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Moapa Valley, Nev.: Weekender

Spring’s mild temperatures make it the perfect time to explore Nevada's Moapa Valley.

picture Firewave sandstone formation at Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley, Nevada
Photo caption
Layers of sandstone create the dramatic Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park.

A patchwork of horse farms, hay fields, and pomegranate trees, Moapa Valley is the rural backyard of Las Vegas. Valley of Fire State Park—about 50 miles northeast of the city—is the star attraction year-round, but spring's mild temperatures make it easy to explore newer and lesser-known spots.

  • Powerful forces of wind and water carved the giant sedimentary rocks at Valley of Fire State Park into shapes as fantastic as an elephant's head. A half hour hike on the Fire Wave Trail leads to hypnotically undulating hills that evoke strawberries and vanilla ice cream in a parfait glass.
  • See the rare Moapa dace, a tiny endangered minnow, at Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge. A viewing area below the water level of a natural stream reveals the turbulent life of this bronze-colored fish. Along various trails, you can also spot Gambel's quail, vermilion flycatchers, roadrunners, and cottontail rabbits.
  • Overton's Lost City Museum displays arrowheads, ceramic bowls, a reconstructed pit house, and replica pueblos that evoke the lives of ancestral Puebloans who thrived in the Moapa Valley before leaving it sometime around 1200 A.D.
  • Moapa Valley's long wait for a Mexican restaurant was worth it. La Fonda in Overton earns raves for its pineapple-and-pork tacos al pastor and the plate of bacon-wrapped, deep fried shrimp.
  • On a 2.5-mile loop trail in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, you can explore the eerie ruins of St. Thomas, a 19th-century Mormon settlement inundated by the reservoir in the 1930s and now laid bare by the water's retreat. Slated for 2016: trailside interpretive signs with historic photos.
  • At Sugar's Home Plate in Overton, you can fuel up for the day with a onepound ham steak on a plate piled high with eggs and crispy hash browns.

Photography by Imagebroker/Alamy

Visiting Vegas? Check out Las Vegas: Bright Lights, Big Secrets.

This article was first published in Spring 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.