This past week I've been to two of my favorite shows in Vegas -- Le Reve at the Wynn and Cirque du Soleil's "O" at Bellagio -- and they frankly don't hold a candle to what you can find outside the city when you are looking for amazement.
With a little bit of driving there's a bunch of beauty outside Vegas -- this is how I've spent my past few days when I haven't been at the poker tables, and what you can expect:
1). Red Rock Canyon
, outside Las Vegas:
This is one of the easiest sites to get to if you're in search of natural beauty, since it's only about a 30 minute drive out of the city. Head west on Charleston Boulevard and you can't miss it. It's a 13-mile driving loop ($7 entry fee) filled with wonderful red stone formations.
2). The Nevada-Cali border: Rhyolite ghost town and Death Valley National Park Ruins of Rhyolite ghost town, NevadaElevation in parts of Death Valley National Park, California
Both are amazing but it's nice to hit them at the same time on a trip. Rhyolite
is about an hour and a half away from Vegas, just head up U.S. 95 to the town of Beatty and travel four miles west of the town on Highway 374.
Here you'll find ruined buildings and clues to a town of yesteryear. When I'm here, I always think of what Vegas might look like in a few hundred years if no one lived there -- the desert takes care of everything.
A few more miles on Highway 374 and you'll cross into Death Valley National Park
, which is a wonderful expanse of mountains and desert. It contains one of the lowest points in the United States, Furnace Creek, at elevation -190, and a the remains of an ancient sea. It can be a challenge to anyone going there, with temperatures as high as 120 degrees. Bring water for yourself and your car when you go in the hot months ($20 entrance fee).
3). Valley of Fire State Park
This park ($10 entrance fee and about 40 minutes north of Las Vegas on I-15) is a real treat, especially if you can't get out to Utah's iconic national parks such as Zion, Arches or Bryce Canyon. It is full of red and white rock formations and even some in between. The Mouse's Tank trail is full of petroglyphs left by inhabitants long-gone. No one can tell you what they mean in full, so you'll have to use your own imagination to figure them out.
4). Zion National Park, UtahA majestic view at Zion National Park, UtahZion
is one of my favorite national parks. It's a pretty easy 3.5-hour drive on I-15 north to St. George, Utah and from there on Highway 9 to the park. From the canyon below which starts at 4,000 feet elevation, it is host to rocks that smile down from elevations in the 7,000 foot range. The mountains look amazing when they're illuminated in afternoon light.