Quackgrass Sally: On the Trail 9-30-13
October 21, 2013
If you are in the mood to do a bit of walking and you want to explore an interesting site, then Nevada’s Valley of Fire is a dandy choice. Located 6 miles from Lake Mead and about 55 miles NE of Las Vegas, this State park is the largest and oldest in Nevada. Dedicated as a National Landmark in 1968, this 42,000 acre park has one of the best examples of Petroglyph Rock Art in America. I learned that it can be a warm hike on a hot summer day but if you pick a cooler afternoon, I guarantee it to be a great chance to enjoy a unique spot where unusual land formations and history mingle.
The Valley of Fire gets its name from the red sandstone rock formations that fill the region. Here, over millions of years ago, the canyon landscape evolved into the present day wind-carved rock features. Ancient peoples have traveled and stayed in this valley since prehistoric times, including the Anasazi, but because of the scarcity of water in the area, they didn’t stay for any length of time. I found it interesting that even in this waterless canyon, they took the time to decorated the sandstone walls with artwork.
As I wandered down one narrow sandy draw, I noticed small park signs, identifying the different types of common native plants found in the area. I learned that the creosote and the brittle bush grow wide apart, due to the low moisture content of the ground. Here too, several types of cactus grow, along with the desert marigold, and I heard I the blooms in the springtime are spectacular.
The narrow sandy trail grew deeper as I walked and I noticed that each visitor before me had left shoe tracks in the sand. Mingled among the human tracks, I saw the tiny trails left by the lizards that populate the rocks in the canyon … little tail lines between toe marks that ran from bush to bush, reminding me that the desert is not without life.
All along the rising red canyon walls, I noticed dark images carved onto the face of the rocks. Circles, diamonds, curvy lines and stars could be easily seen, along with several types of deer, goat and elk figures. Petroglyph art, drawn high above my head, far beyond reach and I marveled at how ancient artist managed to decorate the massive walls. More then once, I heard visitors comment on the wide variety of images carved into the rock and wondering what they represented … what story they meant to convey. It is truly a marvel and indeed well worth the hike.
I headed on up the canyon, toward the famous “ Mouses Tank,” an inaccessible canyon where a famous Southern Paiute Indian outlaw from the 1890s would hide out. The “tank” is an area where an ancient stream carved a hidden basin, which could trap and hold water even during long dry spells. All along, more rock art decorated the canyon walls, some faint but most still easily seen. I found it interesting that the images were often carved in a darker layer of rock, showing white, as well as the red color. Here human-like carvings held hands together in a line and I wondered if this same canyon had heard the drums of dancing thousands of years ago.
A short drive from the canyon, stands three native stone buildings called the “Cabins.” Built not long after the Park was opened in 1935 by the CCC, the stone cabins were used by visitors to camp in. They are preserved today as a reminder of the work the CCC accomplished in Nevada and I have to believe that anyone who had stayed in those cabins years ago, came away with a new respect for not only the ancient peoples who visited the valley, but those who came and built this outstanding state park. I truly feel lucky that we today can still enjoy the wonder of the Valley of Fire. ❖