Mommy Vegas Idea #6
This Valley’s ON Fy-AH!
Well, not really, but it sure is hot (at least for now), vibrant, and a great way to spend the day! The Valley of Fire is a must see, at least once. If you’re a bit of a shutter bug, this is the place for you! Even an old beat-up camera phone would find a chore in taking a bad pic here! The contrast of the red sandstone on the brilliant blue sky is just sooo complimentary – simply breathtaking! The best part is it’s great for just about any age explorer. Both of the littles even played photographer this time. The older kids will enjoy the short jaunt down the slot canyon to Mouse Tank, and while you cannot climb on all the rocks (clearly posted), there are plenty of places to hike, scramble and take in the sites.
But what if you’re not an outdoorsy person, or not quite up to a hike? The new baby will look splendid held in a natural stone picture frame, just strides from the turn-off, for all the family to adore in those baby announcements you keep meaning to do… Grandma will love that she can admire the beautiful colors and rock formations road-side, or with just a short walk on well graded surfaces. There are also some visitor centers and camping areas to spend some extra time experiencing the valley.
The park is well frequented these days, but it’s been a popular spot on-and-off for the last 2,300 years or so. The natives have left their mark, keep your head on a swivel and you will see countless petroglyphs, but you’ll also see plenty of the canyon’s modern day residents.
Our last trip, not everyone was feeling quite up to it. Little Bear was starting to come down with a bit of the dreaded back-to-school funk… so glad we’re all learning to share so well at school! 🙂 But even with our trip being cut short due to some sorrowful requests to head home, we were able to get two fun little walks in, and a couple other stops for some quick pics. In fact, to my surprise (read: “SHOCK and AMAZEMENT”), when Daddy Bear inquired as to our activity for “Fun-outing-Friday,” Little Bear eagerly recounted the events of the day, complete with enthusiastic mention of all the critters we saw (which, I have to be honest, I thought went mostly unnoticed).
At one point we saw three chuckwallas (fairly large iguanid lizards, see above) scampering about in a slot canyon! It was a bit of a desert safari, between the Antelope Valley ground squirrels, chuckwallas and a few other lizards. We even saw an ELEPHANT!
Well, an elephant shaped rock that is! Seriously, tell me that doesn’t look like an elephant! This fantastically friendly elephant is always guaranteed to greet you near the lake entrance outdoor Visitor Center, keep your eyes peeled for signs indicating “Elephant Rock.”
Though they don’t pose quite as well as the elephant, the ground squirrels certainly aren’t shy! We were able to bait a small crew with some water at a picnic area. Here’s one that couldn’t resist the lens… or the water rather… probably could have touched this braisen little guy, but of course that’s a great big no-no. As with all wild critters, look, but don’t touch.
If you’re lucky, and you know where to look, you may see some of the other popular inhabitants:
- Big horn sheep are prevalent up along the ridges and near watering holes.
- Desert tortoise can be seen in the cooler hours, particularly in late spring and early fall, often near washes and other fairly open areas.
- Various birds, the list is too long, but definitely some quail, hawks, road runners, and even the occasional chukar.
- Horned lizards, they used to be called “horny toads,” are also a fairly common sight. You can get rather close to these little guys.
- All kinds of other lizards including gila monsters if you’re lucky. I’ve never seen one here, but the habitat is certainly appropriate.
The Valley of Fire State Park is located on the northern edge of Lake Mead, most easily accessible from I-15 North bound (on the way to Utah), though you can also access the park from the “back”-side, coming from Lake Mead or the Overton/Logandale area.
This isn’t really a spur of the moment trip, at about an hour from the center of Vegas, you’ll spend at least two hours in the car, and there isn’t anywhere terribly close to stop for nourishment, so be sure to bring your own rations, including plenty of water!
From Las Vegas, the fastest route is North on the I-15 toward St. George, Utah. About 20 miles North of Las Vegas there is a well marked exit for The Valley of Fire/Lake Mead (Exit 75, at time of posting). Take this exit to the right and travel East into the hills about 15 miles. TA-DAH! Pay your entrance fee of about 8 bucks for Nevada Residents (day pass, be sure to show ID for the discount) and travel down the easy-to-navigate main road.
Let the adventure begin!
CHECK THE MOMMY VEGAS MAP!
A beautifully maintained main road winds through the park with several off-shoots along the way. The Valley of Fire is unique in that most sites are near the road/parking.
Starting at one end of the park, you can pick and choose your stops, or if you have the time, spend a bit of time at each location. Paper maps are available at the fee stations on either side of the park, or you can check out kiosks (like the one below) at the lakeside entrance and the visitors center!
If you enjoy archaeology or art of any era, you will not want to miss Atlatl Rock or Mouse Tank where petroglyphs abound! The valley was popular with natives, mostly of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples as far back as 300 BC(E) (http://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire-state-park/), and their activity in the area has left some lasting evidence, including these unique and often beautiful works. Much of the art in the Valley of Fire is of the petroglyph form, that is drawings that have been carved, or more often “pecked”, out of the dark patina, or desert varnish, revealing the brilliant red rock below.
There are many sites to see, but some other popular ones are:
- The Seven Sisters, a group of rock formations (seven actually) you can see on the right just after the main Visitor’s Center, if you are traveling from the Las Vegas direction.
- Elephant Rock is also quite famous. Just down the road from the Sisters on the opposite side, if you are paying attention you’ll see it from the road, but the parking lot is a bit farther down, also on the left. Park, venture through the small visitor’s outpost and follow the stylized rock cairns (like the one to the right) out and to the left about 1/8th of a mile.
- The Cabins, were originally built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.), for travelers during the labor movement of the 1930’s great depression. They are now available for picnics and special events. They also feature some restrooms should you need them!
- The Petrified Logs can be viewed in two locations.
- Arch Rock, is a beautiful spot with a natural arch formed by erosion (mostly wind, but rain as well) on the scenic loop, near the main entrance features restrooms and camping.
- Balanced Rock and the Visitors Center, near the center of the park, just off the turnoff for Mouse Tank and White Domes.
MVP Take-Along Activity
You may notice in the park that English is not the primary language spoken. Our beautiful parks are popular spots with foreigners, and understandably so, but how can the parks communicate important messages to the masses when not everyone is speaking the same tongue? “Sign” language!
If you’ve traveled abroad you’ve probably noted that much of the pictorial signage is not that dissimilar to ours… although I once saw a sign in Europe that seemed to insinuate… oh, never mind. The point is, there are many important messages that need to be expressed to everyone – where the restrooms are located is often a popular one for those who have been in the car for some time, or how to find help, in the form of a ranger station, or how about where to get potable water?
Here are a few activities you can use to help accustom your kiddos to the language of park signs. I highly recommend giving these printables a try… particularly if you have any troops that may not be terribly keen on sitting in the car for two hours just to see “a few piles of rocks.” Print a few and make it a family affair, or file some away for trips to other state and national parks in the future!
The first is a scavenger hunt (my little bear is game for anything, even grocery shopping, if he can be a mighty hunter in the process). The second let’s you try your skills at guessing the intended meanings of the signs. When you’re done, compare guesses at the visitor’s center, or pull this page back up and compare to the picture above.
Spice it up a bit by making the signs the focus of some of your shots. Maybe get a pic of the crew with their camping gear and a camping/group camping sign, or snag a shot of the picnic area sign with grub in hand… telephone short on signal in the park?… no worries, it will still make a great prop alongside the telephone sign!
Have fun and happy snapping,