Dazzling display of color engulfs Valley of Fire

Nevada’s largest, oldest and most spectacular state park, Valley of Fire lives up to its name with its eroded sandstone formations and sand dunes in fiery shades of red. Changing constantly with the angle of the sun, the colors range from the brilliance of leaping flames to the glowing hues of hot embers.

Valley of Fire is an hour’s drive from Las Vegas. Go north on Interstate 15 to exit 75 near the Paiute roadside store, restaurant and gas station about 35 miles from downtown. Follow the park road east across a mesa, then down toward the eroded formations.

A park entrance station sits about 11 miles from the freeway. The Valley of Fire scenic road runs 24 miles from I-15 through the heart of the park to join the Logandale/Overton road. You can return by driving north through these rural towns to reach I-15 or by going south along Northshore Road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area to Las Vegas by way of North Las Vegas or Henderson.

Open year-round, Valley of Fire is ideal for scenic drives in any season. The park, designated a U.S. National Natural Landscape in 1968, is at its best during spring and fall for popular activities such as picnicking, camping, hiking, biking, climbing, exploring and photography. During hot weather, plan to visit the park early in the day.

Colors will be their most intense before and after midday, when blue skies and muted tones of desert vegetation contrast sharply against the bright cliffs, wind-carved formations and rippled sand.

Expect to pay an entrance fee of $10 for nonresidents and $8 for Nevadans. Disabled visitors displaying a placard receive a $1 discount. Visitors arriving on horseback, by bike or on foot pay $1 to enter the park. Frequent visitors should inquire about the annual pass available for $75. There is no charge for the use of picnic areas, but sites in the campgrounds cost $18 per night for residents and $20 for nonresidents. RV hookups cost $10 more.

Nevadans 65 or older who have been residents for at least five years can obtain a senior citizen’s annual pass to all Nevada state parks for an administrative fee of $30. The pass also waives camping and boating fees.

Start your outing with a stop at the park’s visitor center, open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Displays, exhibits and information available there help visitors find their way around the park and decide what to do. Visitors can gain a better understanding of the area’s history and learn about the plants and animals found there.

A paved side road starting at a junction near the visitor center leads to points of interest in the northern part of the park. A branch of this road through Fire Canyon, now closed for construction, should reopen in a few months. The work includes adding parking and restrooms.

You may want to time your visit to coincide with one of the park’s programs. On May 11, join a ranger for a geology hike at Rainbow Vista. On May 18 at the visitor center, learn about the dinosaurs that roamed the area 150 million years ago, when the park’s sandstone was laid down as a thick layer and the area had forests, found today in the park as petrified logs. Call the park at 702-397-2088 for times and details.

Camping under the stars at Valley of Fire is magical. Campers find 73 campsites in neighboring campgrounds at Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock, available on a first-come basis. Arrive early for best site selection, especially on weekends or holidays, or plan midweek visits. Picnic areas are scattered throughout the park, all with parking, shade shelters, nearby restrooms and water. Many are close to trail heads.

Atlatl Rock, named for a spear-throwing implement used by native hunters long ago, is a park attraction because of its extensive examples of petroglyphs. The rock art is found in many areas of the park, including Mouse’s Tank and other water sources. Worthy of care and respect, these ancient symbols are protected as part of our national heritage.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.