Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nevada - it's not just for gamblers!

If you hear "Nevada", most people think of Las Vegas and gambling; but there's more to "The Silver State" than that once you leave "the strip".  We merely hit Vegas just to restock our supplies since the fridge and cupboards are empty, and then we head about one hour north to the Valley of Fire State Park.  It's hard to believe this beautiful landscape exists here; the drive up the interstate is brown - brown desert vegetation, brown mountains, brown rock, brown, brown, brown.  Then suddenly, as we enter the park, the rocks and hilly outcrops are red with iron oxide.  The effect is stunning.

Most of the interesting aspects of the park can be viewed either from the road or from very short walks from the road, for example, Elephant Rock which really does look like an elephant's head and trunk, the Beehives which are sandstone rock hills about 15 to 20 feet high that do look like beehives (or huge cow patties if you've spent any time on a farm), Balanced Rock near the Visitors Center, and Arch Rock which is just a small arch and not really comparable to Arches National Park in Utah.  All are carved from the same red sandstone, eroded by wind and water over the past many centuries.  What makes the rock features look even more red perhaps is that all of the rain that fell even here about 2 weeks ago has greened up the valleys and many plants on the desert floor providing a green burst of colour contrasting the red rock.  The park is, for us, reminiscent of both Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon in Utah, although on a much smaller scale, but the intensity of that "WOW" feeling is almost the same.

Marilyn in wash #5 - note the brilliant colours
Marilyn sitting on top of "The Wave"
The true piece de resistance here we see on a hike down one of the washes.  We are looking for a secret spot, the photo of which is featured on the Nevada State Parks brochure.  A volunteer at the Visitors Center tells us she thinks the photo was taken down wash #5 on the road to the White Domes, and the photo is gorgeous - it is called "The Wave".  The photographer, a professional by trade, refused to tell the exact location to protect his photo rights.  Well this is a challenge that can't be refused.  We have to park some distance up the road and walk back to wash #5, and the colours in the rock along the road are breathtaking - purple, pink, yellow, and orange, like ribbons of colour in the stone.  Brad can't stop taking photos and we haven't even gotten to the wash yet!  When we finally do, the colours in the wash are intensified!  Not far along, we come to a sandy area that is underwater and we can't pass; here the walls are only about 2 feet apart.  So we have to backtrack a bit and climb up about 30 feet and go around.  We do so and come out on the other side of the water onto a beautiful, sandy beach.  The sand has the same beautiful pink and orange hues as the sandstone - of course!  And here the wash widens out, so we stop and sit on the sand to have lunch.  It's a very hot day, our first in a very long time, so we enjoy the sun and the heat.  But only a short walk further down the wash, the rock colours change suddenly and dramatically from the purple, pink and yellow swirls, to red and white horizontal stripes.  This has to be the area where The Wave photo was taken.  We turn left out of the wash and climb up the gently sloping rock.  Two other people are standing on top of a large red and white striped rock that is about 30 feet high.  They are taking numerous photos, so we head over to where they are and there it is - The Wave.  They had been looking for it too, so I don't think this place is as big a secret as we were led to believe.  But in any case, I mark the spot on our hiking GPS, and Brad starts clicking away.  The Wave effect is created by the coloured stripes folding into a bowl in the rock before following the curve around a cliff that stands some 50 feet above the desert floor.  We are here mid-afternoon, but apparently the lighting at sunrise and sunset is spectacular.  Well, challenge successfully met.  As we drive back down the road, we note which of the other washes (numbers 1 to 4) might be worthy of a hike in subsequent years.  This is a place to which we will definitely return.

We also drive the length of Lake Mead.  Valley of Fire State Park is at the northern end of Lake Mead, and we are heading to the Hoover Dam which we haven't been to since 1987.  Most of the drive is not actually along the lake, but is scenic just the same.  The whole area surrounding the lake is a National Recreation Area.  It is odd to see so many vehicles towing boats in the desert.  If you didn't know Lake Mead was there, you'd think these folks were all nuts!  There are a few vista points closer to the south end.  It is interesting to see a "bathtub ring" all around the lake on the rock - this is a high water line where the rock is white from the current water level leaching its minerals into the rock and is about 70 feet high, or should I say the water is about 70 feet lower than its highest.  This is of concern to folks in Arizona, California and Mexico who draw water from the Colorado River for irrigation.

The Hoover Dam, built between 1931 and 1936 (I think), is at the southern end of the lake technically spanning the Colorado River.  There are two intake towers on the Arizona side, and two intake towers on the Nevada side, which is odd because the two states are in different time zones - Arizona is on mountain time and Nevada is on Pacific time.  So if you work there, what time do you go for lunch?  What I don't remember seeing on the dam wall when we were there in 1987 was the stone markers I now see in the concrete.  I can't get a good look at them, but I suspect they are to memorialize the men who died while making the dam.  I count five markers in all shaped like shields.

Memorial Bridge over the Colorado River
And now they have the new Memorial Bridge which is just down river and much higher than the dam itself.  It was just completed and opened a few months ago to alleviate the traffic on the dam highway.  It too has a walkway which provides a great view of the dam.  There are numerous plaques along the walkway leading up to the bridge explaining how it was built and providing specs (I remember none of them except it's over 1,000 feet high!) - all very nicely done for the tourist.  Looking down from the bridge into the Colorado River is dizzying, but man, what a view!

That's it for Nevada.  We are back to Arizona next for the Rock & Mineral Show and the RV Show.  These shows, held concurrently in Quartzsite draw tens of thousands of RVers.  Not sure if I'll blog about that - we'll see.  We'll just be buying a solar panel and maybe a satellite dish; making some power upgrades to the mobile home, ya know!  Someone call Red Green, or Tim the-Toolman-Taylor!

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