John and I have been to Las Vegas several times. I have been here a few times for conferences and John and I have flown in here and quickly “got out of town” to see all the surrounding national parks (Zion, Bryce and The Grand Canyon). What we had never taken the time to do was explore the area close to Las Vegas. We have been here 5 days of our 21 so far. We are currently staying at the Thousand Trails in Las Vegas. The park is “OK” but the sites are pretty cramped and there are NO amenities in the park. The pool and spa are currently under repair, they suffered major damage during a wind storm this spring. We were fortunate to get a very nice site along the back wall. We are parked in site #2 and I have to say it might be the biggest in the park. The site has full hook ups and 30 & 50 amp power. We can connect up at 30 amp for no additional fee, but if we connect up to 50amp we pay a surcharge of $5 per night. We did pay the additional fee for a few days during the very high temperatures so that we could run both air conditioners. We drove from the park to the strip (free parking at the Mirage/Treasure Island) and it took about 15 minutes- so I guess this park is all about “Location”. In addition to being close to the strip we are just over 30 minutes away from Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation area. Valley of Fire state park is about 1-hour away. These three parks should have enough hiking in them to keep us busy for the better part of these 21 days.
The first day we were here there was on and off thunder/lightening storms so we decided to take a “driving tour” of Red Rock Canyon. It’s nice to be able to explore these areas when the sun is not beating down and blanching out all of the red rock color. The entrance into the park is covered by the national park pass otherwise the entrance fee is $7 per car. There is a very scenic 13-mile one-way drive that takes you through the park. It is a beautiful area and it is amazing that it is so close to the Las Vegas strip but seems a world away. We scoped out the hiking trails in this area and the first one we are planning to do is Turtlehead when the weather gets a bit cooler.
The second day of exploration we spent at Lake Mead Recreational Area. This park completely surprised me as I was expecting beautiful views of Lake Mead but not all the stunning red rocks and mountains. We spent a couple of hours driving through the park along the North Shore Road. Our hope was to hike to Redstone Peaks. It is a 3-4 mile hike with 1200 feet of elevation. Unfortunately it took us longer than expected to reach the trailhead so we only made it half way up the mountain before calling it quits. The sun was beating down hard on us and the heat was well into the 80’s We agreed we would try to reach the summit on another day but in cooler weather with an earlier start. It’s hard hiking when there is no tree cover to protect you from the sun and heat. To start the hike we parked in the Redstone parking area and followed a “wash” up the valley. There was no official marked trail but it was relatively easy to find where others had hiked before since this is a pretty popular route. We had saved instructions and views of landmarks to help us find our way to the summit. Despite turning around 1/2 way we had a great time on this hike. The red rock formations in this area are stunning and absolutely a blast to play on.
You could easily spend the better part of an afternoon here just climbing around on the red rock. The picnic facilities at the trail head are excellent with great views all around. We finished off our day by taking in the .5 (round trip) hike up to the Northshore Summit Trail. This short trail brings you up 400 feet in .25 miles to some amazing views across the valley. I really enjoyed my time here and we will definitely be returning for more hiking and biking. The area reminded me a lot of Death Valley. The park is only 4-miles away from the Hoover Dam so this would be an easy outing for those who had not been to the Hoover Dam before. We made quick trip down for some pictures and then took a side road for great views down across Lake Mead.
The third exploration day was at Valley of Fire State Park. John and I have agreed that this year we will try to take in more state parks in addition to visiting the national parks. We have found that some of our best days have been spent in state parks. The cost to enter Valley of Fire is $10 per car. This is money well spent as this state park rivals the beauty of any national park I have been in. Our day started off with spotting a tarantula crossing the road just before the entrance station. October is mating season for tarantulas and they will travel over 50 miles in search of a mate. Our second wildlife spotting was at a picnic area where we spotted several big horn sheep. Valley of Fire state park is best explored by taking several small hikes. You can see a lot of scenery from the car but to get to the best of what the park has to offer you have to get out and walk. Most of the trails are under 2 miles with minimal elevation. Several of the trails are through sand, which increases the workout of the hike. The first stop we made was the hike to Fire Wave. The hike is about 1.4 miles round trip. The view at the end is of red and white striped sandstone. The second hike was at White Domes, this trail is about a 1.2 mile loop with moderate elevation changes. This area is a palette of pastel colored rocks. You even get a short walk through a slot canyon 1/2 way through the hike. I would recommend doing both hikes as they are both beautiful but different from each other. On the way out of the park we stopped for the short hike to Mouse’s Tank- the highlight of this short hike (less than 1 mile) is the petroglyphs. We ended the day by driving over to the East entrance to see the Elephant Rock. It is a short hike up to the rock which is actually visible from the road about 1/4 mile back from the east gate. The rock takes some imagination to see the “elephant”. I think the pictures you see in the visitors center might have been taken from the other side. I looked at some pictures after returning home and noticed you could see the road in the picture. I’m guessing for a better view you need to climb up behind elephant rock. We didn’t get to see all the park has to offer. I think in order to hike most of the trails you would need to spend 2 full days here. We noticed the park has a campground that is able to accommodate RVs and has electric and water hook ups. I think this would be a great place to camp for a few nights. I can only imagine how stunning the sunrises and sunsets must be.