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Grand Tour of Nevada's Incredible Valley of Fire State Park

By Edited Feb 16, 2016 5 6
Elephant Rock
Credit: Photo by Jonathan Nielsen (TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel), taken in February 2010.

Elephant Rock in Valley of Fire State Park is the most famous and iconic landmark within the park.

A state park as awesome as many national parks!

I've been to many national parks in the western half of the USA, some multiple times, and they're all super spectacular. I've also been to many state parks, and ordinarily there's a noticeable difference between these and the majestic national parks. In this case however, a state park is as great as many of the best national parks I've been to.

Valley of Fire State Park is located in Southern Nevada just 45 miles (72 km) northeast of downtown Las Vegas on the south side of Interstate 15, close to Lake Mead.[1] Below you'll see photos taken by me, and descriptions of many of the amazing features of this park. All photos in this article were taken by me on a trip, which consisted of camping two nights and plenty of exploration and hiking, in February 2010.

Above you see Elephant Rock, which is located near the east entrance of the park, near the highway, on the north side of the highway. It’s a short easy hike to walk right up to it.

All photos in this article are by me, Jonathan Nielsen (TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel), and were taken in February 2010

Valley of Fire State Park basic information

The park is visited almost not at all during summer months, due to its desert location where temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C).[1] It's best to visit other times of year, and I was lucky to go in February when the weather was perfect.

This is Nevada’s oldest state park, formed in 1935, and it covers nearly 42,000 acres (66 square miles, or 170 square km). The name comes from the ancient red rocks, which used to be sand dunes more than 150 million years ago, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth during the late Jurassic Period.[1]

One of the things I like most about the park is the ancient Native American petroglyphs, which seem to be almost everywhere. This artwork, carved into the red rocks, is likely over 3,000 years old.[1] In many places you can walk right up to it, or it’s along trails and you can touch it and look closely at various designs of hands, animals, spirals, and other forms.

The park has an excellent visitors center, two very nice campgrounds, RV camping, picnic areas, convenient restrooms near major park features, miles of hiking trails, incredible red rock formations including arches, balancing rocks, steep canyons, and much more.

There is a fee for entering the park and for camping.

Van next to a large rock

My van, a Honda Odyssey, showing the size of this rock along the highway in the eastern half of the park.

Let the Grand Tour begin!

Each photo below is followed by information about one of the features of the park.

The Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters

The seven sisters are seven large reddish rocks along the highway. They are one of many great places to stop within the park.

Balancing Rock

Balancing Rock

This amazing formation is located near the visitors center, near the center of the park. In order to see this rock up close, you have to leave all trails and walk through the desert. I'd advise anyone doing so to beware of rattlesnakes

Ancient Native American rock art

Ancient Native American rock art

Estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 years old, artwork like this is found in many places throughout the park. The people who lived here anciently were the Anasazi, also called the Ancient Pueblos, and they were once a great North American culture. They declined prior to the arrival of Europeans on the continent.[2]

This particular rock art, also called petroglyphs, in the photo, is found along the easy trail to Mouse’s Tank (shown next, below).

Mouse's Tank

Mouse's Tank

Named after a fugitive who hid here for a period from law enforcement, this is one of several areas where water gathers, making it a valuable water source for wild animals. The trail to Mouse’s Tank is short and easy, popular even for the elderly and very small children, and features lots of amazing ancient petroglyphs.

Atlatl Rock

Atlatl Rock

Located near the campground where I stayed, this is another large balancing rock with a staircase that takes visitors up to see the amazing ancient artwork on the rock. It is named after the atlatl, also called a spear-thrower, which is an ancient Native American hunting weapon,[3] and is depicted in the artwork on the rock. 

Decades ago some unknown person put some cement around the base of the rock, probably thinking they could keep it from eventually falling.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

Located even closer to the campground than Atlatl Rock shown above, Arch Rock is one of many arches found within the Valley of Fire. The arches here are not as huge as what is found in Arches National Park in Utah, which is another place that I have been and highly recommend, although they are still beautiful and fascinating. 

Duck Rock

Duck Rock

This rock formation was difficult to find, and we had to consult a ranger, who gave us directions. The trail was mostly non-existent. Once we had the proper directions, Duck Rock wasn't so hard to find. This was at the furthest north point that we went within the park. 

The Narrows

The Narrows

Used in several famous Western movies[1] (imagine horses thundering through!), this narrow canyon is a fun hike located toward the northern end of the park. 

The Cabins

The Cabins

These cabins, built using the local red rocks, were once places where people could stay the night during long trips between far apart locations such as Salt Lake City, Utah and Southern California. Today they stand as tourist attractions, and anyone can walk inside and around them. However, no one is allowed to stay the night here.

Animals in the Valley of Fire

Animals in the Valley of Fire

We saw quite a few animals in the Valley of Fire, and here are three that we were able to get photos of. On top are a young desert horned lizard and two small ground squirrels. Below are two chuckwallas. We briefly saw a bighorn sheep as it was running away from us and disappeared up a rocky canyon, and we saw many other desert creatures.  

More rocks that resemble animals

More rocks that resemble animals

Besides Elephant Rock and Duck Rock shown above, there are other rock formations that look like animals.  Here are two of them – the first is located near the RV park and resembles the head and face of a baboon. The second is located near the park’s western entrance and looks like a cobra with its characteristic hood. 

Valley of Fire indeed!

Fire jugglers in the Valley of Fire

Fire jugglers! That’s me on the left, and my dad on the right. Juggling flaming torches enhances the park, does it not? I used to work at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, California performing with torches and machetes. 

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Comments

Nov 6, 2014 2:37pm
RoseWrites
Ah yes, I remember reading this piece when we were on Squidoo - great photos too. (Duck Rock is still my favourite). Thumbs up, pinning, G+ing, etc.
Dec 5, 2014 2:04am
LeighGoessl
Stunning photos and an interesting read. I've never been to this section of the country, but would love to go there someday. Big thumbs up (and shared on Twitter/Pinterest).
Dec 5, 2014 4:00am
RoseWrites
Congrats on the homepage feature!
Dec 5, 2014 6:39pm
shar-On
Brilliant photos and you make us want to take a trip over there although sadly I hate flying and it is a long way to walk or swim. rated up
Dec 6, 2014 5:10am
Yindee
Great article, well rated and your pictures and layout are of a high standard. I have just returned from a visit to the Western USA and enjoyed a few the National Parks - especially the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Thanks for sharing the Valley of fire with us. Our coach tour gave us a brief overview of the area, but I would love to return and experience more of it.
Jan 6, 2015 7:31am
RKHenry
Wow!

Love the pics..., and that balancing rock pic with all the ancient writing, too cool.
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Bibliography

  1. "Valley of Fire State Park." Wikipedia. 6/11/2014 <Web >
  2. "Ancient Pueblo peoples." Wikipedia. 6/11/2014 <Web >
  3. "Spear-thrower." Wikipedia. 6/11/2014 <Web >

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