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Birding the Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire State Park
Atlatl Rock and water pocket rock (view N)

Description

The Valley of Fire is a dry, sparsely vegetated desert area with spectacular red sandstone crags. The sandstone crags are fossilized sand dunes that were active during the age of dinosaurs, some 150 million years ago. Considerable geologic activity, including faulting, uplifting, and erosion, created the present landscape. The area once was forested, as evidenced by petrified wood, but the present vegetation is dry Mojave Desert Scrub dominated by creosote bush, white bursage, brittlebush, blackbrush, and several species of cactus. The sparse desert scrub and very dry region makes this a place to look for hard-core desert birds.

Valley of Fire State Park
Water pocket adjacent to Atlatl Rock (SE)

The main road runs east-west across the park through a broad, flat valley bordered by dark gray limestone mountains on the south and fire-red sandstone crags on the north. The campground is in the western end of this valley, the Visitor Center is in the center, and Lake Mead is just beyond the eastern end. One side-road, starting at the Visitor Center, runs north through the sandstone cliffs and into a spectacular area with red and white sandstone crags, hiking trails, and the "Rainbow Vista," a panoramic view of multicolored sandstone.

There are no particular hot spots for birding, but birding along the Mouse's Tank Trail can be productive if there aren't too many other people out hiking. Mouse's Tank has two natural potholes in the sandstone part way down a waterfall. Water collects in the potholes after rains, and because it is mostly shaded from the sun, the water lasts for months. A short trail leads to Mouse's Tank from the road, passing an extensive and amazing array of petroglyphs along the way. The petroglyphs and numerous chuckwalla lizards make the trail worthwhile even if the birds are quiet. Birding around Atlatl Rock can be productive because a water pocket, oddly located halfway up the crags just south of the parking area (Table 1, Site 682), attracts birds and other wildlife. Several sources of piped water are available for wildlife in the campground, so this too can be a good area to check for desert species.

This is a place to walk among the rocks while watching the bushes for little birds. There won't be too many birds, but the peace, quiet, and scenery will tide you over between bird sightings.

Valley of Fire State Park
Shrubs along Mouse's Tank Trail (view E)

Location

Valley of Fire is located about one hour east of Las Vegas.

The quickest way to get to the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas is to drive north on Highway I-15 (actually northeast) for about 33 miles to Exit 75E. Exit at the Indian Smoke Shop and drive east on Highway 169 for about 20 miles. After crossing the mountains and driving down a spectacular limestone canyon, you will arrive at the entrance station and the first views of the red sandstone crags. Pay the fee, and then continue east for 4 miles to the Visitor Center (Site 683).
Valley of Fire State Park
Rock Wren: common at VOF
A more scenic, but slower way to get to the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas is to drive out through Lake Mead National Recreation Area. From downtown, drive north on Highway I-15 for about 2 miles to Lake Mead Blvd. Exit the Interstate and drive east Lake Mead Blvd. Cross over the mountains, pass the Lake Mead entrance station (paying $5 per vehicle), and continue to the T-intersection at Northshore Road. Turn left (east) onto Northshore Road and drive out past Echo Bay to the turnoff to Valley of Fire. Turn left (west) and drive about 6 miles to the Visitor Center (Site 683). Pay the entrance fee at the Visitor Center.
Valley of Fire State Park
Lower water pocket at Mouse's Tank (view down)

Hours

The park is always open. The visitor center (8:30 AM to 4:30 PM) provides exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory, and recent history of the park. Most birding and hiking places are in day-use areas.

Fees

Entrance Fee: $6.00 per vehicle per day; $60.00 for annual pass. Camping Fees: 14.00 per night per vehicle ($6 entrance fee + $8 more), but you get long hot showers for that price (showers only in Atlatl Rock Campground).

Valley of Fire State Park
While birding, be sure to notice the petroglyphs (although at Valley of Fire, it might be better to say it the other way around). The inset is an enlargement of what looks like a Horned Lizard.

Specialties

Expect to mostly see birds typical of the desert plus migrants in season. Resident birds include the Common Raven, House Finch, Sage Sparrow, Rock Wren, Gambel's Quail, Loggerhead Shrike, and Greater Roadrunner. Many migrant birds pass through the park. Bald Eagles are often seen at Lake Mead during winter, and these can sometimes be seen in the park.

Many species of mammals and reptiles are common in the park. Most desert animals are nocturnal and are not frequently seen during the day, but watch for white-tailed antelope squirrels, chuckwalla lizards, and patchnose snakes during the day, and watch for kangaroo rats, coyote, desert cottontail, and black-tailed jackrabbit from early evening until early morning.

For More Information:

Visit the state park website; or call them at (702) 397-2088.

The visitor center (open daily, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM) provides exhibits on the geology, ecology, prehistory, and history of the park, and the staff can answer questions.

Table 1. GPS Coordinates for Highway Locations (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
682 Atlatl Rock water pocket 36.4220 114.5500 719655 4033343 2,297 Yes
683 Valley of Fire, Visitor Center 36.4300 114.5127 722977 4034313 2,001 Yes

Thanks for coming to visit!
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 110216

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