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into the valley of fire

Vegas, baby! VEGAS!! The Holy Grail for gamblers and 90’s cult movie fans, and the final destination of our Southwest road trip. En route to Sin City, we stopped by the Valley of Fire, a small Nevada state park that packs a lot of punch. In fact, we had to strike a balance between seeing all of its highlights and reaching Vegas at a reasonable time.

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We stumbled onto the Valley of Fire by accident. After the amazing day we had enjoyed at Antelope Canyon, we were scrolling around the Internet reading up on slot canyons when we happened upon a site mentioning a little-known, but beautiful pastel canyon in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park. The park was on our way down from Utah – about an hour outside Vegas – so we decided to incorporate it into our itinerary.

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All of the trails in the Valley of Fire are short – none longer than a mile and a half – but the hiking can be quite tough. For one, we found ourselves tramping through deep sand on many of the trails. Also, even though it was an overcast day at the end of October, the temperature still hovered around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, the park surely lives up to its name.

colorful rock vein

We started with the White Domes trailhead, hiking through a small slot canyon, and taking way too many pictures of the multi-hued, pastel-colored rocks that abound there. Next we hiked out to the Fire Wave, which was our consolation for missing out on the actual Wave. The scenery in this part of the park is otherworldly, and the Fire Wave itself is quite beautiful – a large rounded rock formation that is striped red and white like a candy cane.

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We ended our visit by walking along the canyon to Mouse’s Tank. We did not go all the way – just far enough to see the petroglyphs that had been etched there centuries ago. The rocks throughout the park are covered with a black substance called desert varnish, creating smooth black canvases for the prehistoric people who populated this region. We backtracked a couple of miles on our way out to snap a picture of the Elephant Rock, and then pointed our car towards Sin City.

petroglyph trail

closeup on Elephant Rock

Even for someone stepping off the plane in Las Vegas for the first time, the city must feel overwhelming. The Vegas Strip is a monumental ode to opulence, luxurious entertainment, and the cynical pursuit of money. After seeking out the solitude afforded by the Southwest’s premiere natural landscapes, arriving in Las Vegas was jarring. On another kind of trip, Vegas might have been fun, but its in-your-face brashness and consumerism did not mesh with the rest of our itinerary.

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Thankfully, we did not stay long – just long enough to go out for dinner and a Cirque du Soleil show. Early the next morning, we drove to the airport for our flight back to the East Coast, closing the book on our Southwest adventure.

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