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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Valley of Fire was Hot Hot Hot! Literally!

Anasazi Petroglyphs @ Atlatl Rock
The Valley of Fire State Park
One of the best things about living in Las Vegas is the fact that we are surrounded by natural beauty. Within one hour drive in any direction we can be in the middle of nowhere. Away from the spectacle of the Strip, Southern Nevada is a bounty for anyone looking to explore the outdoors. Whether you like hiking, climbing, biking, or boating we are an outdoor wonderland waiting to be explored. Growing up in the deserts of the Southwest have earned me the coveted title of "desert-rat", so the more I go and explore the more enamored I become with the beauty of the desert.

This past Sunday my good friend Dr. Laura Henkel and I decided to take a much needed road trip. I decided on the Valley of Fire State Park since it has been years since I visited the place and it would be a first for Dr. Laura. The state park is situated about 50 miles east of Las Vegas off the I-15, exit 75, at the entrance to the Moapa Indian reservation. Depending on how fast you drive you can make it to the park in about 40 minutes. There is a $10 dollar per car entrance fee to get into the park but the money goes to a good cause.  With new roads, delineated paths, information kiosks, clean restrooms and nice picnic areas this tells me that any money raised to support the park is money well spent.

The park was established in 1934 as Nevada's first state park. Aptly named the Valley of Fire because of the spectacular sandstone formations that dot the landscape, the area is a treasure trove of Geology and pre-history. Created millions of years ago by geological uplifting, earthquakes and erosion, the park offers amazing vistas of bright red sandstone, yellow limestone, the greenery of desert vegetation, amazing Petroglyphs created by the Anasazi peoples that inhabited the area and plenty of wildlife.

While a student of Anthropology at the Community College of Southern Nevada and later at UNLV I visited the area often to take notes for my archaeology classes. Considering the beauty and natural bounty of the area it is no wonder that the Basket Maker peoples and later the Anasazi inhabited the area (300 BCE to 1200CE). The Anasazi who created amazing monumental architecture all throughout the four corners area of the United States even left their mark in an area that is considered the Westernmost extent of these people. Not just did they settle the fertile areas along the banks of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers but they left their amazing Petroglyphs all throughout the park. Petroglyphs left at Atlatl Rock and Mouse's Tank are dramatic examples of this amazing art form.

Paco @ Mouse's Tank
Though the temperatures at the park were reaching close to 110 degrees, a bit warm even for an ardent desert-rat like myself, every little bit of shade we were able to find gave us a small respite from the warmth. The best place to cool off of course was the nicely air-conditioned Visitors Center. Chock-full of very informative and well curated exhibits it gives you just enough background to understand the importance of this area. The center is also a great location to sit down, look out the window and see dozens of ground squirrels running back and forth as they try to capture seeds from a bird feeder. In addition the center even has a place to fill up with cool refreshing water as you continue on your trek throughout the park.

As Dr. Laura and I continued our way out of the park toward the Lake Mead National Recreation Area we ran into the dirt road toward the remains of St. Thomas. St. Thomas was a town settled by the Mormons along the banks of the Muddy River in 1865. Though the town was abandoned by the Mormons in 1871 it was resettled shortly thereafter. By the 1930's the town inhabitants were forced to leave due to the rising waters of Lake Mead that threatened to submerge the settlement under several feet of water. Today, because of the severe drought that has left the lake well below its crest many of the towns buildings foundations can still be seen and easily accessed. The town site is a National Historic Landmark and is protected by law, so picking up artifacts and using metal detectors are strictly prohibited.

After trekking several miles off road to St. Thomas in my trusted little Nissan and with the heat really beginning to bare-down on us we were ready for some nosh and something cold to drink. Knowing that the historic town of Overton was just a few miles away we decided to check out some of the local fare. Passing the Lost City Museum which we would come back to after we ate lunch, we decided to stop and eat where the locals dine. The Inside Scoop one of the few local eateries in the area with the exception of the "Mc-Dowels" across the street, is an amazing little diner. Not just did they have an amazingly extensive menu full of sandwiches, burgers, salads and other dishes, but they are an ice-cream shop to boot! The young woman at the counter was delightfully nice, the tuna fish sandwich I had was fresh and tasty and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant was small town America at its best. I will tell you this that The Inside Scoop alone is worth the drive to Overton. My only regret was not taking a photo of the joint to share with you!

After we left The Inside Scoop completely satisfied, we drove back to the Lost City Museum. The museum was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is the oldest museum in Clark County. The museums exhibits are full of information about the Anasazi and other Native Americans that inhabited the area. The museum also has a full archaeological dig inside and lots of amazing artifacts. It also serves as an art gallery with the art of many locals throughout. Outside the museum there is a re-creation of an Anasazi Pueblo that you can walk into and explore.

Anasazi Pueblo @
The Lost City Museum
Looking back, I actually never get tired of visiting these old haunts over and over again. Why? Because I always end up discovering something new every time I return. If you want to take a trip out of Vegas for a few hours and see the wilderness that surrounds the glitz and spectacle of the Strip take a drive to the Valley of Fire, St. Thomas, Lake Mead and most definitely the Inside Scoop in Overton. For the day will be full of adventure at every sandstone turn...

For more information -

Valley of Fire State Park

Lost City Museum 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The Inside Scoop
395 Moapa Valley Blvd
Overton, NV 89040
(702) 397-2055
(photos by Brian Paco Alvarez)

Brian Paco Alvarez enculturating Las Vegas into the millennium...

posted by Brian Paco Alvarez, Curator and Chronicler of Culture at


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