What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…. except that in my opinion, if that’s the approach that you’re going to take during a trip to Las Vegas, you will miss out on some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring natural landscapes this planet has to offer.
I posted a few pictures on Facebook in the mornings before we would head out for the day’s adventures, and 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 and well-liked 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” … and 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.
The Wild West still is a very wild place. The blistering dry heat, brilliant explosions of red, orange, and yellow rocky outcroppings, and alien landscapes of cacti and tumbleweed can be quite unforgiving. The ghost towns feature crackling wooden structures and thoroughly-baked (if not well-preserved) ancient automobiles and the occasional WWII-era airplane all combined to give the impression 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 last June’s trip (yes, I really have slacked over a year on writing this): 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 option that’s available within a four hour radius of Las Vegas.
We were going to have to prioritize.
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 primarily 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 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 wilds surrounding Las Vegas by hiking or biking… an idea that was quickly abandoned after discovering that by 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.
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, for without that, 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 via the ordinary paved-road experience, way more than most people could ever imagine.
In fact, the primary reason why it’s taken me nearly a year to even 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??
A sleepless night recently 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.
- Burned out shell of a car we found in Red Rock Canyon State Park.
- An amazing ranch road that we found running along the back side of Zion National Park (visible on the right side of the picture).
- American Dirk Cliff Jumping at Nelson’s Landing, into the Colorado River.
- Our Jeep near the peak of Logandale Trails, and the turn-around point of our off-roading experience there.
- Interior Panorama of another section of Red Rock Canyon State Park.
- Panorama of Zion National Park
- 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.
- Player piano that was sitting in the middle of a cactus field at El Dorado Canyon Mine Tour and Ghost Town