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Day Trips from Las Vegas

Although well-heeled (and not-so-well-heeled) patrons of Las Vegas nightlife sometimes take limouside rides to places outside of theClark County that are not family attractions, we're recommending that you take your car (or rent one) to visit some of the sterling natural attractions within an easy drive of the city.

Firtst, if you haven't seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a visit there is a must because Las Vegas is only 277 miles away and an easy day's drive. Much closer scenic attractions include Lake Mead and Hoover Dam which holds the lake back. Take the Hoover Dam tour and drive around the lake to take in the desert scenery and camping possibilities. Red Rock Conservation Area has hiking and climbing experiences, as well as an auto tour.

To Lake Mead

The north end of Lake Mead offers a fascinating day-trip through the Moapa Valley. In 1864, Mormons settled this area along the Muddy River. Their town was named St. Thomas. Later, Overton, Logandale and Kaolin sprang to life. Lake Mead was formed by the waters backed up from the Hoover Dam, and both St. Thomas and Kaolin succumbed to the flooding.

The Lost City Museum is located in Overton, containing collections from Pueblo Indian cultures that existed in the valley long before the Mormons arrived. Moapa, north of Glendale, is an old railroad town with many historic buildings.

Along this same route is the Valley of Fire. Formed from shifting sand dunes over millions of years, this is a stark area full of brush and desert wildlife. The state park has picnic areas. One of the striking scenes along this route is the Overton arm of Lake Mead. This bay of deep blue water offers boating, water-skiing, fishing, and relaxing in a marina restaurant. There are picnic parks along the arm, and an RV park is located at the marina.

To get there, drive west from Las Vegas on the Boulder Highway (Hwys. 93/95) and turn north onto Lake Mead Drive (Hwy. 169), at Henderson. Drive north along the shore of Lake Mead past Valley of Fire State Park to Overton. Drive to Glendale and return to the city via I-15, or continue on Hwy. 168 (beside the Muddy River) and return to Las Vegas via Highway 93 South and Interstate 15.

To Red Rock Canyon

A half-hour's drive west from Las Vegas, The Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area offers superb geological views and opportunities for hiking and scenic touring. About 65 million years ago a strong earthquake rumbled under the southern Nevada desert, and two of the earth's plates collided with such force that part of one plate was shoved up over much younger sandstone formations. The result is the Keystone Thrust Fault -- part of which is seen at Red Rock Canyon, a spectacular piece of geology, 20 miles west of Las Vegas.

The conservation area, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, offers many opportunities for walking nature trails along the cliff face or hiking through narrow canyons to desert springs where bighorn sheep and other wildlife are seen. A modern visitor center overlooks the recreation area, with information on the geology and wildlife of the preserve.

Loop Drive

You will enjoy taking a 13-mile loop drive through the preserve. The paved, one-way road begins next to the visitor center and heads along the Calico Hills, with two pulloffs offering vistas of the crossed-bedded Aztec sandstone. There are short trails to the rock face from each of the vista points. A good place to stop and walk to the base of the sandstone is at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot (about one third of the way along the drive). Here, huge blocks of stone provide evidence of the extensive quarrying that took place in the early 1900s.

Picnic sites are located at two of the springs in the area: Willow Spring and Red Spring. There are more pulloffs along the route, providing views of wooded canyons and desert washes (at Icebox Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, and Red Rock Wash). Flash floods occur following downpours, and you should be wary of crossing low places when the water is running.

Red Rock Canyon Trails

There are several short hikes that provide diversions along the loop drive. Icebox Canyon features a maintained trail for almost a mile. The end of the canyon (called Icebox because it's cool in the shade there) is reached by continuing on over the rocks. Another popular trail leads into Pine Creek Canyon. This 2-mile round trip leads to the ruin of an old homestead situated near a creek and tall ponderosa pines.

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