The main highway (NV 169) through Valley of Fire State Park
passes much spectacular, eroded rocky scenery, but even better is the six mile White Domes Road
, which forks northwards beside the visitor center. Along this paved scenic drive are several short trails, narrow canyons, petroglyphs, desert viewpoints, and in particular, more colorful rocks; demonstrating that not all the landscape in the park is red, the land towards the end of the road is covered by large areas of slickrock in a wide range of bright colors, principally yellow, white, orange, grey and pink.
For the first two miles, the surroundings are still deep red, as the road climbs gradually up a narrowish ravine through the Aztec sandstone cliffs that line the north side of NV 169, and reaches the parking area for the hike to Mouse's Tank
. The tank is a natural cavity in the rocks where rainwater collects, and was used by a water source by a Paiute Indian fugitive ("Little Mouse") in the 1890s, though the feature was not of lasting value to him, as he was captured and killed after several months in hiding. The path runs along a rocky drainage (Petroglyph Canyon
), so-named because of several large petroglyph panels etched into the blackened surfaces of the cliffs at either side, dating from before 1100 AD. The figures, although numerous, are small, and hundreds of years exposure to the desert sun has left most of them rather faded and worn, but the pictures are still quite unusual.
The trail along the sandy canyon floor ends at a 20 foot drop off in a V-shaped crevice between two cliffs, in which are found the tank, or rather tanks - two deep, sheltered potholes formed by the action of floodwaters flowing over the sandstone. The tanks might be historically significant but they are not particularly interesting to look at, being quite small, in shade most of the day, not fully visible from the path, and liable to contain litter floating in the stagnant water. An alternative perspective can be had by climbing the rocks on the left side, beyond the end of the official path, to a viewpoint that also looks down over the continuation of the canyon below the drop off, as it snakes its way eastwards between more weathered red cliffs and boulders. The drainage is now known as Fire Canyon Wash
, and it can with some effort be followed for several more miles, through narrow places and over dryfalls. Mouse's Tank Trail
is the most used path in the park, and even tour buses regularly stop here, though despite being quite short, the soft sand and hot, airless conditions can make the trip quite strenuous for those unaccustomed to walking in the desert.
Past Mouse's Tank the road climbs further to a small summit where the land opens out to reveal an amazing assortment of rocks in almost every color imaginable - this is Rainbow Vista
), just after which an unpaved side road forks east and leads to another viewpoint, of Silica Dome
(a smooth, cream/yellow-colored sandstone hill), and Fire Canyon
, winding through an adjacent and greatly contrasting maze of jagged, reddish-brown rocks. Like other sites in the park, the colors become somewhat muted in the midday sun; light for photography is better in the early morning or late afternoon. The track continues to lesser known places further east, though this section is usually open to foot travel only.
Back on the main road, there are several other roadside pull-outs before the highway ends at a shaded picnic area and trailhead for the hike to the White Domes
, another cluster of rounded, cream-colored sandstone mounds. The path heads south through a sandy gap between two ridges, down the slope beyond and on to the floor of a dry wash. On the way are the remains of a film set
, used for The Professionals
in 1966, a time when such commercial activities were allowed in the park; the set is now treated as some kind of historical relic. Downstream along the dry wash the path enters a short section of slot canyon
, the best feature of the hike. Although just 100 feet long, the rocks are beautifully colored, and the cool, sheltered passageways allow welcome respite from the sun. After emerging suddenly back into the heat, the trail turns right, climbs a slope and runs through another gap between two sandstone ridges. The top of these give a nice panorama of the rather surreal surroundings - see QTVR
. The 1.2 mile loop hike back to the carpark is completed by a more open stretch that crosses sandy desert and has views towards the far away North Muddy Mountains
. The White Domes Trail has only a small elevation change but the bright, light-colored surroundings reflect the sunlight so in summer the heat can be quite intense.