Baby, it’s cold outside . . . so let’s go where it’s warm. On our destination-wedding trip out West last fall, we explored new territory, in Nevada.
We began in Las Vegas, as the jumping off point for our Western travels — travels focused mostly on desert, which John had never spent time exploring. Las Vegas for us was just a place to stay and eat. We did have a memorable meal at Giada, in the Cromwell Hotel — sleek, chic, and crowded surroundings with quite delicious bites. But gambling? Gambling had no appeal.
What we were after were the wide-open blue skies, billowing white clouds, sweeping landscapes, and the contrasts of the desert, compared to our usual surroundings. We’re both from places that boast many trees, and East Hampton even more so. Landscapes without many trees had a different appeal. So, we flew into Vegas, rented a car, and spent our days surrounded by red instead of green. We visited the Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, to be specific.
Our favorite was Valley of Fire. A geologic wonderland, world-renowned Valley of Fire has 2000-year-old petroglyphs carved into massive red sandstone formations. It’s all a small part of the enormous Mojave Desert.
The sandstone formations were created by shifting sand dunes a mere 150 million years ago. There are 18 miles of roads to travel, taking you past one fantastical rock formation to another, with spots to stop all along the way, to photograph and get a closer look. There are even steps to climb to get up close and personal with the petroglyphs carved into the beautiful red stone.
Valley of Fire is about an hour north of Las Vegas. The majority is easy interstate followed by a short scenic drive to the park’s entrance, where you’ll pay a $10 daily-use fee and find a very informative visitors center.
Don’t forget water, sunblock, food, and some kind of sunshade — a big hat, or, if feeling whimsical, a parasol. I actually used an umbrella I always carry when I travel. The desert sun can be very hot. In early September, temperatures hovered around 100. I was often grateful when we returned to the air-conditioned car. But the extraordinary rock formations were well worth braving the heat in order to see them better.
Red Rock Canyon is much closer, reachable by a less than half-hour drive from Vegas. It’s Nevada’s first designated National Conservation Area and is visited by more than two million people each year. In contrast to Valley of Fire, it is more about sweeping vistas than individual rock formations.
It became a National Conservation Area in 1990, in special legislation, becoming the seventh area in the United States to be so designated. Its spectacular desert landscape offers many climbing and hiking opportunities, and interpretive programs sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management. It also offers new formations and towering beauty around nearly every curve. We entered these parks to see contrast, and we saw it everywhere we turned.
In both places, we noticed many signs for camping areas, and we wished we were those younger dogs who used to go camping all the time. In either place, on a clear night with nothing but rocks and low plants around you, the stars are a vast, twinkling marvel — especially so in the Valley of Fire, at a greater distance from the glittering lights and hustle and bustle of Las Vegas.
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