Red rock formations

Venturing Into Nevada’s Valley of Fire

I recently had friends and family visit who were interested in exploring Las Vegas beyond the Strip, so I got to play tour guide at one of my favorite spots, Nevada’s Valley of Fire. This surreal, mystical place of red rock wonder is featured in my Other Worldly series, as it happens to be the headquarters for an alien species known as Red Orbiters.

As we traversed the park, I not only discussed points of interest, including petroglyphs along Mouse’s Tank Trail and a small rock outcropping that looks suspiciously like the Starship Enterprise, I also narrated tidbits of scenes from my novels. Some of those ancient rock carvings, after all, appear more extraterrestrial than human. The petroglyph dubbed “Mystical Bat Woman” is a stellar example.

The park name was devised in the 1920s when a AAA official purportedly said the valley at sunset looked like it was on fire. And because of its alluring Aztec red sandstone backdrop, some folks think it looks like Mars, resulting in movies filmed at Valley of Fire such as Total Recall and Star Trek: Generations. Casino and Fools Rush In also filmed scenes in the park.

Valley of Fire spans 46,000 acres of awe-inspiring, vivid red rock terrain, as well as gray and tan limestone formed 150 million years ago in the age of dinosaurs. Intriguing shapes since sculpted by wind and water in breathtaking shades of orange-red against a backdrop of bright blue sky.

As Nevada’s oldest state park, it began with 8,500 acres of federal public domain given to the state. Valley of Fire formally opened as a state park on Easter Sunday in 1934, but didn’t receive its legal designation until the state legislature convened in 1935. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968.

Among the park’s myriad rock formations are natural arches, beehive boulders, small round hollows called tafone, white domes, Cambrian cliffs, and Jurassic crags formed in an ancient sand sea. Sweeping, mesmerizing views dazzle the eye with an abundance of color around every bend of road and pathway.

The park also includes ancient, petrified logs and the aforementioned petroglyphs, rock art more than 2,000 years old. Carved messages left by the Anasazi, or ancient ones, of which we can only speculate as to their meaning, though some clearly depict animals such as big horn sheep.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to the sight of herds of actual sheep with their curled horns, usually meandering about as they munch on fresh creosote, burro, and brittle bush glowing green throughout the park after a rainstorm.

Valley of Fire is also home to desert tortoise and other wildlife, including lizards, snakes, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Not to mention Red Orbiters in my Other Worldly novels, wherein protagonist Rowan Layne is envious of those who get to live in one of her favorite spots on Earth.

If you’re a red rock or petroglyph lover, or simply feel the need for wide open spaces in which to catch your breath, this park is an absolute must when visiting Las Vegas. It’s roughly a one-hour drive from the hub of the Strip, and once you reach the vast interior, you might very well feel as if you’ve touched down in an otherworldly place.

More than 300,000 humans visit Valley of Fire annually, paying a bargain-price entrance fee of $10. Some even get married in the park. There are hiking trails and two campgrounds that are first-come, first served, including RV sites with power and water hookups. There’s a visitor center with informational displays and a small gift shop.

But don’t try to find the Red Orbiter headquarters nestled in behind that wall of red rock mountain terrain beyond White Domes Drive. It’s not accessible by car, so you’ll need an alien to escort you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *