August 2003: Valley of Fire State Park


Overton, Nevada

When the sun reflects off the red sandstone formations just west of the Lake Mead they can appear to be on fire. Hence, the Valley of Fire. Two thousand years ago the Basket Maker people traveled to this land of great shifting sand dunes and left rock art reminders of their visits that can be seen today. In 1935 the Valley of Fire, now 34,000 acres, was dedicated as Nevada's first state park.

Dogs are welcome on all nine short interpretive trails in the Valley of Fire, all easily accessed from the main park roadways. Many trails lead to fanciful rock formations like Elephant Rock, Arch Rock and the Seven Sisters. In many places the canine hiking is over fine red sand trails that are paw-friendly when the sun isn't blazing (temperatures climb over 110 degrees in summer). One trail leads to petrified logs that washed into the area from an ancient forest about 225 million years ago. Some of the best prehistoric Indian petroglyphs can be seen in a small canyon on the trail to Mouse's Tank. The tank is a natural basin in the rock where water collects after a rainfall and is named for a renegade Indian who used the area as a hideout in the 1890s. The feature trail at Valley of Fire is the White Domes Loop Trail in the far northern section of the park. The path circles through rock formations and a slot canyon on its one-mile odyssey.

On the White Domes Loop Trail, look for the stone ruins of a movie set from The Professionals where Lee Marvin led a crew of four hard-edged adventurers on a rescue mission for a kidnapped woman. Many movies have used the Valley of Fire as a backdrop but this is the only set in the park as filmakers are no longer allowed to abandon their sets. Star Trek fans will recognize some of the scenery in Fire Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (west of Las Vegas on West Charleston Boulevard). The quick hikes in the Valley of Fire are especially attractive for dogs visiting Las Vegas in the summer but canine hikers visiting in more hospitable weather can also enjoy red rocks here. A 13-mile scenic drive winds through the iron-tinged sandstone mountains and climbs about 1000 feet. Parking areas are liberally sprinkled along the route that provide access to 19 hiking trails. Many of the routes explore side canyons with only moderate elevation gains of a few hundred feet. Some trails are unimproved and your dog may encounter loose stones and rock scrambles but nearly all of these trails can be handled by the novice canine hiker. The most difficult of the Red Rock Canyon trails is the climb along the Turtlehead Peak Trail. This five-mile round trip is never too punishing as it makes its way to the 6,323-foot summit. Your purchase is sweeping views of the Calico Hills and the city of Las Vegas.

Sunset Park (at East Sunset Road and S. Eastern Avenue). Sunset Park is a traditional urban recreational park with ballfields and playgrounds. While lacking an extensive trail system, there is fresh green grass and shade trees aplenty that will be a welcome sight for any dog visiting Las Vegas. A paved trail traces the edge of a prominent artificial pond and beyond that is a patch of undeveloped mesquite-dunes land similar to what all Las Vegas looked like before the coming of neon.

The Valley of Fire is 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas on I-15.