Las Vegas

The Strip and Beyond

By:  Kelly Baker

Las Vegas . . . the words alone conjure images of The Flying Elvi, mob movies, the desert, neon signs, casinos, bachelor/bachelorette parties and wedding chapels . . . and if you are looking for that–it’s all there!

I had traveled all over the world but not being much of a gambler, Las Vegas was not on my radar. That was about to change when one of my closest friends and travel companions moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, and her first question to me was . . . “Well, when are you coming to visit?” So… I was on my way to Las Vegas — not once but twice already this year.

Of course, we started on the Strip, a magical place beckoning you to explore the miles of hotels similar in size to small cities. It’s impossible not to be fascinated by the sheer scale, architecture and décor. Our walks took us to Venice, New York, Paris, Egypt and Rome where we saw volcano eruptions, dancing water fountains, street performers, exotic gardens, enormous fish tanks, fine art and live flamingos among a plethora of other attractions. There are zip lines, the world’s largest Ferris/observation wheel, a thrill ride at the top of the Stratosphere shooting riders 64 feet over the edge of the building 900 feet above the ground. Opportunities to dine in famous chefs’ restaurants, watch shows, see concerts, go to clubs or pool parties, or even get married are everywhere; and if shopping is your thing, you have found paradise on earth. Shopping is abundant–from outlet malls to some of the most lavish stores in the world. Oh, and the gambling, let us not forget what built this fine city in the sand. There are as many gambling choices as there are endless entertainment options.

It just so happens that there is no shortage of adventures off the Strip either. Rugged beauty surrounds the City on all sides with the Spring Mountain Range and the Sheep Mountain Range circling this captivating city in the Mojave Desert. Attractions include the Red Rocks, the Hoover Dam, and Mount Charleston if you’re so inclined to snow ski. Yes, snow ski minutes from the desert floor and the frenetic pace of the Strip. There are boat rentals on Lake Mead, helicopter sightseeing tours, hot air balloon rides at sunrise, horseback rides to the Red Rocks at sunset, Jeep tours, countless hiking trails, the list goes on and on.10898038_10204648255479536_313004395937013089_n

If you’re willing to get dirty, Adrenaline ATV Tours is an amazing adventure. This is a tour for all skill levels, even if you’ve never ridden a 4-wheeler. Multiple guides go on each trip allowing you to ride at your own pace taking in the breathtaking scenery through the red rock formations of the Valley of Fire. There are stops along the way for water and lunch* and brief walks on the rocks. If you’re lucky, you may even see wildlife. Everywhere you look has an absolutely stunning view. To access the Valley, you have to be off-road. The view from the highway or back roads is nothing like the view inside the Valley. Once you see it, you’ll want to go again and again–but everyone should experience this ride at least once. It’s worth it!

You’ve no doubt seen the Hoover Dam in pictures or movies or heard about the incredible engineering feat it took to build it–but driving across it, seeing it up close, from the observation bridge 886’ in the air, or taking a tour and learning the history is amazing. We took a Black Canyon River Adventure Tour. Fasten your seatbelt! The ride to the raft is it’s own adventure as you head straight down the canyon wall to the base of the Hoover Dam in a bus! It is astonishing (and a tinge frightening) just getting down the hill–but so worthwhile. This is not a white-water, hold-on-for-dear-life raft trip. It’s a calm 13-mile float downstream on the Colorado River nestled between majestic canyon walls on both sides with stops for wildlife sightings, points of interest, trail heads, Canyon history, lunch* and swimming–if you can bear the 54 degree water. This day trip makes for a very relaxing and memorable day.image3

Most tours offer transportation to and from the Strip, so you don’t need a rental car, and there is so much to explore beyond the Strip.  While visiting in late May, the weatherman said snow had fallen above 8,000ft on Mount Charleston.  Curious, we set out to see for ourselves and escape the Las Vegas heat.  At the base of the mountain the conditions were dry and sparse, as you would expect in the Mojave Desert.  As the road started to climb to higher elevations, the vegetation got thicker and lusher and the temperature dramatically dropped. We saw several deer and a wild horse along the way but many species of wildlife including mountain lions, mule deer, wild horses and burros live on the mountain.  The road ends in a park-like area by the ski lifts.  Of course, coming from Florida, we had to take pictures and play in the snow. When the ski lodge is closed, there is no shortage of trailheads for hiking with beautiful scenery to explore.  In the winter, you can ski, sled and snowboard all day and be back on the Strip to catch all the action in only 45 minutesmount_charleston_nevada

To make the most of your trip, explore beyond the strip.

No matter which adventures you choose, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” doesn’t apply to the memories you have made . . . those you will take with you, and treasure.

(*Boxed lunch provided in the tour package)