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

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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!


Those Wondrous Rocks – Valley of Fire, NV

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2016-03-05-NV-1420868.jpgOur scenic drive into Valley of Fire (click here if you missed it) and the breathtaking trail explorations left us wanting more.  Fortunately we had a week to explore this park, and did we ever rock out!

The park didn’t have extensive trails, but the ones we followed took us past many intriguing rock formations and colors that wowed us again and again.  The story of how the earth moved to cause the folding, thrusting and shoving of ancient seas millions of years ago resulted in what we saw as a geologists’s dream.


Pinnacle Trail

This was our first trek, and it led us to a cluster of sandstone towers.  The high gray mountain ridge here is made up of the oldest exposed rocks in the park, estimated to be 550 millions years old.  The red rocks in front of it are younger, “only” 66 million years old.

Pinnacles Trail

An open desert hike this time

After going around the southern edge of a ridge of dark gray-green rock and doing a bit of scrambling, the pinnacles came into view:

Pinnacle Rocks

On this trail we were fascinated by eroding large and small sedimentary rocks cemented together by minerals:


Steve touches a piece of wood that was cemented among sedimentary rocks

After climbing the pinnacles we were rewarded with beautiful scenery in every direction:

Pinnacles Trail, Valley of Fire

The shrubs near the top of the pinnacles displayed a bluish-green tinge that made Steve take notice:

Pinnacle Trail

A bluish tint on the sage brush

Approaching our campground, we stopped by groups of ancient sand dunes that have hardened over millions of years.  This is part of the cluster seen on my header image:

Valley of Fire State Park

Prospect Trail

Another trail we followed took us behind those huge sandstone formations that make up most of the state park.  We began our hike from the campground and crossed open desert before hiking into the enormous sandstones.  The cacti were beginning to bud, and we could only guess how vibrant this area would be in a few weeks.

The sandstones here are ginormous, weathered by wind and time and forming odd shapes and forms.  These formations were originally sand, mud, silt or lime that became stone over 300 million years ago.

Prospect Trail, Valley of Fire

I looked like a blue ant standing among the sandstones

Prospect Trail

Playing and climbing amongst incredible weathered rocks

Brittle brush

Blooming Brittle Brush against the rocks

Prospect Trail

Is that a pig though the rock window?

Valley of Fire State Park

The trail ended at White Dome Rock, and the oppressive dry heat was getting to us so we headed back.

Prospect Trail

Looking up at a high canyon wall

Natural Arch Trail/Elephant Trail

We had planned to see the natural arch on this trail, but after walking a while in deep sand in the wash we decided to try another trail.

Mesozoic Muds

These red deposits are called mesozoic muds, which will turn purple, pink or lavender when exposed to air

Natural Arch Trail

Deep sand isn’t our favorite kind of hike, let’s try something else!

It’s a good thing we detoured to the Elephant Trail just up the road.  The Big Horn Sheep were out for their breakfast in big numbers:

Desert Big Horn Sheep

A herd having breakfast…

Big horn sheep

…while a family does lookout duty from the top of a rock

Back at the campground, Betsy was parked right in front of a large sandstone rock that Steve wanted to conquer:

Atlatl Campground

Atlatl Campground

Betsy’s hidden behind that big rock

We spent a day exploring in and around our campground, and checked out whimsical formations that were close by:

Sandstone Arch

A Sandstone Arch, an example of what happens when water and wind find weak places in the rock that erode faster than surrounding stone

Beehive Formation cross bedded rock

A beehive – persistent winds over millions of years created this masterpiece

Yawning Indian

A yawning indian – can you see it?

I’ll stop now or you’ll be yawning like that indian.  But the beauty is in the details, as you’ll see in my next post!

Next up:  It’s really in the details