Valley of Fire — An overlooked scenic treasure between St. George and Las Vegas

By Flint Stephens

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, March 26 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Valley of Fire gets its name from the fiery red rock formations.

Flint Stephens

Each week, thousands of Utahns travel to or from Las Vegas on Interstate 15. Along the way these travelers pass within 15 miles of a park that offers arches, petroglyphs, red rocks, petrified wood, spectacular geologic formations and beautiful desert scenery.

Founded in 1935, the Valley of Fire is Nevada's oldest state park. In spite of its accessibility, most Utahns are unaware of its existence unless they happen to notice the sign marking the turnoff while driving past it. The Valley of Fire is located 55 miles northeast of Vegas and can be accessed from I-15 at Exit 75.

The park gets its name from red sandstone formations. Though not as extensive as those contained in the better-known Arches National Park near Moab, there are similarities, so visitors will feel a comfortable familiarity with the landscape. For good measure, the park also has several sandstone arches.

Many of the park’s highlighted features are in close proximity and readily viewed from paved roads, making it a great choice for a short detour on the way to or from Nevada’s city of lights. But it is also located just 90 miles from St. George.

A half-day excursion is long enough to see many of the best features. That means someone leaving Salt Lake City in the morning could easily reach the park by mid-day, spend three or four hours and still enjoy dinner in Las Vegas or St. George.

The park has a visitor center with displays about the geology, ecology, prehistory, and history of the park and the nearby region. For those who want to hike and explore, there are several trails of varying length and difficulty. Information on hiking trails is available at the visitor center.

Up through the end of April is a great time to visit Valley of Fire. Utahns trying to escape cold and snow will usually find comfortable daytime temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees. Summertime travelers might get the impression that the park got its name from its environment, rather than its rock formation. During the summer, daytime highs usually top 100 degrees and can get as high as 120.

Excellent examples of prehistoric rock art are among the park’s notable attractions. Prehistoric visitors included the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo Indians. Numerous petroglyphs are visible at several locations, and most are within easy walking distance.

In addition to arches, rock formations in the park include beehives — pockmarked sandstone caused by centuries of erosion from wind and water. Sandstone domes and contrasting colors create scenic panoramas throughout the park.

Unusually high precipitation levels this winter could result in some spectacular displays of springtime wildflowers like desert marigold, indigo and desert mallow. Park vegetation includes a wide variety of cacti and desert brushes.

Quick Facts

  • Entrance Fee – $10 plus additional charges for camping or groups.
  • Visitor Center Hours – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • 73 camp sites—first come, first-served
  • RV sites with water and power are available
  • Three group sites
  • Several picnic areas
(702) 397-2088— direct phone number to the park headquarters

Flint Stephens, who lives in Highland, has a master's degree in communication from Brigham Young University. He has been an editor and journalist for newspapers in Utah and Illinois.