We've been to Valley of Fire, gosh, I don't know, maybe five times—six, counting this one—over the last 15 years. I've always thought it pretty and outrageously out of place in an otherwise sparse and dull volcanic landscape. The five mile "scenic drive" is a serpentine ribbon of ink-black asphalt, it hugs the lay of the land—heaves, lulls, and weaves through dry sand washes between jumbled mounds of Martian-like red rock. In the early days you could pull off and park any old place and strike out blindly across the pocked and pimpled topography, which, of course, just happens to be our specialty. It always adds a Lewis and Clark "lost and found" element, and great expectations of uncovering something seldom eyed. There is wonder, too, of whether a loop can be made… and if so, will you be able to find the car? In todays world one must seek out the unexpected; rarely does it just fall into a rested lap. If and when it does fall into lap, their will likely be a party going on at trail's end.
The first couple-three times in Valley of Fire we chanced into some pretty rugged and remote places… jumped a wild-eyed herd of Bighorn Sheep once, then found a wicked slot canyon that I can't seem to find again for the life of me. That's the price paid when one goes wandering trail-less in country that, at first, second, and third glance, all looks the same.
As BCB regulars well know, I hold red rock in high esteem; it warms me through and through on the coldest days… from the inside out, like a microwave oven. In fact, I'd wager my Social Security check against yours that at any given time a cumulative cup of Utah's red sand could be garnered from under the insoles of my various and sundry collection of size 14 hiking boots. So it was with great and familiar pleasure that I added Valley Of Fire to a growing list of happy places—fiery landscapes like Moab, Canyonlands, Capital Reef… Zion! All red, yet each subtly unique in qualities, charm, personality… weather, elevation, geology.
A few years ago traveling pals Maikel and Susan Wise of Two Wise One's fame mentioned that there was more to Valley of Fire than red rocks. Really? Do tell us more… and where! We were so impressed with their discovery that we wallowed around in it for three days. Such candy.
But this time around I actually considered skipping past Valley of Fire; we've been there/done that, not to mention it costs ten bucks per day. We ended up boondocked along Lake Mead a couple of miles from the entrance. The next day was windy, so we payed the Govie Piper his due in hopes to wandering in a sheltered wash. We picked a familiar one… colorful, and deep enough to avoid some of the wind gusts. Well, that didn't work out. Our eyes, ears, and mouths collected dust and grit enough to grow corn.
It wasn't long till I'd had enough. "We've seen this on better days," I said to Bobbie, grinding away at the grit between teeth. We hung the next left into an adjoining wash in hopes of getting some of the blowing sand out of our faces.
Not 300 yards, things began to get interesting. Our new wash sprouted unlikely colors and ragged formations. It slotted and split off several times, but we stayed with the most colorful route and pressed on. Even in high-noon's horrid flat light, the maze was ablaze. Lord have mercy, mine eyes bled. Glorious tangerines, sweet hues of lavender, hot spicy mustard, passionate purple, burnt umber… uranium yellow-cake. It was far from boring old red rock. I'm here to tell you, if you're willing to wander hill, dale, and wash, there are hidden treasures waiting to be found in Valley of Fire. The higher we climbed the better it got. We ended up making a giant loop, of course… and yes, we were lost for a while.
Funny how a random turn works out sometimes. I'm not sure if I could find that same wash again, but I'll try. I think little old Valley of Fire holds a few more surprises. If not, well, we like the old finds good enough. Ten bucks well spent :)