Valley of Fire State Park

 

IMG_6257

Valley of Fire is one of those places that exceeded my Instagram expectations. When we were planning our winter break RV trip and decided to stay in Vegas for Christmas (because of course), I knew we had to add Valley of Fire to the itinerary. While it’s a doable day trip from Vegas, we wanted to stay closer so we didn’t have to rush back to the dogs and could spend more time in the red rock landscape.

Landscape like this.

The state park has two campgrounds with a first come, first served policy. While we generally kept our plans loose while traveling full time, we did like to have a place confirmed before we arrived and avoided no reservation situations. In this case we figured we’d give it shot;  if the campgrounds were full, there were RV parks less than 20 miles away.

If you’re planning a day trip from Vegas, be prepared to leave early or to wait in backed-up traffic at the one-lane entrance point. We lucked out with our timing by arriving mid-afternoon and missing the crowds trying to enter. (In retrospect, this was probably also a good time to arrive after campground sites have been vacated.) When we left the next day, around noon, traffic was backed up a couple miles. Even without traffic, the last 15 or so miles to the park after you exit I-15 from Vegas are slow going: a narrow, winding, two-lane road in not great conditions. Chris had no problem obeying the low speed limit in the RV. It was a white-knuckle drive, but we were rewarded with a dramatic view over the valley at the park entrance. I really really hoped we’d be able to find a spot to stay overnight.

Who wouldn’t want to stay at this campground?
img_6417
Beware of day-tripper traffic.

The campgrounds are adjacent to each other and only a couple miles from the entrance, although only one, Atlatl Rock, has spots large enough for our 36-foot motorhome. I waited in the tow car while Chris slowly ambled over the campground loop road. Some of the spots that could accommodate our rig were unoccupied, but had tags on the site signpost indicating a later check out date. We thought we were out of luck, until a volunteer helped us find a spot that was tagged but only paid through the previous night. We were willing to risk a confrontation if the party returned. While Chris backed in, right up to a sheer wall of bright red Aztec sandstone, I filled out an envelope and tag, dropped our payment in a lock box, and claimed the spot. (It was helpful to have the correct change on hand – $10 after deducting the $10 entrance fee we already paid for a site without hookups.)

As thrilled as we were to be staying overnight in this dramatic red rock canyon, things got even better as soon as we left the campground to drive to the visitor center. We spotted a small herd of bighorn sheep right next to the road (Thanks to Rita exclaiming, “Bighorn sheep!” and Chris making a quick U-turn.) We learned about bighorn sheep at a few National Parks, and finally saw a pair at Badlands, but only from a distance. And this wouldn’t be the only sighting!

After picking up junior ranger books and exploring a short trail near the visitor center, we drove to nearby Natural Arch and Atlatl Rock before returning to the campground for dinner.

Lots of opportunity for rock scrambling, this one right at the visitor center.

Arch Rock. “do not climb on rock” is apparently open to interpretation.
Atlatl rock, covered in awesome petroglyphs, is accessible by staircase. An atlatl is a throwing tool that pre-dates the bow and arrow, depicted at the top in this picture.
View of our campground from Atlatl Rock.

I couldn’t get enough of our surroundings, and went for a walk with Rita and Sky while it was still light out. It was incredible to just walk into the canyon behind the campground, scrambling over rocks and having the place all to ourselves.

We were headed back to the RV when Rita spotted a bighorn sheep in the brush in the middle of the campground. We lost sight of it for a few minutes, but then it appeared again in a campsite, and, to our astonishment, climbed straight up a boulder right in front of us. It was so quick and sure-footed; I know I saw it happen but can’t say how it got up to the top. Chris and Charlie, and a few other smitten campers, joined us to watch as the sheep made it’s way up and behind the rock wall of the campground.

I was excited to get an early start in the morning to soak in as much of our surroundings as I could before moving on. When it was light out, but the canyon still in shadow, I walked up into the rocks behind the campground again. In addition to the natural beauty, we were surrounded by a sublime silence that was even more profound in the early morning. It was magical.

Moon setting behind the canyon.

 

Valley view from the campground at sunrise.
It was amazing to watch the sunlight gradually move down the rocks and transform their color.

Once everyone else was awake and fed we headed out to explore what really drew me to Valley of Fire in the first place: Fire Wave. THE Wave rock formation, a familiar desktop wallpaper image, is located in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument on the Utah/Arizona border. It’s accessible by a 5+ mile hike and only to those holding one of the 20 highly-competitive permits available each day.

We’d love to get to The Wave some day, but in the meantime Fire Wave is an incredible experience in its own right and much easier to get to. Of course, this also means it’s going to be more popular and potentially crowded. To our pleasant surprise, even though it was the weekend before Christmas, at 9am there were few other cars on the road and only a couple other people at Fire Wave. (So few, in fact, that we got a little lost and weren’t sure if we found Fire Wave or not.)

 

We spent a couple hours exploring, and still had time for two more stops before heading back to the RV and getting on the road.

Even if you don’t have time to get out and explore, the drive up from the visitor center to Fire Wave is stunning.

Close up of petroglyphs canyon.
Does that rock formation not look just like the Starship Enterprise? The petroglyphs from the above photo can be seen at bottom right.

We were only there for less than 24 hours, and even though it’s a relatively compact park we missed some of the sites and hikes. But Valley of Fire gave us incredible memories and became one of our favorite parks in that brief time. We can’t wait to go back!

img_6222

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Denise Gagen says:

    Great article and beautiful pictures!!

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you so much!

      Like

  2. Denise Gagen says:

    Great article and beautiful pictures!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  3. Karen Danzer says:

    love your blog
    we also loved Valley Of Fire

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you, Karen! I’m so glad you got there, loved seeing your pictures.

      Like

  4. Sheila Gagen says:

    Riveting blog! Each photo is more amazing than the next. And kudos to your bighorn sheep spotter 🙂

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Aw, thanks! That’s encouraging me to keep the blog updated more often now.

      Like

  5. Mark Gagen says:

    Awesome, Michelle!

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you, Dad!

      Like

  6. teresa says:

    Wow. The Valley really is as beautiful as any thing I’ve ever seen.Thanks for the treat.t

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thanks so much, Teresa! Glad you enjoyed it. It’s a truly spectacular place.

      Like

Leave a Reply to MichelleNeale Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.