If you’re flying in and out of Vegas for the weekend, then we have all the information you need regarding hotels, restaurants, night-time diversions and the like. We have started a series of tutorials for the many casino games you’ll find in Vegas.
This short blog is to inform you about making Vegas the hub for a great southwestern vacation. There will always be more time for casino action either in Vegas itself or games online for free or for real money you play at home.
Geography of Vegas
We assume you are taking a one week vacation in the southwest of the US and want to stay based in Vegas. You’ll rent a car to travel around. So, the first thing you need to decide is what driving distance and time is most suitable to you.
Las Vegas is a desert city and the desert rewards adventurers. In a small radius around Las Vegas are Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Sloan Canyon, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
If you wish to venture a little further afield, you can visit Zion National Park in Utah or Death Valley National Park in California.
Valley of Fire
This park is a little less than one hour from Vegas. The park has many hiking trails of varying difficulty. It’s best known for the illusion that the limestone outcroppings are on fire depending on how the sunlight reflects off them.
As a desert park, during most of the year plant life is dominated by hardy desert bushes. In the summer, the dry bushes break off in the wind and become tumbleweeds. These are a beautiful site in themselves. But in the spring, rains bring out an abundance of colorful wildflowers. People who visit, first in the summer or later and then visit when the wildflowers are in full bloom, state that there is simply nothing like a desert in bloom. Wildflowers are to the Nevada desert as changing leaf color is to New England and all cold winter locales.
The Anasazi people lived here. They farmed in the nearby Moapa Valley. They have left extensive petroglyphs which scholars believe reflect the Anasazi religion and that they used this area as a place to perform religious rituals.
The bright red hues make Valley of Fire an excellent substitute for the spectacular Bryce Canyon National Park, a bit too far to drive for a day trip.
Lake Mead and Hoover Dam
These can easily be enjoyed as part of a single day trip. In both cases, a lot depends on what you like. Hoover Dam is an amazing, even imposing, structure. Lake Mead was formed behind it as water was held and receded. Hoover Dam produces hydroelectric power and Lake Mead provides boating, bird watching and other water-based activities.
There are guided tours of Hoover Dam and boat excursions on the lake. The scenery from both is spectacular. Travelers often claim that the scenery from a boat on Lake Mead is simply stunning. You’re in what seems to be a mountain lake but unlike most mountain lakes, which are surrounded by cold, snowy mountains, the mountains that hover over Lake Mead are desert mountains.
About 22 miles and a half hour drive south of Hoover Dam is a turnoff for Willow Beach. The road down winds around and, if you have a temperature gauge in your car, you might see the temperature rise as you descend. At the bottom are picnic tables a few feet from the Colorado River. It’s truly amazing how cold the water of the Colorado River is in July and August even as the air temperature is 110⁰ or more.
Sloan Canyon and Red Rock Canyon
These are both conservation areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Sloan Canyon is famous for petroglyphs. There are at least 300 rock panels that feature at least 1700 different elements of life in this area. Scientists studying the petroglyphs believe that the cultures they represent span from pre-historic times to more recent times.
Red Rock Canyon is known, as you might have surmised, for its red rocks. There are many places to stop your car and walk a bit.
This day trip is a little longer than the others. Death Valley is dry all year round. In the summer, it is dangerously hot. If you venture out into the sand and you take “only” a couple of gallons of water, you might find that your water supply has run out quite quickly.
When you go out on the sand dunes, be sure to have well-tied high support shoes. First, this is not the place to be stranded with a sprained ankle. Second, scorpions, rattlers, and the ferocious black widows live here.
Zion National Park
This park is in exactly the opposite direction from Death Valley. Although it’s very hot in the valley in the summer, it’s quite pleasant on the ridge. The park offers a full day of hiking and nature in all its glory.
One reason to visit Zion is the magnificent town of St. George at the southwestern corner of Utah. St. George has much to offer travelers in its own right. Our favorite time in St. George includes a play at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts just outside St. George.
Las Vegas is Always There
As many day trips as you take during your Las Vegas stay, the casinos will always be there, open 24/7 so you won’t miss a thing and you’ll have great memories and pictures to boot.