The best state park near Vegas: Valley of Fire offers eerie desert vistas and traces of native peoples

Oh the humanity. We’ve seen a bit of everything homo sapien.

We hiked for ages to ponder on petroglyphs dating back thousands of years, yet caught a young couple carving graffiti in a rock wall along the trail on our way back.

During another Valley of Fire outing, as we enjoyed a picnic, a couple of young women hiked over the DANGER sign to grab a better selfie along the cliff edge…

Two women taking photos beyond the NOT a trail closure fence and sign
Speaks but doesn’t read English?

We’ve also gazed skyward as another young woman scurried like a mountain goat higher and higher while shouting to her rock-clinging, petrified friends, something like, “I was told I have an abnormal lack of fear of heights.”

We missed the rest of what she said out of the sheer terror we felt to hurry down the trail so as not to watch; here’s hoping she enjoyed the rest of her day off from Cirque du Soleil?

Even we lack immunity to the virus of stupidity. We shouldn’t have to be reminded that danger abounds in the desert.

Neither of us wore proper hiking shoes on our first trip. Hey come on it’s mostly flat, this desert, right?

Uh, no. Round sand granules coat the tops of rocks, and without proper treads, you can slip-n-slide faster than Shaun White in a half-pipe.

We will retell our fall story in the White Domes section.

But first, a few sections of our history with this magical place.

Tips on when and how to get to Valley of Fire

Between us, we’ve been to V of F at least a half dozen times from 2016-2019.

If you are considering a trip from Vegas, we advise heading east to see Lake Mead, then take the Lake Mead parkway North. The toll may be around $10 but comped to National Park pass holders.

Along the amazing desert vistas you can visit an oasis. (See also our post on stopping to picnic at Rogers Spring.) And just before you head into V of F, you can venture down a bumpy road to overlook the ghost of a town Lake Mead once submerged that since re-emerged because thirsty Vegas lowered the levels.

We first journeyed into Valley of Fire during Spring Break, and like beginners catching ace-king all night at blackjack, we lucked out thanks to some decent rains the day before.

The desert floor erupted with amazing color, and brightest bloomed the prickly pear:

Reminded us of our trip to the spectacular lodge at Mesa Verde, where we indulged in prickly pear margaritas. More on that National Park in another post some day.

The Elephant Rock, our first VoF hike and next tip: Hang a LEFT

Fortunately we experienced a cool spring day and could endure the lengthy hike to the Elephant Rock, at least 80% into the trail if you hang a RIGHT from the trailhead.

  • Caterpillar eating dark green shoots
  • To us the brush seemed so green after the rains that it was bluish, so here we have a field of it surrounded by caramel shaded rocks.
  • Reddish rocks, cliffs with some green desert scrub brush
  • Bright orange cup shape flowers with yellow stamens against a red rock background.
  • Scraggly green bush with deep purple buds
  • Holes and short caves in the red rock cliffs.
  • A few scruffy green leaves hosting a Lone white blossom curled up against the desert heat
  • Trail leading back toward the rock formations with bleak mountains of Lake Mead in background, lots of green brush contrasting against reddish rocks and dark sand.
  • A large red rock cliff shaped like the profile of an elephant
  • Second caterpillar dining on tiny buds
  • Full length view of the elephant shaped rock, its trunk is an arch.

We snapped a lot of pics of foliage when we arrived because we knew it was green, but it looked oddly blue after the fresh showers. Our eyes balked at the strange contrast of plant life against the reddish desert dirt.

The Elephant trail head parking area provides a self-pay station and doing so, you receive a pass to display.

Also, maps to the trails and displays about the trails:

How to get there
If this tabular list of trails and features doesn’t work for you, you might find the All Trails listing easier to navigate. Also you might prefer to follow this link to download a pdf of the trail information and map:

More of the fun is getting there

Across the road, down from the Elephant, we checked out a trail of ruts still visible maybe from when Bugsy Segal first drove on to Vegas..

That early 1900s dirt superhighway known as Old Arrowhead road cuts through the park.

Next, we stopped at the Visitor Center and we recommend you stop there, too, when you go. We planned to do some serious exploring, so we bought a detailed trail map.

No matter what you think you are doing, what awaits you after the Visitor’s Center is wowza weird, and you won’t want to leave.

Therefore, you probably didn’t bring enough snacks and water, so stock up.

The Visitor’s Center also remains a good spot to return at dusk to look for goats or deer.

ASIDE RE SUPPLIES — If we enter the park from I-15, we stop by the highway at the Moapa Reservation truck stop. We find reasonable prices there for fresh-made sammys, ice, gatorades and trail mix.

Later, by the time we get our fill of exploring and snapping sunset glow on the rocks, it’s too dark to return on Lake Mead parkway. So, on the way back to Vegas we stop again at the truck stop and stock up on great priced beer from the excellent selection of crafties.

NOTE if you are one of those who couldn’t live without a slot for a day, you could drop in and try your luck at reservation style gambling.)

We drove all the roads to get the lay of the land on our first trip to Valley of Fire. One side trip offers the strange landscape of silica dunes.

River of Fire

Determined to finish the White Domes hike, we made a second trip to V of F. No can do, the ranger at the Visitor’s Center said. Road closed for upgrade. Instead he recommended we hike to the River of Fire.

River of Fire = excellent.

Which isn’t a river, but a layered rock floe that looks like a mile long thin smear of fudgy swirl ice cream.

River or ice cream swirl? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Hey, this could have happened if my Aunt the baker would have iced between 50 layers of her top secret recipe Red Velvet Cake.

The trek to the river part took quite a while, and we found lots to photograph along the way out and back.

  • Tiny white blossom in shade with fuzzy, pointy green leaves
  • Green spotted lizard with a yellow and black tail
  • Red rock, like the profile of a face with shadow for eyebrow, and a long rock overhang, a curvy beak shape like a nose
  • Rounded and almost like red hair on green fat footballs
  • Yellow blossoms open atop shaggy, grassy looking cactus
  • Yellowo blossoms resembling pineapple in a nest of grassy cactus
  • Adventure traveler AJ waves at Bill from the trail ahead. She;s wearing a bright tie dye and safari hat.
  • Adventure traveler Bill taking photos fr
  • Fuzzy spiky cactus with desert red rock background
  • A wheat like bush surrounded by boulders
  • From a crest looking at valley where river of fire will be
  • AJ and Bill pause for a selfie at the crest above the valley where river of fire runs
  • A brownish swirl on the valley floor a long way off
  • A valley with multicolor rock, green brush and distant gray mountains
  • More rocks in a pile along an three-tier cliff
  • More multi-color rock layer mesas in background of desert brush.
  • Adventure traveler Bill taking a photo
  • Yet another rock, this one like granite with possible ancient seashell fossil
  • Don't tell Bill that we described his unique rocks as poop-like
  • Valley floor with layered rock, desert mountains beyond
  • Yellow root shaped like the letter J, almost looks like a snake slithering into red rocks
  • Craggy rock shelter, reddish brown rock, brownish sand, lots of littery rocks, a bush with tiny white blooms
  • A man and woman with hiking poles and backpacks
  • Now atop the river, the strips are a few feet wide
  • Long streaky layers of colors look like flowing melted fudge ice cream. Too bad it's rock.
  • Another section of the layered color striped rock floe
  • Green bush and green grass growing from a red ledge
  • People on the edge of the river of rock's end
  • Circular browns, reddish, pinkish layers around domes, a distant two tone formation, in between, a deep valley
  • Trail between brush and rock walls maybe a hundred feet below.
  • three types of rock ledges, red and white layered, tan and brown spotted, and gray with scrub brush on a rounded top.
  • Rock face that looked brown on the way out looks more reddish on the way back because of the angle of the sun. Contrasted to a bright, deep blue sky.
  • Desert landscape with formerly dark brown rocks begin to look more orangy brown, trail alongside

We recommend a half day minimum for the River of Fire trail. Plus plenty of water and snacks. The day we hiked it, temps were merely high 80s when we began, but certainly crept into the low 90s by the time we returned. The young people who passed us (in the photos) continued beyond the domes at the end of the River, and they obviously had the gear to stay awhile.

If you deal with a lesser ability to withstand heat, plan your visit for cool seasons.

Although we hate most out and back trails, this one rates tops for just right length, decent altitudes and not too many overly sandy stretches.

Rainbow trail fail

Some desert trails present a challenge for people with a partial meniscus tear. AJ can’t hike in sand. So, we went out and returned too fast to tell you much about this hike.

For this post that contains a zillion pics, we experimented with some WordPress gallery tools. As you might imagine, a post of this magnitude occupies some huge chunks of time.

On some photos, if you click to blow them up, you may see them larger, but with the file name and description text (that’s text for search engines). The captions do not appear. We are working on fixing this flaw, soon.

There are some things that you can do as a website user to see our photos better if they do not do what you want.

On a standard desktop, right click and choose to open the image in its own window. We downsized these for speed of loading with a standard width of 1500. If what you see is not detailed enough, contact us for originals, which were shot at greater sizes and resolutions.

Another nifty trick for blowing up web pages, in general, is the keyboard shortcut command or control plus the plus symbol. CMD — (command minus) shrinks.

No mice but lots of petroglyphs are the pay off for the Mouse Tank hike

We love trying to crack the code for the messages left by native peoples long ago.

Photoshop works wonders to see these old worn glyphs.

Here are a few more that up the contrast and remove the color:

Drag the arrows to change contrasts.
Drag the arrows to change contrasts.

The mouse tank trail charms with or without petroglyphs.

We love to name the variety of rock formations, as if we were the discovers.

If you have some inspirational rock captions for these, let us know in the comments. If we like yours, we’ll replace ours.

And in case you wonder what happened to our citizens arrest of the modern rock carvers,

We took photos of the graffiti… and kept pace with the hikers. When we arrived to the parking area shortly after them, we inconspicuously snapped photos of their plate.

When we got cell reception closer to the park exit, we called a hotline and were told to visit the ranger in the residence area.

We told him what happened, and he asked us to send the photos of the license plate of the car and the marred rock.

Likely it was a tourist rental car.

The ranger did say if the perpetrators could be traced from the plate, they might have to pay a fine.

We hope the rocks got their day in court, but we never heard any more…

The end of the inner park road and our longest hike ever: White Domes

When Bill slipped during our first visit, he broke his fall on a razor sharp rock. The cut was so deep, he could have lost his thumb.

That ended our sunset hike, just as we began the descent into White Domes.

  • Two steep peaks and sandy path between
  • A white dome, and distant multicolor dome in sunset golden light
  • Continuing descent into the firey cliffs
  • Down between rocks, Shadowy hazy view ofsandy path between
  • Parking lot with very red rocks in background at sunset, and white domes to the right

Fortunately a woman spotted the blood and our panic as we returned to the parking lot. She approached and said, “I am a nurse and I have lots of kids. I am prepared. Let me help.”

She had first aid kits in her SUV. She disinfected and bandaged him, and maybe he should have gone for stitches but somehow it healed.

We swore after that we would:

  • keep at least one first aid kit in the vehicle at all times
  • carry a lighter first aid kit in our hiking pack
  • spare no expense on comfortable, waterproof hiking shoes with good treads
  • purchase sturdy hiking poles

We think if you plan to hike around the desert, you should prepare, too.

The next year we returned with all the above gear to finish our White Domes trek, only to learn White Domes road was closed.

White Domes might be our record for longest hike, as it spanned about three years from start to finish. Here’s what we saw from end of the descent on around the loop back to the lot.

  • Conch shell shaped cliffs with multiple layers of reds and browns, and white domes in the background.
  • Very narrow canyon walls shaded from the sun
  • Bill stands at entrance to narrow canyon with sand-colored walls of rock.
  • Canyon wall not as high, see white dome ahead
  • Odd cliff with five long yellow lines in pinkish layer.
  • A cliff to the left in shadows seems more red against the bright blue sky, while the sunlit cliff to the right seems to be more tan and golden in the light.
  • More domes but these are reddish, not white
  • Another phase of the hike, gradually ascending a rocky plain between half domes
  • White topped cliff walls with middle streaks of pinkish rock with reddish brown base, blue skies and green desert scrub brush
  • Reddish brown dome with a footprint shaped cave entrance, and many human footprints in the sand going to it and back.
  • Large whitish half pyramid of a dome, with distant red mountains against a bright blue sky.

You could also call Atlatl rock an atlatlas

You might enter the Valley and begin with the Atlatl loop drive or like us, wait til the golden hour.

Then we top off our trips to V of F with a climb up the 70 or 80 stairs up to the platform of Atlatl rock.

Over time the rock steps carved by native peoples’ feet wore away, so modern humans built a structure we could nickname, Valley of Fire Escape.

  • Wall of petroglyphs, honeycomb rock and other rocks overhang
  • Gap in the cliff with petroglyph like a family of stick figures, a wheel
  • Deep red rocks and desert landscape
  • Another red rock distant mountain desert landscape
  • A hole in the pinkish reddish rock face, with overhang shelter
  • A rock of multi colored stains
  • Closeup of the yellow, green and gray stains on the rock
  • A foot, a line like a road, a stick figure using an atlatl, goats, a ladder, spirals to indicate the season, and other petroglyphs

The petroglyphs here make a lot of sense. Native peoples launched spears or darts at prey with atlatls.

Drag the arrows with your mouse to see the contrasted color version, or the black-and-white version.

Follow this atlatlas. There’s a ladder. Climb the rock and follow the trail til you find a reserve of water. Use your atlatl to kill a goat. Build a fire, eat it.


Catch the buzz by the beehives

Lots of activity here. These rocks climb so easy us grandparents can grab a panorama.

  • The hives are like blobs randomly plopped onto the desert floor
  • Another blooming bush growing out of rock
  • A more distant rocky landscape with ridges that might be more reminiscent of hornets nest than beehive
  • Gaping hole in the bottom of the beehive
  • Two people atop a larger beehive rock formation.

Is it just us, or do the beehives all seem a bit like like poop emojees plopped at random onto the desert? Blow up the top left image and tell us in the comments if you agree.

Saving the best for last? Stay for sunsets in Valley of Fire

  • Desert rock landscapes at sunset
  • Desert landscape photos that you can snap from the car
  • Desert landscape at sunset
  • Huge rock wall turning more reddish with sunset
  • Another sunset rock landscape
  • Almost orange giant mesa

Valley of Fire offers camping, too. Although we left RVoyager at the resort in Vegas in 2019, we might have to try V of F for some star gazing soon.

Our friend Dave going for the longshot (with his cell phone cam)

For our Day in the Life section we will write about what happened while visiting Valley of Fire with our poker buddy Dave in 2019. The tale begins something like, “On the most gorgeous of clear, blue-sky days, a dust devil leapt out of nowhere and attacked RVoyager…”

Valley of Fire State Park

Overton, Nevada

And if our photos aren’t enough to convince you to visit, you must look at the professional images at the official site:

The post author, AJ, would like to thank you for coming this far down this long story. If you are reading this, you probably should put some ice on your mouse scrolling finger.

2 thoughts on “The best state park near Vegas: Valley of Fire offers eerie desert vistas and traces of native peoples

  1. This is so much fun to explore; I almost feel like I am there with you, but alas, I’m home in Brooklyn with my A/C going. I want to know more of the temps and hours and season details. I know that deserts get mighty hot mighty early, so how do you handle those long walks in the powerful temps? Lots of water, I imagine (but that can be heavy), and I like your list of must-haves. So happy Bill got the help from the nurse, but yes, you need to be able to handle those emergencies yourselves! I know you can now! Great photos! Great commentary!


  2. Really enjoyed this post and all the great photos–looks like you’re definitely getting your money’s worth out of the lens attachment for the phone! One of these day (you know, when it’s cool in the desert…, I’ll hope to visit Valley of Fire.


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