But Not In Las Vegas
Sarah Cahlan | Photographs By Michael Marqaund
Fourth of July is not just America’s Independence Day, but also the one day out of the year that you get to shoot off fireworks, shout, without restraint, ‘AMERICA!’ over and over and over again and finally where that American flag hat that you bought last Fourth.
It’s also the perfect day to explore a state park. What better way to show the love of one’s country than in local parks?
For those spending the long weekend in the pools at the Mirage, put down the yardstick and drive one-hour northeast. Get out of Las Vegas and see nature’s color show; I promise that isn’t the name of a new all nude Cirque Show.
Centuries in the making, The Valley of Fire has perfected the curved burnt orange sandstones that give the park its name -- originally coined by an AAA official driving at sunset who exclaimed that the valley seemed to be on fire.
Even with a name that sounds like the latest Wes Craven flick, The Valley of Fire is not as well-known as nearby state parks. According to America’s State Parks 2014-2015 Statistical Report, California has 88 state parks, Oregon 53 and Washington 90. Nevada has 13. Nevada’s 3 million visitors are four percent of California’s. Oregon welcomed over 50 million, and Washington over 33 million. It’s difficult to compete when you're bordered by state parks with the tallest trees on Earth.
Although Nevada park visitors are a fraction of other western states, numbers have grown over the past two decades. Since 1991, a million more campers, hikers, and state park enthusiasts have ventured to the parks in the ‘heart of the golden west.'
The park is set to see an even greater volume of visitors, mostly kids, with the recent passage of Assembly Bill 385, “Kids in Parks.” The bill will be an extension of the national policy of free state park passes for fourth graders. “Kids in Parks” will give fifth graders free passes, as well.
“The goal is to give young people an opportunity to become accustomed to parks to enjoy the outdoors and “get them outside and more active,” reported the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Encouraging kids to visit the parks has “always been part of our mission,” said Jenny Ramella, Public Information Officer at the Division of State Parks (DSP). “It’s really important,” she continued.
Along with the new bill, DSP’s constant push for young visitors aligned with their updated website launched in December. Included in the cleaner site is a section just for kids and educators. ‘Learn’ hosts activities like wildlife guides, the Junior Ranger Program, and birding checklists. The Valley of Fire Wildlife Guide includes animals like coyotes and house finches that kids might encounter while on their trip.
These initiatives enable the younger generations and their elders an incentive to explore parks like the Valley of Fire. And they should. The landscape is like a Martian desert. The petroglyphs etched on the canyons and caves tell stories of natives who survived the harsh terrain.
There’s also Mouse’s Tank in Petroglyph Canyon, the hideout of “Little Mouse” a Paiute Indian in the 1890s accused of killing two prospectors. He was gunned down in 1897.
Visitors can camp, picnic and hike trails ranging from easy 2-3 miles to 8-mile open desert hikes. Aspiring geologists can step back in time to the Jurassic period, walking on the same sand that the dinosaurs roamed. Historians can meet with park rangers to trace the history of the receding sea waters to the rising of the land, to the occupation of native tribes, all the way to the opening of the park (Nevada's first) on Easter 1934.
So for this Fourth, visit Valley of Fire, preferably in the early morning or late evening and view a new kind of fire at work.