We set out in the early morning to beat the summer sun, leaving the Vegas valley in early dawn just past 6 A.M. Water loaded in back, a quick grab meal in hand, art supplies and old beat-up pickup truck ready to hit the outdoors. Four artists ready to hit the road, anticipating whatever inspiration might come when glancing at rock formations as old as time can remember. Taking the I-15 out of Vegas on onto the Valley of Fire freeway into the park itself meant a drive that would take a little over an hour to reach our destination, but a destination well worth the drive. Today we would be visiting the Valley of Fire Nevada State Park to hike, explore, and experience the great burning rock formations and natural beauty that the Mojave has to offer.
The history of the park in human history goes back to the days of the Pueblo people, the indigenous tribes that roamed the Mojave Desert from approx. 300 B.C.E. to 1150 C.E. Here they would mark the walls with petroglyphs, which has stood the test of time still observable on various rock faces throughout the park. In the following years once they left, traces could be found of various explorers and people crossing the valley. Stories of adventurers and heroics stretch out into the valley, after all, the place is a picturesque setting for any sort of nefarious affair.
As we entered the park, the rocks immediately jumped out along the roadside. Several formations popped up as the turn-out signs started pointing to different trailheads, each with their own unique destination to check out some crazy formation. Our first stop along the way was a quick one; we stopped to do a quick circuit to observe old logs that had once fallen and preserved in the form of a fossil. "Do not disturb the petrified wood," read a sign hung above the chain link barrier surrounding the log, and with that we left her be.
The park's modern history goes back 80 years to 1935 when Nevada began to designate official state parks to preserve the state’s natural beauty; the first being the iconic and ever magnificent Valley of Fire. In her creation the state designated a massive area of land covering nearly 35,000 acres situated between the (now) Lake Mead recreation area and the (now) Moapa Indian reservation just south of Overton, Nevada. Much like the national parks scattered across the nation, it was clear from early in Nevada's history that there should be preserved areas in the massive sprawling wilderness held within her borders, and while national parks were popping up across the nation some of Nevada's hidden beauties were not really on the radar for such designations as deserving as they should be. As a testament to the beauty of the Valley of Fire it was designated a National Natural Monument in 1968.
Following the winding roads we passed the visitors center's closed doors and continued to move throughout the park. Gazing at the rocks as they passed the sides of the narrow roads, and witnessing the formations passby. "Look! A bighorn sheep!" The call immediately has us pull over and take a moment to capture the creature perched up on the rocks. Quickly I pull out my camera and try to capture it as best I can from the narrow shoulder of the road and take a few shot. Curse not packing my 400mm telephoto, still a few shots in the sheep grew tired of us and walked on. Not the most common of sights, it is always best to head out in the early morning or evening to catch a glimpse of the wildlife in the park.
The Valley of Fire is home to dozens of species desert wildlife that is always a pleasure to witness in the sands of the Mojave. Desert tranchulas will wonder in the summer months in the evening, and at night a kangaroo rat and their natural predator the kit fox are not uncommon sights. In many ways the Valley of Fire acts as a nature sanctuary to a host of different animals that are impossible to miss. Just hiking the the summer sun and the shadows of dozens of tracks from hairs, lizards, and snakes will reveal themselves with their shadows.
We hit Rainbow Vista next, taking heed to the "Extreme Heat: Hiking Not Recommended" signs posted on the trailhead. The summer heat is no joke, but with a stock of water on our backs we pressed into the beginnings of the trail. It was not long until we found a nice place of situate ourselves amongst the desert rocks. Let the painters paint in the surrounding wilderness. My companions laid out their brushes as I moved about taking pictures of the surrounding wilderness. The light reflecting off the rocks and the brilliant colors of the rocks makes for an excellent picture. In-fact the park has hosted its fair share of professional shoots from movies to still pictures. Harboring the creativity of generations, the Valley of Fire is a place deserving to be explored.