AAA Travel Tips / Ditch the Glitz for Adventure in Vegas

Ditch the Glitz for Adventure in Vegas

AAA/Jennifer Broome
By Jennifer Broome , Travel Journalist and TV Personality
July 29, 2019
When you vacation in Vegas, you want to experience the shows, casinos and incredible restaurants. But when in the land of glitz, overindulgence and mega hotels, take a break from the neon lights for some adventurous things to do. Whether you have an hour or a full day, here are my suggestions for adding a little adventure to your trip. Shade is scarce in the high desert, so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen and water on any of these excursions.
Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV, Conservatory
AAA/Inspector 511
Sunrise Stroll Along the Strip (One Hour)
My favorite time of day in Vegas is when the slots have slowed, and the sun is coming up. Yes, you may see some all-nighters still at the tables, but once out in the fresh air, the first thing you’ll notice is that Vegas is oddly calm. Grab a cup of coffee, stroll the Strip and enjoy the architecture of hotels like the Eiffel Tower replica and the hot air balloon of Paris Las Vegas and the sleek lines of the Bellagio without the crowds. The bonus—you can check off a workout.
Scenery from Red Rock State Park in Sedona Arizona
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Geological Jackpot (Couple of Hours)
Rent a car and drive 20 minutes to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. As you cruise the 13-mile scenic loop you’ll quickly see you’ve hit a geological jackpot. While red is the predominant color of the landscape, it’s a visual masterpiece of grays, oranges and tans created over millions of years. You might even get lucky and see a couple of wild burros along the loop.
You have to make a stop at High Point Overlook. At 4,771 feet in elevation, you fully take in the ruggedness, vastness and remoteness of the area from this vista. If you’ve got time, hike one of the 26 trails. My friends and I did a short hike in Pine Creek Canyon. A little less than a mile in, you see what’s left of the Wilson Homestead dating back to the 1920s. An unusual sight at the base of the monolithic canyon walls is the ponderosa pine forest. It’s a remnant from the last Ice Age and survived because of the cooler air and water flowing down the canyon.
colorado river lake mead
AAA/Beth Wiggins
Do the Dam (Half Day)
Take a half day to see an architectural marvel built during the Great Depression. Hoover Dam is an arched concrete dam on the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Built in less than 5 years, the 726.4-foot-tall dam was the world’s tallest dam in the 1930s. You can go with a tour group, but I suggest doing the 30-mile drive yourself, so you can cross the dam. I vividly remember my stomach dropping and ears popping descending 530 feet in 70 seconds on the elevator to the dam’s operation center. It’s a little unnerving but you have to do it. If you want to hop on the guided 30-minute Powerplant Tour or 1-hour Dam Tour, tickets are only available in person on a first-come, first-served basis. Peak visitation hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., so head to the dam either early morning or late afternoon.
Scenery from Valley of Fire State Park in Overton Nevada
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Valley of Fire (Half Day)
About an hour’s drive from the Strip is a geological wonderland so unusual you think you’ve gone to another planet. While on a road trip, my friend Lisa and I made a detour to see the bright red Aztec sandstone rocks that look like they’re on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays, making Valley of Fire State Park a fitting name for this Nevada state park. Rainbow Vista is the primo spot for photos with its expansive view of the canyons, domes, towers, ridges and valleys carved from sand deposited 150 million years ago. My favorite formations are the Beehives formed from layers of silt deposited at different times. Hike the 1-mile trail to White Domes, or just trudge through the sand for a bit in a landscape that has been featured in movies and television shows like “The Professionals,” “Airwolf” and “Star Trek Generations.”
Scenery from Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
AAA/Jennifer Broome
Grandeur of the Grand Canyon (Half or Full Day)
It’s worth taking a day trip to see one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. For an aerial view of Grand Canyon West, Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, book a helicopter or small plane flight with a tour operator. Most bus and aerial tours usually take 4–6 hours and travel to Grand Canyon West, not Grand Canyon National Park. If you want to see the national park, you have to drive. It takes about 4 hours to get to the South Rim. But, when you stand in awe as you gaze out over the colorful canyon walls and marvel at how the sunlight and cloud shadows dance across the landscape, you’ll realize the drive is worth it. Do what I did and drive the entire South Rim. Grandview Point has the best views of rock castles, temples and pillars. I think Navajo Point has an unparalleled view of the Colorado River cutting through the canyon. Make a stop at the Desert View Watchtower to explore the kiva and three floors filled with Native American artwork. As your last stop on the South Rim, it will leave you with a lasting impression of the jaw-dropping landscape of the Grand Canyon. If you see a roadside market on your way back to Vegas, stop and buy some jewelry, blankets or art created by local Navajo Indians. It’s a long drive but will make for a grand day!
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