December 26, 2014

Valley of Fire State Park

After visiting my family Christmas Day in Las Vegas, I spent Dec. 26 in Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park. Unlike national parks such as Zion, Bryce, and Arches, Valley of Fire has a fair amount of Native lore.

Valley of Fire State ParkThe Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape.

Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates. Prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire included the Basket Maker people and later the Anasazi Pueblo farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley.

The span of approximate occupation has been dated from 300 B.C.E. to 1150 C.E. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited the length of their stay. Fine examples of rock art left by these ancient peoples can be found at several sites within the park.
Leaving Las Vegas….Thursday, again after a trip through Subway for sandwiches, we drove east on I-15 for about an hour to the Moapa Travel Plaza Exit. From there, it’s an easy 15 miles or so to the West Entrance to the Valley of Fire State Park. And, yes, the park is open on Thanksgiving day. What I hadn’t seen yet, and had been meaning to check out, were the thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs located in the park, only an hour east of town! Sites here have been dated between 300 B.C. to 1150 A.D. and possibly older. The narrow canyon leading to “Mouse’s Tank” contains one of the highest concentrations of petroglyphs I’ve seen in one place. Think Sand Island, Newspaper Rock, Horseshoe Canyon and The Procession Panel–linked together.

If you find yourself in Las Vegas, have ingested enough secondhand smoke, and need some peace and quiet, I’d recommend a day (or more) at Valley of Fire. You’ll find quiet, private campsites, a well done, informative visitor center and a long weekend’s worth of desert hiking. Bring your camera and binoculars. Some of the rock art panels are up high and you’ll want magnification. A side-note to fellow Star Trek fans: This is the place where Captain Kirk died in Star Trek Generations!
Comment:  This is one of the best parks I've visited--roughly equal to Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley, and Red Rock Canyon. It's well worth a day trip if you visit Las Vegas.

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