Ah, Las Vegas…the “adult version of Disneyland,” a fantasy playground for adults to partake in all those guilty pleasures in life. Unfortunately, most visitors to “Sin City” don’t venture beyond the Strip, a 4.2 mile stretch of Las Vegas Blvd lined with mega resorts, to explore the wonders that await out in the Mojave Desert. Here are 5 great reasons to jump in a car and skip town:
Some 17 miles from the Strip lies a natural jewel that rises majestically out of the desert. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, as it is officially called, features outstanding hiking amongst the striking red rocks that rise majestically out of the rather barren terrain. A 13 mile scenic road loops its way through the park, stopping off at all the hiking trails, which range from 0.75 to 6 miles and offer chances to spot desert wildlife.
Red Rock Canyon also offers some excellent opportunities for rock climbing and, of course, traditional camping! Even if hiking isn’t your thing, the scenery at Red Rock is worth the drive!
35 miles from Las Vegas Strip sits the highest peak in the nearby Spring Mountain range (11,916 feet or 3,632 meters), providing plenty of opportunities for a quick getaway for hiking, camping or even skiing! Part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston features 53 miles of hiking trails and is home to the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort (that is, if you don’t want to drive to the better skiing in nearby Utah). If nothing else, Mt. Charleston is a great place to escape the Vegas heat, being some 20 degrees cooler than the city on average!
There’s plenty of tour companies that will take you to the Hoover Dam but why not drive yourself? Just follow US-95 to Boulder City, a town that was built for the Dam’s massive construction during the Great Depression. Once there, walk on the Dam itself to Arizona or check out the impressive views of the Dam from the brand new bypass bridge, an engineering marvel in itself!
Once at the Dam, you can take one of two tours (both leaving from the Nevada side): the Power Plant tour that gives you a view of the generators or the more in depth Hoover Dam which takes you inside the physical dam itself through some very cool tunnels (as well as to the generators). Be forewarned that there is a strong chance that your tour guide will refer to everything as Dam(n)… (like those dam tunnels!)
This stunning state park, located 55 miles from the Strip or just 6 miles from Lake Mead (the reservoir created by the aforementioned Hoover Dam) features a striking array of brilliantly colored rock formations created by shifting sand dunes back in the age of the dinosaurs! But it’s not just fascinating rock formations like the one pictured above. Valley of Fire was the prehistoric home of the Basket Making People and the Anasazi Pueblo Farmers, both of whom left stunning works of rock art behind. These petroglyphs are nearly as fascinating as the rock formations themselves, making Valley of Fire well worth a visit!
There are opportunities available for hiking, traditional and RV camping, as well as a simple scenic drive.
Okay this one falls into the weird category more than anything else, but some 150 miles north of Las Vegas lies the very small town of Rachel, the closest inhabited town to a certain spot in the large block of federally owned land (that includes the Nevada Test Site, where the atomic bomb was perfected, and the Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range) that is rumored to be the location of “Area 51,” the U.S. Military’s super-secret base that the government won’t even confirm exists!
Getting to Rachel requires a rather dull drive down the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” (more commonly known as Nevada Highway 375) as the area is known for its UFO sightings (or perhaps bizarre flying contraptions developed by the U.S. Air Force?).
The town of Rachel itself doesn’t have much to see (it even lacks a gas station so make sure you fuel up before leaving Las Vegas) but the good folks at the Little A’Le’Inn can help you with all your UFO hunting/Area 51 needs. Note that the closest you can get to seeing any of the activities at Area 51 are the signs where they threaten to shoot you if you get any closer…
Oh and, if you go, keep a look out for the (legal) brothels that appear off the road once you leave Clark County!