Beyond the Neon Lights of Las Vegas

Beyond the Neon Lights of Las Vegas

Despite liberal layers of sunblock, I feel Nevada’s sunshine radiating on my exposed skin. I choose to hike Red Rock Canyon mid-morning, before the heat turns unbearable, before my body craves a refreshing swim in the resort pool. Around me, ambitious visitors explore the terrain on horseback or rugged cycles, while small children wander smooth paved paths with parents guiding the way. I’m on foot, not a true hiker by any means, but welcoming a little soft adventure in an otherwise neon-lit long weekend in Las Vegas.

From my palace suite on The Strip, a mere 24-mile drive brought me to this natural wonder full of terracotta brush strokes and ruby red veins pulsing through sandstone. This contrasting landscape and shift in pace is precisely why I love visiting Vegas: I can have red earth caked on my shoes one moment, a martini in my hand the next.

As a casual explorer, I make mental notes throughout my journey, forever improving my preparation for the next adventure. I’ve done well with my choice of footwear and sun protection, but should have opted for lighter-colored clothes to absorb less heat. I’ve brought enough water to satiate my thirst, yet I still need more and am mindful of how quickly I may consume this precious hydration in the dry desert climate. My exploration is brief compared to serious hikers out here, though I feel the pleasant burn of challenged muscles, the elevated heart beat, and perspiration earned through pushing against my own limitations.

A mere 24-mile drive from Las Vegas brought me to this natural wonder full of terracotta brush strokes and ruby red veins pulsing through sandstone.

The peaks of Red Rock are visible from the glitz and shimmer of The Strip if your eyes look beyond drink specials and a buffet of entertainment marquees. What’s not clear until arrival in the park is the variety of terrain, the magnificent rainbow of color embedded within the rock, and the history layered within these earthly folds. Petroglyphs share stories with those who find their conversational markings, and an on-site interpretative center helps visitors learn about the diverse Native American populations calling the area home for centuries.

Satisfied with sweat and grime, I brush loose dirt from my clothing and shoes and hop back into the rental car. My mission now is to return to the comfort of my suite in Las Vegas, refresh and unwind, then cool down with a cocktail by the pool. Later I might splurge on a 10-minute massage in the casino shops, rewarding my muscles for a job well done without breaking my budget.

Friends back home will ask if I tire of the slot machines and loud music and continual celebrations around the clock, but how could I?

The thing about Vegas is it’s entirely possible to feel like I’m living a luxurious leisurely lifestyle without spending much at all. I keep an eye on seasonal sales to book a few nights at a resort while taking advantage of food and beverage credit promotions, or other perks like spa time. Upon checking in, I’ll always turn down daily housekeeping to receive the extra dining credit on my room account. Every little bit contributes to a mouthwatering palette of options, but I’m particularly drawn to celebrity chef menus. That may include a healthy bite from Giada De Laurentiis’ Pronto, a casual eatery offering satisfying selections at attractive prices, or I may fuel a sugar craving with Gordon Ramsay’s sticky toffee pudding.

Friends back home will ask if I tire of the slot machines and loud music and continual celebrations around the clock, but how could I? These aren’t my focal points, but mere accessories to my real zest for exploring this Nevada hotspot. Within a few minutes in any direction, I can be hiking trails in conservation areas or gliding over cool water during a stand-up paddle board session at Lake Las Vegas—such a little known destination to anyone but regulars.

The desert, the hills, the sagebrush, and natural attractions just outside the city are as appealing to me as the budget friendly eats and decadent hotel suites. Like with any destination, a vacation is what I make of it. Vegas, for me, is the heartbeat of my Nevada getaways, an oasis within the desert, yet that desert immersion is magical. This contrast in texture keeps me coming back for more, and ensures no two visits could ever possibly be the same.

About Lori A. May

AvatarLori A. May is a Seattle-based journalist with travel writing published in Canadian Traveller, Explore, Food Wine Travel Magazine, Time Out, and elsewhere. She’s an MFA instructor in the University of King’s College-Halifax creative writing program, and the author of several books. Lori travels far and wide with a soft spot for palm trees and ocean breezes.

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