Ditch the Glitz for Adventure in Vegas
Take a break from Vegas' glitz and glamour with a day trip to the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire State Park or other destinations within a day's drive of the city.
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.
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.
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.
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.”