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Saturday 23 April 2016

Valley of Fire State Park

During the girls' recent Spring Break we headed to the desert to see some of the most stunning landscapes around. I love living in an urban area with all of the opportunities and hustle and bustle that comes with it, but there's nothing like getting out of the city for a few days to connect with nature. 

After spending a day in Las Vegas at the start of our trip we headed an hour or so east to Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park. I have to admit that I had never actually heard of this park until a friend suggested that we spend a day there on our way to Zion. I'm so glad that we took that advice as our day at Valley of Fire turned out to be the highlight of our trip. The views were amazing, the girls got to spend plenty of time outside scrambling over the red rocks, and, unlike the next few days spent at Zion and the Grand Canyon, there were hardly any other visitors in the park. 

As we approached Valley of Fire State Park we could definitely see where it got its name. The red rocks at the bottom of the valley really do looks like flames as the sun shines on them. The landscape leading to the park is pretty stunning in itself, with canyons and craggy outcrops, but the red rocks in the valley are the star of the show.

Rising up out of the red earth around them, the giant rock formations in Valley of Fire give the impression of a stone age city. Tiny caves of varying sizes dotted along the rounded surfaces of the
rocks look like windows on Gaudi style skyscrapers. Or something out of The Flintstones! The girls were excited to jump out of the car and spend their time scrambling over the rocks, hiding in little caves and taking in the views.

The road winding through the park takes visitors right up close to the rock formations. This makes Valley of Fire perfect for families with small children or people with limited mobility. Although the views were pretty amazing right by the road we decided to hike a little further into the valley and soon found ourselves surrounded by a most alien landscape. With all of those red rocks, and no other people around, we could have been on Mars!

Mathilde was pretty happy about finding lots of little caves and hiding spots to climb into. She's a pretty keen climber and scrambled up and down the rocks with no problem. She was pretty excited every time she found a new little hidey-hole.

Lola and Ava focused on trying to climb as high as possible with both of them wanting to be the winner to the top. Theses two get more competitive by the day!

I joined the girls for a few tourist snaps up high in the rocks. I'm always behind the camera so you rarely get to see me, but I try to make sure that I appear in at least a few photos when we travel.

We hopped back in the car and took a short drive around a loop road to reach Arch Rock, a rock shaped like, you guessed it, an arch. This particular spot was obviously more popular with visitors as there were actually quite a few people here. Mathilde had fallen asleep in the car and Lola was happy to just look at the arch from her car seat, so Kim stayed in the car with them while Ava and I went for a short walk around the rocks containing the arch. We found a little ledge that was just begging for cheesy photos so Ava played photographer while I pretended to be holding up the rocks.

We hopped back in the car and drove a little further to Atlatl Rock, a large rock with ancient petroglyphs carved up high. A tall staircase takes visitors toward the top of the rock to view the petroglyphs up close. The girls found these ancient carvings interesting and spent some time coming up with stories about what they thought the petroglyphs were telling us. They were pretty horrified to discover that other visitors have, at some point, etched their names among the petroglyphs. Seriously Ike and LaRue, what were you thinking?

Back down by the bottom of Atlatl Rock we found a flowering cactus that the girls thought was pretty impressive. It had pink flowers, so it instantly caught pink loving Lola's attention! Mathilde spent quiet some time looking at it up close, but it was only after she moved away from it that I realized that she had been filling the flowers with tiny pebbles! Oops. I quickly made sure to fish all of them out and no damage was done.

Our next stop was the visitor's center where we grabbed a bite to eat while the girls stamped their National Parks Passports (which you can get here) and chose souvenirs. The visitor's center is surrounded by more smooth, red, caved filled rocks that make a fantastic playground. The girls joined other kids climbing up and down the rocks for quite some time.

We spent much of the remainder of the day driving around the park taking in the sights from the car or roadside lookout spots. The park truly is an amazing place and I love that so much of it's beauty can be seen without having to venture too far from the road. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy hiking, but when travelling with small children it's nice to find places that can be enjoyed without having to put in too much effort. Oh man, that sounds so lazy, but I'm sure that plenty of parents know what I mean. It also means that the park can be enjoyed by other people with limited mobility which I think is great and not always so common.

Rainbow Vista was one of my favorite roadside lookout spots. The colors in the rock formations are just amazing. This particular spot marks the start of a popular hiking trail, but by now Lola and Mathilde were both napping so we gave the hike a miss.

We'd spent much of the day in the park by the time we arrived at White Domes and while I would have loved to have taken the short one mile hike through the area, the girls were starting to get restless, and we still had a few hours of driving ahead of us, so we gave it a miss. Instead I took photos of other people starting the hike - let's pretend that's us!

Shortly before we arrived at the eastern entrance of the park we made one last stop for a bathroom break, a last look at the stunning scenery, and to capture one more, all important jump shot!

Valley of Fire State Park is an amazing place to spend a day, or maybe even two if you wish to camp out. It's super easy to get to from Las Vegas and makes for a fantastic day trip away from the tackiness and gambling. Or, if like us, you're driving from Las Vegas to Zion, it makes a great detour.

For more information about Valley of Fire State Park visit http://www.valley-of-fire.com/

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