The Valley of Fire State Park

The Valley of Fire State Park

Nevada’s first state park, the Valley of Fire, smolders with beauty. It is a 36,000 acre park that is host to brilliant red sandstone, white silica domes, and many other crazy geological features. Pair this with slot canyons, petroglyphs, panoramic views and an abundance of bighorn sheep, and you’ll find this location is more than worth the visit. We promise.

We were lucky enough to lock down the Valley of Fire as our first camp hosting gig. It was far enough away to be ‘away’ from home, but close enough to get back to San Diego if we had to. For 45 days we were stationed in this beautiful state park and witnessed such a multitude of bighorn sheep that after counting to 50, we had to start taking guesses at where we had left off counting. By the time we left the park, we had seen over 100. This place is that cool.

Fun Fact: Your best chance of sighting bighorn sheep will be in January/February, before peak camping season begins. (Can you find them in the pic below?)

Particulars about the Park

Rules

  • You can walk or climb just about anywhere you want except for off-limit areas such as those with petroglyphs or cryptobiotic soil (looks a bit like burnt granola).
  • Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash at all time so they do not hassle wildlife (or chase after a bighorn sheep and get a hoof to the head).
  • Technical rock climbing is not allowed, but you can boulder around gear-free to your heart’s content.
  • Rock stacking is not allowed. Nor is collecting and removing rocks. The little antelope ground squirrels high-tail it everywhere, and a rock stack is a hazard to their speeding little noggins.

Features

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs can be found throughout the valley. A great opportunity to see them is on the short Mouse’s Tank hike. In addition to this hike, there is an unmissable staircase right at the fork between campgrounds that leads up Atlatl Rock, which is bespeckled with them.

Keep your eye out on the road from the fork to Atlatl Campground and you’ll find our favorite petroglyph, which looks a bit like a snake chasing a cinnamon bun. ‘Sir Snek’ can be found high up on the wall, etched into the desert varnish.

Wildlife

Bighorn Sheep

If you’re thinking “it’s in the middle of the Nevada desert, are we really going to see much out there”? Whelp, here’s your answer. We saw at least 70 bighorn sheep in our first month alone.

Sometimes stationed high on the rocks, they reign above the campground in tiny stoic silhouettes (find them in the pic below).

And sometimes they even parade through the streets.

Kit Foxes

Kit foxes slink through the valley, and may even sneak up on your campsite and steal your hamburger patty when you turn your back (as proclaimed by one of our neighboring campers, Brad). “Just like that?”  I asked. “Just like that,” he said.

Black-Tailed Jackrabbits

The telltale scat of these regal rabbits can be found pebbled throughout every wash and rocky ascent. We found one tucked into the Arch Rock campground, slowly nibbling his way through the brush. Their giant sonar ears and lengthy gaits make for an impressive stage entrance (or more likely, exit).

Antelope Ground Squirrels

A big name for a small package, these dashing little darlings look much like chipmunks, and hightail it everywhere they go. Look around any bush undisturbed by human footprints and you’ll find their adorable miniature paw prints toasting in the sun.

Ravens

These guys circle above the campground in pairs, their black silhouettes biting cookie-cutter chunks out of the bright blue sky. They will tear apart a garbage bag in seconds, and made our morning trash roundups a race against their calculated advances.

The Valley of Fire is far from vacant, and are many more creatures scurrying around. Your visit may also include sightings of Western Whip-Tailed Lizards, Desert Cottontails, Coyotes, and Rock Wrens, to name a few.

Plants

Creosote bushes can be found everywhere, as well as Mormon Tea, Catclaw Acacia, Barrel, Beavertail, Mistletoe, Prickly Pear Cactus, Silver Cholla, and more.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a desert storm, you may also get a chance to experience the very special aroma that creosote bushes release after a rain. It hangs in the air and adds a new dimension to the desert that fills the vast desert void with a sweet, crisp, unmistakable smell. Like fat summer raindrops on hot asphalt, the petrichor emanating from each bush sticks in the memory, leaving an unforgettable olfactory imprint.

Rocks

The brilliant red sandstone is what gives the Valley of Fire its name. Formed 150 million years ago, limestone, shale, and other conglomerates can be found throughout the valley. Geological wonders abound, from slot canyons to silica domes.

Campgrounds

Arch Rock

Arch rock does not have hookups, but is an absolutely gorgeous campground. It’s right on the other side of the rocky wall from Atlatl, and is great for tent campers (or RV campers that couldn’t catch a spot in the Atlatl campground).

Atlatl

There are 42 campsites in the Atlatl Campground, including 22 RV hookups.

Note: there is no sewer hookup, only water and electric. A dump station resides between both campgrounds.

Atlatl is a popular campground cupped by tall, fiery rocks that provide each site with its own natural playground, plenty of distance between neighbors, and perhaps even a few bighorn sheep traipsing through in the morning. There are also three beautiful walk-in sites that are very remote at the back of the campground. Truth be told, it’s difficult to get a bad spot here. Also the showers are hot, free of charge for campers, and cleaned every day.

Reserving a Site

Although the camp fee is $10 (tent) or $20 (RV), you also pay an entrance fee every day you are here, so you must either add $10 for each night you camp, or include your park entrance receipt in your fee envelope. Checkout time is 2pm. If you want to lock down your site and go exploring the park in your RV, set out chairs, mats, tablecloths, and other rickrack to tell other campers this spot is yours.

Workamping – Camp Hosting

Our jobs as volunteers were to answer questions, collect trash, and clean bathrooms, campsites, and fire pits 5 out of every 7 days. This work required 3-5 hours out each day. In exchange for this service, we got to sport an official Camp Host placard at our campsite, and received our spot (plus water/electric) for free. Good deal. The work was honest, and the other volunteers and rangers were really fun to meet. There was Sue (a hard-working vancamper with an infectious smile and a spunky demeanor) and  Steve and Carol (retired, big rig glampers who were ready at a moment’s notice to strike up a friendly chat). The rangers we knew best, double-dimple Eli (who hired us) and Sandy (who often helped stock us with supplies) are two amazing people.

The Valley of Fire felt like a great place to start out our life as full-timers (individuals who live solely in their rigs), and it turns out we weren’t wrong.

We have met some great people, made many new friends, learned how to coexist in a camper (it’s actually quite comfortable) and tested the full-timing waters successfully. For now and the foreseeable future, wherever she is parked, we can call our Little Wing home.

Trails

The Valley of Fire is great for day trips. The trails tend to be short, interesting, and easy to moderate. Here’s our recommendations in order:

1. White Domes (1.25 mi.) – The white domes hike provides a lot of bang for your buck. The loop trail leads downhill from the parking lot, over a rock face, and through a slot canyon. From there it’s a mild upwards trek through a beautiful backdrop until you reach the parking lot again.

2. Fire Wave (~1.3 mi.) – If you want to experience what life might be like on a different planet, trek over to the fire wave. This geological feature is special, and you’re likely to only get it into your eyeballs once, so we’d definitely suggest you take the opportunity.

3. Mouse’s Tank (3/4 mi.) – Mouse’s Tank is a short out and back, with many petroglyphs viewable along the way. An outlaw purported to go by the name Mouse used this area as a hideout in the 1890s on account of a rare natural reservoir at the end of the trail that collects water.
4. Rainbow Vista (1 mi.) – The Rainbow Vista parking lot gets you cellphone service, for one. The actual hike is a nice stroll through soft sand, and then treks you to a peak that offers you a nice spot for a quick selfie.

5. Elephant Rock (0.3 mi.) – Elephant rock is great for the ‘light tourist’. If you want to get out, stretch your legs, and see something you can see from the road but closer, do this hike. It’s really nice to get out into the open air. Just do your best to mind the signs and try not to crawl all over it as the structure is delicate and needs to last for generations to come.
6. Prospect (11 mi.) – We didn’t get all the way to the end of Prospect Trail. We hit a spot we couldn’t find how to scramble down, and there was no way to get Sandy past it so we turned around. I hear if you veer to the left you can and should continue on. Prospect provides you with a great panoramic view of the valley, and there are tons of colorful rock faces, outcroppings, and we hear even some petroglyphs tucked away here and there.
7. Pinnacles (4.5 mi.) – Pinnacles is awesommmmmeee. Ok, so a long majority of it is trudging through a wash, but there are barrel cacti and beavertail cacti, and many other desert things to keep your mind occupied until you get around the bend. Keep an eye out for the trail signs. It’s marked, but markers could be easily missed by wayward eyes. Once you hit the rocks, it’s magical. The green of the low desert bushes gleams almost luminescent when framed by the dazzling red rocks surrounding them. There’s a slight (really slight) scramble to the top, and then you’re back on the trail, reeling from the beauty of the long-awaited rocky prize. It’s pretty cool. You should check it out.

Surrounding Areas

Overton

Leave through the East entrance of the park and take a left at the road terminus, and you’ll eventually run into the town of Overton (14 miles, 20 mins east of the park). Watch the speed limit signs  as you approach (town is 25 mph and they will ticket you).

True Value

This place is friendly as heck, and comes with a bunny you can pet that is named T.V. A stop here is worth it for the bunny alone. They have a solid RV section here as well, which can come in very handy.

Lin’s & Family Dollar

Lin’s grocery store provides a solid offering of accoutrements, but it lacks a prestigious selection of beer and wine. Fortunately for the veggie/vegan, you can find frozen Gardein products and tofu. Their beans are also always darn cheap, but their fruit is expensive. Watch the sale labels. A lot of their deals require you to buy 3-10 of one item to get the sale price. It took us getting bamboozled once in the cookie department to learn our lesson.

If you need a broader selection of goods, you can hit up the wonderful world of Walmart in Henderson, just 50 miles towards Vegas from the Valley of Fire.

The Hoppin’ Overton Library

The reason this library is so dang popular can be summed up in one word: WiFi. Their collection of DVDs is adorably antiquated, but there is free internet, a well-placed extension cord, four computers for public use, and a bathroom. For campers with limited cell or internet service, this place provides sweet relief from the technological absence of nature.

Post Office

The post office is another location where the gregarious nature of Overton folk shines through. Like the library, you’re likely to find the post office bustling at any time of day.

Henderson

Walmart

A mecca for the long-term camper’s soul, Walmart offers you many Walmart-y things for your empty cabinetry and craving for modern marvels.

Trader Joe’s

For your Block Box Cabernet and soyrizo needs, hit up Trader Joe’s and then get some cheap gas as you boogie out of town. Also in the mix you can find other common urban stores such as Petco, CVS, and Chase Bank.

Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is a great day trip from the VOF. Just like Mt. Rushmore, it wouldn’t be considered an impossible feat for today, but for its time it is quite the marvel. Hop from the Arizona side to the Nevada side, and revel in the font types and old styles ingrained in the structure that showcase its age and its well-deserved pomp and pride.

We were especially fond of the sweet but tragic story of the dam’s mascot, a dog who frequented the construction site and was a favorite among the dam’s workers. Look for his memorial site on Nevada’s side of the dam.

Arizona Hot Springs

We set out on our day off to the Arizona Hot Springs, a natural spring local to the Valley of Fire (~1.5 hours out) that a fellow camper tipped us off to. From the direction of Boulder City it’s just past the Hoover Dam, right after mile marker 4. There’s a sign for the White Rock Canyon trailhead, and it’s a quick left across the oncoming traffic into the parking lot.

There are two ways to get to the hot springs. Veer left and you get there some way we’ll never know (the true Hot Springs Canyon Trail) or veer right (I would call it straight) and you get there through a longer stint on the White Rock Wash Canyon Trail, ending  at a 20ft ladder that takes you up to the hot springs. Though we were certain we were ‘veering left’ all the way, we still missed the hot springs trail exit. Suffice it to say that the trail markings may leave something to be desired. Missing this exit tacks on an extra 1.2 miles in total, but wow it sure does take you through some beautiful terrain that we’re guessing we’d have lost out on had we gone the correct way.

Never happy to leave her behind, we took Sandy along for the adventure. She had the opportunity today to pick up a short position as a Branch Manager along the way,and ticked playing in the Colorado River off her bucket list.

Note to dog owners:  If we had to do it again, we probably would have opted to have her sit this one out. There are some sticky spots with some climbing necessary, and Liz had to ‘pick her’ (pick her up and carry her) down one tight ravine and up a couple un-jump-uppable boulders. Celebrating her 12th birthday just days ago, our little Sandy is still amazingly agile and energetic, often finding her own way through a tight spot better than we could have guided her. But the grays barely beginning to wash out her muzzle are softly whispering her age, and 6.4 miles including some  puppy parkour is a long way for four paws to travel. Do it with a young pup on a cool day, but take heed and be sure to bring ample water for your canine companion. The trail is long, the canyon is deep, and the sun is hot. It can tucker out a pupper, even in February when the weather is prime.

The hike is rated as strenuous and the elevation change is 900+; lost on the way in, gained on the way back. The canyon walls here reflect a deep magenta, and are truly towering. Where we were expecting a dry and sparse trek through the desert, we were instead met with a seemingly endless length of colorful slot canyons.

The trail runs by the Colorado river near the very end, then pops up over a couple hills and down into another canyon. The hot springs are artificially segmented using sandbags into four pools of descending temperature ranging from ~104-114 degrees. The precarious ladder up introduces you at the top to the first pool, which is shallow and warm. The next pool is warmer and thigh-deep, the third pool is waist deep and hot, and the final pool is again shallow, smaller, and hottest.  Midday on a Tuesday we encountered ~10 individuals, four of whom were completely nekkid. These hot springs are about as natural as they come, so when in Rome, be ready to see nature in all its unabashed glory.

The pools are truly beautiful once you reach them.

Fun Facts:

  1. If you fail to miss the left turn as we did, you will be met with ‘the ladder’. It is not terrifying, but it is also not for the faint of heart. It is wet, rusty, and tall. Proceed with care.
  2. These pools may carry a deadly amoeba called Naegleria fowleria that can enter through your nose and murder you shortly thereafter. Don’t dunk your head, splash around, or anything else unduly risky that might entice an aimless amoeba.

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