My husband and I decided that we would try travelling somewhere new to do some exploring. I have never been to Las Vegas before and wasn't really sure how I felt about going to this city. I don't gamble and frankly the glitz and glamour didn't really appeal to me. But we decided to do both the Vegas trip and explore Nevada and a bit into California.
We planned a four night, five day trip and tried to squeeze as much into our time away as possible. I enjoy the vibe of different cities and like to explore off the beaten path. But what I love the most about travelling is exploring and hiking in different areas. I knew that Vegas was in the desert and I had a fairly one dimensional view of what a desert looked like.
This trip outside of Vegas blew my mind as to how much life is in the desert.
We spent two nights in Vegas and stayed on the strip. We took in a Cirque de Soleil show and had way too much food. Then we rented a car and took off into the desert. This is where the real fun started....
We stayed at a place we found on Airbnb in Pahurmp. On the way to we stopped at Red Rock Canyon park and did some hiking. We had time for one trail. This is Ice Box Canyon.
The first morning in the desert we experienced the most beautiful sunrise. Both my husband and I were on East coast time waking up at 6am so catching the sunrise was effortless.
We then took off to Death Valley National Park for the day. Our first stop was one of the highest peaks in the park -Dante's View - just under 6,000 ft above sea level overlooking a dry salt bed. It was pretty chilly at the peak. At this spot, you drive up through several switchbacks to a parking area and an overlook. There is the option to trek about 1/2 a mile, just a little higher, to the peak where you can see the view below.
We headed to the Mesquite Flat Sand dunes and drove past the lowest point in the park on our way 280 ft below sea level. The sand dunes were my typical idea of what a desert looked like.
This sand went on for quite a distance and it was easy to lose sight of our car. But the ripples were worth the extra effort to find. We drove to Stovepipe Wells and had lunch at a saloon which was surprisingly good.
After lunch, we headed to Artist's Pallet. You can stay in your car and complete the Artist's drive circuit or get out at various spots and hike around a bit. These rocks were the most interesting colours - turquoise, pink, purple all in one area. The pictures don't show the variation or vibrancy that I saw while I was standing on them but if you look closely you can see some of the variation.
Following that stop we headed to Zabriskie Point to view the sunset. We waited for a while looking for the perfect reflection off of the clouds.
On the way back from home, we stopped to watch the stars. The night sky away from all of the light pollution was amazing. We saw the beginning of the milky way pop out one star at a time.
The following day we were schedule to return home but our flight home wasn't until 11:30 pm so we had the entire last day to explore. Originally we had planned to hike Mount Charleston, the mountain in the sunrise from our first day. But the trail was closed for the season - they had already had snow! Here is a view from an outlook partway up Mt. Charleston.
We decided to head to the Valley of Fire State park in Nevada. This last minute change of plans turned out to be the gem of our trip. This park was breathtaking.
With easily viewed petroglyphs. The geology and history that was so readily viewed in this park was amazing.
So that was my trip in a nutshell. Of course the few pictures and brief descriptions of the parks don't begin to describe what I experienced. My concept of what a desert is was turned on its head. The desert is full of life and beauty as well as a hardiness and sense of survival.
Early December was a perfect time to go exploring the desert. The temperatures aren't too high so there isn't much of a chance of heat affecting your ability to hike. Also we didn't see any scorpions, rattlesnakes or spiders - although I was on the look out for them. The trails were all easily accessible and quiet which is perfect if you're looking to escape from the chaos of the city.
When I think of a trip to Vegas, I visualize slot machines, bright lights and over indulgence. But within a one hour drive you can access unbelievable geology and history. We could have easily spent an entire day at both Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire parks, both of these are child friendly as well. In Death Valley, I would have like to have stayed in the park and again spent more time.
If I were to go to Vegas again, I would skip the city and explore the desert around. Even two weeks after coming home, I feel the pull of the desert. Something about the landscape made an imprint and I have found myself dreaming about the rocks and rugged plants. I will be returning.