The second part of the Nature in Sin City series is mainly focused on the Valley of Fire state parks and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (whew! what a long name!)
Valley of Fire State Park
This is a must-visit place if you love desert scenery, petroglyph (ancient Indian rock art) and strange looking rock formation. The spring time makes the best time to visit the park and besides nice and warm weather, you will also see blooming of wildflower. Although the weather is nice, please do be sure to bring plenty of water.
Valley of Fire
Wildflower in the desert
This place is only about an hour and half way from the strip and you can finish it in half day. If you decided to explore, plan a full day for it. We entered the park from the east entrance and we were immediately awestruck by the symbol of the park and the flagship of all the rock formations – the elephant rock. The millions of years of wind erosion crafted this natural art and it was named for its extreme close resemblance to a mammoth. The rock is located right at the pay station with a easy 0.1 mile hike. This is a must-see. Don’t miss it.
Once we got to the visitor center for a park map. We started our tour with the Mouse’s Tank trail – a known hideout for a renegade Indian named Little Mouse. This fellow gunned down two people in the late 1800 and decided to hide here in the middle of barren desert for months. The law enforcement thought he was a goner from dehydration. But there was a water source – a water hole at the bottom of the tall canyon wall where the water is collected and stored from rain drops and dews. The shade from the canyon wall prevents and water from evaporation and it can stay here for months in the desert. I didn’t know if Little Mouse eventually got captured or died from the dirty water in the tank. But his cousin Mickey seems to be doing pretty well in the children’s entertainment business few hundred miles away. 🙂
Once you enter the canyon of Mouse’s tank, be prepared for the galleries of petroglyph on the canyon wall. Ancient Pueblo Indians were the master of these beautiful rock art. The meaning of the art was never determined because the Indians did not have written language nor descendants to translate the art. We were on a tour with the park ranger and we were told that some symbols were translated from the resemblance of the real objects, like waterwheel, bighorn sheep, shaman, full moon. etc.
Petroglyph, Big horn sheep
The dry and heat from desert drained our energy faster than anywhere else. After vising the mouse tank, we needed a lunch break and there was just a spot for it, Atalatl Rock. Imaging having lunch under the shade in front of a giant boulder with over 100 pieces of petroglyph. This place beats every where else in the park for a lunch spot. The boulder is so big and the park rangers have to build a staircase to take take visitors up two story high. So how does this compare to the art in Mouse Tank? The galleries in the Mouse Tank is something that you will need to take time to discover whereas the Atalatl Rock has all the petroglyph arts at one stop. To us, it is always for excited to discover them on our own than to follow given direction.
Stairs to Atalatl Rock
Atalal Rock, from a distance
Thirsty, little fella?
The second attraction nearby the Rock is the Arch Rock. The rock is about 15 ft wide and 10 ft tall. From a distance, it may look like it’s off limit to visitors. But there is a trail leading us right in front of the arch. You will have to pass the arch for another 100 ft and the trail head is on the left of the arch. If you wanna called it the last stop of the area, don’t! keep going and follow the dirt trail, you will find yourself driving through the wilderness of red rock on a remote route. This made an exciting exit to get back on the main road.
Arch of Valley of Fire
The last stop of the park is the beehive. Like its name, the rock is close resemblance to a beehive. The rock is just a off the parking lot. There are more places to discover but we ran out of day light.
Red Rock Canyon
Just 20 minutes away from the heart of the Sin City lies the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. We were pretty impressed with the name and the newly constructed visitor center. The attractions are far less impressive than that from Vally of Fire. But don’t let me turn you down, this is still quite a place and I would plan a half-day visit or even a full day if hiking is on your list. Especially if you are tired of the smell of cigarettes and the sound of slot machines, this is a perfect getaway for the fresh air.
Red Rock Canyon
Once we paid the 7$ entrance fee, the first attraction was the visitor center. If you are interested in the formation of the red rock, wildlife, history and people of the land, this is your place. Again, a well maintained place for geeks and families. Too bad it was heavily funded by casinos and it delivers a message to downplay the environmental impacted caused by the big players in sin city. One of the placards in the center states that the beautiful night light from the city is a decoration rather than a pollution. 100 miles away in Death valley, the visitor center displays a very different message and condemning the city for light pollution. It’s all up to who’s paying the bill.
Maze in the Visitor Center
Once we started the engine, the self-guided tour began with a gallery of the red rock. From a distance, the indestructible monument made it hard to believe that it was once a field of red sand dune and dinosaurs once roamed the region. Tons of fossils were discovered here. As we got closer, it was not only a scenery, but also a playground for rock climbers and scramblers. Every wall was occupied by climbers and scramblers running jumping, climbing from one boulder to another to get to the top.
The difference between climbing and scrambling is the frequency of using rope to belay. While climbers love to challenge the vertical wall and often heavily equipped, scramblers are off-trail hikers who look for ways to get to the summit. Rock climbing is more of a hobby while rock scrambling is considered to be a part of hardcore hiking.
The well maintained pavement in the park opens the door to another adventure. We saw bunch of this tiny racing pod running around in the park.
Tiny racing pod
There are many hiking trails in the park. Because Cora was sick from her severe allergy, we were passing most of the trails except for one; the Lost Creek waterfall trail. When I heard there is a water fall in the middle of the desert, I said to myself this is a must-see. I had to drag poor Cora out of the car. To exchange for her company, I had to pay a prize – I would carry everything myself.
Lost Creek Fall
The trail was short. Only 1.1 miles and you will find petroglyph on the way. When we found it, or whatever left of it, it was on a boulder by the trail and it was already destroyed by rock climbers. We saw the fading painting mixed with the white palm print from the climber’s chalk. It was disappointing to see some people are willing the sacrifice the heritage of the people for a few minutes of thrill. Plus, I wouldn’t call it a thrill because the boulder was only 10 feet tall. So what happened to the park rangers? Was this supposed to be protected? I thought this is a national conservation area, no? I guess the casino’s funding stopped right at the visitor center. What a shame.
Once we get to the fall, we were disappointed once again by the tiny stream of the fall. The fall is about 50 ft high and the small stream of water trickling down from the top was like a broken shower head. If you are expecting a water fall like Blue Angel Fall in Maui, please scratch this trail of your list. After all, it was worth the exercise.
Bottom of the Broken Shower Head
By the time we got back to the car, we saw the sun setting behind the mountain. We exited the park and there was still a bit of sunlight left, we parked the car at the parking lot near the exit and by the helipad, I grabbed this killer shot just before the sunset. I used my newly purchased, Tamron 70-300mm VC, and luckily, the fading sunlight lit up the red rock once again before leaving the stage for the dusk.
Sunset at Red Rock Canyon
In the parking lot, it was filled with cars and people. We saw a wedding and the couple were not young. They were both very excited as passing by cars honking to celebrate. With our honk roaring, we left the place and headed back to the Sin city.