I’m not going to give a full play-by-play of our roadtrip; that would take forever and you’d get bored. I’m just going to hit the highlights – mind you, there are a lot of those, so it might still take forever and you might still get bored. But the parks – oh, the parks!
Hold up, I’m getting to that.
It’s necessary to edit some stuff out. Otherwise I’d have to start with a whole post on Las Vegas. I’m not fond.
We flew into Vegas as the starting point of our trip and it was weird. I’d never been to Vegas before and didn’t really have the inclination to go, but I also had no actual experience to back that up. Now I do. I still don’t have the inclination to go to Vegas. It’s weird. But also, we were jetlagged and lugging heavy suitcases and it was Halloween, which made it even weirder. We did stay in the side of a giant glass pyramid, which was cool, and we found an amazing Irish pub for lunch where we stayed for over two hours and probably should have stayed even longer.
That’s the Bellagio NOT doing its whole fountain show thing because after we walked up the Strip and waited for 35 minutes, they called it off due to “high winds.” There was a slight breeze.
So let’s just skip this bit.
The next morning, we picked up our colorful and inevitably-doomed campervan and set off into the Nevada desert.
This part was so great. We were giddy with excitement; we had our glossy new Rand McNally road atlas open and our carefully-curated roadtrip playlist blasting. We were marveling at everything – how flat the landscape was, the color of the mountains way in the distance, the way the road wove through the desert like a ribbon. It was all so fresh and new! Ah, to be young again!
Our first official stop, barely an hour outside of Las Vegas, was Valley of Fire State Park. The park is filled with tall red sandstone pillars that look like tongues of flame in the sun – hence the name.
It was red, red, red.
Valley of Fire was inhabited seasonally from about 300BC to 1150 AD, according to the official park website. The Anasazi people would come from their longterm settlements in the fertile Moapa Valley to gather food and conduct religious rituals here (makes a pretty good backdrop, no?). Some of the park’s most interesting features are the many specimens of rock art, called petroglyphs, that are still visible today.
My compatriot models:
Most of the petroglyphs are dated at nearly 3000 years old! They’re a little hard to see in photos, but in person many of them are completely visible and it’s easy to make out symbols for animals, weather, and weapons.
After a short drive along Valley of Fire Road, we pulled over in a little parking lot to do a quick walk on Mouse’s Tank trail.
The red sand was the softest, silkiest, most perfectly uniform sand I’ve ever seen. We passed a little old man on our way back who was exclaiming, “You could put this sand in a tiny hourglass!” It was also blazing hot in the sun, so we scurried from shady patch to shady patch where it was nice and cool (we were still wearing flip flops at that point… this will seem almost comical later).
The actual Mouse’s Tank is at the end of the trail. It’s a natural basin in the stone that usually stays full of water, despite the infrequent rainfall. It’s named for a renegade outlaw (awesome) called Little Mouse who used to hide out there. It seemed a pretty good hiding place as it looked very difficult to get to.
You can see the basin right behind Amity in that picture, although to see the water in it we had to lean way over and I was afraid of dropping my camera so there’s no photo.
After returning to Kokapelli, we drove a little bit further to see the north end of the park before turning around.
Valley of Fire is not too big, but there are plenty more trails that we didn’t check out. We only spent a few hours of the afternoon there but you could easily spend at least half a day if you wanted to do a bit more walking.
Afterwards, we continued on through the Lake Mead area.
Leslie Knope reporting for duty!
We could have turned right after this to go to the Hoover Dam, but our route took us left. As we drove, we saw rain roll in over the jagged hills in the distance. We drove past flat tabletop plateaus and through trenches cut right into them.
We crossed the Nevada/Utah border at twilight and arrived in Springdale, Utah long after dark. As we readied for our first night in the van and went to pull the curtains shut, we looked out at the pitch blackness around us and wondered what we were going to wake up to. No light pollution is a beautiful thing!
The Details: $10 entry fee per vehicle | Open year-round | Website HERE