Prologue: For some reason I can't explain, I have often heard people mixing up these entirely two different valley settings. The fact is, one is in Utah and the other in Nevada. Moreover, the terrain is completely different, as is the temperament of each. Well, some of us sense a different temperament visiting such places. In any event, I decided to clear up any lingering confusion by doing a diary on both settings. This way if you ever get invited to join Alex Trebek, on Jeopardy, you will at least guess the right answers for either location. (And is this MC still doing these wonderful shows, I wonder?)
Location/Geography: Valley of the Gods is located in southwestern Utah, near the Arizona border. The closest towns: Mexican Hat and Bluff. Red rock country at the base of Cedar Mesa. Elevation: 4,675 feet.
Spotlight: A geologic sibling to Monument Valley. Quiet, peaceful and out of the way. An unsurpassed setting away from the maddening crowd (of tourists).
Snapshot: About 33 miles north of Monument Valley, this smaller rock-hewn estate is like a geologic afterthought. Here, in this 50-square-mile basin managed by the BLM, the studded and picturesque setting of spires, buttes and towers of this, the other neighborhood valley, represents a panorama of sheer fascination. Navajo legend says the lofty sandstone sentinels in the ocher-hued amphitheater setting are warriors long ago turned to stone. Its sprawling backcountry consists of miles and miles of exposed red rock, shallow dry river channels, and of course stunning, rising landmarks that beckon visitors. Just take plenty of water, for this is indeed a parched landscape, another desert Southwest place in one sense, yet very singular in another.
Guided Tour Essentials: Unlike the towering monoliths featured at Monument Valley, here at the Valley of the Gods the sedimentary formations (at the base of Cedar Mesa) are more modest but nonetheless impressive. With its isolated mesas and cliffs jutting from the valley floor, this ancient foundation of rocks and erosion is filled with landmarks and their fanciful names, including Castle Butte, Seven Sailors, Southern Lady, Rudolph and Santa Claus, Setting Hen Butte, De Gulle and His Troops, Lady in the Bathtub, and Rooster Butte, to mention only some. A day or two spent drifting across this remarkably sculpted terrain allows one to ramble at will and enjoy the geologic setting. This fancifully shaped terrain is full of stillness and solitude that’s a rare commodity in nearby national parks and monuments. In short, Valley of the Gods is indeed off the beaten path.
Geology: The floor of the valley is a mixture of Mesozoic Era sandstone, siltstone and shale. The dominant backdrop and view is Cedar Mesa. Its weathered siltstone and shale are highlighted by a vivid red color, its telltale stain originating from an abundance of iron oxide. The darker, blue-gray tincture is from manganese oxide.
A Recommended Sightseeing Foray: A sinuous 7-mile unpaved dirt road makes its way through the formations. Some of the monolithic landmarks are surreal; other landmarks are simply mesmerizing.
At the western sector, State Hwy. 261, known as the Trail of the Ancients, ascends 1,200 feet via a series of unpaved 3-mile switchbacks (the seemingly perilous Moqui Dugway) before reaching the lofty and cooler summit of Cedar Mesa. It's also a thoroughfare that's not for the faint-hearted driver types!
At the eastern end, the road begins 9 miles from Mexican Hat along Hwy. 163 heading north.
Bonus Details: Though nowhere near the popularity of Monument Valley for location filming, the Valley of the Gods is still a common location for westerns. The 1984-87 television show Airwolf used a hollow mesa in the Valley of the Gods as a secret hiding place for the show's super-helicopter. Segments of Forrest Gump and the iconic Thelma and Louise were taken here as well. Edward Abbey's famed The Monkey Wrench Gang novel also generates quite the writeup for Valley of the Gods in the chapter entitled Escape of the Depredator. This part of the narrative entails one of the main characters, the irascible Hayduke. Part of the chapter reads:
". . . [he turned] away from his pursuers [and] he studied the lay of the land to the north and northeast. North he found nothing but the wall of the plateau; northeast, however, a trace of a trail wound among the gods, dipped into a ravine and disappeared, reappearing on a narrow juniper studded ridge toward a drop-off point. A dead end? From here he could not tell.” (p. 241)Here's an earlier passage that really gives the reader an idea of what the terrain is all about, including the deception of a road continuing or coming to an another dead-end:
". . . Hayduke had studied the maps often enough to remember that several miles ahead there was a dirt road leading off the highway to the left into something which the county Chamber of Commerce had named the Valley of the Gods. Does the road dead-end? Loop back to the highway? Hayduke didn't know and he didn't have the time to make local inquiries. In a few minutes the bishop was going to realize that his quarry had somehow doubled back and was behind and not ahead of him.P. S. I asked Ed (in an ethereal sense of communication) if he minded my quoting from his book and sharing same with the Dkos community. All I got was this image in my head:
"Grinding up the highway on the shoulder of an utterly treeless monocline, Hayduke watched for the dirt road, found it and veered left, gearing down. He bounced through a rocky gully and splashed across a sheet of water spread six inches on a slab of bedrock. He followed the road up the other side, which was bad but not bad enough. Sometime in the recent past someone had worked the road with a grader, trying to make it accessible to tourist traffic. Hayduke kept going, raising a cloud of dust across the wide-open desert plain. If the bishop didn't see that, he was indeed blind with rage.
"The road proceeded generally northward, following the contour of the landscape. Ahead a group of monoliths loomed against the sky, eroded remnants of naked rock with the profiles of Egyptian deities. Beyond stood the red wall of the plateau, rising fifteen hundred feet above the desert in straight, unscaled, perhaps unscalable cliffs. Hayduke had to find his way to the top of that plateau if he was to join his friends at the assembly point." (p. 240)
Anyway, the descriptive country depicted in both The Monkey Wrench Gang and Hayduke Lives! is recommended reading, and both novels are purely entertaining. It's one adventure after the other and, yes, the irascible Hayduke eventually figures out how to escape mess he's in with the law.
Directions: Travel west from Bluff, Utah, on Hwy. 163 for approximately 17 miles, then turn right on the dirt road leading to the valley. If traveling from Mexican Hat, go east on Hwy. 163 for approximately 7 miles, then left at the turnoff sign and road.
And when you get there, you get to choose from all these scenic sites located throughout the valley:
Contact Information: The closest BLM office is the Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main Street, Monticello UT 84535. Phone: 435-587.1500. Fax and Email: non-listed.
Next, it's the next valley in this diary, the Valley of Fire. . .
Location/Geography: Located 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Las Vegas (Overton), at an elevation between 2,000–2,600 feet. It abuts the Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the Virgin River confluence. It lies in a 4 by 6 mile basin.
Spotlight: Valley of Fire State Park is near the Arizona border. The US Geological Survey has a capsule history of the region that includes Valley of Fire. The park displays red sandstones exposed beneath the Sevier fold-thrust belt, where older rocks of Cambrian age (about 500 million years old) were pushed sideways on a so-called thrust fault over younger rocks (Jurassic, about 160 million years old) of the Aztec Sandstone. The sandstone was laid down in a colossal, long-lived sandy desert like today's Sahara or Arabia. The red color is from the presence of iron oxides in the sand.
Snapshot: The Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates. Prehistoric inhabitants of the Valley of Fire included the Basket Maker people and later the Ancestral Puebloans from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. The span of approximate occupation has been dated from 300 B.C. to 1150 C.E. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited the length of their stay. Fine examples of rock art left by these ancient peoples can be found at several sites within the park. The Valley of Fire is the oldest state park in Nevada and was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. The valley covers an area of almost 42,000 acres and was dedicated in 1935. It derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from shifting now petrified sand dunes during the Mesozoic Era (roughly, 250 to 65 million years ago). These features, which are the centerpiece of the valley's attractions, often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun's rays.
Guided Tour Essentials: Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. The rough floor and jagged walls of the park contain brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes more than 150 million years old. Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates. No wonder this setting was dubbed Nevada's first state park.
Given the alien landscape of the valley, its erosional landscape denotes where the flow of the rock reflects the flow of time. Wrinkled, etched and scoured by time and the elements, primordial rock walls stand exposed to the inexorable eroding forces of water and wind. Melting snow and rainwater percolate downward through the sandstone thereby dissolving the cementing carbonate and iron from between the grains of sand, weakening the structure. In time, the rock disintegrates. As the water emerges along exposed rock faces, the liquid evaporated into the dry desert air, leaving behind residue of iron to veneer the rock with dark brown and black patina of desert varnish. Some of the rock formations are tinctured with a lovely pink and white pinstriping effect.
Contrary to common belief, wind has not been as active an erosion agent within the valley as has water. Chemical dissolution, freezing and thawing with resultant expansion in joint surfaces, as well as the effect of the raindrop is what makes water more important (as an erosional element) than wind. Anyone who witnessed the intensity of a desert thunderstorm and the power of a flash floods following can attest to the carrying strength of water in such a typically arid terrain. Lack of extensive vegetation also results in large amounts of erosion during floods.
The constant creation and modification of the materials that have made Valley of Fire one of the most geologically interesting and scenic areas in Nevada has meticulously happened over hundreds of millions of years. Preservation of this singular-looking topography for future generations to appreciate in its natural state remains a challenge to the sensitivity and responsibility of every traveler in this geological wonderland!
Geology: Deriving its name from red sandstone formations, the Valley of Fire is believed to be the remains of a huge 150,000-square mile desert that once existed in this region from about 190 to 178 million years ago. Other rock formations include typical sedimentary rocks: limestones, shales, and conglomerates. There are also remains of permineralized vegetation––petrified wood and other fossilized flora.
Chemical erosion has altered original materials and created brilliant colors in the rocks. The addition of reds (or pinkish) by rusting iron minerals, the creation of white sandstones leaching out of iron, and mixing of all shades of the palette of chemical change have resulted in the colorful diversity we see today. Chemical action has added soluble materials (i.e., lime and silica) to the groundwater. Moving through the joints and fault surfaces of the Aztec Sandstone Formation (predominant here in the valley), these chemicals occasionally find an environment for precipitation. The joints are sometimes filled with these chemicals. Then precipitation of newly formed minerals calcite or quartz (which are harder than the surrounding sandstone) are left standing as narrow ridges after the sandstone has eroded away. Where blocks have sheared off, the vertical joints thus exposed are often veneered with the white mineral deposits.
Other joint surfaces are coated with black substances. This “Desert Varnish” results from chemical action, perhaps further modified by microscopic plants. Leached from the rocks by the movement of water, iron and manganese are deposited on the rock surface as emerges and evaporates over thousands of years.
These blackened surfaces were also favored by the first inhabitants of the Valley of Fire as ideal sites for carving rock art. Namely, petroglyphs.
Human History: Prehistoric users of the Valley of Fire included the Ancestral Puebloans (a far western community considering their culture originally settled throughout parts of the Colorado Plateau territory). These so-called dry farmers inhabited the Moapa Valley. Their approximate span of occupation has been dated from 300 BC to 1150 AD. Their visits to the neighboring valley (today's Valley of Fire) probably involved hunting, food gathering, and religious ceremonies, although scarcity of water would have limited their stay. Fine examples of rock art (petroglyphs) left by prehistoric inhabitants can be found at several sites within the park.
Of course, the prehistoric eventually changed to the historic and Anglos moved into the valley, though likely for reasons of mining, possibly tourism.
Flora And Fauna: Commonly seen throughout the valley are a variety of avians, including raptors, desert bighorn, desert tortoise (very rare), kit fox, coyote, chuckwalla lizard, and of course snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous. Cholla and cactus, creosote, brittlebush, and a variety of colorful flowers (only in the spring).
Miscellaneous: Valley of Fire is a popular location to shoot commercial photography, including weddings. Movies and television productions have also be filmed in this locale. For example, The Professionals with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, and Claudia Cardinale. So was the outside Mars scenes from Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, who could mistake the Valley of Fire's backdrop in Star Trek's Generations, especially the scene where Captain Kirk fell to his death. Indeed, there were many films and television shows that were used for specific backdrop scenes. Certainly, the overall tableau and variety of rock formations and colors are easy to see in productions, that is, now that you have had a virtual tour. Better yet: come see for yourself, but do keep in mind it can get hotter than a bed of embers during most of the year. Then again, as folks Out West like to say: But it's a dry heat!
Directions: Valley of Fire State Park is six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75. The park entry from Interstate 15 passes through the Moapa Indian Reservation. The visitor center in the park should be visited by anyone planning any off-road activities. The site is marked as Nevada Historical Marker #150.
Contact: Management at 702-397-2088 for more information or email to firstname.lastname@example.org Snail mail: Overton, NV 89040
And so, DKos community, we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour. There will be other scenic places to tour and more supplemental topics to read and think about, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.
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