We made two somewhat unplanned stops at State Parks along the way. I had briefly read about the parks in a guidebook so they were not completely impromptu; I had at least head the name and that they were worth checking out. Each of these parks would be worth a multi day visit if you have the time. They both offer a variety of hiking trails amidst beautiful scenery.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The first park we stopped at was Valley Of Fire, about 50 miles north of Vegas. As we cruised up the highway towards Bruce Canyon with the intention of stopping wherever looked interesting, we saw the familiar brown sign advertising the turn off for this park. We took the turn off and found ourselves on a long back road. The scenery became more and more spectacular as we approached the park. In May, flowers were in full bloom along the road. As we approached the park entrance, the source of the name soon became apparent. We could see bright red-orange rocks stretching out for miles in front of us.
We got to the kiosk at the park entrance and paid our $10 fee per car load. We asked the park attendant about the different trails and what he suggested for a day trip. We finally decided on hiking the White Dunes trail. This trail features beautifully striped slickrock and a slot canyon. We took our time exploring the rocks, photographing the area, and enjoying the scenery. We wandered through a 2 person-width slot canyon and admired the various shapes the rocks had taken on over the eons. After a couple hours, we were back at the car. We stopped at various trailheads and overlooks along the park road before heading out the east entrance and on to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Valley of Fire SP offers hiking and camping. The geologic attractions are numerous: Petroglyphs, beehive rocks, weird shaped rocks, the "fire wave", slot canyons, petrified logs, and scenic overlooks. In general, hikes are short, typically 0.25 to 1.5 miles in length. Most are out and back, but a few are loop hikes. Trails are mostly flat with slight inclines, and are typically sandy or on rock. The rocks range from white and beige to all shades of red and orange, hence the name. This is a great place to observe a huge variety of geologic wonders with little hiking and effort.
This is a wonderful park for spending a day exploring or an overnight camping experience. The beauty is easily observed from the road. A short hike will reveal even more hidden wonders.
Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
The second park we stopped at was Snow Canyon on our way out of Zion. After dropping some friends off at the north entrance of Zion so they could complete the Trans Zion Hike, we had hours to kill before we had to be back in Vegas for our flight home. Lindsay wanted to see petroglyphs. Since the trip was drawing to a close and we had yet to see any, I tasked Google with finding petroglyphs near us. My search revealed that there were some fantastic specimens in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George. I found a "shortcut" to the petroglyphs via a back/unofficial "entrance" to the park (Link here. This is an unofficial and discouraged route to take. Snow Park Officials suggest you follow the Gila Trail) Sure, why not? I attempted to navigate us to the coordinates listed as the trailhead. We got very lost in St. George due to detour for a road race of some sort. As we were reaching the end of our patience, Lindsay finally made a turn that got us to Highway 18. We drove down the road looking for "4400 North", the location of the supposed trail head. We never made it to "4400 North", but got close enough. We found a place to park and discussed the life choice we were making.
We were parked at the end of a cul-de sac sort of thing, with a ranch on either side and what looked like a pathway leading to a barbed wire fence. Nothing about this situation seems bad, right? Barbed wire is not foreboding. We were hoping that the other side of that fence was Snow Canyon SP. Well, we were there and had half a day to kill. May as well check it out. What's the worst that could happen? Well, a lot. Getting shot, arrested for trespassing if we were in the wrong place, the rental car getting towed.... So we headed out into the unknown.
We might have been able to navigate to the petroglyphs better if we had either a) parked at the correct trail head or b) known that we were in fact parked just south of the actual trailhead. While we did have the coordinates of some of the petroglyphs, the coordinates I plugged in to find the trailhead did not work, and my phone was dying. We were winging it based off the description of the trailhead and some vague descriptions of a rock that looks like a sinking ship and a newspaper wall.
While our initial search for the petroglyphs was fruitless, the scenery was spectacular. This area of the country is gorgeous. I have loved every state and national park I have been to in Utah. This might be my favorite. I might even come back some day to hike more of Snow Canyon. We spent a while winding our way through various canyons and rock formations. We looked for the elusive "newspaper rock", "sinking ship rock", and slot canyons with petroglyphs as mentioned in the informative how to hike post online. While we found many canyons, none seemed to harbor any petroglyphs. We found a rock that unmistakably looked like a sinking ship. Several 360s around the ship shaped rock revealed none of the promised petroglyphs. I am not sure what I was missing there. Despite seeing various official park signs indicating petroglyphs were near, seeing landmarks described in the trail guide, and relentless searching, after an hour and a half of searching, no petroglyphs were to be found.
We wandered some more through beautiful rock. Finally, we saw a group that had climbed atop one of the more prominent rocks. They shouted a greeting to us. We said hi back. We asked if they had seen any petroglyphs. In fact, they had. They shouted some directions at us. We were close. We thanked them and then set off. Following the directions of our rock climbing acquaintances, we found a canyon... with a tree in it, just like in the photos! We walked all the way to the end and saw... nothing. As I was turning around to head out, confused as to where we had gone wrong, I saw something that looked not quite natural on the wall. I kept looking, and finally the petroglyphs appeared. They must have weathered since the photos in our not so helpful internet guide took them. Or the afternoon lighting was bad. Or something. Regardless, there they were. I have seen some petroglyphs before, but never in a slot canyon with a tree growing in the middle.
To be clear, the directions on the site we used to guide us were good. In hindsight, knowing what I know, I could probably navigate to all of the petroglyphs just fine. The problem is that the petroglyphs are just very faint at this point. So stay sharp, if you think you are in the right place, look extremely closely. And, if possible, use the GPS coordinates provided on the site to ease your search.
We admired the ancient carvings for a while and took our own photos. Lindsay took some good photos of them with her camera. I took some shitty photos with my iPhone. With that, our several hours of down time were up. We headed back to the car for the end of our trip. A few hours later, we were at the airport, signaling the end of our Utah adventure and our arrival home.