The Valley of Fire State Park: Part II… The Desert Series

Chuckwallas are commonly found in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada and throughout the Mojave Desert.

Chuck, the chuckwalla, was quite curious about why we were wandering around his rock pile.

Meet Chuck. Peggy and I discovered him as we were hiking around in the rocks looking for petroglyphs at the Valley of Fire State Park. I can’t say he was friendly, but he certainly wasn’t scared. Mainly he was curious. I was almost on top of him before he crawled into a shadowy crevice.

Chuckwallas are rather impressive members of the lizard family that can grow up to 16 inches in length. Their primarily vegetarian diet apparently serves them well. (Not that they are above scarfing down an occasional insect.) They are found throughout the deserts of the Southwest. They hide in cracks when being chased and puff up their bodies so whatever is chasing them can’t yank them out. Most predators depart with little more than a bony lizard tail for dinner. The chuckwalla is then free to go on its way and grow a new one.

Having tired of me snapping photos, Chuck heads into a crevice. He is still keeping an eye on me, though.

Having tired of me snapping photos, Chuck heads into a crevice. He is still keeping a curious eye on me, though. Note the loose skin– just waiting to be puffed out.

As I mentioned in my last blog, plants have done a remarkable job of adapting to desert life. Dilly-dallying is not an option when rain falls. Annual desert plants can grow, bloom, and produce seeds in a few short weeks. The seeds then wait a year, or longer, for the next rain to come along. Others, like cacti, slurp up and store enormous amount of water for later use. Some plants have deep roots to gather water and tiny leaves to prevent its loss.

Scene from the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

Desert plants have adapted well to their environment. I really like the touch of green here.

Valley of Fire near Las Vegas, Nevada.

I thought this dead bush spoke to the harsh living conditions found in the desert. I also thought it made a great subject for my camera.

Yucca plants in Valley of Fire State Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Yucca plants have a two tier root system. One shoots out laterally from the plant and is designed to capture rain when it falls. The other is a deep tap-root designed to reach water during dry times.

Flowering yucca in the Valley of Fire State Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A close up of the yucca’s flowers.

The primary reason for visiting the Valley of Fire is its magnificent rocks, however. I presented several photos in my last blog. Here are more.

Red and tan sandstone in the Valley of Fire.

The sandstone formations found in the Valley of Fire are close to pure silica. The difference between the tan and red rock is that a small amount of iron has produced a rust-like stain.

Peggy captured this impressive red mountain, which along with the red and tan sandstone rock on front provides another example of iron staining. The famous Red Wall of the Grand Canyon is also an example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy captured this impressive red mountain, which along with the red and tan sandstone rock in front, provides another example of iron staining. The famous Red Wall of the Grand Canyon is also an example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

White Dome in Valley of Fire State Park outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The White Dome graces the end of the road in the Valley of Fire. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The White Domes of the Valley of Fire.

White Dome and companion peak.

Balanced Rock in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Balanced Rock. How does it do it?

The Beehive Rock in Valley of Fire State Park outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

This rock in the Valley of Fire State Park is appropriately named the Beehive.

Valley of Fire State Park scenic view.

A final view of the beauty.

NEXT BLOG: The ancient Native America rock art found in the Valley of Fire State Park.

34 comments on “The Valley of Fire State Park: Part II… The Desert Series

    • Balancing rocks has almost become an art form for some people… and it is amazing in nature. This one added balancing on a downhill slope, upping the ante, so to speak. 🙂 Curt

  1. The challenge in trying to capture the “grandeur” of the formations is the perspective of size. If one put a person in as frame of reference….you would not see the person! Guess you just need to be there in person….grin. Peggy

  2. Chuck and his loose skin… Kinda reminds me of when I look in the mirror in the morning… Every morning. And I chuckled at your crack about not being above eating insects. 🙂

    Those rock formations are stunning. I’m sure in real life (i.e., not digitalized), they must be magnificent. Your knowledge of nature always astounds me, Curt. Did you come across scorpions or tarantulas in the early morning or near sunset? I hate those things, let alone having one crawl up my leg at night. 🙂

    • The rocks are indeed magnificent, Koji. The Valley of Fire State Park is a true treasure. And it is so easy to get to from Las Vegas. But I would bet that less than one percent of the people visiting glitter town are even aware of the parks existence.

      When camping in the Southwest, it’s always a good idea to shake out shoes in the morning. Scorpions can have a nasty sting. They are often portrayed in Native American rock art, although I didn’t spot any among the Valley of Fire petroglyphs. It pays to be careful when turning over rocks as well. I think that is the only time a scorpion has ever got me. Tarantulas are more interesting than dangerous. But I don’t think I would want one crawling up my leg. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Wonderful photos Curt. The contrast of colors in this part of the desert is beautiful (gotta love that hematite). It’s a nice change that the geology is right in your face, and you don’t have to root around in vegetation to see it. I’ve always been attracted to the desert SW, but never spent a lot of time there. Mainly this is because the best way to see the area is camping, and it’s hard to time the weather so it’s not hot as hell or cold enough to freeze the proverbial brass monkey. ~James

    • Camping is wonderful in spring and fall, though James with mid-March to mid-April probably being the best. Peggy and I almost always camp and we have done a fair amount of tenting. We took along a large tent on this last trip for our stay in Death Valley. We were right on the edge of it getting too warm but we had the campground almost to ourselves. Thanks for the photo comment. There is always a lot to photograph! –Curt (PS… It’s important to not suffer the fate of brass monkeys.) –Curt

  4. I really like the beehive. And those yucca blooms look luscious – literally. Ever had them in a salad?

    I was quite taken with the name chuckwalla. The first thing I thought about was the chai walla, beloved in India. The thought of a lizard selling Chucks was a little weird, so I went looking and found this in the lovely and always accessible Wiki: “The common name chuckwalla derives from the Shoshone word “tcaxxwal” or Cahuilla “caxwal”, transcribed by Spaniards as “chacahuala”. So there we have it.

    • Never had yucca blooms, Linda. Have you?

      Thanks for the information on the dirivitive of chuckwalla. Did it give a meaning like ‘big lizard’ or maybe ‘tail with food.’ I read somewhere that they were an important part of the local diet. –Curt

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