, ecology, prehistory, and history of Valley of Fire. Once again, there are more photos of the exhibits in our album.
Mouse’s Tank is a natural basin in the rock where water collects after each rainfall. It is named for a Southern Paiute Indian renegade (“Little Mouse”) who used Valley of Fire as a hideout in the 1890s after he was accused of killing two prospectors and other crimes in the area. Thanks to the use of the water in the “tank”, Mouse was able to successfully hide out in this area for several years, evade capture and survive. Eventually Little Mouse was surrounded and killed by a posse several miles away from the tank near the Muddy river.
Because the parking lot was crowded, we decided not to take the time to walk the half-mile round trip trail which leads to the natural basin in the rock where the water collects after each rainfall. We read that there are excellent examples of prehistoric petroglyphs on the trail.
Rainbow Vista is a viewpoint where the road reaches the top of a low ridge revealing a vast area of multicolored rocks stretching for many miles northwards, rather different than the dark red cliffs found further south.
Fire Canyon Overlook/Silica Dome
There was a sign about the Silica Dome but it was so washed out it was difficult to read. According to that sign, “the sandstone formations that are so prominent in the Valley of Fire are made of sand grains that are almost pure silica. Silica Dome is the finest example in the area of such a deposit. The change from white to red at the base of the dome occurs where small quantities of iron in the rock produces a rust-like stain.
Through most of the desert, you will find patches of black crust on the soil. This is a community of algae, riches, mosses, and cyanobacteria that cement the soil topography which allows greater moisture absorption. This crust is only a few millimeters thick and is easy destroyed when walked on. Recovery can take between 7 and 250 years. Please don’t walk on it.”
As mentioned above, this is where Captain Kirk died in Star Trek: Generations.
As we continued our drive towards the end of the White Domes Road, the awesome scenery continued.
White Domes are sandstone formations with brilliant contrasting colors. The 1.1 mile White Domes Trail is a moderate loop that combines sweeping desert vistas, a slot canyon, colors galore, windows, and caves.
It was also the location for the 1966 movie The Professionals, a western, starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale, which was typical of the 1960s western genre. That movie was responsible for the development of the road to this section of the park. The remains of the site include a small portion of the wall of the hacienda.
The parking lot was really crowded which discouraged us from parking and hiking the trail.
In order to see the rest of the features at Valley of Fire, we had to reverse direction, heading back towards the Valley of Fire Road where we would head west.
The Atatl Rock Campground is located approximately 2.8 miles from the Visitor Center on Valley of Fire Road.
An atlatl (at’-lat-l) is a device used for launching a spear; usually a short cord wound around the spear so that, when thrown into the air, the weapon will rotate. The ancient Indians depicted these weapons in the petroglyphs (rock carvings) that are located at Atlatl Rock Atlatl which has a metal staircase and platform to view the panels.
It took many millennia for Arch Rock to be formed by strong winds and rain slowly washing away the materials holding its sand grains together. The rock weakened over time, allowing the natural arch to be seen.
Finally it was time to head back to Oasis RV Park, taking the same route back to Lake Mead Recreational area to return.