The night before I left Las Vegas I walked out in the desert to look at the moon. There was a jeweled city on the horizon, spires rising in the night, but the jewels were diadems of electric and the spires were the neon of signs ten stories high.
This past week I decided to bring in the New Year with some good old fashioned adventure. The destination was Southern Nevada and I decided to explore as much of it as I could in 4 days. Along the way, I slept in -5 degree weather at 7,000ft, snow shoed through avalanche terrain, stepped in quicksand, and randomly ran into a good friend in Vegas who graciously allowed me to stay in a penthouse suite on the stip. It was nine kinds of ridiculous.
The Valley of Fire was one of the best state parks I’d ever visited and I hope I can come back.
The vast mountain ranges, the wide open deserts, and unique geology of Nevada are often overshadowed by the lights of Las Vegas. It’s interesting to note that while the state is often known only for its gambling and gluttony, Nevada sets much bigger records in the way of its outdoors. First of all, Nevada is the country’s most mountainous state- 314 individual ranges and a mean average elevation of around 5,000ft. Nevada also has the country’s largest National Forest outside of Alaska; Humbolt-Toyabe National Forest, which is almost the size of Massachusetts. From someone who’s traveled Nevada far and wide, Vegas is a wild place but the other 97% of the state is just as wild!
Snowshoeing the Spring Mountains and Vegas
I drove up on New Years day after getting off my ambulance shift. My plan was to stay somewhere high up in the Spring Mountains which is a range located only 40 miles from Las Vegas. I stayed the night at 9,400ft and it was cold! The temperatures were somewhere between 0 and 10 degreed F. However, my bivy sack-sleeping bag combination held up beautifully; I was legitimately warm without even sleeping in a tent.
I woke up the next day to cloudy skies so it wasn’t looking good on the snowshoeing front. Mt Charleston, the high point of southern Nevada, was only about 5 miles from where I was snowshoeing. Unfortunately, I began to notice the tell-tale signs of avalanche danger at around 10,000ft. My feet were beginning to freeze up and the snow was too deep for snowshoes so I had to make my way down. Nevertheless, there were some spectacular views of the mountains and the Great Basin desert below making the trip worthwhile
|A world away from Vegas|
The City of Las Vegas
After the snowshoe, I retreated to lower elevations and I had a faint idea that a good friend of mine was still in town after a New Year’s stay in Vegas. After giving him a call, I soon found myself in good company at Margaritaville drinking, well… margaritas of course.
It should be noted that I have never been to Las Vegas. I’ve driven through it several times but have never really “done the Vegas thing”. I’m really not much of a drinker or gambler, but I had a supremely enjoyable experience in Vegas without either. A full report of the evening was something like this: Margaritas at Margaritaville, Ceaser’s Palace, swimming back at the resort, beer at Hofbrauhaus, and further partying and jackassery at the Cosmopolitan. Really, what made Vegas so enjoyable was the great company. I didn’t lose a bunch of money, didn’t wake up with a hangover, or even hit up any shows. It was just some good old-fashioned chilling with some old friends. Although… it was nice to stay in a pent-house suite. So, I’m a believer of good times at Vegas, even if it’s not for the traditional reasons.
Valley of Fire State Park
|One moment I'm in the mountains, now I'm on the strip!|
|The Strip is a designated "Scenic Byway"!|
I awoke the next day and looked out over the iconic fountains of the Bellagio to a peculiar sight; it was snowing in Vegas. That’s not unheard of, but it’s certainly not commonplace. So, I hopped in my car and drove about 60 miles out to Valley of Fire State Park.
Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park and has some of the reddest rocks I’ve ever seen. Additionally, it has alien-like rock features such as “Elephant Arch”, “Fire Wave” and “The Beehives”. It felt a lot like being in Utah’s Arches National Park; every turn and trail offered new perspective on a constantly changing desert landscape. I found myself trekking across the rocks, scrambling up hills and singing trail songs like a Norman Rockwell era boy scout.
|Enjoying some well-needed time off|
Then… I stepped in quicksand. Now, I am aware that quicksand does not commonly exist in the desert. Old western films portray quicksand as a common danger of the desert but this is false; quicksand is formed mostly by ground water in alluvial areas such as deltas and rivers. However, it was most definitely quicksand caused by the massive amount of rain that’s been pouring in the Southwest. For the record, it wasn’t the kind of chin-high stuff you see in the movies. In all reality, it was probably about knee deep and not lethal. However, it was slightly jolting and I minded my steps more carefully.
|The strange and wonderful rocks of the Mojave|
Last Day: Red Rock Canyon
I spent the night at about 7,000 back in the Spring Mountains and this time it was a frigid -5 degrees. It was basically a pre-season gear shakedown for upcoming winter adventures. I was slightly uncomfortable at some points but never freezing.
Red Rock Canyon was to be the day’s destination. Las Vegas residents will probably puke if another guide is written about Red Rock but it was a new experience for a Californian. It was a beautiful day for exploring and I hiked up “Turtleback Mountain” for some wide-stretching views of the Mojave. I also explored the aptly named “Ice Box Canyon” which was only slightly wider than a slot canyon and quite frigid. I did get to view a massive frozen waterfall which made the canyon worth exploring.
So, I learned a lot about southern Nevada in the course of 4 days. The mountains and deserts of the state proved to be picturesque and wild which will appeal to any adventurous spirit. I also discovered that even an uncivilized climber like me can have a great time in Vegas when in good company.
|Vegas's Best Hiking Location|
|No shortage of rocks out here!|