If Sedona, AZ and Moab, UT had a tiny little baby and plunked it in the middle of the Sahara Desert, that would be Valley of Fire State Park, in Southern Nevada! The good news for readers of this blog, who are undoubtedly sick to death of seeing Philip’s and my ugly mugs, is that we were joined by friends Nancy and Keith Keil. Fresh modeling material!
Named for the red sandstone that formed from shifting sand dunes a mere 150 million years ago, the flame-red rock towers are especially eye-catching as the desert sun moves across the sky.
Just 50 or so miles (but a world apart) from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is a popular day-tripper destination for its Insta-worthy rocks, spires, and gasp-worthy views. It’s not a very big park, so you could theoretically “do it” in a day.
But for the ultimate Valley of Fire experience, if you’re very lucky (more about that later), camping inside the park is the ultimate best way to really enjoy its grandeur!
Valley of Fire has easy-to-moderate hiking trails to beautiful formations and breath-taking views. Best of all: Nevada State Parks’ trails are all Fido-friendly! Sprinkles approves!
Catch a wave on the Fire Wave Trail!
… or experience the limestone canyons and cliffs of The Narrows on the White Domes Loop Trail.
The little-traveled Prospect Trail is perfect for those who crave peace and solitude,
and the perfect picnic spot!
The trail to Mouse’s Tank (not an actual mouse, rather a renegade Paiute indian called “Little Mouse” who lived in these canyons in the late 1800’s) takes you down Petroglyph Canyon, with walls covered in ancient petroglyphs.
Amazingly, these petroglyphs are up to 4,000 years old. They have been etched into the shiny black “desert varnish,” a natural patina that formed on the rocks eons ago and visible from the trail.
The Rainbow Vista area offers otherworldly colors that could only come from nature!
Buzz on over to the Beehives for lots of cozy cuddle spots!
The Seven Sisters are a beautiful row of seven red sandstone monoliths, right along the road, and a popular spot for weddings. But if this isn’t dramatic enough for you, you can also get married atop the “Raven’s Nest,” where the mountaintop also has room for up to three helicopters. They promise your wedding will be “very private” up there … I can only imagine!
The Clark Memorial was erected in 1949 for John J. Clark, who came through this area in 1915. He was driving a buckboard wagon through the desert when he stopped, presumably to find water. He tied up his horse, laid down and died, probably of thirst. The horse also died, probably of being tied up and unable to leave. Indeed, this place gets VERY hot in summer, but winter in the perfect time to visit.
Herds of desert bighorn sheep, the official mammal of Nevada (and you thought it was the showgirl!), roam the park. Their main predator is the mountain lion, but these guys didn’t seem concerned whatsoever. We watched mamas and babies easily navigate the steep rocks ….
….and later watched the papa’s as they strolled through our campground. Desert bighorn sheep are just like humans — the boys congregate over **here** to watch football, and the girls congregate over **there** to talk about the boys and how they are not pulling their fair share with the kids. Same!
As is always the case, the best way to experience Valley of Fire is on two wheels!
Now more about the luck required for camping. Valley of Fire has two small campgrounds, with a “first-come, first-served” policy. That’s right: no reservations! My heart seizes in my chest at those two words, but we decided to give it the ole college try. The Keils arrived the day before us to this heart-wrenching sight. FULL! Oy vey! This hard-to-pronounce place (named for a primitive notched stick used to throw spears) is also hard-to-get-into!
They made the 25-mile journey to Lake Mead’s Echo Bay Campground instead, and the staff there informed them that people line up for hours every day to get a campsite in Valley of Fire, even going so far as to accost campers in their sites, demanding to know when they are leaving and staking out the site. And is it any wonder? Look at this glorious setting! That’s Elsie’s black windshield right in the middle.
We needed not one, but TWO campsites, for Elsie and RuBen. That’s right … Elsie has a boyfriend and he’s positively swoon-worthy! RuBen is named in honor of Nancy’s parents, Ruth and Ben.
Turns out, the campground fills every night so they never even bother to take down the “CAMPGROUND FULL” sign, no matter what time of day it is, or who has left. We got lucky on our second try: truly feeling like lottery winners, we snagged the only two sites that became available that day. After 5 additional days of observations, we’d say arriving between 8:30-10:00 am seemed to be the sweet spot that gave the best potential for grabbing a site.
The rocks here are soft and crumbly, with a bed of debris at the base of every boulder. This begs the question: would YOU feel safe camping in sites like these? Regardless, ya gotta go sometime, and better death by random act of nature, than death by clogged arteries, right? Here are fellow bloggers “Travels With Ollie” — we’ve followed their blog for years, and then there they were, at Valley of Fire the same time as us!
Less than 15 miles from Valley of Fire is the St. Thomas Ghost Town. This fascinating place is loosely maintained by the National Park Service and is a worthy stop! A 2.5 mile trail down into a basin leads to the remains of St. Thomas, and a series of excellent sign boards tell the story of this sad remnant of another time. That’s it down there!
Basically, a group of Mormon settlers arrived here thinking they were in Utah. At the time, it was a lush and gorgeous valley full of massive trees and shrubbery, and construction of an excellent irrigation system allowed residents to prosper as farmers.
HOUSE … then and now
They also prospered in the hospitality industry, since the road through St. Thomas was a popular one between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Stores like this one sold gasoline, ice cream, homemade root beer, snacks and more.
HANNIG GROCERY STORE & ICE CREAM PARLOR …. then and now
SCHOOL … then and now
Things took a turn for the worse when Nevada arrived and demanded payment of taxes. St. Thomas residents didn’t use “regular money” around town, they would use endorsed checks and pass from person to person. If you got a check, you’d endorse it and give it to somebody else to buy something, the very-VERY earliest version (kinda) of ApplePay. Usually checks were for $0.10, occasionally up to (gasp) $5 whole dollars! When the check ran out of room for endorsements, they started again with a new check. These people were proud … and resourceful!
COLLECTED RELICS LEFT BEHIND THE FORMER GENTRY HOTEL
Later, things got REALLY bad when the construction of the Hoover Dam created Lake Mead, and part of it (yup, you guessed it) just happened to be in the same area as St. Thomas. They were flooded out of their homes, businesses and town. The last man to leave put his possessions in a boat and lit his home on fire as he pulled away.
NAVIGATING PAST THE POST OFFICE
For many years, St. Thomas was completely underwater, but now with years of drought, the remnants have reappeared. Visiting St. Thomas is sad in the same way as driving across much of West Texas … so many small towns, so many plans squashed, so many abandoned buildings and hopes and dreams. But a super-interesting place to visit if you enjoy ghost towns! Just wear good shoes and sunscreen!
Before heading to Valley of Fire, we spent a few days in Las Vegas, where Philip is still working full-time on a development project. We snuck away for a few hours one morning to visit the Lion Habitat Ranch, a wildlife sanctuary primarily known for their 31 lions, many the descendants of the original MGM lion that “rahhhrs” at the beginning of all MGM movies. (BUT: fun fact. The sound you hear is actually a tiger. Lions don’t roar like that.)
We had toured (and camped at!) an amazing tiger sanctuary in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and were similarly thrilled with the behind-the-scenes tour offered at Lion Habitat Ranch.
There were only 4 of us on the 2+-hour tour, and the guide relayed so much fascinating information about the animals, that my brain promptly exploded when I sat down to write this blog, and therefore I remember none of it whatsoever. But I CAN share a photographic journey of a few of these amazing residents!
Besides getting up close and personal with the lions, we also got to feed Ozzy, the painting giraffe!
Yes, he paints. Canvas, t-shirts, tote bags, you name it. Holding a brush with that long tongue!
Ozzy was very curious about the giraffe-like crane working nearby.
“I see your long neck … perhaps you are a distant relative of mine?”
If you’re ever in Vegas and can’t take a minute more of the shenanigans on the Strip, visit Lion Habitat Ranch in nearby Henderson for a refreshing change!
We continue to be amused by the RV license plates we see along the way.
Though there is no worldly explanation for some of the things we see along the way.
Anyone? Anyone …..? Why. Just why.
It has been a wonderful week exploring this new (to us) area! Hopefully your “long and winding road” will lead to you visit Valley of Fire and beautiful Southern Nevada one day!