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Hiking near Las Vegas: Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park

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Las Vegas may be known for its gambling, shows and bright lights, but Mother Nature has created a star attraction in the desert just an hour drive away – Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park.

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Fire Wave is a place where colorful striations have formed to create a “wave-like” pattern in the rocks. “The Wave” near Page, Arizona, is the most famous of the “wave-like” rock formations, but “Fire Wave” is also an incredible place of color and lines and you don’t need a permit, like you do at “The Wave.”

Valley of Fire State Park is northeast of Las Vegas (directions below). At the Visitor’s Center, pick up a map. However, as of March 2014, Fire Wave was not listed on the map, but that’s ok, because I’ve got the directions.

Take the scenic drive toward Mouse’s Tanks and White Domes. Pass Mouse’s Tanks, Rainbow Vista and the turnoff to Fire Canyon – you can visit these spots on the way back. I highly recommend getting to Fire Wave as early as possible, so you won’t have to tell with crowds or bus tours at the site.

At parking lot #3, yes, there’s a parking area with a sign that says, simply, “Parking Lot #3,” find a space and cross the road. Here you’ll find a sign that says “Fire Wave.” While the sign says the hike is 0.6 miles, my GPS registered .75 miles each way, plus you’ll add more distance walking around. The sign says to follow “the markers.” The markers in this case are brown markers in the ground with yellow reflective tape at the top. These markers are spaced along the trail and lead you all the way to “Fire Wave.”

The trail starts as a soft, sandy trail through the desert. You’ll start by walking toward a large rock formation. When you get to the rock formation, the trail turns right and meanders around the formation, then continues south. As you pass the first rocks in the area, look around, you may notice some colorful patterns.

Soon, you’ll be walking on rock as you cover an open area. Note, there is just one shady area on this path, so you’ll want to avoid this trail on a hot afternoon. About 0.6 miles from the parking lot, a metal sign appears pointing visitors to the parking lot and the wave trail. Keep following the markers as you now climb a small rise. As you walk through this next section, check out all the rocks. Some look volcanic, but most of the dark rocks look very out of place in this place of pink, red and white rocks.

Suddenly, you’ll drop over another rise and there it is. The swirls of reddish, pink and white rock. Fire Wave isn’t very big, maybe 100 yards long, but it’s neat to see. There are domes, valleys and an open area of swirling colors. You’ll want to walk around and really explore this place, taking photos from several different angles. Walk in the valley between the rocks, take photos from the north, south, east and west. Walk around the entire formation, down into the desert to see even different colors on the road-side of the formation. Look across the road at the colors and swirls on the rocks there and try to frame a photo or two with the Fire Wave and those formations in the backgrounds.

Sit here for a few minutes and just take in the fascinating scenery.

When you’re done exploring, please use the same trail to exit. For years, rangers and guides didn’t divulge the details of how to reach this place because they wanted to protect it and the surrounding landscape. Please respect this place and do not take rocks or walk on the plants or off-trail.

Details: The hike to Fire Wave and back is about 1.5 miles, but expect a little more mileage from exploring around the formations.

Directions, current admission fees and more on the park's website: http://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire-state-park/

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