La Quinta Red Rock/Summerlin Motel has morning golden biscuits that melt in my mouth and soothe the raging breakfast beast within. Fact is, I highly recommended this motel away from the Las Vegas Strip. Our queen bedded room has a hide-a-bed couch for relaxing and a full kitchen with counter, flatware, and silverware. Two or three times a day we soak in the outside Jacuzzi.
Raring to hike 55 miles to the northeast, we escape Las Vegas by 9A in light traffic through a highway system designed to move the gambling public. With no interest in the terrible odds for winning at slot machines or the smoky atmosphere at the blackjack tables (who else still allows smoking inside a public place!!), we drive north on I-15 heading for the Valley of Fire State Park near Lake Mead.
In these wide open spaces, the 75 mph speed limit acts as a suggestion as we cruise at 80 miles per hour to exit 75. There at the truck stop advertising a casino, liquor, and a smoke shop, we take the shoulderless Valley of Fire Road through the treeless desert landscape of scrub brush and miles of sand. You would not want to break down here as there are no services and a climate only a lizard would love; and, of course, Mainers escaping the snow and cold of New England.
Gladly supporting the state of Nevada, we pony up $10 to enter the Valley of Fire State Park, named for the red sandstone throughout the park. Contrasting with the green (and much of the winter white) of New England, the landscape welcomes us to a quiet part of our country.
At the visitor center, the volunteer behind the counter suggests that we drive to the end of the six mile scenic road and start our hiking at White Domes. With an average of four inches of rain per year, Valley of Fire has summer highs well north of 100F.
The Mouse Tanks Road (Mouse was an outlaw who used this area as his hideout) climbs among red rock canyons into the high desert. Ahead, we see a Nevada State trooper’s squad car angled across the road. As we slow, he waves us by and we wonder what gives? A mile down the road another trooper has us slow again; I wind down the window and learn that the Ford Motor Company is filming a commercial with the spectacular red rock background.
This winding narrow two lane road under Arizona skies (brilliant blue without a cloud anywhere) has us spotting other seniors in RVs and SUVs. The White Domes trailhead has room for 20 cars and sheltered picnic tables.
Trails throughout the Valley of Fire are short and sweet, maybe a mile or so. The White Domes Trail has red rock sand that we don’t sink into like we would at a beach. Heading into the wilderness on a well-marked trail, we descend on sandstone steps to ease the steepest points.
Our son Will would love scrambling the rocks above us to our right and left. This one mile loop trail bears right through “the narrows” sandy bottom canyon wall. Aware that there is the Prospect Trail off this loop, we look for it to get an extra mile or two of hiking to reach our goal of three hours of hiking today.
We wonder about the protocol for passing other hikers when the trail is wide enough for only one? Deferential by nature, when in the lead, Hannah always steps aside. The male in me figures there are other guidelines. I step aside for those older than us. I expect dog owners to step aside as they approach, which they usually do. I think those climbing up have the right of way.
In 30 minutes, we return to the trailhead never having seen the Prospect Trail. Checking out the trailhead map we see that the Prospect heads through a river bed; Hannah suggests we retrace our steps and do the loop in reverse. With no signage directing us, we venture around a large sandstone cliff and spot this sign.
Unmarked trails are not Hannah and Dan hiking. We like well-marked trails with company so we can be reasonably assured we are not lost. There is no joy in being uncertain whether we are on the trail or not. That said, we decide to explore further for fifteen minutes, always aware of the way back to the White Domes Loop Trail. The elevation gain is at most a couple of hundred feet and the sand and sandstone are easy on our feet.
Returning to the scenic drive back that will take us back to the visitor center, there are other side trails that we can take. We choose the Fire Wave Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip) through the desert and along the sandstone rock formations. My hiker’s hat blocks the full sun and we never think once of what we are missing in February, the snowiest winter in Maine since the Ice Age.
Hiking midday has its advantages – we have had a leisurely motel breakfast with Sports Center and the USA Today; it’s also warmer. What is not great is the light for picture taking; we miss the morning and late afternoon brilliant sandstone reds.
As we drive back towards the visitor center, we take twenty minutes to see the petroglyphs of the Mouse Tank Trail. Though we haven’t hiked many miles, we are ready for our 90 miles of driving back to I-95 through Nevada and Arizona to St. George, Utah, where will stay free, thanks to credit card points we’ve earned through Choice Privileges.
Our Comfort Inn at St. George, UT has us poolside for our evening Dos Equis, a Jacuzzi for a late soak, and ESPN2 for some VCU basketball v. Richmond. All the comforts of home and none of the snow.