The Mystery and Beauty of Deserts: The Valley of Fire State Park… Part I

Valley of Fire State Park outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Traveling through deserts, you occasionally have the feeling that you can see forever as range after range of mountains disappear into the distance.

Deserts are known for their minimal water, fiery temperatures and vast open spaces. Most people believe they are best seen while travelling at 70 plus miles per hour on a modern freeway with the air conditioning cranked up high. It’s unfortunate.

Deserts can be places of rare beauty. Mountains and rock formations burst into riotous colors at sunrise and sunset. Spring rains bring carpets of wildflowers. Even the open spaces have a unique appeal. At times you feel you can see forever.

Deserts also have a fascinating story to tell. Ancient petroglyphs whisper of human occupation dating back thousands of years. Geology is up front and personal– what you see is what you get. And plants and animals demonstrate the amazing ability of nature to adapt, and even thrive, under extreme conditions.

Over the next three weeks I’ll be blogging about three desert areas that Peggy and I recently visited: the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon and Death Valley. All three are an easy day trip outside of Las Vegas, Nevada and all three are definitely worth a visit. Spring and fall are the best times to go.

First up: Valley of Fire.

Located 58 miles northeast of Las Vegas off of I-15, the Valley of Fire’s main attraction is erosion-carved red sandstone that owes its existence to massive sand dunes that covered the region some 150 million years ago, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

The first ‘tourists’ to visit the area were the Anasazi, who apparently dropped in on a regular basis between 300 BC and 1150 AD. Limited water discouraged permanent settlement but they left behind numerous petroglyphs, which I will feature in another blog.

Hollywood, too, has discovered the Valley of Fire. Portions of several movies have been filmed in the area including Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Star Trek Generations, where Captain Kirk fell to his death– until he was reborn as a slightly pudgy spokesperson for Priceline. “Beam me up, Scotty.”

The Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park. The best way to experience it (beyond going there) is through photos. Enjoy.

Folded and eroded red sandstone welcomes the visitor to the Valley of Fire State Park.

Folded and eroded red sandstone welcomes the visitor to the Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire State Park sandstone.

Up close, the sandstone rocks reveal a fascinating world of caves and shapes.

Valley of Fire sandstone caves.

Caves invite exploration. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Valley of Fire State Park outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

What hides inside? Will there be treasure? Or a grumpy Indiana Jones type snake?

It definitely fits my concept of treasure. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It definitely fits my concept of treasure. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rock image at Valley of Fire State Park

It easy to see faces and creatures in the carved sandstone. Is this a dinosaur from 150 million years ago striving to break free?

Arch at Valley of Fire State Park.

There is also an occasional arch that demands to be admired. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Spring rains can bring an amazing display of flowers in the desert. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Spring rains can bring a display of flowers in the desert. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Blooming cactus at Valley of Fire State Park.

I found this and the following cacti blooming outside of the Visitor’s Center. Check out the spines.

Cactus blooming at Valley of the Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

A yellow beauty.

Cactus Flower buds at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

The buds are almost as pretty as the flowers.

Next blog: More great scenery from the Valley of Fire State Park.

 

 

28 comments on “The Mystery and Beauty of Deserts: The Valley of Fire State Park… Part I

  1. Haven’t explored any deserts yet. But the vast open spaces you describe remind me of the ocean, which I like. “Geology is up front and personal– what you see is what you get.” And yet there’s mystery here as you say, “Ancient petroglyphs ‘whisper’ of human occupation . . .” Fascinating. I like the way you use words too. Isn’t it rather hot in the desert though?
    Kudos to Peggy, lovely photos.

  2. You are totally right about the beauty of the desert in the west. Your photos will trigger people’s desire to discover for themselves. So close to Vegas and yet so wild. Some of the formation remind me of Havasu Falls in Arizona. Another treasure of the west. Thanks for the gorgeous pics.

    • I’ve been down to Havasu, and it is indeed beautiful. I understand the flood did some serious damage, however. I’ve backpacked into the Grand Canyon on several occasions and ran the river three yeas ago. The Canyon is indeed a treasure. Thanks for following, Evelyne. –Curt

  3. The photo which you suggest might show a dinosaur trying to escape reminds me of something quite different — a bugabug mound! A friend was telling me this weekend of an artist she met at her son’s wedding. He (and perhaps some assistants) filled all the crevices and corners and curves of a large mound with molten aluminum, and then washed away the dirt. It apparently is quite a remarkable way to visualize the inside of a mound.

    I’ve not even heard of this place, but the rock certainly reminds me of Palo Duro and the surrounding country. The prickly pear in full bloom’s marvelous. The flower looks like it’s made of glass – at least to me.

    • Weren’t the bug-a-bug mounds incredible. (Those are large termite mounds in West Africa to folks reading these comments.) I would love to see the art work but I don’t think I would like to deal with the irritated termites. 🙂

      Linda, if you make it out to southern Nevada, the Valley of Fire is a must see place. And the flowers were gorgeous, even more so in Death Valley, which I will probably start to cover next week.

      –Curt

  4. The color contrasts are always a mystery and fascination to me. Quite magical! Of course, then Curt goes into the geology…….grin. Peggy

  5. Hey, Curt, how many days would it take to cover all three places–Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon and Death Valley? I’m thinking we could fly out for a 4-day weekend and rent a car, or would that be too ambitious?

    • You can definitely get a taste of each of the areas in 3-4 days. If I had four, I would devote two to Death Valley and one each to Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon. Again, if you are going to do it, spring or fall are the best times. Valley of Fire and Red Rock are both easily reached in an hour’s drive out of Las Vegas. Death Valley takes a couple. If possible, it is fun to stay overnight at one of the lodges in Death Valley. (Peggy and I always camp.) –Curt

      • Definitely sounds very do-able (and fun). Thanks for the recommendations. I was in Death Valley once, but have never been to the other two places. Sounds like an autumn trip to Las Vegas is now on my ‘must-do’ list. Thanks!

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