Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth there were great sand dunes in what is now know as Nevada. Eons marked by wind, water and shifting red sands created the Valley of Fire. Weird and wonderful rocks and fissures mark the landscape today. Striations in sandstone and limestone carved by natural elements stand out in stark contrast to smooth faced boulders. Red sand stretches out for miles, with the horizon broken only by jagged sandstone formations. Depending on the time of day, the rock color varies in intensity. Blazing rusty reds seem to emanate with fiery heat as the sun marches across the sky. Some of the rock appears to have been poured out in layers of cream interspersed with duller reds. As the day moves on, shadows start to overtake the rock, creating deeper hues.
It’s a hostile desert land. It’s difficult to imagine that the drought resistant vegetation with thorns and spines provides any sustenance to the hardy wildlife and birds that inhabit the area. However, as stark and inhospitable as it is, nomadic peoples wandered through the region. The Gypsum People, Anasazi and Paiute were some of the more notable tribes. Signs of their presence are still evident in petroglyphs, some dated back more than 3,000 years, etched high on the sandstone formations found throughout the park. With no permanent water sources other than a few natural stone tanks that collected infrequent rains, the area was used primarily for religious rites, ceremonial purposes and hunting. The Valley also saw its share of renegades, hiding out from either the law, warring factions or other pursuers.
Today, the park is recognized as Nevada’s largest and oldest state park. It is a popular stop for hikers, campers, climbers, history buffs seeking rock art and those with a thirst for intriguing scenery. Walking the trails, perhaps those trod by ancient people, is a humbling experience. Rocks in the shape of beehives, waves, portholes and more mark the way. Staggering rock walls loom overhead as hikers trek through slipping red sands or over the slick rock faces. The sky can be incredibly blue, with little cloud cover evident. Observant day trekkers might spot large black ravens perched on outcroppings or following visitors hoping for a handout. It’s even possible to see small flocks of desert bighorn sheep as they forage for food, scrambling about, finding tenuous footholds on almost sheer rock.
Less than an hour from the glittering neon lights of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire State Park creates a sense of natural wonder. How did all this rock get carved? It boggles the mind to consider the power and the time it would have taken to create all of this marvelous landscape. Why did ancient people come here? Was it out of desperation or to come closer to perhaps a mystical and magical place? Whatever the case, Valley of Fire State Park evokes a variety of sensations- an appreciation for natural beauty; a sense of disbelief that anything could survive here for any length of time; and the idea that this park is a natural wonder that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy.
About the Author: Cynthia Scarborough is a native Floridian. A freelancer, her favorite destination is anywhere in the South Pacific.
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