Escape from Las Vegas to the Red Rock Canyon… The Desert Series

Depending on traffic conditions, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is 30-45 minutes outside of Las Vegas. It is hard to imagine two more diverse worlds.

Depending on traffic conditions, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is 30-45 minutes outside of Las Vegas. It is hard to imagine two more diverse worlds.

 

Las Vegas shouldn’t exist.

Why would any sane person build a city in middle of a desert where summer temperatures regularly climb over 110 degrees F and annual rainfall hangs around 4 inches? Sure, it’s a great place for jackrabbits and rattlesnakes and scorpions and cacti and desert tortoises. Maybe even lonely miners, ladies of the evening, jet jockeys, crotchety cowmen, and aliens belong there.

What Las Vegas would look like without water.

What Las Vegas would look like without imported water.

But putting 1.8 million people into Las Vegas and the surrounding Clark County– what were they thinking? Everything has to be imported… and I mean everything including the ever-precious water for golf courses and tourists with bucks to toss. Cut off either one and Las Vegas is SOL. The city returns to the jackrabbits and LA sucks up any extra water from the Colorado River.

A jackrabbit. (Photo at Red Rock Canyon Museum.)

“I want my desert back.” Hoppy Jackrabbit. (Photo from Red Rock Canyon Museum.)

MONEY, of course, is the answer for the city’s existence– obscene amounts of it, like bundles and bundles and bundles. Mafia hit men joined together with Mormon bankers following World War II to build the Flamingo Casino and start milking the proverbial cash cow. This kicked off a spree of building pleasure palaces that continues even today, with each one being bigger and glitzier than the one before. The names and faces have changed, but the basic underlying purpose remains the same: separate tourists from their hard-earned cash, as quickly as possible.

Down around Fremont Street a touch of Old Vegas here mobsters ruled as been preserved. If you go down there, be sure to visit the Mobster Museum.

Down around Fremont Street, a touch of Old Vegas where mobsters ruled has been preserved. If you go down there, and you should, be sure to visit the mobster museum. The cowboy above  would have been the epitome of neon lighting in its day.

Most of the older casinos in Las Vegas have now been replaced with fantasy creations that out-Disney Disney.

Most of the older casinos in Las Vegas have now been replaced with fantasy creations that out-Disney Disney.

Now I confess to liking a little glitter from time to time. A stroll down the Strip drops me into Venice, New York City, Paris or even a pyramid. While pale in comparison to the real thing, the moguls of Las Vegas have spent billions creating these make-believe worlds. And the price of admission is right: free. At least it is if you can avoid the multiple temptations. I can’t. I am sure there is a quarter video poker machine out there that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, or at least pay for dinner. Or, failing all of that, cover the tourist tax. (Remember here, however, that I also believe in UFOs.)

Venice, Las Vegas style.

Venice, Las Vegas style complete with fake sky and a singing gondolier.

Venice, Italy from our 2012 visit. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The real thing from our 2012 visit to the Mediterranean. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

There comes that inevitable moment, however, when I have to escape the glitter, noise, and crowds for the wilderness. I have to return to my roots, to commune with nature. Luckily, it’s easy from Las Vegas. Last week I took you out to the Valley of Fire, a short hour drive away. Today we are going to visit Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is even closer, 30–45 minutes.

Truth be told, if I have to choose between urban fantasies and natural wonders, I'll go for the natural wonders. We found this desert tortoise outside the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center but you might see them anywhere in the park, as the sign below attests.

Truth be told, if I have to choose between urban fantasies and natural wonders, I’ll go for the natural wonders. We found this desert tortoise outside the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center but you might see them anywhere in the park, as the sign below attests.

Watch out for tortoises on the road sign in Red Rock Canyon park outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

This gem sits on the edge of Las Vegas. An easy morning trip will get you there, around the park and back. The park features a one way, 13-mile drive with numerous turnouts. There are several hiking trails that crisscross the area. Many people also enjoy biking the route. I highly recommend starting your trip at the excellent visitor’s center.

Here are some views along the way.

Be sure to stop off at the Visitor's Center for an overview of Red Rock Canyon. In addition to having excellent information on the park, it includes lots of fun things like this kid-sized snail sculpture.

Be sure to stop off at the Visitor’s Center for an overview of Red Rock Canyon. In addition to having excellent information on the park, it includes lots of fun things like this kid-sized snail sculpture.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

You can also preview your route from the Visitor’s Center. The road snakes around the colorful hill in the foreground. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Red sandstone hill in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

A close up of the same hill taken from the road. One of Red Rock Canyon’s many hiking trails is seen at the base of hill.

As in the Valley of Fire, the various rock formations in Red Rock Canyon are carved out of  ancient sand dunes that have been turned to rock. Peggy captures one of the formations here.

As in the Valley of Fire, the various rock formations in Red Rock Canyon are carved out of ancient sand dunes that have been turned to rock. Peggy captures one of the formations here.

Photograph of Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas Nevada.

What she saw through her lens. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson.)

Sand Stone Quarry pull off in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Pull offs from the road provide a number of opportunities to stop and admire the scenery. I took this shot from the Sand Stone Quarry pull off.

Which is where I also found this flower.

Which is where I also found this flower.

Pictoglyphs found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

We found these Native American pictoglyphs near Willow Springs. Petroglyphs are made by pecking the rock surface with a rock. Pictoglyphs are made with natural paint derived from minerals. flowers, etc. The pigment for these handprints came from hematite, iron oxide.

Scenic mountain in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

I enjoyed the contrast in this Red Rock Canyon scene.

Mountains in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area framed by a juniper tree.

Juniper provided a frame for this photo of Red Rock Canyon mountains.

I thought these twin cactus flowers would provide a fitting conclusion for my blog on Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

I thought these twin cactus flowers would provide a fitting conclusion for my blog on Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

NEXT BLOG: Hello Death Valley!

 

41 comments on “Escape from Las Vegas to the Red Rock Canyon… The Desert Series

  1. Interesting to read about Las Vegas. I was there once a couple years ago. When my husband and oldest son went on a 12-day Boy Scout hiking trip, I took the youngest (12 at the time) to Vegas. Seems fair, doesn’t it? My youngest is a talented magician, and it was a great chance for him to see some magic shows. He met Penn & Teller and Mac King. The trip was lots of fun, though I could do with out the endless booby cards… I’d like to go again and this time visit Red Rock Canyon. It looks gorgeous.

    • Few too many booby cards, eh Carrie. 🙂 That’s the seedy part of Vegas. As are the endless racks of cheap newspapers basically promoting the same thing. The shows can be great, however. Peggy and I always take in one or two and magicians are a favorite. Las Vegas has worked hard to become more of a family town, an expensive family town but no more than a trip to Disneyland.

      I was watching some young people at a magic show when Peggy and I were there a few weeks ago, and they were enthralled. –Curt

  2. They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
    What happens in Red Rock Canyon, though, must be shared, like you just did.
    Gorgeous scenery, which I also love very much, matched by your exquisite photos.

    • Thanks Evelyn. My guess is an awful lot has stayed in Las Vegas over the years. It’s like a huge playpen. I’ve been to Vegas many times over the years… it serves as my gateway to the Southwest. But it wasn’t until two years ago, I discovered Red Rock Canyon. And I am an outdoor kind of person.

      The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce now promotes areas like Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire. But the casinos never did. Every hour you spend out exploring the countryside, is an hour you are not spending money in their establishments. 🙂 –Curt

  3. I have long wanted to go to Vegas – how can you ignore something so completely outrageous. Now I would like to see both the wonders of Vegas and the wonders of the desert. Gorgeous rock formations, and flowers.
    Alison

  4. Beautiful pictures. I rather like Las Vegas. We took many road trips to there because my mom liked to gamble 😛 and as an adult, I just find it fascinating. Red Rocks is truly spectacular and you both captured it in spades (pun intended).

    • Las Vegas lacks the charm of more classical cities but it is definitely a fantasy land of the first order. From that perspective, it is worth a visit, Hilary.

      The stone formations are part of a different world… much more reflective of what the Southwest has to offer. –Curt

  5. Thanks for introducing me to Las Vegas. Although the original is prettier, Venice, Las Vegas style complete with fake sky and a singing gondolier, isn’t bad 🙂

  6. Little Mr. T enjoyed the jackrabbit (woah!) and the tortoise. That was neat you caught sight of the latter, Curt. Your shot of Venice is just beautiful. I can do without anything Vegas. lol Too gaudy for my taste.

  7. Vegas is definitely an assault on the senses, Curt. We first went there on a whim many, many years ago. We wandered the streets saying things like “golly,” eating 25 cent giant hotdogs, and spending a few quarters on a video poker game. But I like your solution – head to red rock canyon. Truly beautiful. 🙂 ~Terri

    • Don’t think you would find any $.25 hot dogs in Vegas now, Terri. 🙂 $10 is what you pay for the most inexpensive meals unless you head for the fast food joints. You can still get into Red Rock Canyon for seven bucks, however! And for free if you have a National parks pass. –Curt

  8. Hi! Your view of Las Vegas mirrors mine, but since I’ve moved to another unsupportable desert city I’ve also had a curiosity. Generally speaking households in Phoenix use less water for yards and the newer homes are more energy efficient than what was made where I lived before so maybe, just ever so maybe, we desert scavengers are providing other areas of the country with more air and water and space to enjoy. Perhaps the real issue is–why wasn’t/isn’t more birth control around? Unfortunately after all, as you pointed out, Las Vegas was founded by Mormons in part probably because they needed to put their rampant number of children somewhere! And really we desert dwellers have a perverse appreciation for wandering jack rabbits, turtles, coyotes living in our neighborhoods on golf courses, roadrunners, and scorpions. We even hold night party celebrations for scorpions to see them. (I’d put a smiley face here, but I haven’t figured out how to do that on WordPress.) Could I be saving the forests for posterity by living in the desert? Can I use that rationalization? Please?

    • I noticed that San Diego is approaching the place where it might recycle sewer water as drinking water once it is processed. At a minimum it can be recycled for agriculture. Gradually we are getting much smarter about water use, albeit kicking and screaming.

      Maybe we can find a solution to water use in addition to conservation. If so, living in the desert makes sense from the perspective of land use, solar power and wind power. Desalinization of ocean water will certainly help when we find a less expensive way of doing it.

      BTW, I just read an article that scorpions are florescent under black light. If you had a black light it should add to the party atmosphere. 🙂

      –Curt

  9. Nice post! Las Vegas does, surprizingly, have some genuinely wonderful things to see and hike and explore outside the city. Thank goodness. I am pretty sure I did not see the visitor’s center for Red Rock Canyon in the two times I went there. In my memory it’s pretty desolate, with a campground and a few trails. Well that settles it, I have to go back and find what I missed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s