Around the World: Escape to the Wilds of Las Vegas
The Vegas Strip is so bedazzled with bright lights that you can actually see it from outer space.
Otherwise known as Las Vegas Boulevard, the Strip is a galactically alluring destination, a place of pure fantasy, glamour, and high concept real estate that suggests you can with a few steps transport yourself from an ancient monument to a pirate ship, from Paris to Venice – and always be within earshot of the nonstop jingle of coins and chips that fuel the town’s economy at ornate gambling casinos.
The Vegas Strip is a full trip, for sure. Once you arrive and get into its groove, you’ll find yourself frolicking around the clock, wanting to enjoy every minute of the excitement and fun. Playing hard seems to lead to playing harder. And as day rolls into night and night breaks into day, you’ll find yourself lacking for nothing. Except, perhaps, sleep. And peace and quiet. And a sense of time passing, as it does in the natural world.
After two or three days at the nonstop party, you’ll probably feel a it might be wise for you to take a break – even if you want to party on and think you’ve got the stamina to keep going strong. Be smart, pace yourself.
You can either retreat to your hotel room and crash. Or you can retreat from the Strip for some local R&R with a ride into the surrounding desert and a restorative hike along one of the gorgeous trails that traverse nearby national parks and wilderness areas.
Beyond the Strip, Las Vegas is surrounded by a natural wonderland of high desert and mountains. The area is dotted with old ranches and other attractions reminiscent of the ‘Old West.’ It would be a pity for you to miss experiencing the Las Vegas that is a purely ‘Old West’ as the Vegas Strip is newfangled.
What’s best is that the ‘Old West’ isn’t very far away from the Strip, and it’s quite easy to reach by car.
Just drive off The Strip, turning on to West Charleston Boulevard, a main thoroughfare which traverses the broad belt of pinkish-beige residential developments, outdoor shopping malls and local business complexes that encircle The Strip and downtown Las Vegas.
Actually, there’s nothing of particular tourist interest in the residential belt, unless you’re just plain curious about local architecture -- a combination of single story ranch houses and two story stucco McMansions landscaped with Astroturf, palm trees, gravel and boulders -- or want to shop at the many mall outlets that offer much better prices on everything -- including Las Vegas tee-shirts and other tourist items - than you’ll find in the boutiques at Caesars, Bellagio or the pricy Town Center Mall located on the Strip.
But if you continue driving on West Charleston Boulevard, you will pass the homes and shops and soon be surrounded by expanses of beautiful and unspoiled high desert terrain,
dotted with Joshua trees and ringed by rugged mountains.
It’s actually these mountains and their unique attractions that are as alluring and exciting as anything else Las Vegas has to offer. And the drive to reach them takes only about half an hour, if you don’t stop along the way.
Seen from a distance, the mountains present themselves in stunning silhouette against the clear bright blue sky. When you get closer to them, you see that they display a magnificent palette of natural colors, with well-defined striations of ochre, copper, sienna, purple and red that tell the story of the area’s fascinating geological past.
Known descriptively as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, the landscape features a 10-mile stretch of cliffs that are cut perpendicularly with several wide canyons and innumerable narrow ones.
West Charleston Boulevard sweeps to the left and, shortly before you reach Red Rock Canyon, it becomes State Route 159, otherwise known as Blue Diamond Road. The road winds across the desert scrub and into the mountains and skirts the cliffs for several miles before curving back towards the city.
At Red Rock Canyon, you’ll find an interpretive center with exhibits that give you basic information about how the surrounding terrain was formed, and what flora and fauna it
supports. There are park rangers available to answer questions you may have after waking through the exhibits.
There are also maps to guide you along a series of trails that crisscross the mountains, ranging in difficulty from a flat out anybody-can-make-their-way-along-this-trail to steep and narrow passages that almost require you to be part mountain goat to scale them. There are also handouts that will help you to identify plants and critters you may see as you explore the trails.
Athleticism isn’t required to enjoy the beauty of Red Rock Canyon. If you’re exhausted from staying up and partying and you’ve run low on energy, you can park yourself on a bench or at a picnic table, and just enjoy being in the outdoors in such a beautiful place.
Just down the road, you’ll find a hidden oasis called Spring Mountain State Park, location of the legendary Spring Mountain Ranch. As indicated in its name, the area’s many springs made it an attractive place for settlement -- first by Paiute Indians and then by mountain men and their families.
Spring Mountain Ranch, a 520 acre patch of land, was developed into a combination working ranch and luxurious retreat by a string of illustrious owners who’ve left a legacy of colorful legend. Past owners of the ranch have included Chester Lauck of the “Lum & Abner” comedy duo, the German actress Vera Krupp and millionaire Howard Hughes.
Today, the place is maintained as a state park. The main ranch house has been converted into a visitor center, and docents take you from room to room, showing you Vera Krupp‘s
‘hidden bedroom,’ her wardrobe and memorabilia, and a sitting room which was a favorite Hughes hideaway. The interior hasn’t been touched since the 1950s, and the docent’s stories about the ranch’s famous owners really make the place come to life. You can also watch a fascinating video that gives you even more detail about ranch’s history and the daily activities of those who lived there.
There are other old buildings and a cemetery, and Lake Harriet, which one of the owners named for his wife. And there are lush lawns -- yes, in the middle of the surrounding desert -- where you can have a picnic or a baseball toss before heading back to betting on The Strip.
Find out more about Red Rock Canyon at http://www.redrockcanyonlv.org/, about Spring Mountain Ranch at http://www.stateparks.com/spring_mountain_ranch.html, and about Bonnie
Springs Ranch at www.bonniesprings.com.