You’ve heard the cliche, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” And so, we left it all in the glitzy, entertaining, neon “scenic byway”. Yes, the Strip is actually on Nevada’s official scenic byway list. To be sure, Las Vegas is a fun, exciting destination but after a few days we found ourselves craving a respite from all the glitter and headed for the open desert.
Our day-long scouting trip led us into a corner of Death Valley, about 2 hours from the Strip. Immediately, this vast wilderness earned a spot on our “go back and stay” list. Silence hung heavy in our ears, broken only by the wind’s whispers. A refreshing contrast to the casino floor cacophony we had become accustomed to, yet seemingly as loud. Craggy mountain walls splashed mocha, coral, sea-foam green and brilliant red as if a painter had gone wild. With just a few hours to explore, we made a quick stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center before driving to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
We walked about a 1/4 mile out on the dry, salt encrusted flats, boots crunching with every step. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe to make the experience more real.
It was reminiscent of our visit to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1,360 feet below sea level. We couldn’t just stick our toe in the water, we had to go in and float in it! With our hiking boots warmed up, we took a short hike in Natural Bridge Canyon before driving to Dante’s View, billed as “the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park”. Overlooking the floor of Death Valley from a mountain top 5,475 feet high was truly breathtaking.
Inspired by our Death Valley scouting trip we donned our safari hats and explored a couple other desert playgrounds. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 17 miles west of the Strip, a popular hiking, biking and rock climbing area is a fun, quick getaway. The13-mile scenic drive from the Visitor Center winds through the canyon delivering dramatic views and easy access to trail heads and picnic areas. I couldn’t keep Greg on the trail so we scrambled over red boulders and rocky ledges close to climbers scaling vertical walls. Another find, Valley of Fire State Park, about 58 miles from the Strip, reminded me of a scaled down version of Arches National Park with dramatic, red sandstone formations and, of course, don’t forget about Hoover Dam.
I’m not much of a gambler but…odds are, if you leave “it” in Vegas, you will likely find some high pay-offs in the desert.
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