An Adventure in Color

Nevada’s oldest state park, Valley of Fire State Park preserves a starkly beautiful section of the Mojave Desert noted for its brilliantly red sandstone formations including cliffs and petrified sand dunes. The red color is enhanced late in the day, near sunset. There are also petrified logs, ancient petroglyphs and, if you are lucky, superb wildlife viewing. On our recent visit, we got lucky, seeing superb, brilliant colors right before sunset and a herd of bighorn sheep close to the road, right after sunset.

Silica Dome in Fire Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park

[Photo, above: Silica Dome in Fire Canyon moments before sunset.] The Silica Dome, located a few miles north of the visitor center on a spur just off White Domes Road, offers one of Valley of Fire’s starkest and most colorful vistas. From park signs:

“Fire Canyon. In this region, forces within the region have been powerful enough to cause thousands of feet of surface rock to fold, break, and in some areas push, several miles from their original location. Today, erosion has worn away the top of one great fold, exposing the sharply layered angles of rock, and creating numerous canyons.”

“Silica Dome. The sandstone formations that are so prominent in the Valley of Fire are mad of sand grains that are almost pure silica. This huge dome is the finest example in the area of such a deposit. The change from white to red in the base of the dome occurs where small quantities of iron in the rock produce a rust-like stain.”

Rainbow Vista Point, Valley of Fire State Park

[Photo, left: A sandstone hill shot near the Rainbow Vista parking area, also on White Domes Road. There are excellent vistas in several directions and a good trail heading towards the hills. Also, picnic tables and a restroom.]

From the park sign:

“Rainbow Vista. You are looking across 150 million years of time. the great maze of canyons, domes, towers, ridges, and valleys before you are carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth. This is wild, virtually untouched wilderness. It is an Adventure in Color for you to experience by car and on foot.”

Between the visitor center on the main park road (NV-169) and the Rainbow Vista area, the White Domes Roads heads into a shady, narrow jumbled canyon of very red sandstone. This is where we encountered a herd of desert sheep just after sunset. The herd of about six sheep was grazing the side of the road ahead of our vehicle. As we stopped, the herd crossed the road, continued to graze and very leisurely started climbing up the jumbled canyon wall. Their casual pace allowed for numerous superb photos at a relatively close distance.

Bighorn Sheep, Valley of Fire State Park Bighorn Sheep, Valley of Fire State Park

Our brief visit also included the main park road in the west side of the park. There are two campgrounds around colorful Arch and Atlatl Rocks where there are numerous opportunities to discover ancient Indian petroglyphs (etched rock art). There is a Petrified Log exhibit with some colorful fossilized tree trunks dating back 225 million years. However note the exhibit is fenced off. South of the main road, there is a group campground in and around the Beehives, colorful fossilized sand dunes.

Near Arch Rock, Valley of Fire State Park Petroglyphs, Valley of Fire State Park

[Photo, above left: a flaming vista shortly before sunset near Arch Rock. Above right: a sample Indian petroglyph from nearby Mojave National Preserve. Note the obvious carving of a bighorn sheep in the center.]

Activities here include hiking, auto touring, and photography. It is an open area, and camping or touring would be best in the spring or fall. Valley of Fire is near the north end of Lake Mead, and easily accessed from Las Vegas, 55 miles north off of Interstate-15. It is a good day trip from Las Vegas, or a stopover on the way to the Utah national parks. For more information, visit the Valley of Fire State Park – Nevada State Parks website.