Deciphering the Secrets of Rainbow Vista

February 13, 2020By Glenn

As you embark on a tour of Rainbow Vista, you'll be greeted by a sign that promises an "Adventure in Color". It says that you are "looking across 150 million years of time". It says that you'll be walking through "sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth". Well hot dang! I'm sold!

And that dinosaur sand... what deep, fine sand it is. Just like almost everywhere else at Valley of Fire State park. And on my first visit here, I still hadn't learned the lesson yet. Wear hiking boots, or some other kind of footwear that keeps the sand out. Dinosaur sand has a knack for getting in every nook and cranny!

Deep and fine sand present at Rainbow Vista

But, it doesn't really matter too much though. The landscape is so striking that you'll likely tolerate a bit of grit between your toes until you get back to your vehicle.

And, as for the "adventure in color", not sure what that means, or where to look. The park map sure didn't say anything specific. As you walk into the area dubbed "Rainbow Vista", while beautiful, it looks like so much of the rest of this state park. Rusty red sand and rocks, dotted with pale green and grey shrubs. And as is also not uncommon in this park, there didn't seem to be a clearly marked trail. Just hundreds of footsteps from previous visitors left in the sand, weaving in between thousands of shrubs in every conceivable direction. Which way to this "adventure in color"? Well, I think part of the fun is exploring and figuring it out.

The region that Rainbow Vista occupies is not too large. It occupies a circular area, with large, round sandstone boulders towards the back. You'll often see folks perched on top of those boulders. Just walk towards the back and the rest will become clear to the observant adventurer.

As I hiked in, a few feet in front me was a family of four. A mother, father, and two young boys. And as young boys often do, they were misbehaving and annoying the parents. Loudly. And as I tried to tune out the noise, I saw what looked to be a sign with a camera icon on it in the distance.

A lone sign with a camera icon on it designating a photo opportunity

Must be a photo op. Could it be the main attraction? Do I hang back a while and let the raucous family move on so I can capture my video?

Well, turns out I didn't have to. They walked right on by, never having noticed that sign. Maybe they didn't care. But, this seemed to be the "adventure in color" the main sign promised. The spot with colorful stripes in the sandstone, just like the bands of a rainbow. Should I be a nice guy and point out to the family that they passed by what is probably the main draw of Rainbow Vista? Normally I would, but it seemed like with all the fussing they would not enjoy it anyway. Besides, I had a video to make and daylight was fading fast.

There is a point to be made here. The park map does not clearly notate where to go. It's so easy to pass by this spot. You could easily decide to head off in a different direction and never be any the wiser, perhaps scratching your head as to where the "adventure in color" actually is. Is it the red sandstone, because that is indeed colorful. But, no more colorful than countless other spots in the park. That's why we also made a video! Much easier to show than to describe in words. You might want to watch it in case you plan on seeking out the colors of the Rainbow Vista one day.

Once you find it though, you'll be greeted by an array of vibrant colors. The main image at the start of this article sums it up. You don't have to use too much imagination to see how this area got its name.

For the first time on my visit, I saw the richest purples I'd seen in the sandstone. I'd end up finding other spots like this in the park, but for the moment I was dazzled. I didn't know that sandstone could be so colorful. Almost seemed a little unnatural, but there it was, right before my eyes.

Purple bands in the sandstone

And now the pro tip. When you arrive at this area, walk towards the back, keeping to the left. The rainbow colors that I speak of are in the back-left of the circular area.

But I wasn't done yet. I saw folks walking on the other side of the area, so the explorer in me pushed on to see if there were more adventures to be had.

I'm so happy I did. As I proceeded to the right side of this little desert amphitheater, I spied another brown sign. This one pointed me in the direction of a small canyon. The sign read "Fire Canyon Overlook". Strange. Once again, this is not shown or mentioned in the park map. Makes me wonder why.

At this point, the sun had gone down behind the large sandstone walls, but I figured there was enough time to do a little more exploring, so I started heading down the sandy trail in between the looming sandstone walls.

Only a few steps in, I saw some motion from up above and quickly realized that I was surrounded by bighorn sheep on all sides. Some were up so high that they were only silhouettes against the late afternoon sky. Others were only a few feet above, walking along the canyon walls.

The silhouette of a bighorn sheep at Rainbow Vista

Completely alone in the canyon and surrounded by many of these beasts, I had a brief paranoid feeling they had been stalking me and I had fallen straight into their ambush, but the feeling passed in a moment and I chuckled to myself. These peaceful creatures seemed to be casually making their way out to where all the shrubbery was, to most likely graze. They didn't seem to mind my presence at all.

After admiring them for a few minutes, I knew daylight was waning, so I pushed on to find the overlook.

It doesn't take long to get to it. And once you do, you'll find a spectacular close up view of a small sea of the Martian red sandstone that makes Valley of Fire so iconic. Unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon and everything was in shadow. The reds were not as vibrant as I know they could be, but it was well worth the short hike.

On the way back out, I encountered a couple that seemed confused and deliberating which way to go.

Still feeling slightly guilty for not guiding the family of four I mentioned earlier, I decided to say hello and see if I could share my knowledge.

I explained what the main sights are, and oriented them. They were extremely appreciative and confirmed that I was not alone in being confused about the layout of the area and made a comment about how the map was not very helpful.

Having done a good deed, it was time to head back. As I walked back to my car, I couldn't help but wonder, what other sights did I miss? Did I really see everything? Did I decipher all of the secrets of Rainbow Vista?

As for this particular trip, I guess I could not be certain. Perhaps one day when I return, I can dig a bit deeper. Until then, only the bighorn sheep know for sure.

Interested in learning more about Rainbow Vista? Consider checking out our video, or get directions, pricing info, hours of operation and much more on our information page. Links below.

Camping Near Rainbow Vista