Nevada and Utah · Southwest · Travel Blogs, organized by region

Dead Bodies in the Desert: Searching for Adventure near Las Vegas

Last Updated on

A rusty wrecked car sits in the desert in Red Rock Canyon State Park near Las VegasWhat happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas…. except that in my opinion, if that’s the approach that you’re going to take during a trip to Sin City, you will miss out on some of the most dramatic natural landscapes and exciting outdoor adventures this country has to offer.

During our Jeep trip in Las Vegas, I would post a few pictures on Facebook.  I would post each morning before we would head out on our adventures, and again most evenings after arriving back to the blinding beacon of light that is the Las Vegas Strip.  Those pictures were (and still are) some of the most popular pictures I’ve ever put on social media – and with good reason.  As one friend commented, “I’ve been to Vegas and I had no idea it is surrounded by so much natural beauty”

He’s right – most people are content with sitting inside the vapid air-conditioned world of the casinos, clubs, and restaurants and never venture off the Strip, much less outside of city limits.  If you stay indoors and inside Las Vegas, you miss out on some of the most beautiful scenery in America.

A red dirt road approaches Zion National Park

Seeking outdoor adventures near Las Vegas

The Wild West still is a very wild place indeed.  The blistering dry heat of the desert, the brilliant explosions of red, orange, and yellow rocky outcroppings, and alien landscapes of cactus, sand and tumbleweed can be quite unforgiving.  Nearby ghost towns feature crackling wooden structures and thoroughly-baked (if well-preserved) ancient automobiles, and even the occasional WWII-era airplane.

All of this combined to give the impression that we stepped out of the desert and into a Hollywood movie set.  Constant care must be taken to avoid the shaded areas underneath rocks and ledges (rattlesnake venom is no fun) and by all means avoid any contact with the jumping cholla…  All of which reminded us daily that if we weren’t careful about our adventures, survival is not guaranteed out there.

One thing became abundantly clear to me during the planning phase of that June trip to Las Vegas:  even having been there during my youth, even having a little over a week to explore the area, even having a Jeep at our disposal to use and abuse as we pleased…  there simply was no way we were going to be able to explore every outdoor adventure that’s available within a four hour radius of Sin City.

We were going to have to prioritize.

Cliff Jumping at Nelson's Landing on the Colorado River south of Las Vegas

Exploring the desert surrounding Las Vegas

My co-pilots and partners in crime for this adventure were two wild and crazy German guys named Dirk – one who lives here in America and the other a visitor taking full advantage of the six weeks of vacation that most European companies offer (also – SIX WEEKS?!  WHAT ARE WE DOING, AMERICA!?).  Affectionately nicknamed “The Adventures of Dirk Dirk and Dork” by my wife, our trip-planning sessions occurred via email until German Dirk arrived in Pittsburgh a couple weeks before they flew to California for the first leg of their journey.

The Germans were both uncharacteristically laid back in their approach to what they wanted to see and do for the week I’d be joining them, so I took the lead in finding and proffering suggestions.  Through conversations with others who’d ventured West and some very scatter-brained Google searches, we began to develop a clear idea for what we wanted our trip to Las Vegas to be:  instead of gambling, renting a screaming convertible sports car, or taking in cabarets and live music, we were going to explore the abundant and accessible “wastelands” surrounding the city, where mafiosos buried the bodies of their enemies during their 1970’s heyday.

We initially had the half-baked idea of exploring the wild badlands surrounding Las Vegas by hiking or biking… an idea that was quickly abandoned after discovering that during our trip dates of early June, temps rise well above the 110* mark during the day.  If we were going to explore, it was going to be from behind the wheel of an air conditioned vehicle.

A white Jeep crosses the desert in Logandale Trails OHV park north of Las VegasPanoramic view of Red Rock Canyon State Park west of Las Vegas

Driving a Jeep off-road in the Desert

I have to deviate a little from my story – and from what many of you will be able to consider when planning a trip out west.  I’m extraordinarily grateful for the skills and experience that American Dirk and I accumulated in taking our Jeeps off-road.  Without those skills, we would never have been able to witness many of the things we did on this trip.  Many of the trails are only accessible to 4WD vehicles in the hands of knowledgeable operators, and are NOT recommended for those without experience.

Fortunately, there is still a TON for you to see near Las Vegas via the ordinary paved-road experience, way more than most people could ever imagine.  If you’re feeling extra adventurous, there is also plenty of space for wild camping in the desert.

Regardless, the primary reason why it’s taken me nearly a year to tackle this trip is because the vast amount of material and stories it provided was remarkably daunting – I was intimidated that I would not be able to do this trip justice.  Panoramic pictures don’t come close to showcasing the American West, so what on earth were my feeble words going to be able to convey??

Panorama of Zion National Park

Panorama of Glen Canyon in Arizona

A recent sleepless night provided my answer:  Direction.  I could never explain or show you everything we saw during our vacation, but I most assuredly CAN use my photos and writing to encourage you to get out there and witness it for yourself.   If you are going to take a trip to Las Vegas, I implore you, I beg you, pretty please with a cherry on top, get out of the city and witness all of the beauty nature has to offer.  It truly is some of the best natural scenery this world has to offer – and many people don’t even know it’s there.

And best of all – if you’re feeling apprehensive about this kind of adventure travel, or if you have questions you want answered – I’m here to help.  Please, email me.  Or better yet – you can enlist my help (for free!) with planning your next road trip!

Player Piano El Dorado Canyon Ghost Town just south of Las Vegas

Pictures:

  1.  Burned out shell of a car we found in Red Rock Canyon State Park.
  2. An amazing ranch road that we found running along the back side of Zion National Park (visible on the right side of the picture).
  3. American Dirk Cliff Jumping at Nelson’s Landing, into the Colorado River.
  4. Our Jeep near the peak of Logandale Trails, and the turn-around point of our off-roading experience there.
  5. Interior Panorama of another section of Red Rock Canyon State Park.
  6. Panorama of Zion National Park
  7. Panorama of Glen Canyon.  Our newly-made Argentinian friends were having mechanical issues with their short bus camper conversion van, so we did what we could to help, then rolled on through the vast open middle of the Canyon.
  8. Player piano that was sitting in the middle of a cactus field at El Dorado Canyon Mine Tour and Ghost Town
Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Dead Bodies in the Desert: Searching for Adventure near Las Vegas

  1. 👍👍👍 very good Story. We meet American Dirk at Las Vegas while your Roadtrip. Wish you all the best for the next Trip from Germany. Kalle

  2. Very interesting. I love the Back Roads. blog and photos, Scott. Thanks for sharing them. It’s incredible how much there is to see. I have friends who live in Henderson, NV. They wrote about the heat, but not the sights.

Got something to say? Leave your 2 cents here!