Valley of Fire
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. Rachel Carson
I’ve had this beautiful park on a list of places to see for a very long time. There is lots of dispersed camping above Overton on the Mesa, “Poverty Ridge” a storekeeper remarked at the Ice Cream store but it was the campground among the red rocks I so badly wanted to enjoy.
With fingers crossed we drove past the entrance gate and into the park. Past red rock spires with colours dancing off the surfaces. The morning light helped accent the colours as we passed area after area of amazing beauty. The campground is about halfway into the park so with bated breath we slowly made our way in, there were two other trailers behind us, past the petroglyphs on Atlatl rock and into the campground, we worked our way past the smaller sites (all are first come, first serve, no reservations) into the electric/water sites and lo and behold, as least three were available at 10:30 in the morning. We backed into the first one we came across with squeals of glee, yes, me, not Mike and settled in! This was meant to be a two day stop, I could tell already a third day was going to be added;) hahaha!
All this beauty from the windows of your moving home! We took a drive back to the park office for a map of trails after we’d settled in and paid our fees at the campground. As we rounded the bend by the campground I could see a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep grazing in the field beside the campground. Talk about leaping out of the truck as we got back and grabbing the big lens I was off to stalk sheep!
I followed them around for awhile as they grazed next to a trailer site where there was a large patch of grass, the eventually meandered off into the shrubbery eating as they went, the youngsters play fighting and locking horns. They seemed unconcerned with me as I sat down on a rock and watched them interact. I read that Southern desert bighorn sheep are adapted to a desert mountain environment with little or no permanent water. Some may go without visiting water for weeks or months, sustaining their body moisture from food and from rainwater collected in temporary rock pools. They may have the ability to lose up to 30% of their body weight and still survive, wow, I was wondering where they got water.. This is a bachelors group the camp host told me, 12 or 13 of them hang about here most of the time! I finally went back to the trailer excited about my encounter and eager to look at the shots I’d taken. We took the cats for a walk up in among the rocks and saw the sheep often sleep in the caves around the campground due to the copious quantities of sheep poo:) We know that smell of male sheep urine as well, the cats found it all very interesting;) Later in the afternoon I was amazed to see, as well as Gamora who was watching out the window, the entire herd gallop past the back of our trailer between the picnic table and us. Gamora’s eyes were huge!
I had to grab the camera again and follow them as they were now posing on the incredible red rocks right in front of our eyes! They drew a gathering of eager photographers and phone videographers as we all watched them move about the rocks. We could not believe our luck and the magic of these beautiful sheep as they easily jumped from ledge to ledge, without a scramble, just easy strides…until…
…the asshole in the campsite facing us lost control of his dog who started to chase them off, you can not believe the comments and yells coming from the onlookers, mostly R rated for profanity, for once I had to say nothing as the idiot managed to get his large dog under control. He had a visit from the camp hosts ASAP. Later she stopped by and she sighed and said sadly this happens often. They had already warned the guy previously to keep his dog under control as it had lunged at several campers walking by. So one man ruins an amazing experience for everyone else and for the sheep, who didn’t come back for the remainder of our stay…leashes people, I don’t care how well your dog is trained…
The next morning after Kitty walks, turns out they love to scramble among the rocks and explore small caves. I’m always careful to check for any reptiles or spiders before I let them in FYI:) I think this maybe there most favourite stop yet, I have to agree:) And yes, our cats are spoiled;)
We realized how lucky we were to get a spot when nothing opened up the following morning. The trailers, 5th wheels, A,B and C classes and El Monte RV’s circled from dawn to dusk like sharks around their prey to no avail…
We drove up to the White Dome Trail on the end of the road after the visitor Center, it seemed the least populated so we hiked down a narrow trail and past amazing rock formations and colours. The White Domes area was the location for the 1966 movie The Professionals. This western, starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale was typical of the 1960s western genre. It was also responsible for the development of the road and access to this remarkable area. The remains of the site include a small portion of the wall of the hacienda. Star Trek Generations was also filmed here for our Science fiction geek friends…goodbye Kirk;)…was that a bad thing?;)
After the short slot canyon you start to make your way back towards the North. A few wildflowers, Preus’s Milkvetch were blooming along the path as we walked.
We headed back to Myrtle after our walk to rest and get the telescope out. It was almost full moon but still so much to show to anyone who wanted a look. Mike had a good crowd with lots of ooh’s and ah’s but the seeing was not that good but still nice to be outside and looking at the moon, the crater Schickard and the Aristarchus regions, and the Orion nebula.
The next morning we awoke to stormy skies. We headed off to hike to Mouse’s Tank Trail as they said there were small water catchments that might be interesting. It is named ‘The Mouse’s Tank’ because an alleged Southern Paiute Indian renegade named ‘Little Mouse’ hid out there in the 1890’s. He was accused of gunning down two prospectors.
Along the path Side Blotched Lizards were warming themselves in the sun and Painted Lady Butterflies dances along the path. What really caught our eye was a lizard high up on a ledge a couple had pointed him out “A Gila Monster” they said. I wasn’t too sure but wandered up the small rocky area to get a closer look. It was a beautiful Chuckwalla-Sauromalus ater. The generic name, Sauromalus, is a combination of two Ancient Greek words:σαῦρος (sauros) meaning “lizard” and ομαλυς (omalus) meaning “flat”. The common name “chuckwalla” derives from the Shoshone word tcaxxwal or Cahuilla čaxwal, transcribed by Spaniards as chacahuala. These guys are herbivores. They browse on a wide variety of leaves, flowers, buds, and fruit. Insects are also eaten occasionally. They deflate themselves to get into crevices to escape predators and then inflate so they can’t be pulled out, how cool is that!
I sat on the rocks after he went into his crevice and watched as he slowly made his way back out to sunbathe. What a beautiful lizard! I loved his yellowish tail. He sat and watched us, looked like he had Bighorn Sheep neighbours up on the rocks as well, lots of droppings so he was used to company;)
Back at the campground the skies were clouding over and looking stormy late in the day. A short walk from our campsite is Atlatl Rock. An atlatl (at’-lat-l) is a device used for launching a spear; usually a short cord would around the spear so that when thrown into the air the weapon will rotate. The ancient Indians used these weapons and they are depicted in the petroglyphs (rock carvings) located at Atlatl Rock. Here along the path huge boulders have fallen off the cliffs covered with petroglyphs.
Valley of Fire State Park is home to the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Nevada. The petroglyphs located here, have been dated by archaeologists, and some have been found to be over 3,000 years old. The first known inhabitants of the Valley of Fire were the Gypsum People who visited the region 1800-4000 years ago. They were nomadic hunter-gatherer people and it’s believed that travelled here for ceremonial and religious purposes, but never resided permanently. Later groups that spent time in the Valley of Fire were the Basket Makers, the Anasazi Pueblo People who farmed the Moapa Valley, and later the Southern Paiute. The depictions of the sheep were especially beautiful!
The blooms and wildflowers along the trail were beautiful. Occasionally you would wander through a cloud of perfume. I think they are the Shieldpod flowers (Dithyrea californica). They smell heavenly!
The White Tailed Antelope Squirrels in the campground provided lots of entertainment for the cats and us. They dug in their holes and snorffled (is that a word?) about in the bushes as they scampered well ahead of them. There was the usual crew of birds, House Finches and White Crowned Sparrows as well as a lone Canyon Wren singing its heart out.
I had to admit I didn’t want to leave…sigh…so quiet and beautiful. Everything you want in a magical place. Astounding scenery, wildlife at your doorstep…Go. If you are ever passing by this majestic land of rock called Valley Of Fire. You won’t be disappointed. Saludos amigos and stay tuned….for the Extraterrestrial Highway….the truth is out there!