So if you’re in Las Vegas and the crowded strip is starting to feel a little suffocating, hit the road and head east for one of the most beautiful drives in the world… Just roughly an hour east of Las Vegas sits the Valley of Fire State Park, and this road trip there and back will have you reaching for the camera at every turn…
Your trip starts on I-15 as the hustle and bustle of Vegas quickly turns to desolate Nevada desert. While I-15 isn’t particularly inspiring, a right-hand turn onto Valley of Fire Highway/Road quickly gives way to incredible beauty climaxing as you drive into the Valley of Fire State Park.
Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and biggest state park with its founding dating back to 1935. Ancient trees and rock formations combine with 3,000 year-old petroglyphs left by early American Indians to create one of the most unique and beautiful areas in America.
The name, Valley of Fire, comes from massive red sandstone formations created 150 million years ago. The uplifting and faulting coupled with erosion to create the landscape we see today. Humans are believed to have used the area from 300 B.C.E. to 1150 C.E. for hunting and gathering, but likely didn’t stay in the area long due to the lack of water.
If camping or hiking are your things, Valley of Fire State Park offers both, but just the drive alone is perfect for those wanting to snap some great photos. There is a fee for your vehicle to enter the park, but well-worth it.
After leaving the park, you continue on Valley of Fire Road until you reach Lakeshore Road. Although Lake Mead is off to your left, the road itself is too far away to have visible lake sightings. This stretch returns you to much of the Nevada desert scenery you’d expect, but it also gets you to Hoover Dam.
Any road traveler visiting Las Vegas would be extremely remiss to skip a chance to see The Hoover Dam. Nearly a million other tourists visit this man-made wonder every year, and if you’ve ever been, you understand why. The Hoover Dam’s massive size is almost beyond comprehension as it holds back America’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead.
Aside from its sheer size, the Hoover Dam’s place in American history is interesting in its own right. 112 people gave their lives in the quest to complete the project, and even the renaming of the dam to honor President Hoover has its fair share of interesting controversy.
The Hoover Dam features a visitors center and offers both powerplant and dam tours. The US Department of the Interior suggests allotting at least 2 hours for your visit:
The guided Powerplant Tour takes about 30 minutes, while the Dam Tour lasts nearly one hour. If you take one of these guided tours, and want to discover all the other features at Hoover Dam (not included on the guided tours), plan about two hours or more for your entire visit.
After having your fill of the Hoover Dam, it’s time to return to the booze, slots, and debauchery of Sin City. That’s not a bad thing though, because after your Las Vegas day trip through the arid Valley of Fire State Park and being surrounded by water at the Hoover Dam, you’re probably a little thirsty for a drink…
Cover Photo: Backcountry Gallery