We just returned from a camping trip to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. This 40,000 acre park is located about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas and it is spectacular! It’s open year round, but I wouldn’t suggest you go there in the summer months unless you really, really like heat.
Some of what the park has to offer includes bright red outcrops of Aztec sandstone infused with gray and tan limestone, petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years. There are many great hiking trails for all skill levels and, when we were there, an almost unbelievable number of bighorn sheep that didn’t seem to be afraid of people.
This camping trip was put together by the Airstream club we belong to, the Greater Los Angeles Airstream Club. We attend a number of events they plan throughout the year and enjoy them a lot. The club reserved group campgrounds 2 and 3 for nine Airstreams. I admit that I was a bit dubious about this trip because I searched campsite photos and it looked like the group campgrounds were just parking lots. I called a park ranger and she did say that yes, folks parked cars and trailers in the group campground parking lots and had use of the group campground areas next to the parking lots. She did say these areas are mostly used by tent campers. I don’t like camping in parking lots. It turned out that yes, you could camp in the parking lot, and some did, or you could pull into dirt areas next to the parking lots and camp there. That’s what we did and situated our trailer such that we had a beautiful view of the desert and red rock formations from the door side of our Airstream. The night sky was wonderful. I brought a telescope fully intending to do a little astronomy outreach, but got too happy at group happy hours and didn’t set it up. The group campgrounds are the only reservation camping areas. There are two other campgrounds, that are a first come, first serve basis. This is a very popular park and it’s very hard to snag a campsite. If you go to this park, have a plan-B in place in case you can’t find a campsite. There is ample BLM camping available right outside the park entrance, if you don’t mind BLM camping.
We hiked three trails in the park. There were several other trails we wanted to explore but our scheduled stay wasn’t long enough. We’ll tackle those when we go back, which we certainly plan on doing.
Our first hike was to a place called Mouse’s Tank. This hike is a relatively easy 1.5 miles out and back and wanders through a red sandstone canyon that features a high concentration of Native American petroglyphs. We noticed one large hole in the canyon wall that looked (to me) like a cat head. The trail ends at Mouse’s Tank, a natural water catch basin made out of sandstone that holds water even during dry periods. This natural “water tank” is named after a Native American, called Mouse, who used the area as a hideout. I have no idea why he needed to hide. And of course even though we took a ton of pictures on this trip, we did not take even one image of the natural water tank this hike is named for, but believe me, it had water in it. If you ever hike this trail, you may want to check out a sign at the trailhead that shows symbols you might see on the hike as well as potential symbol translations. We saw a large herd of Big Horn Sheep here that were not afraid of people at all.
The second hike we took was to White Domes, which a park ranger that visited our campground suggested. It’s a little over a mile loop trail that does have a bit of up and down elevation. On this hike we saw beautiful sandstone formations with different shapes and colors. If you use your imagination, you can see all kinds of recognizable things in the rock formations, I know we did. The trail passes by an old film set from a 1965 movie called The Professionals and then routes through a narrow slot canyon. This would be a bad place to be in a flash flood because the walls narrow to just a couple of feet apart in some areas. The vista views of valleys and canyons on this hike are marvelous.
The third, and last, hike we went on was the Fire Wave trail. This trail is about 1.75 miles total there and back. Fire Wave is a bowl-shaped depression with a couple rising points covered with orange and white wavy stripes, hence the name Fire Wave. It’s absolutely gorgeous. If you hike to the end of the trail, there is a lot of elevation both down and back up so keep that in mind if you have health issues or lack muscle strength in your legs. Much of the trail is on rock slabs that are steeply angled. Wear GOOD hiking shoes/boots because you’ll need the traction. If you slip, it’s a long bumpy ride to the bottom. Don’t be afraid of this hike, just use common sense and you’ll be okay.
Some of our non-hiking stops included Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, a cruise through the two RV campgrounds and stops at the park’s visitor center.
Atlatl Rock is located on a scenic loop road just outside of the first RV campground, Atlatl Rock Campground. It’s a quick stop that showcases petroglyphs on a boulder about fifty feet off the ground. I have no idea about how or why Native Americans put their art in such an inaccessible place. The park built a metal staircase that you climb on the side of a red sandstone formation to a viewing area in front of the petroglyphs. This site offers a very close up view of some very fine Native American artwork. Of course some idiots have defaced parts of the petroglyphs with their stupid graffiti.
Another 0.3 of a mile on the loop road took us to Arch Rock. It’s a small arch perched on top of a short rounded rock fin. It’s quick stop, but worth a couple of minutes because of the wonderful scenery. Arch Rock is just outside the entrance to Arch Rock Campground, the second RV campground.
As I mentioned, we cruised through both RV campgrounds. Neither campground takes reservations and both are extremely popular. Atlatl Rock Campground has 44 sites and Arch Rock Campground has 29 sites. The campsites are rustic and are surrounded by formations of red sandstone. A few sites do have RV hookups. Free, heated showers are available to all campers in the park at Atlatl Rock Campground, the park’s main campground. In the summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and can get as hot as 120 degrees. If you can take the heat, this is when you have the best chance of snagging a campsite.
The park visitor center is a good starting point for a park visit. We visited twice and saw exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory and history of the park and surrounding areas. There are free park maps that show points of interest and hiking trails. Park rangers are available to answer questions. Of course there is the standard gift shop for those “got-to-have” souvenirs.
We had a great time with our Airstream club friends. Each night we had a group happy hour. At each happy hour everyone brought food and adult beverages to share, so we ate well. We had fire pits going and were visited daily by a local Big Horn Sheep herd.
The hardest part of writing a blog like this is picking the pictures and we took a lot. Valley of Fire is one of those places where it’s hard to take a bad photo. Valley of Fire State Park is a wonderful park that we highly recommend visiting if only for a day trip. We are going to try and get some folks together for a trip there in the future so we can reserve a group campground.