Valley of Fire

The Valley of Fire is located approximately 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, in an awe-inspiring landscape of flaming red sandstone. The area was utilized by Basketmaker peoples and later by Ancestral Puebloan peoples between approximately 300 B.C. and 1150 A.D. Bright red sandstone carved into intricate shapes by the wind provides the backdrop for a rich concentration of archaeological sites, including rock art.

Established as Nevada's first State Park in 1935, several of the more complex rock art sites have been developed for public visitation, including the best known in the park, Atlatl Rock. This site is located on a towering detached cliff and features several motifs that have been interpreted as atlatls (ancient throwing sticks used with spears). The atlatl was replaced in the region by the bow and arrow around 1500 years ago, and so it is generally assumed that the rock art is older than that. This is not a reliable means of dating because an illustration can be made at any point in time after that tool was utilized. But this does provide a maximum age for the atlatl motifs as it can be assumed that their representation in rock art will not predate the introduction and use of that tool in the area.

Mouse's Tank is another large petroglyph site within the State Park, and was named after a Southern Paiute man who evaded capture for two years by living in the hills above a large, natural water feature (called a “tank”). He had been given the name “Mouse” by his tribe because of his shyness and ability to hide. Much of the surrounding geology of Mouse's Tank was formed by water, and visitors walk toward the water tank up the sandy bed of an ancient stream. All along the stream channel, petroglyphs have been carved into the dark desert varnish coated sandstone. Like Atlatl Rock, the motif types are representative southern regional types, consisting primarily of zoomorphs (mostly bighorn sheep), anthropomorphs, and various types of non-representational motifs. There are also some specific themes which are repeated in the park, such as a line of anthropomorphs which appear to be holding hands, perhaps dancing.

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