This post is sponsored by WANDRD – that being said, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I’ve always thought of Nevada as a state ruled by dichotomy: otherworldly outdoor spaces exist only a short drive away from cities ruled by consumerism (I’m looking at you, Vegas). The stark divisions used to drive me away, but after a short stay in the Sagebrush State I came to love how the seemingly disparate identities are able to coexist in harmony. Take one look at Vegas and you’ll get the impression that the state revolves around indulgence, but in reality Nevada is all about balance – you can live in a booming metropolis and still have access to wild natural areas.
My first outdoor excursion in Nevada took place during my relocation from San Diego, California to Salt Lake City, Utah; after spending long hours sitting in the van I needed to get outside and stretch my legs. One state park in particular captivated my attention: the Valley of Fire, located right outside of Las Vegas.
Up until relatively recently my only interactions with state parks took place in Florida, so I was anticipating a small recreation area with relatively little foot traffic – and man was I taken by surprise. The Valley of Fire State Park is huge and was full of other people hoping to opt outside as well, even on a Monday morning! We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the massive park because we were on a tight schedule to get to SLC, but we managed to connect two hikes in order to see some of the more popular destinations in the park. Our time there was short and sweet, but it was enough to make me eager to return and check out what else the Valley of Fire has to offer.
The first (and technically only) hike we did was the Fire Wave trail. This simple out-and-back trail is only 1.5 miles total and is incredibly well marked. Most of the hike covers sandy terrain that makes walking a bit difficult, but even so this trail is far from strenuous.
Note: this hike is only recommended during cooler months because of how dangerously hot the park gets in the summer. Signs posted at the start strongly advise not attempting the hike when it’s hot outside. Even if it’s cold out, be sure to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen.
The striking colors of Valley of Fire State Park were on full display during our stroll through the sagebrush – gleaming red rocks sat upon soft tan sand, and the bright blue sky made the landscape all the more impressive. When we approached the Fire Wave, swirling red and pink lines covered the sandstone around us. Many people compare this spot to the ultra-popular Wave in Arizona, and it’s not hard to see the resemblance. What makes the Fire Wave unique is its accessibility: you don’t have to enter a lottery or wait six months in order to enjoy this beautiful spot.
If you hike out to the Fire Wave I highly recommend walking up the nearby sandstone feature in order to gaze down on the red and white lines from above. When you take into account the convenience of the hike, the view seems even better.
From the end of the Fire Wave trail, John and I walked a bit farther and traveled through the natural wash in order to get to the Pastel Canyon. After about 10 minutes of walking we noticed a change in our surroundings, and we knew we were there. This short slot canyon is made up of yellow, red, and pink lines that give the sandstone a pastel coloration. I’ve read online that the harsh afternoon light can subdue the natural hues, so for the most stunning pictures be sure to go during sunrise or sunset. We entered the canyon late in the day, but we still were able to make out the various colors.
John and I found a shady spot in the canyon and sat down with Koda in order to fully appreciate the view. A few other couples wandered into the canyon, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the hike to the Fire Wave. We were close enough to the road in the Pastel Canyon to hear cars pass us by, but as we sat in the cool sand it felt like we were completely alone in the middle of nowhere. I took a few pictures of the view around us, but it was hard to capture the subtleties of color that were only visible with my own eyes.
Thanks to my WANDRD backpack I was able to keep my camera away from the heat and the sand, and I still had room for a light layer and plenty of water to share with Koda. If you’re interested in checking out the pack I’m wearing I have it linked here! If you’re a photographer, I highly recommend investing in the photography bundle – the extra camera cube made accessing my gear super easy.
When we were ready to get back on the road, we simply retraced our steps until we saw the Fire Wave on our left and then followed that trail back to the parking lot. Our stay in the Valley of Fire State Park wasn’t long, but it was the perfect way to break up the long drive and go on a little adventure. I know if I ever go back I’ll explore some of the other trails that the park has to offer. Here are a few that are on my list if you’re interested in checking them out yourself:
- The White Domes Loop. This short loop (1.2 miles) goes through a slot canyon full of pockets and holes.
- Balancing Rock. This striking formation is only 0.1 miles from the Valley of Fire Visitor Center.
- Rainbow Vista. The Rainbow Vista trail is a 1 mile out-and-back that takes you to a cliff overlooking the Fire Canyon Wash.
- Prospect Trail. If you’re up for an all day adventure, this almost 10 mile round-trip hike is for you!
One thing to keep in mind if you visit this natural space is to respect the land by respecting the authorities that look after it. In recent years the Pastel Canyon gained popularity, and people created a short cut through the desert in order to quickly get there from the road – this short cut required counting the dips that you passed during the drive and pulling off to the side when you reached a certain number. The state park employees eventually caught on and put up signs along the road prohibiting parking outside of established lots, but during our time in the park we passed countless cars parked on the shoulder, blatantly ignoring the sign. Be sure to always research rules to whatever natural space you plan on visiting, and always follow the posted signs – they’re there for a reason, and more often than not that reason has to do with preserving delicate environments. At the end of the day, no shortcut is worth damaging the very landscape you’re there to enjoy.
As we drove away from Nevada and towards the next adventure, I felt immensely satisfied with our little pit stop. There are so many places that I simply breeze past without giving them a second thought, and I’m not going to lie Nevada used to be one of them. As I watched the vibrant red canyon disappear from view, I realized that Nevada was full of the things that I fell in love with in other states – red rocks in Utah, endless sage in Wyoming, clear blue skies in Colorado – and suddenly I felt a lot more at home.
Have you been to the Valley of Fire State Park? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise specified in the caption. Header photo by John Miller.