There are few spots more striking than the Nevada desert. It's just you, endless red sandstone, and the open road. Valley of Fire State Park, named for the brightly hued rocks, is the perfect place to experience the almost spiritual atmosphere. Make a point to skirt the Vegas city limits along Lake Mead on your way to the park, and to cruise White Domes Road when you visit. Arches, domes, waves, sand, slot canyons, and ancient petroglyphs await you along the route, and you'll see just where the desert's mystical reputation comes from.
The Coffee Cup in Boulder City is a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. "The Cup" is open daily from 6AM-2PM, and serves up some mean Bloody Marys, along with pancakes, omelets, Reubens and just about anything else under the sun. This quirky diner is certainly worth the wait, especially if you're already driving through on the way to visit the Hoover Dam! Be sure to try the famed cinnamon rolls, and don't expect to leave hungry.
After that home cooked meal in Boulder City, visiting the Hoover Dam is a must for your Nevada adventure. Experience the rich history of the insanely impressive dam by taking either the power plant or dam tour, and be sure to give yourself a couple of hours to tour the tunnel, visit the museum, and cross the bridge so you get the opportunity to stand in two states at once! This is a must-see for any roadtripper, even if just to take a break from the Las Vegas strip; it's about a 40-minute drive away. Additionally, take some time to walk across the top of the dam for an incredible view of Lake Mead, the Colorado River and the spillways! Note that tickets must be purchased by around 3:30 for the tours each day.
40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, tucked in gray and tan limestone, creates a unique experience for campers, hikers, and visitors alike. Spending an entire day immersed in the landmark Valley of Fire State Park will still not be enough to cover it all! The park fee is just $10 and you can stay from sunrise to sunset, although staying the night on the grounds is an incredible experience recommended to all. The brightly hued red rocks set this state park apart from the rest, and it's an overall must-stop for anyone near Vegas. True to its name, the park is HOT during the summer months and offers little shade, so wear your sunscreen and don't leave your hat in the car!
Grab your camera and take in this unique formation in the Valley of Fire, because it's something that you do not want to miss! The Elephant Butte is a natural rock formation in the unmistakable shape of a pachyderm! Hike around the formation, or just park in the lot and walk right to it; either way, this part of the park is something that photos can't even do justice to. Although it's just 50 miles away from Vegas, you'll forget where you are in this gorgeous middle-of-nowhere landmark!
The highway to the Valley of Fire is an experience in itself, but White Domes Road is a six-mile treasure that includes trails, canyons, and even neat petroglyphs inside the park. Drive through Aztec cliffs and stop a couple of miles in at the parking area, where a trail leads to "Mouse's Tank,” a natural cavity in the formation. Soak in the history behind Petroglyph Cannon, where pictures etched into the rocks dating way back offer an out-of-this-world (okay, maybe it's more "out-of-this-time-period") feeling. Continue on to find Rainbow Vista, a summit featuring rocks of nearly every color. This is a photographer's, hiker's, biker's, and nature lover's dream location!
For $5 a person, the Lost City Museum lets you oogle at artifacts that have been recovered from archaeological sites running along the Muddy River Valley. The building of the Hoover Dam led to the finding of many of these artifacts, and if you're in the area visiting the Valley of Fire or just passing through, this is worth a short stop. Learn the rich history of the Native Americans in the area, a must-see especially for those who want to get in touch with their inner Indiana Jones, or just those who like to learn new things while stretching their legs from driving!
A tribute to the pioneer settlers, the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum is a great stop on your trip and makes a great way to spend a few hours learning about how people were able to settle the desert decades ago. It even features a much-talked-about cave bear skeleton, along with a classy 1920s parlor! There is no entrance fee, making it a no-brainer for those passing through the town of Mesquite. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10AM-4PM, you'll have plenty of time to walk around the small museum and even check out the unique desert town!
So do you have what it takes to conquer this desert and all the beauty and culture that it has to offer? Take a break from the bright lights of Las Vegas and breathe in the fresh air of the outdoors on this one-of-a-kind trip you won't find anywhere else in the country.
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