The landscape is stark, but the beauty startling. The expanses seem to welcome, even beg you to explore. It’s a call you are unlikely to be able to resist (assuming it’s not scorchingly hot and you are not hungover from a big night in moments-away Las Vegas), nor is it one you should. In front of you is one of America’s grand spectacles, Red Rock Canyon.
Less than thirty minutes from Strip oasis to stupefyingly arid splendor
Though there are tours from the Las Vegas Strip (and Downtown), it’s recommended to go by your own car if possible. It takes less than half an hour to get from the throbbing, hedonistic version of civilization that the tourist areas of Las Vegas offer up to Red Rock Canyon’s entrance. Admission is 7 USD for the carload of you, which gets you a nice map, access to the visitor center, and use of the 13 mile (20 kilometers) loop road that circles around the center of the outcropping and hill-lined basin.
You want red rock? You got it!
The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area truly is a living museum. While on the loop road, you can pull over at any time, get out, and run free – literally. Climb that hill. Scale that red rock outcropping. This is nature writ large, and adventure unscripted.
There are a few areas with parking lots along the loop road, and people tend to congregate there. Hiking paths crisscross, scale, descend, and sometimes dissolve, but with vast open expanses, it’s hard to get lost. Take that as a challenge.
Don’t just look from below, go climb a hill
The loop road along which cars are corralled does not have much elevation change, so if you stick to the road you won’t get the same kind of views you’ll be rewarded with after a bit of a foot-to-scorched-earth climb. Find a hill or karst that suits your jib, watch your footing, then climb. Once you get to the top, close your eyes for a few seconds to reset your mind, then open them to reset your spirit. Yes, it’s that kind of amazing. Once you’ve reached your higher plane, skip on back down the hill, glibly smiling, happy to be alive.
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Accessible for those of all ability and inclination
You don’t need to hike a hill to get to that higher plane. For those who are so restricted or inclined, viewing the scenery from the comfort of your own car is not a bad consolation at all. There are also areas, such as the one pictured above, where the walking is not too difficult and you can still get close to the heart of the park.
An easy, indelible day trip
The strip has its monuments to excess, and Red Rock Canyon is a monument of grand nature. The beauty of it all is that you don’t have to choose. With the restaurants, gambling, and partying of Vegas so close by, you can have serenity and insanity all in one day.
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