While you can occupy your entire Las Vegas vacation with activities inside the city’s limits, it would be a shame to come all the way to Nevada and not enjoy some of its natural beauty outside the city. I’ve managed to pry myself away from Las Vegas long enough to go see the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Laughlin (on the Arizona border) on previous trips, and in September, I finally made it to the Valley of Fire. While it was a place I’ve wanted to visit for years, I was shocked to learn that not everyone’s heard of it.
When I mentioned I was going, several people asked me “What’s the Valley of Fire?”
Gasp. Oh, people.
Simply put, it is Nevada’s oldest state park which lies about an hour outside of Las Vegas and is filled with gorgeous natural rock formations.
In case you were wondering, The Valley of Fire gets its name from the fiery color of its sandstone rock formations. Sandstone is a soft rock that crumbles easily. It’s amazing these formations have lasted as long as they have. A couple of well-known arches in the Valley have crumbled in just the past decade. People come out for the day to drive around, enjoy the views, hike and take photos; and other people go camping here, staying for longer periods of time.
If you’re a day-tripper, there are two ways to get out of Las Vegas to see the Valley of Fire: Rent a car or take a tour. The benefits of renting a car are that you get to move at your own pace, stop when you want to stop, and see only what you want to see. You are in complete control of your time. And it’s cheaper than a tour. (Note: You do have to pay $10 admission per vehicle.)
The benefit of taking a tour is that, as a solo traveler, it gives you a built-in opportunity to socialize with the others on your tour, you get expert information from a knowledgeable guide, and you don’t have to stress out about driving in a strange place or getting lost out in the desert. (As directionally-challenged as I am, this is a very real possibility.) But it’s a lot more expensive.
I chose to take a tour to avoid the hassle of renting a car, but I also deliberately chose a tour company that specializes in photography tours, because I was hoping to have some dedicated time with a knowledgeable photographer and get some tips on using my manual settings. It didn’t actually work out that way. It was a fine tour, and he was a fun guide, but I got the impression he didn’t know any more about the manual settings of a camera than I did. Also, he kept making the rookie mistake of standing too far away from me when taking my picture in front of landmarks. But despite that disappointment, I had a great day.
We made a handful of stops at various points around the valley, including some rock formations, sites of petroglyphs, a rest area for lunch, the Visitors Center, and the Lost City Museum. We also went on a short, easy hike at a scenic vista. There had been floods in the Valley just the week before, so we were lucky the roads were actually open.
I do recommend that if you book a tour, you choose a small group tour. (Mine was just three people, thank God.) The more people there are on your tour, the more it becomes like herding cats to get them back to the bus at the time the guide indicates. Someone dawdles and holds up the entire group, and you wind up missing some sights because you’ve run out of time. (Remember Gray’s second rule of solo travel: Don’t let someone else ruin your vacation!)
But no matter how you choose to go, just go visit the Valley of Fire. It was breathtakingly beautiful and every time we got out of the van, it was so quiet, so peaceful–a refreshing change from all the constant noise in Las Vegas. I think I’m going to have to build in “get outta town” time on every trip to Vegas in the future!