Natural Wonders Near Las Vegas

Natural Wonders

BY STEPHANIE KASHETA

There’s much more to see in Vegas than meets the drunken eye. While many tourists visit, lured by the promise of being a completely different person for a week or night, many do not realize that Nevada is home to many natural wonders. Here are three places you should be sure to see on your visit.

MOUNT CHARLESTON

Mount Charleston lies in the central region of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and has over thirty hiking trails for hikers of all levels. It was the only place you could see snow and it’s only a forty-five minute drive from the strip. I remember taking the drive with my grandfather countless times, counting the small crosses along the winding path through the desert to the Aspen covered mountains. You can forage for Pinyon nuts and make tea from pine needles. It’s not uncommon for travelers to come face to face with an elk. Less than 2,000 people live on the mountain. I remember peeking into a tiny, closed library as a child, and working myself up into a hypochondriachal frenzy after reading a sign on the window that read, “Caution, woodland creatures carry the plague.”

Prior to moving to Massachusetts, my husband and I went into a serious naturalist kick, bought camping gear and, with no real experience and his genetically terrible knees, set out to hike as far as we could up the mountain. The higher we got the more my memories of the mountain as a girl melded with the life that had transpired below the summit, the life I was resistant to leaving. But a mute peace washed over me, as we pitched our tent for the night and peered down at the specs of light coming from the tiny village below. After setting up our fire, the night grew darker and we climbed inside our tent. Near midnight we woke each other up, thinking that someone was shining a flashlight through our tent. We looked up and there was the moon, close enough to touch. That moment is the closest I think I’ve come to knowing there may be a God.

RED ROCK CANYON

Also a place I visited a lot as a child. My grandfather took up hiking after my grandmother’s death and could usually outlast the three of us kids, even at 70. It sits less than 20 miles off of the Las Vegas strip. You can still find many of the plants that the Native Americans used: Banana yucca, globe mallow and agave, to name a few. Temperatures peak at nearly 100 degrees in July, so it’s important to be prepared prior to your hike. Bikers can ride on a thirteen mile scenic drive through the canyon. A wildfire wreaked havoc on the area in 2006, so a lot of my memory of the place is of charred shrubs contrasted to the vibrant Aztec sandstone. In several areas of the canyon, you can come across waterfalls, streams or tinajas in addition to desert tortoises and donkeys. It is one of the finest rock climbing areas in the world and definitely an awe-inspiring place to find yourself in.

VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK

Though it rests nearly an hour from the heart of Las Vegas, the Valley of Fire State Park is well worth the drive, as many examples of ancient rock art dot the area’s sandstone. The Basket Maker people and Anasazi Pueblo farmers  temporarily occupied the area from 300 B.C.E to 1150 C.E. Though temperatures can reach upwards of 120 degrees in the summer, it’s well worth it to come face to face with such a fascinating, tangible part of native history. The limestone swirls with reds that run the gamut from pale to shocking and the formations date to the age of the dinosaurs. Shapes of hands, patterns and rams pecked out by ancient people are most visible near Atlatl Rock. My husband and I drove through hot sand to see the petroglyphs. The place seemed full of whispers.

ABOUT THE WRITER

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Stephanie Kasheta is a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is currently finishing up her MFA in Fiction at Emerson College in Boston. She is a Las Vegas native who recently relocated to Cape Cod with her husband, a veteran of the US Air Force an father to a seven-year old future writer named Olivia. She is an assistant/editor to Jacquelyn Mitchard at Merit Press and on Saturdays can be found blowing glass at the Sandwich Glass Museum. Follow her on Twitter

Feature image of Valley of Fire via Shutterstock

 

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