Let’s See: Shall We Do Las Vegas for $700, or See Red Rock Canyon for $7…

The rocks of Red Rock Canyon, come in numerous forms and colors, including red…

Las Vegas can be fun. It’s a gaudy, flashy, weird place where millions, even billions, are spent on enticing you to leave behind large chunks of change. It’s easy to spend $30 to 50 for dinner, another $30 to $50 for breakfast and lunch, and $50 to $100 for a show. And that’s on the lower side of things. Then there are the ubiquitous gambling machines, modern descendants of one-armed bandits seductively designed to promise you a fortune while robbing you blind— if you hang out long enough, or think dollars are play money. Even so-called penny slots can gobble down 9 to 100 cents (or more) per play. And forget nickel video poker, at least on the Strip. Those were the old days when less greedy gangsters instead of modern capitalists ruled the roost. Today’s entrepreneurs even charge you for parking!

Of course there are less expensive things you can do in Las Vegas. I enjoy walking down the Strip, especially at night, and visiting the pleasure palaces along the way for a clever but fake touch of Paris, or Venice, or New York, or Egypt, or some other exotic locale. Even with ‘cheap on the mind,’ however, the temptations to spend are strong. Oodles of fine restaurants beckon, top shows promise and deliver excellent entertainment, and who can resist investing $20 on a possible fortune. Not me. (My friend Ken claims he is better off walking into a casino and throwing a few $20s on the floor, just to get it over with.)

At night, Las Vegas turns into a fantasy land.

The resort-casinos along the way have spent billions building fake worlds, such as this mini-Venice, designed to lure you off the streets.

The truth about Las Vegas is that it would have been incredibly easy for Ken, Leslie, Peggy and I to spend $700 a day between us on our visit last week, not counting lodging. We didn’t. The cost of one meal ‘out’ bought groceries that allowed us to eat two of our three daily meals ‘in’ for the six days. We avoided shows this time, and did most of our limited gambling off the Strip— almost breaking even. Woohoo! The really big savings, however, came from our getting out of Vegas for two days. The first trip, which I have already described, was to the Valley of Fire State Park some 50 miles east of town.

Our second trip was to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which sits on the western edge of Las Vegas and is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. You can get there in 30 minutes from the Strip. It took us 15 from where we were staying. BLM charges $7 per car to explore the beautiful park. An excellent Visitors’ Center provides an introduction. A thirteen mile road with several pull-offs and hiking trails winds through the area. The following photos provide an overview of some of the sites you can expect to see.

Be sure to stop off at the excellent visitor center for an introduction to the plants, animals, original inhabitants, and geology of the Red Rock Canyon.

Tortoise sculpture at Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center next to Las Vegas, Nevada.

In addition to this realistic sculpture of a tortoise, the center also has tortoise that live on the premises. They are also found roaming free in the park. Signs along the road warn you to watch out for them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Road through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in southern Nevada.

A 13-mile road winds through the canyon providing numerous views and hiking opportunities.

Rock formation in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

This colorful rock formation is found at the beginning of the drive. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Red and white rock formation in Red Rock Canyon on the edge of Las Vegas.

I captured this close up.

Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

And Peggy managed to find another face. Edvard Munch’s Silent Scream comes to mind.

Much of Red Rock Canyon provides more distant vistas. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Yucca and a mountain in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Yucca plants offer a touch of green to the dry desert.

Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Ice Box Canyon provides one of many hiking trails.

Trail into Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas.

The trail leading into the canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A close up along the trail taken by Peggy.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area from Ice Box Canyon pull off.

This rocky draw was on the mountain forming the left side of Ice Box Canyon.

A view on our way out. The sun lights up a cholla cacti.

Just for fun and to conclude this post, I found a car with this license plate in the park. I think it is the most clever way I have ever seen for warning people that they are driving too close.

NEXT BLOGS: Back on schedule. I will wrap-up my Burning Man mutant vehicle photos, get poor Sully landed, and return to the Sierra Trek.

 

 

 

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!

 

Beauty vs. Glitz: A Break from Las Vegas at Red Rock Canyon… On the Road

Red Rock Canyon with its beauty and silence is just a few minutes a away from Las Vegas.

Red Rock Canyon with its beauty and silence is just a few minutes away from Las Vegas.

I was going to blog about glitzy Las Vegas today but we took a detour. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a few miles to the west of the Strip and it’s billion dollar pleasure palaces. Nothing could provide a greater contrast. Glitz and noise are replaced by beauty and silence. And, unlike Las Vegas, the park is not dedicated to separating you from your money. I could make the $7 dollar per vehicle entrance fee disappear into a video poker machine faster than it took the park ranger to collect it.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Park features one of the most impressive visitor centers I have seen in my decades of visiting State and National Parks across the United States.

I took this desert tortoise photo at the Visitor Center for the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

I took this desert tortoise photo at the Visitor Center for the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

This human size silver lizard was one of several sculptures at the Red Canyon Visitors' Center.

This human size silver lizard was one of several sculptures at the Red Canyon Visitors’ Center.

Peggy is standing next to a sculpture resenting air.

Peggy is standing next to a sculpture representing air. Note the rabbit ears in the background.

Ken Lake, dressed up in his SF Giants memorabilia, demonstrates the proper se of the rabbit ears.

Ken Lake, dressed up in his SF Giants memorabilia, demonstrates the proper use of the rabbit ears.

We spent an hour with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake checking out the Visitor Center and then another three hours on a leisurely tour of the 13-mile drive through the park. We could have easily spent all day had we taken advantage of the numerous trails along the way.

A view of the mountains and their distinctive ribbon of red from the Red Rock Canyon Visitors's Center.

A view of the mountains and their distinctive ribbon of red from the Red Rock Canyon Visitor’s Center. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Mnt View 2P

Another view of the mountains in Red Rock Canyon taken by Peggy.

I liked the contrasting rock colors provided by this photo on our 13 mile drive through Red Rock Canyon.

I liked the contrasting rock colors provided by this photo on our 13 mile drive through Red Rock Canyon.

The erosive forces of wind and water were at work here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

The erosive forces of wind and water were at work here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Peggy captured this jumble of rocks which reminded me of Bryce Canyon.

Peggy captured this jumble of highly eroded rocks, which reminded me of Bryce Canyon.

Numerous trails and canyons along the way invited further exploration. Both springs and Indian Rock Art are found hidden away in the canyons. Next time...

Numerous trails and canyons along the way invited further exploration. Both springs and Indian Rock Art are found hidden away in the canyons. Next time…

NEXT BLOG: I will do the blog on Las Vegas glitz that I was going to do today.