There’s a reason why hikers compare trekking in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park to the feeling of stepping foot on Planet Mars. The orange and rust-red colored Aztec sandstone outcrops transport you to what feels like a different planet. And from space — when the sun sets — NASA scientists report that the sandstone appears to be on fire.
With more than 40,000 acres to explore in the park, you can hike through narrow slot canyons, awe at vibrantly colored paths, feel the texture of sandstone and discover unique rock formations — all shaped millions of years ago during the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Park rangers refer to the area as “An Island of Red Rock in the Desert.”
Rock formations found at Valley of Fire consist predominantly of sandstone, limestone, shale and conglomerates.
“The sandstone is the most spectacular rock formation,” said Dr. James Faulds, geologist and director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (NBMG). “Sandstone consists of small sand grains held together by natural-forming cement. In this case, that cement solidified ancient sand dunes that were later subjected to uplifting, folding and faulting.”
The most amazing thing to Faulds is that the park showcases ancient rock units and huge faults (fractures in rocks of Earth’s crust), but the current landscape is actually shaped by recent erosion associated with the relatively young Colorado River and its tributaries. For example, Faulds explained that the exposures of the sandstone provide a window into a time when the region was covered by a vast desert with huge sand dunes, probably very close to the ocean, around 150 million years ago.
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest state park — officially established in 1935 — and continues to draw geologists, cyclists, hikers and campers alike from across the globe. And it’s less than an hour drive beyond the bright lights of Las Vegas.
When you arrive at the park, you can choose from more than 30 hiking trails. There’s a visitors’ center where you can pick up a park map and chat with park managers. If you prefer …….