One of the best things about Las Vegas is its location–right smack in the middle of some of the United State’s most dramatic and remote landscapes. You have to go to Alaska to find a larger wildlife refuge than the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, for instance, and it’s about an hour’s drive from the Strip. Anyone who enjoys the great outdoors will find a wealth of things to do around Las Vegas: Red Rock Canyon, Mt. Charleston, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead all make good day-trip destinations. Drive a little further, and you’ll find even more natural beauty.
Las Vegas is in close proximity to the Grand Circle, the area in the Southwestern United States that encompasses the dramatic landscapes in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. If you like road trips that involve winding, scenic, two-lane, back-country byways that take you to lightly visited parks and preserves, the Grand Circle is for you. This area is where you’ll find Zion, Bryce, Cedar Breaks, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Canyonlands. The only problem I’ve ever had in these remote regions is that I don’t want to return home to Las Vegas–I just want to keep on driving.
In the other direction, the vast landscapes in Death Valley are beautiful, but dangerously so. It came by its name honestly, and just because we don’t use covered wagons anymore doesn’t make Death Valley’s environment any less harsh. Be a Boy Scout when you visit, and be prepared with water and maps. Take all those warnings you’ll get in the park brochures seriously. Unprepared people still perish in Death Valley. You can also elect to take a tour and let someone else worry about all those details.
Just over the California-Nevada state line, the Mojave National Preserve is home to 700-foot sand dunes, caves, lava flows (the region was once very volcanically active), and ruins of mines and settlements. Visitors from Southern California easily can take a scenic detour through the preserve on their way to or from Vegas.
All pictures courtesy of Terrisa Meeks.