Carolina: Cruising Past 70: OLA: Escaping to the Natural Side of Vegas!

Monday, May 27, 2013

OLA: Escaping to the Natural Side of Vegas!

Bill and Carol @ the Artists' Palette in Death Valley National Park
our little Saturn @ Rainbow Vista Point, Valley of Fire
After such a sizzling week of 12 shows at the Strip in 8 days, most of them free, Bill and I needed a nature break.  With some research and tips from Tony and Angie, we found four trips of less-than-an-hour and one 2-hour day trip to the other side of Vegas. We were excited that natural outdoor parks are so accessible from the city’s man-made wild side. Maybe that is one reason the site was chosen for the city.  But the major factors for its early growth were the legalization of gambling in 1931 and the construction of Hoover Dam in 1935. The population of the SMSa is now 2M.

full view of the Red Rocks Canyon from the Visitor Center
Carol @ Calico Point, Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area
The very first day trip we took was only 30 minutes away, the Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. It provides awe-inspiring views of desert beauty in towering red cliffs, very near and in contrast to the bright lights and hype of the Strip.  The red hills were formed by a number of geological forces including fractured faults where the earth's crust collided over millions of years, leaving fossilized sand dunes. The Calico Cliffs and Tanks are of special interest.

having lunch high up at Mt. Charleston Lodge Cafe

Cathedral Rock at Mt. Charleston
Only 40 minutes away from the heat of the city is Mount Charleston, a haven in winter for its skiing facilities and in summer for temperatures cooler by 20 degrees, much like Tagaytay is to Manila.  Unlike Tagaytay though, it is serene and uncrowded, a definite indication that the real draw to Las Vegas is the unending sizzle of the Strip. Cathedral Rock is the towering attraction, much like Taal Volcano is for Tagaytay. Bill and I enjoyed lunch at the deck of Mt. Charleston Lodge, overlooking the mountain ridge.

Hoover Dam and the new Bypass
Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is just about 50 minutes south of Las Vegas. It is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression, such a large concrete structure had never been built before, some of the techniques were unproven, and the torrid climate presented difficulties.  The dam is located near Boulder City, Nevada, a municipality originally constructed for workers on the construction project, about 25 mi southeast of Las Vegas. The dam provides power for Nevada, Arizona, and California. 
Lake Mead National Recreation Area from the Visitor Center
Carol @ Las Vegas Harbor and Cafe on Leak Mead NRA
Formation of Lake Mead began in 1935, less than a year before Hoover Dam was completed. The lake features water recreation - boating, swimming, and fishing. It also features hiking trails and views of the surrounding desert landscape; three of the four desert ecosystems found in the U.S. — the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin Desert, and the Sonoran Desert — meet in the first ever National Recreation Area to be created. About 30 M acre-feet of water are stored there although there are highs and lows through time, depending on snowmelts. Now it is 100 feet short of the maximum recorded in the 1980s.

Bill and Carol @ Beehives in the Valley of Fire
Bill again maneuvering to give me a perfect shot
The Valley of Fire is only 50 miles northeast from the city. Considering its magnitude and beauty, I wondered why it was designated a state park and not a national park.  Later I learned that it is the oldest state park in Nevada and was also designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Covering an area of almost 42,000 acres, it derives its name from red sandstone, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs that often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun's rays. The Elephant Rock, Mouse Tanks, White Domes, Silica Dome, Fire Canyon, Piano Rock, the Arch, Rock of Gibraltar, Beehives, Indian Marbles, etc. are of special interest. The park even has campgrounds with full hookups!

Badwater Basin, 2nd lowest part of the world
@ Death Valley National Park
But our biggest discovery is that the Death Valley National Park is only 2 hours away from the Strip! So Bill and I went early to maximize our coverage of the large Park. It is known for being the driest (average of 2 inches of rainfall a year), lowest at -282 feet (second to Laguna de Carbon in Argentina), and hottest (134 degrees Fahrenheit recorded).  The highest point of the lower 48 is Mount Whitney, at a height of over 14,500 feet, is only 87 miles away. Home to many species of plants and animals that have adapted to this harsh desert environment, it has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve.

Zabrieski Point @ Death Valley National Park
Natural Bridge @ Death Valley National Park
Tourism blossomed in the 1920s, when resorts were built around Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. There is now a Visitor Center at Furnace Creek right at the center of the park near the Inn, Ranch, and Resort. From there we were able to go to the Artists’ Palette, Natural Bridge, and Badwater Basin. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to go to Stovepipe Wells, Scotty’s Castle, and the Racetrack. It is interesting to know that parts of the first Star Trek movie were filmed there!

Well, that is the other exciting side of Las Vegas, the natural side. In four weeks, we have vacationed at a hotel, dined at a revolving restaurant, visited with friends and family, watched 12 shows, and drove to five amazing outdoor areas. What other treasures Las Vegas has to offer in our last week still awaits us. I definitely like the Entertainment Capital of the World a whole lot!!!


  1. Some outstanding pics. Death valley must be amazing. I really liked the beehive pic. More to the area than just casinos!

    1. Yes, it was unbelievable considering I had been to Vegas a number of times! Thanks!

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