A day trip from Vegas: Valley of Fire & St. George, Utah

For the past several summers, our family has gone to Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada to visit relatives and experienced the family-friendly side of the area.  We’ve sampled chocolate at the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, seen  a performance of Gregory Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theater, learned about Las Vegas history at the Clark County Museum, saw movies, went swimming and splashed at a splash pad. Besides the pet theater, we haven’t spent much time on the Las Vegas strip, which is pretty much the only part of Vegas that I saw before having kids.

This summer, we decided to take a little day trip. The kids get really excited to visit new states so we decided to spend a little time in Utah. We picked the closest city we could find to the Nevada border, which was St. George, Utah, and after learning about the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site and we decided to make that our destination. Apparently there are lots of great hiking spots in the St. George, but it was in the middle of the summer and was supposed to hit around 100 degrees so that didn’t seem like a good option.

Since our overall trip was only for a few days and included a drive from Phoenix to Vegas and back again, we didn’t want to do a large stretch of driving so I looked for a stop in between Henderson and St. George. It ended up being the perfect spot: Valley of Fire State Park.

Here’s a little information about the park from its website:

Valley of Fire is located in the Mojave Desert approximately 58 miles Northeast of the Las Vegas Strip.  Valley of Fire is the oldest Nevada State Park and was dedicated in 1935.  Valley of Fire State Park covers an area of approximately 35,000 acres.  Valley of Fire was named for the magnificent red sandstone formations that were formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of the dinosaurs more than 150 million years ago (Mesozoic Era).  These brilliant sandstone formations can appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays.  Other important rock formations include limestone, shale, and conglomerates.

Valley of Fire is marked as Nevada Historical Marker #150 (Nevada’s First State Park).  Valley of Fire Road is the main road through the park.  The 10.5 mile (16.9 km) road connects the east and west entrances of the park and was designated as a Nevada Scenic Byway in 1995.

It doesn’t look like much when you first drive in, but after a few twists and turns in the road, the red rocks come into view and it’s simply beautiful. We hadn’t planned to do much hiking because of the high temperatures, but we stopped at the Beehives stop, which had some incredible rocks you could climb on.


We had packed some sandwiches, so we went to the visitor’s center and ate at the indoor tables outside the lobby and had a lovely conversation with a woman visiting from out of town who was exploring the area as part of a solo road trip to a wedding. Inside we looked at some of the exhibits that explained the history of the park, as well as geology and ecology. There was also a tarantula.

Then it was off to Utah.

The highway wound through the top of Arizona and the drive through the canyons was fitting for the week of the Fourth of July – America the Beautiful, indeed.

The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is a site where dinosaur fossils were discovered in 2000 on the land of optometrist Sheldon Johnson. He and his wife ended up setting up a foundation and worked to preserve the site. Today, it’s a museum that tells the story of the region’s history and the early inhabitants of the area. My 9-year-old son and his cousin, also 9, enjoyed the scavenger hunt and we searched the exhibits for different clues. We were there in total about two hours before heading back to Henderson.


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