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Craig Miller

Taking the Strip Less Traveled

Check out nature v. neon in Vegas after SGIA Expo show hours.




If you’re attending SGIA Expo 2014 in October, you know you’re headed to Vegas, Baby! One of the coolest vacation destinations in the world! But there’s more to Las Vegas than the bright lights and casinos.

Have you ever thought about getting off the Strip? Maybe even heading a bit out of town to see the sights instead of the neon? The show ends at 4:30 p.m. Friday, so why not extend your trip to the weekend, rent a car, and make it an adventure?

My wife, Sue, and I have lived in Vegas for 35 years. Those of you who have met me have invariably heard me say, “There are more things to do within a day’s drive of Vegas than any other place on the planet.” I can’t cover them all here, but I can give you a taste. In and around this town, but away from the hotel casinos, there are thousands of breathtakingly beautiful, exciting, invigorating, soothing, and even dangerous things to do. I’ll recommend only places within an hour drive (one way) – you’ll have to contact me privately for the really wicked adventures.

Driving directions
Accuweather is predicting temperatures in the high 70s for SGIA, so let’s keep you outdoors. The first place Sue and I take visitors is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area ¬¬– a 20-minute drive from the Strip. It features a 13-mile serpentine loop through the park that you take at about 25 mph or less. The vistas along the road are jaw dropping – it’s like you’re on another planet. For many, just taking the slow drive around the loop is enough, but I recommend you stop at the visitor’s center to get information about hiking. You can go on a casual walk in dress shoes, rock climb sheer canyon walls, and everything in between. We’ve probably hiked there 50 times – and we’ve barely seen a fraction of it. One word of warning: scrambling over the ginormous sandstone boulders is remarkably easy, but it’s also all too easy for people unfamiliar with rock climbing to get in serious trouble.

We call one of our favorite drives the Valley of Fire Loop (VOF). You head north 50 miles on Interstate 15 to the Valley of Fire State Park exit. Like Red Rock, you can simply drive through the red rock formations or get out and hike. There are some wonderful petroglyphs (or Pictographs, from whence the name of our company came) that are worth stretching your legs for.

Continuing on the park road will take you to US Highway 167, where you will follow the signs to Lake Mead and back to Vegas on 167. On this drive we’ve seen herds of wild horses, burrows, and big horn sheep. When you get to the end of 167 you have a choice to turn left to Hoover Dam or right towards Henderson and Boulder Highway – back to Vegas (it’s around 130-plus miles.) Expert tip: if it’s later in the day when you start, do the loop in reverse so you don’t miss the sights of the Lake Mead leg.


Great outdoors
People are always amazed when we tell them we can ski an hour from the Strip. It’s true. At almost 12,000 feet, Mount Charleston is that close. For those of you who come from a relatively flat part of the world, it’s great to get up to the Ponderosa pines. It will be too early in the season to ski, but there will still be patches of snow from last winter – which may not have much appeal to those of you who lived through the polar vortex. It’s an easy drive with beautiful vistas; lots of picnic areas, and ample hiking waiting for you.

If you’re in the mood to commune with nature and do a little hiking and bird watching, there’s always the Cark County Wetlands Park. It’s a relatively new Wetlands Nature Preserve. Simply head east from the strip on Tropicana Boulevard for about 8 miles and you will be in this little oasis in the desert. The preserve is open daily, dawn to dusk; its information center is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are miles of paved and unpaved trails, a bird-viewing blind, and lovely ponds. Plus, it’s free, making it an even better place to unwind after a busy week at the show.

Finally, the Springs Preserve should not be missed. It is really the birthplace of Las Vegas. Vegas is a desert, after all, that only gets on average about 5 inches of rain annually. This is not enough water to sustain a civilization. The Springs Preserve was built on the site of the Las Vegas Springs – or “Big Springs” as it was known to early settlers. This was an oasis in the desert. These springs allowed the valley to be settled by Native Americans 5000 years ago, and also sustained the travelers along the Old Spanish Trail.

Today, the 180-acre Springs Preserve features museums, galleries, botanical gardens, and a trail system that takes the visitor through a scenic wetland habitat. The site is also home to the 70,000 square-foot Nevada State Museum. This fall, hopefully in time for your visit, the preserve is opening a large walk-through butterfly habitat. There’s so much to do at the preserve; it can be an all-day excursion and it’s only about 15 minutes from the Strip. There’s even a nice restaurant on site.

So go online and check out my recommendations. While you’re looking, you’ll see there are so many more adventures available. You can drive Ferraris, shoot machine guns, fly in acrobatic airplanes, virtually sky dive indoors, and more. Make this trip to Las Vegas one to remember: Get out of the casinos, get outside, and have an adventure you won’t find anywhere else.




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