The glitzy strip and bright lights of Vegas are like magnets for all of America’s fast cars and even faster women and men, but if you can look away and beyond there are some great short trips just around the corner. Here are five within an hour once you jump in that car rental and hit the open road.
Valley of Fire (pictured)
Meander through the mesmerising Valley Of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park, with countless moments of nature’s beauty smacking you in the senses. The park earnt its name from its fiery red sandstone, formed from fossilised sand dunes more than 150 million years ago by a shift in the Earth’s crust, faulting and wind and water erosion. Today, only wild animals dwell within Valley of Fire year-round. Rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep and the white-tailed antelope ground squirrels are just a few. Oh, and cougars, of course, “but only at night”, as my highly entertaining guide Mike Franklin pointed out, “as opposed to the Strip – these particular cougars are hard to spot given they’re minus the bright red lipstick and high heels.”
Lake Mead and Callville Bay Resort & Marina
Monster-sized man-made Lake Mead is a major recreation area in addition to being a major water artery for the region, originally formed by the building of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in 1935. Callville Bay Resort and Marina hums with houseboats, jet skis, and speed boats. The big drawcard is the ultimate houseboat adventures on offer providing a visual feast of desert/water contrasts, mountains and canyons. All Forever Houseboat rentals include a waterside, barbecue, kitchen and a top deck with canopy; deluxe widescreen TVs and stainless steel kitchens. Wildlife comes out to play up around the banks and I was lucky to get close to a coyote, eagles, mallards, grebes and hummingbirds. If you’re lucky, a bighorn sheep may wander down for a drink.
Red Rock Canyon
Conditions are hot and dry in summer so load up on bottles of water. The fast pace of the Strip quickly subsides once out on the highway as scenery smacks you in the senses. Copper-coloured mountains leap out from the desert floor highlighted by Red Rock Canyon’s bluffs, cliffs and petrified sandstone boulders. Time really does stand still out here. These mountains were formed by geological forces including fractured faults where the earth’s crust collided over millions of years and fossilised sand dunes. Some cliffs reach a kilometre high. It really is breathtaking. The 20km round-trip tourist route at the actual site is a must-do.
Let’s see, we’re back in 1929 in a harsh climate, remote location and facing solid rock. So why not build a massive arch-gravity dam? Something with 2.4 million cubic metres of concrete, spillways, the lot? Crazy but brilliant, and also serving the dual purpose of being a film set for great flicks such as Transformers and more recently San Andreas. The sheer size of this man-made but essential engineering masterpiece really is hard to put into words, so taking a guided tour of the powerplant and passageways within Hoover Dam itself is highly recommended to gain an understanding of the purpose this mighty Nevada icon serves.
Boulder Brewing Co
Let’s face it. Any drive in the desert is thirsty work, so this is a must stop-off point. The small township of Boulder is where the craft beers are cold and tasty and the atmosphere warm and addictive. Practically a museum in itself, Boulder Dam Brewing Co is a few minutes down the road on the return to Vegas. Mementos such as axes, picks and gauges used in the construction of the dam adorn the inside walls and in the beer garden. Owner Lisa explains the brewpub is Boulder City’s hot spot for music which can be “anything from bluegrass to rock ’n’ roll and old-fashioned country”. Get stuck into the food menu, too, which is a mix of naughty but nice treats including battered pickles and cheese-loaded pretzels, burgers, salads and pub fare. The beers, of course, are the focal point. Boulder Dam Brewing Co brews everything from European pilsners to happy pale ales to rich, creamy stouts.