Valley of Fire SP
Dec 3-4, 2021
December 3 — My 64th Birthday
We’re up very early to load Big Blue. We make many trips down the elevator and across the parking lot, carrying armloads. Doug has an early dental appointment to get his crown re-glued. Again. Another temporary fix.
Doug will have to eat Very Carefully until has he more extensive dental work. We need to figure out when and where to get that done. Clearly we have decisions to make, but first we need to get out of this city! Big Blue lumbers out of Las Vegas.
Valley of Fire State Park
We drive northeast to Valley of Fire SP. (We intended to camp here over Thanksgiving.) Google says the trip will take 45 minutes, but it takes us 2 hours. That’s not unusual. We drive slowly along back roads.
It’s a relief to be in open space again. Eventually we spy the red rocks of Valley of Fire.
There are two campgrounds and both of them are nearly empty. We choose a site at Arch Rock. Near the rest room, I notice a bighorn sheep with enormous horns. For a moment I think he’s a statue.
He’s clearly in no hurry, just hanging around a water spout. We get out the folding chairs and enjoy his company.
Since it’s my birthday, I look forward to connecting with my mother and daughters today. Strangely, my phone is silent. When I try to call my mom, I realize why. We have no cell service.
On the way into the park, Doug noticed a cell tower near the ranger station. So we take down the camp which we just set up, and drive quite a distance.
As soon as we park near the ranger station, my phone pings with a voicemail from my mother. When I hear her voice wishing me a Happy Birthday, I burst into tears. I feel very sorry for myself. The whole week in Las Vegas was disappointing, but last night’s celebratory meal — with a suddenly toothless dinner companion — had really “crowned” it!
After I cry for a while, Doug says, “I know you’re upset, but there are three bighorn sheep watching you right now.”
And there they are, just a stone’s throw from the truck: Three sheep lying in a row, their curly horns angled toward me. The sight makes me gasp and then laugh. For some reason — maybe their curls and impassive expressions — they remind me of choir ladies with perms.
We watch them until it’s too dark to see.
Back at camp, Doug gets out the propane grill. On the day he lost his crown the first time, we ate only half the birthday provisions. So now he cooks the remaining ribeye steak and heats a twice-baked potato. He also has a leftover baguette from Mon Ami Gabi. He slices and butters that and puts it on the grill.
We eat very slowly. In order to preserve his glued-in crown, Doug has to insert every forkful past his front teeth.
December 4 — Mapping Our Plans
The next morning we work out a plan — since we’re headed to Reno for Christmas, why not get Doug’s dental work done there? To avoid Las Vegas we can go north on Route 93, to Great Basin NP, then head west on Route 50.
We’ll need cell service before we can find a dentist who takes his insurance. Meanwhile we have a park to explore.
We stop at Atlatl Rock to see petroglyphs. It’s no hike, just some stairs to climb.
We drive a bit and stop to see some petrified trees, which are fenced off. A small group of quail scrabbles around. I find quail particularly enchanting, with their bobbing headdresses.
I notice that as soon as my foot strikes the trail, I feel a surge of well-being.
We drive a bit more and stop to see some formations called the Beehives. Since we were never given a map of the park, I spend some time studying the map by the Beehives.
As I’m engrossed, a white guy about my age approaches. He asks if I’ve been to the Visitor Center, saying there are some great short hikes in that area, which he recommends. But he also asks a lot of personal questions — how long we’ve been on the road and where we’re staying. I get a bad vibe. I notice he has a female partner who hangs back. Should I worry about her safety? A moment later he’s chatting with someone else. I tell myself he’s probably just extraverted.
Next stop is the Visitor Center, which is unexpectedly nice, with many interesting exhibits. I read all about the past human inhabitants, beginning with the Gypsum people (whom I had not heard about before), then the Basketmakers, Anasazi, Paiute, and Spanish conquistadors.
There’s also an exhibit about geology. Once again I contemplate the differences between sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock. Clearly this will be a lifelong conundrum. Every time I get the distinctions straight, I immediately forget them.
White Domes Hike
We opt to drive to the furthest northern point of the park to do a hike called White Domes. The road leading there is gorgeous. Doug and I remark on the range of colors, which includes a plum purple, as well as lemon yellow, coral pink, and deep red. (The photo doesn’t do it justice!)
The White Domes hike is a loop, a little over a mile long. We take it slowly. At the outset we pass between huge, rounded white rocks (hence the name). Then there’s some rock scrambling down into a canyon. Along the way we spy a couple lizards, including the largest one we’ve seen so far, maybe 8 inches long.
Another fun thing about this hike is that it’s part of Hollywood history. We explore the remnants of a movie set. A few scenes from “Electric Horseman” may have been filmed here — that movie impressed Doug in college.
We also get to navigate a slot canyon, always a treat.
After the hike, we fix a late lunch of sandwiches, then drive north on Route 93. We have no idea what we’ll discover or where we’ll sleep tonight.
Next time: Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.