In May 2009 we made a two night outing to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada a startling landscape Northwest of Las Vegas. We do like our desert camp outs and you may have noticed that we have been visiting lots of dry places. Well, that is at least in part due to Los Angeles being surrounded by desert and most one or two days trips won’t take us anywhere but desert.
This was mrs. a-go-go’s first visit to the valley but I had traveled there years ago with my sister on a Southwest US ramble road trip. My sister and I were headed for Zion so we only stayed overnight in Valley of Fire. The dazzling colors of the dawn light on the rocks set the place in my mind and I knew I would be back some day. The valley did not disappoint on my return trip and mrs. a-go-go was delighted too.
The drive was not very impressive as we were on interstate 15 most of the way. The tiny town of Yermo had some excellent abandoned buildings and fence posts on the outskirts, but we had to wince our way through Las Vegas too. At last we turned south off the 15 and sprinted toward the Muddy Mountains (no kiddin’, that’s the name) on the valley road. Thunder heads were gathering and we had a light show over the distant mountains. The storm lingered but we didn’t see more than a few drops and some high humidity. The lightning stayed in the distance and rumbled and rolled on the horizon. The park road winds up to a pass and then rapidly descends into the wild red stone canyons. We found a walk-in-tent-only camp site and pitched our bundle.
It was late afternoon by the time we were set up and the rain clouds made the day hot and muggy. We ventured out to see petroglyphs for which the camp ground was named. Valley of Fire has several petroglyph sites but Atlatl Rock is the closest to the main road and requires the shortest walk. This has made it victim of some vandalism but the collection of old drawings is still impressive. The symbolism of most of the images can only be guessed at but there are human figures, big horn sheep and antelope, and what is presumed to be an atlatl, a marvelous tool that allowed a hunter to throw a short spear with great accuracy and force. At the time the petroglyphs were chipped into the stone reaching their cleft required a more difficult climb. More recently, hairless house apes came and cut stairs into the stone. This is likely when peoples' names in roman script were faintly scratched over some of the petroglyphs. Then more apes came and installed a steel staircase and viewing platform that stands some distance from the wall of the cleft and has a steel mesh and plexiglass barrier. This made the climb very easy and I suppose it helps discourage all but the very best vandals. Still very worth a visit, but I can't help shaking my head. The other petroglyph sites we visited in the park have had less trouble, and they are only visible from below. Binoculars help, and many are quite clear and large enough to to see with out aid or the need to climb the cliffs.
We returned to camp to cook up dinner and watch the bats wheel and turn in the humid dusk. The dense sticky air made me want to sleep nekid but I settled for boxer-briefs. We passed out early planning to be up before dawn the next day. Sunrise is a thing not to miss in Valley of Fire.