Valley of Fire Rock Art
By Dave Webb
I knew there is rock in Valley of Fire (Nevada state park), but I didn't know there was so much, and that the panels were so impressive. I scouted out some the park's sites on June 9, 2010, and now I recommend them as great places to see rock art that is easily to find and accessible from a paved road.
I was in the area to pick up my daughter. She was coming home from Orlando, having grown tired of working at one of the happiest place on earth. Money was tight and so she scouted out the best deal available. By flying to Vegas she saved about $300 (total on two tickets). It cost me two days and a couple hundred dollars to go pick her up, but heck, isn't that what are parents for? It could have been worse, of course. Motel rooms are amazingly cheap in Vegas. We stayed at the Tuscany Suites, near the airport, and I recommend it as a nice place, inexpensive, clean, comfortable and convenient.
It gave me a good excuse for a road trip and I enjoyed detouring through Valley of Fire. It was a fun diversion. I only spent about 3 hours in the park, but could easily have spent a week exploring the backcountry.
Valley of Fire is a beautiful, multi-colored haven lost in the middle of the bleak Nevada desert. A red sandstone ridge has eroded into a multitude of craggy formations -hundreds of small caverns and arches and domes. The red rock is flanked by a rainbow of other hues - cream and butterscotch and lavender and black.
In many spots a dark desert varnish has developed over the red sandstone. Ancient Native Americans sought out many the vertical rock panels with smooth, dark surfaces, and decorated them with petroglyphs. They chiseled figures into the rock, cutting through the varnish to expose the lighter rock below.
It takes hundreds of years for the varnish to develop over the rock. In some spots, varnish has reformed over petroglyph figures, telling us those figures were etched into the stone many, many years ago. Varnish has not developed over some figures, indicating they are more recent.
Some of the best rock art panels can be seen in what is called Petroglyph Canyon, along the Mouse Tank Trail. There are hundreds of images there - virtually every vertical panel of dark rock has figures. There is a picnic area across the road from the Petroglyph Canyon trailhead, and there are many figures on the rock wall that runs behind the tables.
More impressive panels can be found at Atlatl Rock. A metal staircase has been erected to provide access to a viewing area in front of one panel. The east and south sides of Atlatl Rock also have figures. I hiked behind the rock and found figures on other rock panels. One author says hiking around the rock to the south will bring you to a large rock covered with figures. I did not find it, but didn't do an exhaustive search.
I did see a Gila monster lizard on the south side of the rock.
I found and photographed panels at Lone Rock, near The Cabins, at on the cliff behind The Cabins.
I've heard there are figures on rocks near Arch Rock, but I did not have time to look for them.
I'm sure there are many more figures in the park backcountry. All of the panels I found were adjacent to roads or, as in the case of Petroglyph Canyon, just a short distance down an easy trail. It would be fun to really explore the park away from the roads.
There are many hiking trails in the park, and many more places to explore where there are no trails. The park is a great winter hiking destination, and also pleasant in spring and fall. It was hot when I was there, in June.
When Lake Mead was created, officials knew its waters would inundate many significant archaeological sites. Sites were excavated, as much as possible, ahead of the rising water. Many of the artifacts recovered are on display at Lost City Museum, in Overton. It is worth a few hours while you are in the area.