You know you’re a wanderluster when you find places to travel to from the places you travel to. On our most recent annual journey to Las Vegas, my companion and I decided to take a two-day road trip to Utah, a state that I had last driven through a couple of decades ago and remembered as stunningly beautiful.
We’d read similar raves about Valley of Fire State Park, 50 miles northeast and a world away from America’s playground.
Covering nearly 46,000 acres, Nevada’s first state park takes its name from the way the red-orange Aztec sandstone reflects the desert sunlight.
Founded in 1935, it looks positively prehistoric in places.
After picking up the rental car and driving roughly an hour, we’d allotted only the late morning for a side stop at Valley of Fire and thought we were going to do a moderate hike of three to four miles for an hour or two.
A young ranger recommended the White Domes Trail, a little more than a mile long. The steep descent over red rock and dry dirt makes it the most challenging in the park, but after this initial part, it becomes fairly easy to hike through. We did encounter one older couple turning back because they’d come without water. (Do not do this. Valley of Fire is very dry and very hot; you need lots of water.)
We saw a few other groups, but the park was far from crowded and we could easily enjoy unencumbered views of the textured sandstone.
Colorful flora sprouted up defiantly in spots.
Camouflaged lizards scampered among the rocks.
A slot canyon provided a brief break from the heat.
It took us about an hour and a half to finish the short trail, partly because of the initial terrain but mostly because we had so much fun exploring. We’d have liked to linger longer, but needed to get back on the road toward our next destination, Utah’s Zion National Park …
What to Know Before You Go
How to get there:
The park is open 365 days a year. It’s an easy drive on I-15 from Las Vegas. Then you take the two-lane Valley of Fire Highway. Once you pay the $10 entrance fee, there is plenty of parking as well as paved road throughout. There’s a glorious openness about the desert West, but that openness comes at a cost: Places to get food or gasoline are few and far between; be prepared.
What to wear:
Comfortable sturdy shoes with a good tread–the trails are rocky in some parts, gravelly in others, and just plain dry dirt in many; I was fine in my go-to Skechers.
Cool comfortable clothing. The desert is very hot, except when it’s very cold. Check the temperatures, and bring layers if necessary.
A hat, sunglasses, and a high-SPF sunscreen. I skip full make-up for activities like hiking and keep it simple with eye cream with sunscreen, tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen (yes, I’m slightly obsessed with protecting my skin), and a quick curl of my lashes.
Your fitness tracker. You’ll want credit after all!
What to bring:
Sunscreen to re-apply.
Food, especially if you’re planning to make a day of it. The Visitors Center sells a small but surprisingly inexpensive selection of simple items like sandwiches, salads, and cheese snacks. There are plenty of picnic areas throughout the park.
A change of socks.