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Amazing Desert Landscapes

Four places in the West offer hiking in a wonderland of geological formations and colorful vegetation.

red rock landscape of Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, image
Photo caption
Geological oddities dot the Valley of Fire State Park, an hour outside of Las Vegas.

Nevada's Valley of Fire
Rusted rocks that look like a sleeping man, an elephant, a beehive—these and other geological oddities dot the Valley of Fire, an hour outside Las Vegas off I-15. Nevada’s largest state park offers roughly 42,000 acres of sandstone shaped by wind and rain, some of it striped in rainbow shades. In spring, the plants seem tinted too: “With the yellow, purple, and pink flowers against the green grass and the deep blue sky, it’s like a Thomas Kinkade painting come to life,” says park representative Sandra Hufford. (702) 397-2088,

Oregon Badlands Wilderness
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness, just an hour’s drive from Bend off Highway 20, offers 29,300 acres of springtime freshness. Despite the region’s aridity, colorful vegetation bursts from crevasses—green juniper trees, silvery sage, and yellow rabbitbrush—as if in a giant rock garden. (541) 416-6700,

Mojave's Hole-in-the-Wall
The name Hole-in-the-Wall makes this corner of California’s Mojave National Preserve sound vacant, though the camping and hiking spot is anything but. It’s filled with rose-colored spires sculpted into holey splendor by volcanic action. Find the visitor center 20 miles north of the Essex Road turnoff on I-40. (760) 252-6100,

Wyoming's Sand Dunes Wilderness Study Area
Sand Dunes Wilderness Study Area, near Rock Springs, Wyo., encompasses more than 27,000 acres of desert landscape. Near this geologic wonder stands Boar’s Tusk, a 290-foot volcanic monolith. Pick up a map at the local BLM office, 280 Hwy. 191, North
Rock Springs. (307) 352-0256,

Photography by Turner Forte Photography

This article was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.