The lights along the Las Vegas Strip aren't the only illuminating things in town.
Travel 50 miles north of the city to Valley of Fire State Park and you'll see rocks that glow with an unusually bright crimson color. The area offers some of the Southwest's most amazing scenery with vivid colors splashed on some of the oldest natural rock formations known to mankind.
With its official opening in 1935, Valley of Fire is considered Nevada's oldest state park. The park, which covers an area of almost 36,000 acres, gets its name from its fiery red sandstone. The formations are the result of fossilized sandstone and sand dunes that formed more than 150 million years ago by a shift in the Earth's crust, faulting and wind and water erosion.
The first inhabitants of the Valley of Fire are thought to have migrated to the region about 300 B.C. Ancient Native American tribes survived on a vegetarian diet and ate all kinds of cactus and plants including yucca, mesquite tree, prickly pear and beaver tail. Eventually, other native tribes learned to plant corn and beans and hunt animals like rabbit, sheep and antelope.
Today, only wild animals dwell within Valley of Fire year-round. Rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep and the white tailed antelope ground squirrels are just a few of the animals that inhabit the area.
Now the state park is primarily a tourist destination with 300,000 visitors per year. Movie stars have also been known to visit this popular park. Because of its stunning scenery, movies such as "Transformers," "10,000 B.C." and "Planet of the Apes" include scenes filmed at the Valley of Fire.
Fun shapes and sights
In addition to its neon red rock formations, Valley of Fire is famous for its fun, distinct stone shapes. Visitors will see rocks in the shape of a piano, an elephant and even a beehive. Some rocks, however, take on more obscure shapes. Let your imagination run wild!
Other points of interest include Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, the cabins and Mouse's Tank, a natural basin in the rocks where water collects after a rainfall. The area was named after a renegade American Indian who used it as a hideout in the 1890s. Rainbow Vista is also popular for its panoramic views of multicolored sandstone.
While visiting Valley of Fire, keep a look out for the petroglyphs scattered throughout the park. Visitors can see these ancient Native American sketches at Atlatl Rock, Mouse's Tank, Rainbow Vista, the cabin area, Seven Sisters and Elephant Rock.
A place for recreation
Valley of Fire is more than just a group of beautiful red rock formations. It's also an amazing place to enjoy a variety of recreational activities.
Spring time and fall is usually the busiest time. In addition to picnics and picture taking, there are also several places to camp.
During the warmer months, visitors may also go for a relaxing swim at Roger Springs as well as hike or rock climb at various areas. Make sure to stop by the visitor's center to grab a brochure, which lists each landmark and all the different activities. The visitor's center also includes detailed exhibits on the Valley of Fire, Native American artifacts and several works from local artists for sale.
Considering that the park is only an hour's drive from the Las Vegas Strip, Valley of Fire is definitely worth the trip .For those who would rather not drive (or who are on a limited time frame), taking a tour is another option.
Valley of Fire is a one-of-a-kind area around Las Vegas that is a must-see.