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Why some of California's most outdoorsy people are moving to...Las Vegas?

Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LAS VEGAS -- For many, the lure of Las Vegas is the near complete immersion in a man-made world.

Visitors bury themselves deep inside temperature-controlled casinos, surrounded by artificial lights and sounds, with no windows or even clocks to remind them that the outside world still exists.

It's one of the indoors-iest places on the planet.

But just outside the city, about 20 minutes from the bachelor parties and slot machines, a growing number of elite outdoor athletes are buying homes, starting families and declaring Las Vegas the adventure sports capital of the United States.

"It just has unparalleled access to the outdoors," gushed Alex Honnold, the world's most famous rock climber and subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary, "Free Solo," about his breathtaking 2017 ascent of Yosemite's El Capitan, a nearly vertical granite wall that rises 3,000 feet above the valley floor.

It was first climbed in 1958 by a team who took 18 months searching for tiny protrusions and cracks to use as holds and driving heavy metal spikes into the rock where no natural holds existed. Honnold shocked the climbing world by using only his hands and feet — no safety equipment of any kind — and completing the ascent in just under four hours, a new speed record for the route.


In early May, as light from the rising desert sun seemed to set fire to the towering cliffs of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just west of Las Vegas, Honnold pulled up in his electric truck ready to sprint up another sheer rock face. This one, known as the Rainbow Wall, rose about 1,000 feet above the desert floor.

Honnold, 38, who is of medium height and build and graying slightly at the temples, was dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and running shoes. At first glance, there was little to set him apart from a dozen or so other hikers and climbers lined up to enter the park at 6 a.m.

But then he tossed a small pack over his shoulder and started moving, eager to cover several miles of brush and boulder-strewn landscape between him and the base of the climb before the day got too hot. His small entourage, which included a climbing partner and two Times journalists, struggled to keep up.

"Honestly, I would say Las Vegas is better than any of the other cities in the country that have a reputation for being outdoorsy," Honnold said. "People go to Denver because they say they want to be near the outdoors. But it's at least an hour's drive away from the real mountains."


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