Only an hour’s drive north of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park makes a great day-trip destination. The park includes some of Southern Nevada’s most colorful landscapes of fiery red sandstone, sculpted by millions of years of erosion and geologic events. It is Nevada’s largest state park, at 42,000 acres, and also the oldest, established in 1935.
Start your trip at the visitor center where you can see the displays that feature the cultural history of the area as well as the geology, ecology, flora and fauna within the park. And this is where you get maps. There are dozens of miles of hiking trails but two of them have don’t miss reputations, and you can include both in a day’s visit.
The best hike, and closest to the visitor center, takes you to a natural tinaja called Mouse’s Tank. It is named for a renegade Paiute man who in the 1880s evaded posses because of his superior knowledge of the desert. Many believe the water captured seasonally, in this cistern-like hole in the rock, helped him survive. Drive north from the visitor center on White Domes Road, about one mile to the trailhead. This hike is easy, a roundtrip of about three-quarters-mile along a sandy wash. Along the way you will pass hundreds of petroglyphs.
If you want a longer trail within a diverse and intriguing landscape, drive from Mouse’s Tank trailhead about four and one-half miles north to the White Domes Trailhead. This moderate trail is done as a loop of one and one-quarter miles, and takes you by remains of a movie set built in 1965, for “The Professionals,” a hit Western movie starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin and Claudia Cardinale . You will also be treated to a slot canyon and other unique sandstone formations.
Other must-see places in the park, are The Cabins and Atlatl Rock. The Cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) just after the park was established. Built of sandstone gathered in the park, the cabins are well-preserved. Primitive by modern standards, they were actually used by travelers when they were new.
Atlatl Rock involves climbing steep metal stairs, to a fine panel of petroglyphs including an unusual one depicting an atlatl, an ancient spear-throwing weapon. The park even hosts an annual World Atlatl Championship. This year it will take place on Saturday, March 25. They’ll even loan you an atlatl if you want to participate yet somehow don’t own one.
The visitor center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call (702) 397-2088 or click here.
Directions: From Las Vegas take Interstate 15 north about 30 miles to exit 75. Drive east on U.S. Highway 169 for about 18 miles. Go left to the visitor center parking area.