Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park is one of the most stunning landscapes in America. With close to 50,000 acres of preserved land, the park was the first to be established by the State of Nevada in 1935. Today, as in years past, visitors flock here to observe a pristine desert environment rich in ancestral reminders and stunning rock formations. Located only 45 miles northeast of Las Vegas, it is a pleasant day trip for anyone looking to escape city life or Strip life for a few hours.
Entrance to the park is via Valley of Fire Road, a Nevada Scenic Parkway which will lead you off of Interstate 15 at the Moapa Band of Southern Piute tribal reservation. The road winds 15 miles until entering the park boundaries. Visitors are not aware of the long history of the road which they traverse.
Native habitation of the area we now call Valley of Fire goes back at least 4000 years. The ancient peoples probably never lived here for extended periods, but used it for hunting and religious purposes. Undoubtedly, they had trails crisscrossing the valley, especially leading from their homelands along the Virgin and Muddy Rivers. When Spanish settlers began to seek trading routes north of the Grand Canyon from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and into California, they followed the rivers and passes and traveled over many of the established Native trails. Later, we came to know these trails as The Spanish Trail. The main branches of this route did not go through today’s Valley of Fire (but skirted it to the east along the Colorado River), but certainly some of the explorers would have entered the area on the old Native trails. As members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) began to settle the area, an established route of travel was recognized from St. Thomas, NV to Las Vegas, NV and passed directly through Valley of Fire. This route became one of the branches known as The Mormon Trail, a leading route for settlers passing through to California.
As methods of travel improved in the early 1900’s with the introduction of the automobile, residents of Las Vegas established the Arrowhead Trail Highway Association in 1916 with a purpose of creating the first all-weather highway connecting Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. During this set-up period (1915 – 1916), the trail gained national headlines when race car driver Charles Henry Bigelow began to travel the route, each time attempting to set new speed records. A Los Angeles native, Mr. Bigelow was one of the first racers entered in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in the year 1911.
In 1926 – US Route 91 was established and took most of the automobile travel east of the present park boundaries. Today that route is essentially Interstate 15.