Leaving Las Vegas: Enjoying Attractions Within and Outside of the Entertainment Capital by Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern, my daughter Danielle and I were amazed how different life is approximately one hour away from Las Vegas – in any direction. Even when were still able to view the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip in the distance, we entered into a totally different world with beautiful natural scenery and marvelous man made wonders!  Nevada’s striking scenic recreational areas were the perfect relaxing antidote after our over stimulation from the sounds and sites of Las Vegas.

Day trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area:

About 15 miles west of Las Vegas, Red Rock provides spectacular desert-like landscapes far removed from the neon glitter.  At the information desk within an extensive visitor center, we were told about the best overlooks and recommended hikes (out of the 26 trails, covering nearly 60 miles).  We enjoyed one hike, although the trail was not extremely well marked.  A thirteen mile paved loop allowed us to drive and enjoy the beautiful scenery from various overlooks, as we went up and down canyons.  Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Southern Nevada Conservancy, this site is well worth the $15 fee per car!  The area includes almost 200,000 acres within the Mohave Desert.  It is important to have water available, as the area gets very hot and dry.  https://www.redrockcanyonlv.org

Day trip to the Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Boulder City, Nevada):

Hoover Dam: Less than one hour from the City of Lights, the Depression era Hoover Dam controls the flow of the Colorado River.  Completed in 1935, this world renowned structure is listed as one of American’s modern civil engineering wonders.  Walking across the O’Callaghan – Tillman Bridge (opened in 2010), Danielle, Fern and I were provided with dramatic views of the dam and river.  The bridge’s six foot wide pedestrian sideway allows visitors to walk from the Nevada side of the dam to just over the Arizona border, where the path ends.

Inside the visitor center, we watched a series of audio visual presentations and viewed interactive exhibits. We were surprised to learn that the 60 story high dam produces sufficient hydroelectric power in its plant to be self-supporting.  Outside the center is an art deco style plaza with a series of bronze sculptures and a plaque dedicated to the Hoover Dam mascot, a dog who was a companion to the construction crew.  Parking at the dam costs $10 per car and admission to the visitor center costs $10 per person.  https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/

Lake Mead: Just minutes from Hoover Dam we drove to America’s largest mad-made reservoir.  The lake was formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam and has a shoreline of approximately 550 miles.  The national recreation area was established in 1964 and requires an admission fee of $20 per car.   Danielle, Fern and I enjoyed the drive along the lake, especially the very nice views of jumbled red rock formations and the vast lake; the colors are spectacular.  We stopped for lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant, which sits on Lake Mead Marina with pleasant views of the lake and boats, a wide variety of food options and good prices.  https://www.nps.gov/lake/index.htm

Day trip to Valley of Fire State Park (near Overton, Nevada):

About 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, this beautiful state park (established in 1935 as Nevada’s first state park) is hugely popular. The park’s rough floor and jagged walls bristle with formations of eroded red sandstone nestled in gray and tan limestone mountains.  The fiery red colors of bright Aztec red give the park its name.  This extremely colorful effect is particularly pronounced in the softer light of late afternoon.  The gently winding park road passes a wide variety of beautiful red rock desert landscapes.  The park has many hiking trails of varying length and terrain, as well as a small visitor center.  Recognized nationally for its outstanding scenic, geological and archeologically features, this park is well worth the cost of $10 per vehicle.  https://parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire

Viva, Las Vegas:

Fern and I found the Las Vegas strip and its casinos to be extremely crowded and smoky. Nevertheless, during our time within Las Vegas, we particular enjoyed the following activities.

Vegas, the Show: Told in a splashy style, Vegas is a musical showcasing the history of Las Vegas.  The show pays homage to big name Vegas entertainers (such as Elvis, Tina Turner and the Rat Pack) and features Las Vegas showgirls donned in rhinestones and feathers.  Most nights, the show is performed at 7 and 9 p.m. in the Planet Hollywood Casino’s Saxe Theatre.

Purple Reign, The Prince Tribute Show: Jason Tenner does an exceptional job taking on the look, sound and moves of Prince.  Starting at 9 p.m. in the Tropicana Hotel, the show lasts just under two hours.  The show features high energy dancing, focusing on the hits from the movie Purple Rain.

Marriage Can Be Murder: For the last 18 years, this interactive comic murder mystery dinner theater allows participants to try to solve the case.  Beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting for two hours in the D Las Vegas Hotel near downtown, the evening was just plain fun.  The three course dinner was pretty bland, but we did have vegetarian and chicken options.

Big Elvis: Performing three days per week inside a piano bar within Harrah’s Casino, Pete Vallee may be the world’s biggest Elvis impersonator.  Pete really does sound like Elvis, but he is much heavier than Elvis ever became.  Pete claims to be a love child of Elvis!

Spectacles of the Strip: Our favorites were watching the dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio, set to lights and different music throughout the evening (on the quarter hour), watching the 50 foot high volcano erupt in front of the Mirage (twice nightly) and observing the fall of Atlantis animated show inside Caesar’s Palace with fire, water and nine foot tall talking statutes (on the hour).

Eating at Carmine’s Restaurant: Within Caesar’s Palace, this southern Italian restaurant features hearty family style portions.  Set it a multi-level dining room, the servers were extremely responsive and the taste of the food – the bread, the pasta, the sauces and the eggplant – was incredibly delicious.  As a result, upon our return to Washington, D.C., we ate at Carmine’s sister restaurant in Penn Quarter.


Finally, we could have passed on these activities:

The Mob Museum: Located downtown, several friends had recommended this attraction to us.  We found the museum to be a pretty static and boring experience, where primarily we reading exhibit after exhibit about organized crime and its impact on American society.  Most of the interactive features required extra fees.

The Deuce Bus: The double decker bus may be the cheapest way to travel along the strip, but the ride was far from comfortable.  We crawled along in traffic, with frequent stops to pick up noisy and rowdy passengers.

The Freemont Street Experience: This five block stretch downtown becomes hyper active at night.  Underneath a canopy, the pedestrian style mall provides for a blitz of ear splitting sound, intense neon lights and a constant barrage of drunken pedestrians wandering from casino to casino.

The Lack of Amenities in Hotel Rooms: Many Las Vegas hotel rooms do not have refrigerators or coffee makers.  As a result, we could not store food in our room and had to go out to get coffee every morning.

So, as we were leaving the glitz of Las Vegas, with lights so bright every night, Danielle, Fern and I were most happy to recall the breathtaking parklands and natural areas just one hour away from the strip.