Trippin’ on Harleys Out of Sin City to the Valley of Fire

Viva Las Vegas!

  • For this motorcycle travel feature we dug into the archives and found this story by the one and only Joe K. in American Iron Magazine Issue #322.  The Speedmill Rat Bike graces that cover along with a Street Glide Special Review, sheet metal tech from Dave Perewitz, a cool spread on a Finnish chopper and more. Check out Issue #322 and all of our great back issues at GreaseRag.com

By Joe Knezevic 

You’ve probably heard the famous World War II idiom “Loose lips sink ships.” Well, I’m proud to say for the record that I can keep a secret and, not to toot my own horn, I’m pretty good at it! But for the sake of this story, I’m going to buck conventional wisdom to let you in on what I did the last time I visited Las Vegas. I know, I know! By doing this, I’m breaking that golden rule and famous copyrighted tourist slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Now that I have your attention, the story begins when I visited Sin City for business unrelated to the magazine. There’s always so much going on in Vegas that whenever I’m there for an extended amount of time, soon enough, I feel a need to escape the craziness to recharge my batteries. On this trip, I easily accomplished this by setting up a bike rental of a 2014 Road King for me and a 2014 Ultra Limited for my buddy. There are plenty of short day rides in the Vegas vicinity that will take you away from the hustle and bustle of The Strip. For example, just minutes away is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Mt. Charleston, both of which offer some great roads to ride and sights to see.

For our day ride we opted to check out the Valley of Fire State Park (VOF) near Lake Mead Recreational Area and iconic Hoover Dam. To do this loop, we entered the VOF at the West Entrance Station. So once we got our bikes on West Flamingo Road we simply hopped onto Interstate-15 heading north of The Strip for about 50 miles until we reached Exit 75 where we got off for a pit stop at the Moapa Paiutes Travel Plaza. This place is truly an oasis in the desert! It includes a cafe, casino, convenience store, gas station, and a cool separate “fireworks only” store. Being situated on the Moapa River Reservation, the rules are different, meaning the selection of fireworks is extensive, and, more importantly, the price of booze is the best you’ll find anywhere in the area. After grabbing some breakfast at the café, we topped off our tanks before heading east on the Glendale-Moapa Road (Nevada State Route 168). The twisty road leading to the Valley of Fire’s entrance was entertaining, but soon enough, we reached the gate. Note: the park never closes but there’s always a fee for entry, which, in my opinion, is certainly worth the cost.

An example of one of the many spectacular Red Sandstone rock outcrops we saw in the Valley of Fire. Don’t let the photo fool you; when the sun hits these rocks just right they seem to be on fire.

Crossing into the park, it’s hard not to be taken aback by the landscape’s natural beauty. The park’s name is derived from the vibrant, 150-million-year-old red sandstone that dominates the landscape. When the sun’s rays hit the sandstone rocks just right, they seem to be on fire! Dedicated in 1935, the Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, covering nearly 42,000 acres. It became a National Natural Landmark in 1968 and abuts Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Besides the stunning Jurassic-aged geology, the park offers visitors wonderful examples of pretified wood and 3,000-year-old Native American petroglyphs. Mouse’s Tank and Atlatl Rock are two relatively easily accessible areas to see many of the glyphs. About halfway into the park, it’s worth checking out the full-scale visitor’s center and its many informative exhibits.

As you can imagine, the park is a popular getaway for locals and visitors alike. Over the years, the VOF has been a popular location for shooting films and television shows. For example, the outside Mars scenes from Total Recall (1990), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, were almost totally shot in the Valley of Fire. In addition, all the Veridian III scenes in Star Trek: Generations (1994) were filmed here, which means it was in this valley where Captain Kirk fell to his death! Yet another example comes from the Michael Bay-directed film Transformers (2007), which includes a scene of the Autobots driving through the valley with other military vehicles at sunset. A final example, and the one that got me excited most, was that the 1984-87 CBS TV show Airwolf (one of my favorites ever!) used the Valley of Fire (named the Valley of the Gods in the show) as the secret hiding place for the stolen supersonic helicopter Airwolf.

Riding through the park doesn’t take long, but I encourage anyone visiting to take their time. Stop and check out some of the rock formations up close because there are some amazing outcrops, and it’s hard to believe they are all naturally created. Keep in mind, too, that the Valley of Fire gets blazingly hot during summer months, so plan your trip accordingly.

Harleys at Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Our Harleys at the entrance to Lake Mead National Recreational Area.

Once we reached the park’s eastern edge, we decided to head south to Lake Mead Recreational Area (LMRA). The LMRA falls under the US National Park Service domain, so there’s a separate fee to enter this area; the VOF is state-run. Once we paid up, we rode Northshore Road (Nevada State Route 167) southward along Lake Mead’s western shores. We were again treated to sweet twisty roads that wind their way through beautiful naturally occurring landscape. Our intent was to take this road around Las Vegas Bay and onto South Lakeshore Road before heading onto Hoover Dam. But as fate would have it, as we rounded the bay, we noticed dark, ominous thunderclouds building just west of us. Having been caught in heavy, desert rains during past trips, we decided to cut our ride short to Hoover Dam to head back to Vegas. To do this, we turned onto Lake Mead Boulevard (State Route 147), which took us into North Vegas where we scooted south on Interstate-75 towards the rental facility. As it turned out, the thunderstorms caught us before we could return the bikes, so our remaining few miles were ridden in a heavy downpour with flash floods occurring all around us. As we pulled into the rental lot, we realized that even though we were initially disappointed for cutting our ride short, we made the right call by heading back and not getting caught at Hoover Dam in severe thunderstorms.

If you’re planning on being one of the 40 million people to visit Las Vegas annually and you love riding Harleys, I strongly suggest you rent a bike while in town. No matter if you’re in town for business or pleasure, there’s no better way to experience The Strip than cruising it on a Harley. I also urge you to leave the city limits in your mirrors for a day cruise of the area surrounding Sin City. Think of it as a story that you can tell people about your visit when you get back home, but without worrying that your loose lips might sink ships! AIM

Las Vegas Motorcycle Tour - Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam is an engineering wonder of the world just 35 miles southeast of Las Vegas. This historic man-made creation tamed the mighty Colorado River and created North America’s largest man-made lake, Lake Mead. The 726-foot-high, arch-gravity dam is 660 feet thick and forever changed the face of the western United States.