Lessons learned from Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park | Such a Fine Sight to See | Pikes Peak Courier

There are lessons to be learned at any age, and yes – you can teach an old dog new tricks! Here are a few lessons from a hot mess stay at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

In October, my husband Ron and I (and of course our pooch Gracie) spent an incredible two weeks camping, hiking and sightseeing in Utah. More on that next month. At the end of our trip we visited our son and daughter-in-law in Las Vegas. I had heard of a Nevada State Park about an hour from Las Vegas that I decided was worth checking out. Here’s the story, and oh yeah – don’t go there!

Valley of Fire is a state park that does not accept reservations for its campground, so it’s first come, first served. I should have listened to my inner voice’s warning bell, but – nooooo…

We planned to arrive early afternoon on a Sunday. Before our trip, I spoke to a very nice park employee who assured me that we would have no trouble getting a campsite at the scenic boulder-strewn campground.

Here are the lessons:

1. Always make reservations when camping, so you can be sure of having a campsite as soon as you arrive at your destination. We left Escalante, Utah with high hopes for what lay ahead. Unfortunately the weather turned bad and we had to go over a mountain pass to get to Nevada. You guessed it – we walked straight into a snow storm that got worse as we drove up the dual carriageway. As we neared the summit, cars and trucks stalled and spun helplessly on the ice. Some articulated lorries had veered off the road, partially blocking it. We were towing a 27ft trailer and that was freaking scary! We put the truck in four-wheel drive to maneuver the pass, but what started out as a short jaunt from Utah to Nevada ended in a long drudgery over treacherous roads.

Finally we arrived at the entrance gate of Valley of Fire State Park. “Are there still campsites?” we asked the waiter. He was vague and noncommittal, which should have been a big red flag, but he took our $15 cash entry fee. We made our way to the campsite. You know the rest. We weren’t the only ones looking for a vacancy. There weren’t any available and the campsite manager was nowhere to be found.

This debacle unfolded after a long, harrowing day of driving, and tempers in the truck ran hotter than a pepper sprout, if you get my meaning. Back to the front gate, where I suggested to the gloomy warden to open the unused group campsite for overflow camping. No, but we were told that all we had to do was fill out an online form and we would get our $15 back.

2. Have a backup plan. OK, we didn’t have a place to camp, paid $15 for nothing, and had to flip the truck and trailer a penny to drive through the park and out the other side. Luckily I had done my homework and we quickly found a campsite an hour away in Echo Bay on the shores of Lake Mead. Did we go back to Valley of Fire the next day to pay another $15 to visit the park? No way! I was done dealing with park employees who were uninformed, falsely polite, and unwilling to make reasonable concessions to think outside the box a bit.

So on to Plan B: We stayed at Echo Bay RV Park and had a great time exploring Lake Mead.

3. Do not pay with cash: You have no record of your transactions. When we got home I was on a mission to get my $15 entry fee refunded. After countless emails I received the contact details of the park manager. Finally, I thought, someone who would listen to my tale of woe and fix it. Not correct! “You must have a receipt for your entry fee,” he said. My response: “My non-existent receipt is with my non-existent campsite.” I told him to look at the security camera footage from that day to see a very unhappy couple in a pickup truck and trailer as they walked through the front gate import and export and back. Did he think I made that story up? Would someone make that up for a lousy $15?

4. Stamina doesn’t always work. But sometimes it does. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve dealt with a bureaucracy (in this case, the Nevada State Park system) that doesn’t care about problem solving or customer satisfaction. I suspect the park ranger was just waiting for me to get tired and leave. (Hope he sees this column!). I understand Valley of Fire will become a campground reservation system beginning in 2023. Well I won’t be returning, which is a shame as the park gets rave reviews for the scenery.

Ron and I have vowed never to travel without an overnight stay again. It eliminates spontaneity, but at least we know where we’re going to end up and stress is minimized. Be flexible and have a backup plan – just in case. Use a credit card that documents your purchases. Don’t give up, but be aware that sometimes the best of intentions don’t get rewarded. I’m still waiting for that refund…

Libby Kinder is a retired freelance clinical mental health writer and consultant. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs since 2003. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at [email protected].

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