Thursday, November 14, 2013

Beyond the Strip: Great Las Vegas Outdoor Activities

Las Vegas parks and recreation and Nevada National ParksLas Vegas is known for its casinos, wild nightlife, gambling, girls and shows; but the greater Las Vegas area offers much more. From hiking, biking and horseback riding to amazing Nevada National Parks, lakes and canyons, the Las Vegas area is a recreational playground. Whether you have an afternoon to spare or a weekend, there are plenty of Las Vegas outdoor activities for everyone. After spending the week drinking and gambling in dark casinos, a little exercise and sunshine can do you some good and Nevada National Parks will offer just that.Red Rock CanyonOnly 20 miles from downtown Las Vegas, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area covers nearly 200,000 acres of multicolored sandstone and limestone, canyons, mountains, washes and waterfalls, a variety of desert flora and fauna, and wildlife, including bobcats, desert bighorn sheep and wild burros. I don't know how "wild" the burros actually are though. While hiking, biking, rock climbing and seasonal camping is offered, the most popular choice is the 13-mile scenic drive through the park. Whether you spend the afternoon or weekend, Red Rock Canyon offers up natural scenic beauty and is worth the visit.Lake Mead and the Hoover DamLake Mead is the perfect place to cool off from the summer heat. Located 25 miles east of Vegas, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area has about 1.5 million acres of desert land and clear water, with 550 miles of shoreline for swimming, boating, sunbathing, water skiing and fishing. Other activities include hiking, camping, horseback riding, roadside sightseeing and wildlife photography. Lake Mead wildlife include bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, kit foxes, bobcats, ringtail cats, jack rabbits and the endangered desert tortoise and peregrine falcons. The amazing Hoover Dam is also nearby with daily tours.Valley of FireLocated only six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles from Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire is Nevada's first state park and its largest. This Nevada National Park is named for its fiery sandstone formations of reds, purples, tans, whites, oranges and yellows, which were formed from shifting sand dunes, years of erosion, wind and climate. Although the geology is similar to Red Rock, the park also offers early Native American culture and their rock art and petroglyphs are found throughout the area. The area was frequently visited by the ancient Basket Makers and Anasazi, who used the area for hunting and religious ceremonies. A popular scenic drive is around the "White Domes." For recreational activities there is climbing, picnicking, camping and rock scrambling.Mount CharlestonGet away from the slots and visit Mt. Charleston for fresh air, amazing views and majestic mountain scenery and wildlife. Only 35 miles from Vegas, Mt. Charleston Recreation Area is a welcome relief from not only the city bustle, but the stifling desert heat during the summer. At an elevation of 11,918 feet, Mount Charleston is the third highest peak in Nevada. The recreation area offers 180 campsites, 150 picnic sites, hiking, biking, picnicking, horseback riding, skiing and snowboarding.Zion and Bryce CanyonsIf you're feeling a bit adventurous, cross the border to Utah and visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion has everything from amazing river carved canyons to scenic waterfalls. The area also has amazing wildlife consisting of 75 mammal species, including mountain lions and mule deer to hundreds of bird varieties and 32 reptiles and amphibians. An hour further away from the 2 ½ hour drive to Zion, Bryce Canyon is a geologic wonder of colorful limestone, with thousands of arches, spires and mazes. Don't miss the Grand Staircase, which is a series of colored sandstone cliffs, stretching from Bryce Canyons to the Grand Canyon. Recreational opportunities include camping, biking, backpacking, cayoneering, climbing, swimming and tubing.Grand CanyonDepending on which rim of the Grand Canyon you venture to, it will be a good day's drive from Las Vegas, but well worth the visit. Carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau, the Grand Canyon never ceases to be awe-inspiring, with its beauty and size. If the scenic views aren't enough, there's hiking, backpacking, biking, bird watching, boating, camping, cross country skiing, fishing, horseback riding, nature walks and more.

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