Valley of Fire - Monday, July 3
After our morning in Kolob Canyon, we knew we had to drive the last part of our grand circle into Las Vegas. That's where we planned to catch our flight the next day.
The Grand Circle tour of Utah usually includes Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion. We'd added much more to our trip. The Grand Canyon, of course, had been our start. We'd kept going through the Cathedral Wash, Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon, Mexican Hat, Lower Antelope, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, Hell's Revenge, Escalante, and Canyonlands. And as much as I had enjoyed all the parks, I liked the towns we toured and their citizens, too, especially Page, Moab, and Hurricane.
Driving, I wasn't as happy about. But it's the American way. For sure, it's the only way to carry out this sort of tour.
On our drive to Vegas, we spotted one more park on the map, a Nevada state park called the Valley of Fire. The name is supposed to refer to the color of the rocks. In this case, it could have referred to the weather as well. We started our first hike in 114 Fahrenheit. The temperatures kept climbing as we traveled from place to place. Even the hardcore hikers and Nevada natives were waving sayonara to trails all over the park - when they even tried to walk them, which wasn't often.
We met a single car at the parking lot for our first trail stop. The fellow who owned the vehicle returned as we were starting out. He kept shaking his head to himself. He didn't speak to us. He simply got in his black sedan and drove away.
"That's the trail." Diane pointed to a path leading up through a cleft in the rocks.
We explored a few cabins at the head of the trail. A sign there told us these were the earliest tourist cabins in the Valley of Fire. Inside, the air felt good compared to standing in the blistering sun. Nevertheless, we couldn't see there was anything much to the wood structures. Each hut measured about ten feet by eight feet. Each had a firepit stove. We didn't feel like lighting one up, of course, and another sign told us the fireplaces were strictly historical anyway, only meant to show tourists how the previous batch of tourists, a century ago, used to live.
They lived with only the stores of food and water they brought with them, it seems. One hopes they didn't occupy the buildings during the height of Arizona summer.
"Might as well move on," I said and left the northmost building for the trail.
A tenth of a mile onto the rock-strewn path, I passed through the cleft we'd noticed between boulders. It was the narrowest section so far. When I wobbled on the clay dust beneath my feet, I stretched out a hand. But my reflexes kicked in immediately. I stood up straight and jerked away my hand to keep from getting burned.
"Don't lean on anything," I warned.
Diane snorted. She and I paused to try to figure out our next steps. As far as we could tell, the ground disappeared down a cliff face for twenty feet. We would have to shimmy along the steep incline and take care not to fall into a boulder at the end of it, which was followed by another drop and another boulder, and another drop, possibly into trees.
Diane put her open palm over a rock. She nodded as she felt the heat radiating.
"Maybe the next trail," she concluded. We turned back.
The next place offered us spectacular sandstone hills and campsites with grills for our picnic that we didn't intend to have. Unlike the formations at the earlier place, this spot provided some shade. But the three hills didn't have much of a trail. Climbing the sandstone outcroppings was not a real option.
The next and the next venue were much the same. We tried forays across the burning landscapes. They didn't have much to offer; they were devoid of trees, wildlife, or wind. All they had was extra heat radiating from the stones beneath our feet. Eventually, I drove us to the Valley of Fire visitor center.
The center proved to be dismayingly grim as well. The artifacts inside looked random. The placards in the glass cases didn't present a coherent story. Sometimes the material showed promise but even then the language about the local tribes, for instance, read in an overly-simple way, like you might write for an audience of elementary school students. There were a few tourists in the center. They seemed to have the same opinion of it that I did. Even the gift shop had a Soviet-era, you'll-take-what-we-give sort of barrenness to it. The single staff member clearly wanted to be someplace else.
Three teenagers walked past the shop and sat on a bench next to me while I failed to make myself interested in a few sentences about local settlers in a display.
"I'll miss this place," said one teenager. My ears pricked up. I tried to keep my face from betraying my surprise.
"The visitor center?" his friend asked in a rather disbelieving tone. It was entirely appropriate.
"The air conditioning," he sighed.