Have an urge to leave the bright lights of Vegas, at least for a little while? There are plenty of destinations easily reachable for a day trip or a longer getaway.
Right Next Door
A short car ride will get you to Boulder City and an opportunity to do a bit of antiquing, play a round of golf or take a ride on a vintage train, perhaps even as a student engineer. With a population of less than 16,000 people, Boulder City is known as a clean, green oasis in the desert, just over 20 miles from the glitter and glamor of Sin City. It’s a great place to stop for a yummy Metro Pizza, a visit to the Nevada State Railroad Museum and – on weekends – a ride on an authentic vintage rail car along the route used to transport workers and visitors to the Hoover Dam. For an extra fee, you can even drive the engine yourself as a student engineer.
Boulder City is also home to Lake Mead, the 16th-largest manmade lake on the planet, and it offers camping facilities if you want to stay by the water a while longer. Rent a ski boat and zoom around the lake, or take the plunge with a day of scuba diving. The water is very warm, but on a hot desert day it can be refreshing.
Castle in the Desert
You can reach Death Valley National Park in about 2 ½ hours, giving you plenty of time to explore the wonders of Scotty’s Castle, an elaborate Spanish-style mansion built by millionaire Albert Johnson at the urging of gold prospector and con man Walter Scott, known as “Death Valley Scotty.” Scotty had persuaded Johnson to invest in a non-existent gold mine, but even after the fraud was exposed the two men remained friends. Johnson built the rambling castle, but Scotty always claimed it was his and Johnson never interfered with the fantasy. The park service rangers, dressed in period clothing, give guided tours of the castle for a fee. Your visit will be accompanied by the eerie sounds of a 1,121-pipe theater organ and the adventurous will want to take the underground “mystery tour” of the ¼ mile of tunnels beneath the building.
If you want to spend more time exploring Death Valley, consider staying at nearby Furnace Creek Inn, a resort hideaway surrounded by natural springs that feed the swimming pool. You can enjoy terry robes, massage therapy, a vast all-you-can-eat Western buffet, room service, Sunday brunch and afternoon tea. For an extra treat, horseback riding and carriage rides are available from October through May.
For those who prefer the outdoor life, Furnace Creek also has 136 campsites with water, fireplaces, flush toilets, tables and a dump station. It should be noted that Death Valley is far too hot for outdoor activities during the months of July and August. If you plan to go hiking, October through April is the best time to enjoy the spectacular scenery without misery. Be sure and consult a ranger before any hike or exploration of unfamiliar territory.
Valley of Fire
Take a step back in time at Valley of Fire State Park, located 55 miles northeast of Vegas off Interstate 15 exit 75. This 35,000-acre park opened in 1935 and the public thrilled to the red sandstone formations, ancient trees and dramatic vistas. Today, you’ll still feel as if you are in the ghostly company of the dinosaurs who roamed these red dunes 150 million years ago. Human occupation dates back to perhaps 300 B.C. and is evidenced by Indian petroglyphs carved into rocks 3,000 years ago. Among the ancient residents of the Valley of Fire were the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo farmers who worked he neighboring Moapa Valley.
The park is open year round and campsites are provided with shade, tables, grills, restrooms, showers, water and a dump station. RV sites have power and water hookups for an extra charge. You must check in with the visitor center to get your camping permit. While you are there, pick up a trail map and ask for route suggestions and also if there are any guided tours available. There are restrictions on where rock climbing is allowed and no plants, animals, rocks or artifacts may be disturbed or removed from the park.
Valley of Fire is an ideal destination for a picnic day trip and there are shaded areas with tables and restrooms in several locations: Atlatl Rock, the Cabins, Seven Sisters, White Domes and the picturesque Mouse’s Tank trailhead. Bring your lunch and plenty of water – you’ll need it, especially if you go exploring.
Old West Adventure
Whether you are seeking a romantic getaway or a rollicking good time with the kids, Bonnie Springs Ranch will not disappoint. Old Nevada Town, as seen on TV’s “Ghost Adventures,” is a replica of an 1880s mining town, complete with gunfights and live Wild West performances in the street. Ride the old-fashioned replica steam train, belly up to the saloon bar, feed the animals in the petting zoo, take a pony ride or simply feast upon a lunch of bison burgers and home fries.
Adults and kids – or grandkids – alike will enjoy the Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel. The whole family is welcome to wake up in the Old West in an extra-large room with an electric log fireplace, followed by a guided trail ride with breakfast. Party planners are on hand in case you’d like to treat the youngsters and their friends to a Wild West daytime package, or bring your adult friends for an evening package that can include everything from live music and saloon girls to line dance lessons and mechanical bull riding.
The motel also has themed rooms such as Spanish, Chinese, Native American, covered wagon or gay 1890s, some with Jacuzzis, kitchens or fireplaces. Bonnie Springs has everything you need for a romantic getaway, including a seasonal pool, a full service restaurant and a bar.
Getting out of Las Vegas is as easy as hopping in your car and heading out across the desert. Let your sense of adventure be your guide.