Valley of Fire—sounds a bit like hell. But it’s not part of Dante’s inferno. It’s a colorful region in southeast Nevada that happens to be warmer than St. George due to its generally lower elevation and location. A perfect spot for a winter hike. Nothing like a little valley of fire to warm things up.
The Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest state park, was dedicated in 1935. The Park, covering approximately 42,000 acres, derives its name from the many red Navajo sandstone formations formed about 150 million years ago that appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays. Although there is not much water in the park, the effects of water and wind erosion are everywhere. Prehistoric users of the Valley included the Basket Maker people and the later Anasazi farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. Examples of petroglyphs (rock art) left by these ancient people are found at several sites in the Park.
Since it is low desert (elevation varies between 2,000 and 2,600 feet), the winters are mild—just what is needed to escape St. George’s somewhat colder winter days. My wife Deb and I left St. George early on a chilly (temperature in the high 30s) mid-January morning and headed south on Interstate 15. About 30 miles southwest of Mesquite, we took Exit 93 (State Highway 169) and drove south approximately 22 miles to the Park entrance. Our first stop was the East Entrance Station to pay the $10 per vehicle fee. The temperature during our time at the Park was in the mid-50s to low 60s.
Take the time to stop at the large Visitor Center containing many informative displays. Learn about the early Native Americans who visited this area, the geology that produced the red rock formations, and the critters inhabiting the Park and surrounding land.
Near the Visitor Center we took the north fork in the road (there are prominent signs) leading to Mouse’s Tank, Rainbow Vista, and White Domes.
Our first stop, about one mile from the intersection, was the clearly signed Mouse’s Tank Trail. (The trail goes through, and is also known as, Petroglyph Canyon Trail.) Mouse’s Tank (a tank is a natural rock basin where water collects), named for a Native American outlaw who used this area in the 1890s as a hideout, is an easy 3/4 mile roundtrip hike. The sandy Petroglyph Canyon contains several good examples of petroglyphs and strange red rock canyon walls featuring eroded holes in the rock. As we walked along, the changing light and perspective gave many faces to each formation. The twisting trail includes many small side canyons, some of which we examined. The hike and investigating the area took about an hour. This is an easy family-friendly hike with little elevation change and some rock scrambling if you explore various side canyons.
Our next stop, less than a mile from Mouse’s Tank trailhead, was Rainbow Vista. We walked around snapping photos of the panoramic view of brilliant multi-hued foreground sandstone, dark mountains in the distance, all below deep blue sky.
Continuing north we drove along the prominently signed Fire Canyon Road and stopped at the turnaround to enjoy the view. This area is dominated by close white sandstone backed up by rugged red sandstone badlands.
A little further along the road we stopped in parking area 3 on the left and hiked Fire Wave Trail to the right. The first 2/3 of the approximately 1.5 mile roundtrip hike is loose sand circling around a monolithic red sandstone outcropping. The last third is over exposed sandstone reminiscent of, of course, a solidified wave.
We arrive at the Park about 10:00 am and there were few other hikers. By mid-afternoon the parking lots were full and people crowded the trails. If you value the solitude that often accompanies desert hiking, I suggest an early morning adventure avoiding the crowds.
This is a well worth it day trip, especially in winter. Most of the interesting rock formations, petroglyphs, and great views can be reached with short easy hikes from your car. We explored several areas, there is much more to discover. (For a description of an earlier adventure with different hikes in Valley of Fire, see Chapter 25 “Valley of Fire State Park” in my recently published book Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume One available at all ebook stores.) Come early or in late afternoon and the red pinnacles, carved by wind and water, blaze against the desert sky. You’ll feel like you stepped into another world—striking red sandstone formations contrasting the somewhat drab surrounding Mojave Desert. If only for a few hours, warm up in the vibrant Valley of Fire State Park.
Tom Garrison is now retired and enjoying libertarian life in beautiful St. George, Utah with his my wife Deb and two cats. His latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume One is now available at all e-stores. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org