Hee hee. You see what I did there?
I knew you would.
We explored so many places during our winter holiday stay in the Las Vegas area that I could spend hours and hours writing up long descriptions and posting dozens of photos of each. But then I wouldn't have enough time to explore new places.
Thus, I've decided to combine just a few lines of text and the "best of" photos into this single essay, so that you end up with just the true rock stars. Ha! Did it again. Done now.
We stayed for a month in Pahrump, there at the blue dot on the map, which is where you'll find Cathedral Canyon.
Other places we explored, starting in the east and heading across Las Vegas to the northwest:
Orange Circle = Valley of Fire State Park
Red Pin = Red Rock Canyon
Blue circle = Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Yellow semi-circle = Death Valley National Park
Purple pin = Rhyolite Ghost Town
We also spent a day investigating the "cave condos" of Shoshone, CA, which involved even more rocks, and which I wrote a full post about on my blog at OwnLessDoMore.us.
Cathedral Canyon: It was built as an outdoor religious shrine in the 1970's, and fell into decline after the owner's death in 1994. There was once a waterfall, a suspension bridge, stained glass windows, and um... the replica of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes still had a head, and way fewer bullet holes.
Valley of Fire: This state park 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas was extra enjoyable, because we got to hike it with an old friend of mine from high school, who I hadn't seen in 30 years! Last time Chet and I stood in the same place, we were younger than my kids are now. Tim and I visited the Grand Canyon just a couple months ago, and I have to tell you: I like Valley of Fire better. It's just as spectacular, but far more accessible.
Red Rock Canyon: This national conservation area just outside Las Vegas was also extra enjoyable, because we got to hike it with our friends Lisa & Dan of Always On Liberty, who happened to be staying at the same RV park as we were.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: There was water here along with the rocks! The refuge harbors species of plants and animals that exist nowhere else on earth, like pupfish. These "ambassadors" of the park are less than 1" long, native to the area, and endangered. You can see them swimming in the creeks and pools. I'm sure the park is lovely when the vegetation is blooming in the springtime, but we found something appealing in its raw winter beauty too. Bonus: admission is free!
Death Valley National Park: We tried to hit all the stops on this "If you only have one day" guide, but couldn't quite pull it off. The place is huge, but at least on the day before Christmas, it was not crowded. We're excited that we got to stand in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, especially since Tim stood at the highest point (Mount Whitney, 14505 feet) less than 5 months before! I've circled the sign marking sea level, 282 feet above us. Word of caution: Don't rely on cell phone service to get you around the park. There isn't any. Download a map at the Death Valley National Park website or pick up an old-fashioned paper guidebook and map before you go.
Rhyolite Ghost Town: The place lasted less than 15 years, following the rise and fall of the gold rush in the early 1900's, with a peak population of about 8,000 in 1908. Very few buildings remain, and it's hard to imagine that the town once boasted a 3-story bank building with marble floors, electric lights, and... customers. [Editor's Note: for more on the Rhyolite Ghost Town, see Always On Liberty's comprehensive article.]
Although wintertime in western Nevada was quite a bit colder than we were expecting, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees during the day, and down into the 30's overnight with a couple of hard freezes, we thought it was a great time to visit. The hiking and exploring is no doubt brutal in the triple-digit temperatures of summer!