Valley of Fire sounds like the name of the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, but this 42,000-acre state park, about 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Overton, is light-years away from Sin City's cacophony of slot machines and man-made galaxies of marquee lights. For travelers who want — or, more likely, desperately need — a chance to hike past something besides singing hotel fountains, Valley of Fire (parks.nv.gov) delivers a different kind of jackpot.
The park was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Its name bears witness to the brilliant red sandstone formations, dating 150 million years, when the terrain experienced its share of geological tumult. But the color wheel travels beyond red as you go farther into the park and see more glorious formations of sandstone, limestone and shale in surreal skyscapes of lavender, gold and terra cotta.
Visitors can drive through the park (and you may want to drive, because summer temperatures sail past 100 degrees). But if you can, park and hike along some of its well-marked trails. That is the best way to experience the surprising, otherworldly vistas — and also helps you see why lots of sci-fi movies are filmed here. Rangers at the visitors center provide helpful information and advice.
Most trails are easy; one, called Mouse's Tank, even brings you eye level with ancient petroglyphs dating nearly 3,000 years. The drawings are attributed to the ancient native North Americans who once roamed here, including the Basket Maker and Anasazi groups.
Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle. Take water, and beware: Restaurants are scarce.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun