Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is a short 60-minute drive up Highway 15 from Las Vegas. It’s Nevada’s oldest and largest state park – but despite its size it can be visited in a single day. The great majority of the major sites can be seen within feet of parking.
The Valley of Fire was formed over tens of millions of years through a combination of shifting sand dunes, uplifting, faulting and erosion. As you might have guessed by its name, there are plenty of red rocks in the park (generally sandstone) giving the appearance of a landscape on fire, particularly so during the warm early morning and late afternoon sunlight.
Indians inhabited the area thousands of years ago and their ancient petroglyphs can be seen on various rock faces, depicting humans, animals and symbols. The animals appear to include bighorn sheep and many of the human shapes are holding spear-like instruments called Atlatls.
Some of my favorite locations in the Valley of Fire include:
- Atlatl Rock – ancient petroglyphs dating back one to two thousand years. Atlatl Rock is one of the first formations you will come to once you enter the park from the west (the Highway 15 side). It will be on the left side of the road and clearly marked. Take Valley of Fire Highway to Campground Road and make a left. Note – Campground Road makes a loop. The more direct route is to take the second left.
- The Beehives – sandstone formations that clearly demonstrate the power of weathering. The Beehives is the first rock formation you will come to upon entering the park. A small parking lot is right off the road and it will be remarkably easy to find. It’s in-between the two entrances to Campground Road.
- Elephant Rock – a rock formation shaped like…an elephant! The resemblance to the gentle pachyderm is truly uncanny. I find this particular subject difficult to shoot. There is a sharp drop off on the east side of the rock formation, making it difficult to photograph from that angle while ensuring that it’s recognizable as an elephant. Overall, the positioning of the rock formation is such that the light is very challenging in both the early morning and late afternoon. The image shown here was taken in the early morning. Elephant Rock is on the east end of the park. Take the Valley of Fire Highway for a little more than two miles past Mouse’s Tank Road. It will be on a small bluff on the left of the road just as you crest a hill.
- Seven Sisters – large sandstone formations with picnic tables interspersed between them (which also makes it a bit challenging for photography). You can park right next to the formations and walk around them to find an optimal image. Take Valley of Fire Highway east past Mouse’s Tank Road for less than a mile. It will be right on the side of the road.
- Balanced Rock – a precariously balanced rock formation near the visitor center. From Valley of Fire Highway take Mouse’s Tank Road and it will be on the right side of the road, just past the visitor center. It will be a very prominent rock formation, on the right, just before the road takes a big right turn. There is a short trail that leads from the visitor center parking lot or you can park along the road. The photograph below is from the backside of the formation (Mouse’s Tank Road is out of sight, behind and below it).
- The Fire Wave and other multi-colored sandstone formations. The north road from the visitor center to White Domes (the end of the road) has a number of things to see. The ultimate spot on this drive is the Fire Wave, which is a relatively short hike from the road. There are a number of “how to get there” posts on the Internet so I won’t repeat them here (here’s one and a Google map). This is a really neat place to explore. There are small slot canyons (see below) and various multi-colored sandstone formations that could easily keep you busy for hours.
A small sandstone slot canyon near the Fire Wave.
I have no idea what this formation is called. I refer to it as “The Monolith.” You’ll pass this on the main trail to the Fire Wave.
- Fire Canyon & Silica Dome – here there is a spectacular panoramic view of the valley including multi-colored sandstone formations. This is very easy to get to. Just drive up the road from the visitor center and it will be clearly marked on the right (take Mouse’s Tank Road to Fire Canyon Road).
These are just a few of the places to visit within the park. In my opinion this is a must see for anyone visiting Las Vegas. The short drive and accessible points of interest make this an easy day trip. For more photographs from the Valley of Fire, please click here.