Johnny Cash sang about fire, murder, heartbreak, and sin, and I think he would have appreciated the symbolism of this ride, given its route. Northeast of Las Vegas is one of the most visually stunning state parks in the Southwest. The added bonus for motorcyclists is that the park’s roads trace through the crimson landscape like slithering black mambas. A ride through Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area makes for a fantastic motorized respite from the neon bustle of Vegas.
The Las Vegas Strip, with its massive themed casinos, sidewalk solicitations, and congestion, is not my cup of tea. That’s why my staging point for this ride was Fremont Street. While still over-the-top, this area has the feel of an older, more genuine version of Vegas.
The night before my ride, I watched a cover band play classic rock tunes under the lights and video canopy that spans Fremont and enjoyed a variety of street performers. The next day, I put a couple bottles of water and lunch in the saddlebags of my BMW R 1200 GS and mounted up.
Fremont Street is well north of the traffic and congestion of the Strip, so getting out of the city was much more convenient than it would have been if I had opted for lodging at one of the mega-casinos. On my way out of town, I rode past the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum – Vegas-themed tributes that were added to my post-ride entertainment schedule.
The cruise northeast on the Las Vegas Freeway (Interstate 15) was a nice warm-up to this loop ride. The muted hues and desert views were expansive as I climbed out of the neon valley. There were a few floating cotton balls in the otherwise intense blue of the mid-morning Nevada sky. The line where the horizon meets the sky was as crisp and sharp as I have ever seen.
After 30 miles of motoring on the freeway, I diverted the GS eastward onto the Valley of Fire Highway. The two-lane tarmac starts as a gently curving and undulating climb into the gray stone mountains that were part of the striking delineation I enjoyed just miles before. However, the monochromatic gray soon gives way to vibrant blotches of crimson. Contemplating the name of the Valley of Fire State Park, I couldn’t help but imagine those red spots as flare-ups caused by the wind-carried embers of an approaching wildfire.
My first stop in the park was at the aptly named Beehives. There is little doubt what all the buzz is about. Cringe-worthy puns aside, the Beehives are a spectacular object lesson on the artistic creativity of erosion. The hives are stratified tributes to the power of wind, water, and time.
By the time I got to the turnoff for the park’s visitor center, I was fully engulfed in the figurative flames of the Valley of Fire. I live near Sedona, Arizona, and I have ridden extensively through the red rocks of southern Utah, so I have a solid base of reference for the hue of red sandstone. Valley of Fire is something different. The terrain carries a deeper, more blood-like patina in this region. It is stunning.
I bought a $10 park pass at a self-serve kiosk and rode up Mouse’s Tank Road. The endgame of this beautiful ride was a short hike on The White Domes Trail, where I enjoyed a drink of water and a snack and took in the majesty.
I am not usually a fan of out-and-back routes; however, this ride, carving through the curvaceous rock formations of the park, is fantastic in both directions. It’s only about 6 miles from the visitor center to the end of Mouse’s Tank Road, so the ride through the heart of the park is short but very scenic.
Back on the Valley of Fire Highway, I was awed at the beauty around me. The road follows the undulations and sinews of the red rocks. I made a final stop at Elephant Rock and meandered up the trail in my Sidi boots. It was well worth the wear on the soles of those expensive kicks. Elephant Rock is yet another of the park’s formations that is stunningly indicative of nature’s wonders.
If this were a full daytrip rather than a through-ride, I would have stopped and hiked several more of the park’s features, like Arch Rock and Atlatl Rock with its Native American petroglyphs. The park is deserving of more exploration than I was able to give it.
Back on the BMW, I made my way to the end of the park’s highway at its intersection with North Shore Road (State Route 167). The referenced shore is the bank of Lake Mead. The “shore road” moniker is a bit of a misnomer. The Southwest’s unprecedented drought has drawn the reservoir down to a record low, so I was quite some distance from the lake. While not a waterside trek, the ride in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is entertaining and beautiful. I was back in that fringe environment where red outcroppings dot the gray landscape. The fire was to my back this time.
Farther west on my return toward Vegas, the flatter, muted desert landscape returned. Cactus, desert brush, and the occasional dwarf palm dotted the horizon, and the final leg was relaxing as I traveled back from the Valley of Fire to the valley of neon. With proper gear choices, this is a ride that can be made virtually year-round, and I will certainly be back. From the City of Sin to the Valley of Fire, it’s a heavenly ride indeed. The Man in Black would approve.