55 miles from Las Vegas is a place so completely contrary to the glitz of The Strip that it's numbing. A short bomb north on Interstate 15 lies the Valley of Fire State Park, a semi-secret red rock wonderland just six miles from Lake Mead.
Nevada's oldest and largest state park was dedicated in 1935 but it remains a hidden pocket not everyone knows about, mainly because it isn't especially close to big cities (besides Vegas). As a result, crowds are manageable, especially in the middle of the week. Just rent a bike in Vegas and head for the Fire.
As you make the turn off I-15 onto State Route 169, the view is of a generic landscape backed by some gray and brown mountains. Big deal, you think to yourself. Be patient; 15 miles after the modest sign that marks the boundary of the 40,000-acre area, the color spectrum goes haywire, with displays of cliff tops bathed in oranges, reds, purples, and browns. Down on the desert floor, outcroppings of rock poke up from splotches of green creosote. But here's the best part—the short road through this whole riot is unusually clean, smooth and perfectly curvy (without getting too kinky), and sports pullouts galore. Of course the limit is an annoyingly low 25-to-35 mph, but pay attention to the sign that says, "Speed limit is 35, this is your last and only warning." We spotted three people pulled over during our visit.
The raw beauty you're rumbling through is named for sandstone formations that often take the appearance of a four-alarm blaze under Nevada's relentless sun. But if the color of the rocks doesn't get you, the shapes surely will. Millions of years of erosion have conjured up a jumble of profiles straight out of an acid trip (not that we'd know): Elephant Rock, White Dome, Grand Piano, and the Seven Sisters are just a few of the trippy formations. Be sure to dismount and poke around.
Winters are mild in this neck of the woods, while summer highs can top 100 degrees, so aim for spring or fall when planning your trip. And on the way out, choose the scenic way back to Vegas: SR 169, then SR 167 south through Lake Mead National Recreational Area.