The Beauty is in the Details – Valley of Fire State Park, NV

Comments 11 Standard
Valley of Fire State Park

I thought two posts would cover our stop at this gem in Nevada, but there’s so much breathtaking beauty here that I had to cover some of it in more detail.  I promise this is my final post on Valley of Fire!

Valley of Fire State Park

Massive Aztec sandstone that forms the red rock of Valley of Fire, seen from the Pinnacles Trail

After taking the scenic drive and hiking around the area, we revisited the valley (pictured above) at sunrise and again at sunset to further immerse ourselves in details of the formations.  We wanted to answer some questions, like how did all of these colors and textures come about?

We knew from past experience that the presence of iron gives rocks that red hue in the soil and mountains.  Tumultuous earth events over millions of years, plus the handiwork of wind and water erosion over time have left us with the incredible vistas here.

Valley of Fire

Geologic forces and erosion in other places we’ve visited have left landforms that took our breath away.  But the forces that created Valley of Fire are concentrated in a relatively small land area when compared to places like the Pictured Rocks in Upper MichiganPainted Desert in Arizona, Artist Pallete at Death Valley or the badlands in North Dakota and South Dakota.  The colorful array of rocks, swirls, patterns and folds are always extraordinary, but this place was really top notch!

Valley of Fire

As usual, my photos can’t do justice to what we saw, and be forewarned that this will be a rocky post!


These photos were taken at Wash #5, the 5th dip on the scenic drive.  If you don’t want to leave your car in the wash, park at Lot #3 and cross the road to follow the Firewall Trail. Then prepare to be awestruck!

Valley of Fire

Valley of fire

Valley of fire

Slot Canyon, Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Valley of fire

Rock peelings

Valley of fire

Valley of fire

Our question as to why there are such color differences in the rocks was answered by a visitor center display.  It advised that the Aztec sandstone does indeed derive its characteristic red color from iron oxide in the rock.  How the iron got into the various layers is a subject of debate among geologists.  Some theorize it leached downward through the porous sandstone through overlying rock.  But others note that some areas in the upper layers are white and do not contain iron oxide.  This suggests that the rocks have actually been stained from the bottom up by water circulating minerals from the iron-rich layers beneath.  Whichever is true, the result is gorgeous!


Back I went at the end of the day to have another look around.  First I went out onto the Fire Canyon Trail to check it out.  We had not followed this short trail because we’re not crazy about hiking in deep sand.  But what caught my attention here were the desert plants that seemed to glow in the sun’s reflection as it bounced off the red rocks.

Desert Almond

Desert shrub, Valley of Fire

Brittle Brush

From there I drove back to the scenic road and stopped at Lot #2 for a walk down the hill. The sun was low and the rocks were aglow!  I named this area the Peachy Swirl Sundae or Orange Sundae.  I was happy to be all alone, and so giddy that I didn’t know which way to point my camera!  Sure enough, the formations at this time of the day had been transformed into a dramatic and lively landscape.

Valley of fire

Valley of Fire

Valley of fire

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Can you spot the car out there?  The scenic road runs right by these brilliant formations

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

This was such a stunning place that I eventually put my camera down and just sat there savoring the panorama until the sun dipped below the horizon.  I was blown away!

Sunset at Valley of Fire

And this is just the beginning of our adventures in the land of multi-colored rocks.  Our next stop begins a 3-month adventure in the mother lode of vividly-colored rock formations – Utah!

 white-tailed antelope squirrel

A White-tailed Antelope Squirrel says, “Come back soon, I’ll be waiting for you!”


Next up:  Hello, Utah!


This Valley’s on Fire! – Overton, NV

Comments 19 Standard

The drive along the north shore road from Lake Mead National Recreation Area was a colorful and rocky landscape that lead us to one of Nevada’s hidden gems, Valley of Fire State Park.  I must warn my readers that this post and several succeeding ones will be laden with geologic rocks in various forms, shapes and colors.

Steve was happy that the road was well paved, unlike the many crappy roads in Tucson, AZ.  Since it was so nice, he was able to enjoy the scenery more than usual as we negotiated the curvy and hilly roads snaking through the dramatic landscape.

Las Vegas Bay

Are we there yet?


Looks like we’re getting close…


OK, we’re there!

Valley of Fire S.P. is located just 50 miles northeast of the bright lights of Las Vegas.  It’s named for the red sandstone formations that have been carved by shifting sand dunes that were formed and solidified during the age of dinosaurs.  It’s really an island of red rocks in the desert, and because the sun was hitting it at just the right angle when we arrived it looked like the rocks were ablaze.  Amazing!

Valley of Fire State Park

We arrived early in the morning, as the campground sites are on a first-come first-served basis.  At 40′ plus a car we had a choice of three spots, and fortunately site #24 had just been vacated.  Although many of the electric/water sites were very out of level, we were able to get close in this one (Steve’s review here).

The forecast for the following day called for wind and possibly rain, so once we were hooked up we immediately drove the scenic drive.  I had seen pictures of this park, but we were not prepared for the out-of-this-world landscape here!

White Dome Road, Valley of Fire SP

At the start of the scenic drive the road gradually climbed through these deep red monoliths consisting of Aztec sandstone.

We first pulled over at the Petroglyph Canyon Trail, where evidence of human use of the area was etched on the canyon walls.  Nobody knows the meaning of these symbols, but the art reflects the thoughts of these people 4,000 years ago.  The trail was short, but walking through deep sand along a rocky drainage area made the going a bit difficult.


What the heck are they trying to say?

Not only did the petroglyphs keep us constantly looking up at the canyon walls, but also the many eroded rocks in fascinating forms grabbed our attention..

Petroglyph Canyon trail

A juggling act amongst the rocks

Mouse Tank

At the Mouse’s Tank: a pocket of stagnant water supposedly helped an Indian named Mouse survive while stuck here in the 1890’s

At the summit the road opened up to reveal an amazing display of rocks in many colors, aptly named Rainbow Vista.  We parked and climbed up a huge outcropping to enjoy a 360-degree panorama of 150 million year old colored rocks, canyons, domes, ridges and valleys.  The panel described the view as a wild and virtually untouched wilderness carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Rainbow Vista

Its spectacular, its amazing, its surreal!

Rainbow Vista

White Domes Scenic Byway

Looking down the scenic road we drove in on

Next we swung by Fire Canyon Road and viewed the dramatic change from white to red in the sandstone which was caused by small quantities of iron that produced rust-like stains.

Rainbow Vista

The hikers looked like ants as they trekked toward Fire Canyon

Fire canyon

Fire Canyon Road

I name this formation “two hearts beating as one”

Back on the road, we drove slowly so we could ogle the many layers of multicolored rocks. There were pull-outs and parking lots that allowed more close-up exploration, but for now we just drove leisurely as we “oohed” and “aahed” on our way to White Dome Rock.

“Wow!” was all we could say at every turn.  The short White Dome Rock Trail showcased a little bit of everything here, and a walk in the cream-colored sand led us past a slot canyon where we gawked at massive formations with contrasting colors amidst the Mohave Desert landscape.

White Domes Trail

Clusters of rounded, cream-colored sandstone mounds

Slot Canyon, White Domes Trail

White Domes Rock

We saw a sign that listed movies that had been filmed in the area over the years.  We plan to keep our eyes open for them to see how the locations were used.


After a short hike we backtracked and stopped at parking lot #3 to access the famed “Firewave”.  It’s reminiscent of the Coyote Buttes in the Vermillion Cliffs, which are called “The Wave”.  Since we haven’t been able to get a reservation at The Wave so far, we’re content to see a sampling of it here.  This place is incredible and I’m running out of adjectives to describe it!

Firewave, Valley of Fire SP

That rock is called Gibraltar

Firewall, Valley of Fire State Park

Steve striking a pose at the Firewave


The scenic drive and short trails can be done in a day.  For those of you visiting Las Vegas, take a day off from gambling if you have a car and make a day trip out here.  It’s a seriously wild place, with the fascinating details yet to come!

Valley of Fire sunset

This is why the park is named Valley of Fire!

I took so many photos that I couldn’t decide which ones to post, but you really need to come here and see this fascinating place for yourself.

Sunset at Valley of Fire



Next up:  Life is in the detail