What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exuper
I spent Christmas this year in the Mojave Desert like I often do. However this year, instead of going to my usual haunt, Anza Borrego State Park in California, I ventured out to the Nevada Desert. Two old friends were celebrating their 35th Wedding Anniversary in Las Vegas and I was planning to attend the affair. So I was looking for somewhere to camp, hike and explore closer to Las Vegas. My research led me to try and get an open camping spot in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
I believe that they are starting campsite reservations, but as of December, camp sites were first come first served. I figured since I was going in on Friday around noon, a couple of days before Christmas I’d be ok. As I approached the gate for the park my heart dropped, there were a line of cars for the park that was easily 30 or 40 cars long. I couldn’t believe it! Sitting in the line and looking at the cars, and it was mostly cars, I didn’t see what looked like packed cars for camping trips. The park is only about a 45 minute drive outside of Vegas so I started hoping that these were people off work, or tourists looking for a pretty afternoon of sightseeing, it also convinced me that I would certainly be heading for Arches, the more primitive and least popular of the two campgrounds.
A half-hour later when I finally got to the gate I asked the ranger if there were still campsites available, his answer was, “I think there are a few primitive sites available.” That absolutely sealed I’d be heading for the Arches campground. Happily, I think what the ranger meant was there were only a few spots in the more modern campground with electrical and RV sites. Because when I pulled into the Arches campground the lower campground was nearly empty and the upper sites were only about half full. I picked a site overlooking the lower campground but still close to the comfort station. The campground was nice and simple, surrounding by fabulous rock formations and a lovely view of the valley. The rock formations, much like fluffy clouds, are perfect for seeing different types of shapes in the rocks. Around my site I could see turtles, gorillas and crazy lizard faces in the rocks. For all but the last night, I had no neighbors so it was incredibly peaceful. There were afternoons lying in my hammock where I didn’t hear a man-made noise for an hour or more and nights were incredibly quiet.
Well, except for the first night. The campground had gravel roads, the kind of crunchy gravel roads where every step goes, crunch, crunch, crunch. So you could hear someone walking from a long way off. The first night I fell asleep blissfully and about four in the morning I was suddenly woken up by what sounded like a truck driving into my campsite and coming to run me over. I woke up with a shout and suddenly everything was quiet. As I gathered my wits it suddenly hit me what it might have been, what was so loud and was now silent. So I rolled over and slowly unzipped the flap of my tent and right in front of me was a one-hundred and fifty pound big horn sheep and several of its friends. I said hello and it bleated and they thundered off out of my campsite. I love bighorn sheep and have seen many in Anza Borrego over the years. And I’ve always wanted to get a photo of them standing up on the ridgeline, thank you Valley of Fire for making my desire a reality.
The pattern that happens in Valley of Fire State Park at least during the Christmas holiday works perfectly with the way I camp. The park, being so close to Vegas, starts to fill up at about 11AM and gets crowded around 3 or 4 PM. Typically when camping I’m up early, I like to get out and hike early and so most days I was coming off trails about the time the crowds started coming in. After lunch I like to chill out and read, lay in my hammock and just chill out before making dinner and setting a fire for the night to sit by and look at the stars.
The one complaint that I have about Valley of Fire is that the hiking trails are terribly marked. I’m a very experienced hiker who has hiked literally all over the world. I got lost twice on very short tourist trails. There was never any danger, the trails were short and I could dead reckon my way back to the parking lots, but even when I was pretty far off trail there were lots of footprints. I wonder how many tourists with little experience end up badly sunburned, dehydrated or worse in the hotter months of the year.
My five days in the park were wonderful. I’d bought a new camp stove as a Christmas present to myself so I did some wonderful camp meals. I’ve typically been a minimalist on this front so it was a bit of a luxury for me. The weather was wonderful, 60 degree sunny days and warmer than expected nights with temps in the 40’s instead of the 20’s I’d been expecting. It was incredibly relaxing and just what I needed, and yes there are photos, enjoy! ~ Rev Kane
Gorgeous photos! Are those blue sky pics without a filter? Woke up to snow here in Ithaca…but you know January in upstate NY, don’t you?!
A little post editing but a pretty realistic representation of the skies out there. And yes, I do know upstate NY on January, it’s whyvI live in CA.