The recent holiday found us meeting my parents in, of all places, Las Vegas! People that don’t know me very well will wax on about the “shows”, the spectacle on “The Strip”, late night Texas Hold ’em battles, etc. while I sit patiently, rolling my eyes and look for the closest exit. People that actually know me might ask if I “sent any gnarly projects”, or wonder about the crowds at “The Gallery”. I’ll be honest, I kind of detest Las Vegas. You can have the crowds, lights, noise, overpriced shows and second-hand smoke. I reach saturation a few minutes after leaving the airport.
Well, last week, I managed to avoid the spectacle that is “Vegas” (as much as I could, considering we were camped out at Sam’s Town Casino). Before last week, the only reason I had to go to Las Vegas was to head straight to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Red Rocks) and climb until the prints were worn off my fingertips. Being that we only had 2 full days, and the main purpose of this trip was to catch up with the family, we didn’t bring climbing gear. Instead, we loaded up the parents, and spent as many waking moments as possible out in the desert, scrounging around for traces of prehistory.
On Wednesday, after grabbing a sandwich to go at the casino Subway (yes, that was our one option at Sam’s), we drove out to Red Rocks. Just below the top of the loop drive, we pulled into the Quarry parking lot. From there we walked out to a very large prehistoric roasting pit, just up the wash, to the left, from the parking area. Large, circular areas of fire-cracked limestone; the roasting pits were used to roast/bake a variety of foods from desert tortoise to agave hearts. These fairly conspicuous features can be seen both above the wash, near the Quarry parking lot, and in the Willow Springs picnic area. There is also an interesting pictograph/petroglyph panel in the vicinity of the Willow Springs parking area – just follow the signed trail. These features possibly date back to the archaic “Pinto/Gypsum” tradition dating from 3,500 B.C. to 1A.D.
Thursday, again after a trip through Subway for sandwiches, we drove east on I-15 for about an hour to the Moapa Travel Plaza Exit. From there, it’s an easy 15 miles or so to the West Entrance to the Valley of Fire State Park. And, yes, the park is open on Thanksgiving day. What I hadn’t seen yet, and had been meaning to check out, were the thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs located in the park, only an hour east of town! Sites here have been dated between 300 B.C. to 1150 A.D. and possibly older. The narrow canyon leading to “Mouse’s Tank” contains one of the highest concentrations of petroglyphs I’ve seen in one place. Think Sand Island, Newspaper Rock, Horseshoe Canyon and The Procession Panel – linked together.
If you find yourself in Las Vegas, have ingested enough secondhand smoke, and need some peace and quiet, I’d recommend a day (or more) at Valley of Fire. You’ll find quiet, private campsites, a well done, informative visitor center and a long weekend’s worth of desert hiking. Bring your camera and binoculars. Some of the rock art panels are up high and you’ll want magnification. A side-note to fellow Star Trek fans: This is the place where Captain Kirk died in Star Trek Generations!
For more info on Red Rocks or Valley of Fire, check out the following links: