Las Vegas Beyond the Neon Lights
Wow! Las Vegas is quite a city to behold. It seems to rise out of the desert with soaring skyscraper hotels and buildings. It’s amazing to see the skyline complete with the stratosphere, the effiel tower, and the New York skyline. The high roller is visible from a vast distance. It is definitely a feast for your eyes.
Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
We began our Las Vegas adventures after finding our hotel in Henderson, NV with a trip to Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area. This is an amazing feast for the eyes as well but without the neon lights. We arrived less than an hour before the park closed so we just drove around admiring the views. It was strange to us that the sun sets at 8 pm in Nevada. Not much time for twilight, just Boom! It’s down. We’re used to twilight lasting until about 9:30-9:45 pm in Ohio. The temperature was dropping to about 95 degrees from 105. Strangely, it felt much cooler.
The Valley of Fire State Park
So, you know with a name like Valley of Fire, this place is probably going to be hot. We arrived here early in the morning with a supply of water, hats, sunscreen and good walking shoes. My husband allowed me to spray him with sunscreen. I put on my SPF 110, otherwise known as “might as well have stayed inside” sunscreen. However, I knew since I have both the coloring and body shape of a marshmallow, I needed to use it.
We climbed the stairs which were painted the same color as the rocks to blend into the natural view. Mistake number one: the railing which is made of metal will be hot enough to brand you if you grab it. Don’t say you weren’t warned! Ha ha.
We stopped by the visitor’s center to check to see about taking a short hike and purchase some more water. The visitor’s center had lots of great information as well as a sign board saying that due to the extreme heat (107) hiking was strongly discouraged. So, we took that under advisement being we were not used to the altitude or extreme heat and just drove through the rest of the park and took photos.
Slowest Fast Food Ever
After we left the Valley of Fire State Park, we continued our journey through the northern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We passed through a small town where we decided to stop at the only food option we saw: McDonald’s.
Normally, I don’t mind eating here. You know what you’re getting. However, this one had one register (not just one open, one register). We waited in line for about 10 minutes to order and then we waited at least another 10 to actually get our food. Not sure what they did differently but it wasn’t like any other we’d ever had. And not in a good way.
Are We There Yet?
We got back onto our route provided by the GPS we brought with us. After driving a few minutes, the arrival time leaped ahead by an hour. We were confused but kept driving.
A short time later, we ran across a construction project that had a sign posted that the waiting time to pass through this section of road would be AT LEAST 30 minutes. What? Luckily we were only sitting there waiting about 10 minutes. We put detour options into our GPS and it responded with a drunken belly laugh and the only option being over 30 miles away. I feel like she was thinking it was Karma or something for all the times we’ve ignored her advice?
Anyway, we finally got on our way and were out on the open freeway. 75 MPH seemed awesome to drive for the first few minutes until the reason for the high speed hit you. There is absolutely NOTHING to look at or do on that road. They ought to invent some kind of vehicle mover apparatus like the have at the airports to move people from point A to B quickly. The scenery was pretty initially, but after awhile, it just seemed monotonous.
Are We There Yet? Part 2
A quick glance at our GPS revealed that we were still the same time distance away from our destination as when we looked over an hour’s drive ago. We were really confused. I tried looking up the destination on my phone only to find there was no cell service there.
We debated on stopping to ask the Road Runner since I was pretty sure I’d seen him dodging Wiley Coyote’s Anvil dropping from the mountainside.
Suddenly it dawned on us why the time seemed so odd. We had changed time zones but the GPS hadn’t updated that. Clarity hit when we realized that we had 30 miles to go and the GPS was telling us it would take 2 hours to get there. We laughed with giddy relief since we thought we had been driving to a location that didn’t really exist.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is maintained super well. A fee is charged to get in unless you have an America the Beautiful card. You park at the visitor’s center and then you are able to ride the shuttle they have that takes you to 9 locations within the park. It runs all day and you can get on and off whenever you please. It was a great way to see it all and while riding you hear recordings about the history of the park. We saw photos of the congestion of traffic from years ago when people could drive personal vehicles throughout the park and this shuttle is so much better! Great idea. I can’t imagine the quagmire it would have been back then if there was an accident or if a car overheated. Or God forbid is someone needed to use the restroom!
There were too many beautiful places to explore while we were there to complete in one day but we did take a short hike along the Virgin River in the shadow of the cliffs. It was so much cooler there than the 105 back in the sunshine.
The Best Dam Place to take all the Dam pictures you want
Don’t worry! I have a bunch more stupid punny jokes where those came from! We spent the day touring the Hoover Dam. It was $10 to park in the parking garage. You could have parked for free on the Arizona side of the Dam, but you would have had to walk a really long ways through the crowds and let’s face it, 105 degrees is a little hot to walk on concrete in the sun with ten thousand of your closest friends. Plus you would have had to lose an hour going back to the car due to the time zone difference. I couldn’t take that kind of confusion again. Whew!
We went through the security checkpoint to get into the visitor’s center. They were quick and very thorough. Once inside we decided to purchase the tour of the inside of the dam and the power plant. $30 each so it was a little steep, but definitely worth it. They had places to fill up your water bottles and the tour was a little over an hour long. We got to walk down a ventilation shaft and stick out our hands to take a photo of the side up to the top of the dam.
The Hoover Dam was an interesting place to tour and was very educational. Going down into the depths of the walls was really cool. You can see on the walls the markings the workers used while it was being constructed and also notations of cracks and other things that are maintained on a strict schedule.
Way down inside there is even an earthquake sensor to warn of any problems.
We were going to eat at the Dam Cafe there, but we found the lines were too dam long and the food was too dam expensive. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
Several hats got plucked off the heads of unsuspecting visitors to be given to the wind spirits.
We walked out onto the pedestrian bridge on the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Cool Views but the wind is INTENSE. Having traffic zoom by you on the other side of the concrete barrier was a little unnerving too. The canyon creates intense wind and I felt sorry for the truckers driving by. White-knuckle ride for sure!
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
While the views right near the turnoff to the Hoover Dam are beautiful, the western edge and northern parts of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area were sad. We saw desolate scenery where a once-thriving Las Vegas Bay had been. Just a dust bowl, it has been dried up for years. For the $20 per vehicle to get in, it was not worth it to us. Perhaps the other side we didn’t go to was the better area?
Mount Charleston National Recreation Trail
We heard a helicopter shortly after we got out at the visitors center. It was filling the basket up with water and taking it up to the north side of the mountain where there was a fire. It was amazing to watch the precision in which they did this especially since it was very windy that day and gusty. The fire hazard there is very real.
We chose to go on the Cathedral hike since it was the only parking lot that had places to park. The hike was rated moderate and the distance 1.4 miles. We were enjoying the cool temperatures. It was between 20 and 40 degrees cooler than depending on your altitude than in Las Vegas. We were at roughly 7500 feet in elevation. Along the pathway, there were bunches of butterflies fluttering about. They were teasing me as they would get super close and act as though they were going to land on me, and then they’d zip away.
On our way up, we ran into two rangers coming down from the top of the hike. They remarked about the butterflies liking my perfume. 🙂 The Rangers also told us about a snow bank and two small waterfalls about half-way up the trail. They were very friendly and informative.
I wore a super thin UV protectant hoodie on this hike. I had done super well-avoiding sunburn and heatstroke while in the desert and wanted to keep it that way!
This was a difficult hike. The trail felt nearly straight up and the footing was difficult. My husband seemed to do fine with it, although he mentioned his calves were sore later. I pushed myself up the trail, stopping to rest at one point and decided that I would make it up to the half-way point. Goal accomplished! Seeing the snow bank was really fun and seeing the two small waterfalls made the trip worthwhile. People were letting their dogs play in the snow bank and that was really entertaining to watch since they had never seen snow in their lives.
The pathway down was challenging as far as making sure to have solid footing. We were being extra careful since our plane was leaving at Midnight and we didn’t want to tour any of the area hospitals!
It was so hard to believe that less than an hour outside of Las Vegas, you would see mountains and snow! You will want to check this out!