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March/April 2011

Beyond the Lights of Vegas 30 Best-Kept Hiking Secrets

Volume 1


BeyondThe

LightsOfVegas An exploration of the beauty found on the outskirts of Las Vegas

By: Carolina Flores

Las Vegas 15 miles Red Rock Canyon 35 miles Mount Charleston 55 miles Valley of Fire State Park


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Miles from Vegas Red Rock Canyon Photograph by Sonic07

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ed Rock Canyon is just 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Las Vegas. It is a scenic area of rock formations and desert with a 3,000-foot (910-meter) escarpment produced by a thrust fault. Open to the public year-round, Red Rock Canyon has a visitors center and a variety of plant and animal life. If you like the adventure sports of rock climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking you can be sure to get your fill here. What You’ll Do At Red Rock Canyon: The sandstone formations rise along the boundary of the park and are great for day hikes and rock climbing. If you are a photographer watch as the sun uses the rocks as a canvas and slowly transforms the colors at dawn and sunset. Travelling with kids in Red Rock Canyon? Check the visitors center for a trail map and choose from a few trails that are just right for your kids. There is a Children’s Discovery trail that takes you past some hieroglyphs, over a stream and to a small waterfall. Your kids can follow along on the interpretive trail as well as explore the desert landscape.

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About Red Rock Canyon Photograph by Peggy Gravel and fstopbill

Miles from Vegas

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he geological history of these ancient stones goes back some 600 million years. Over eons, the forces of nature have formed Red Rock’s sandstone monoliths into arches, natural bridges, and massive sculptures painted in a stunning palette of gray-white limestone and dolomite, black mineral deposits, and oxidized minerals in earth toned sienna hues ranging from pink to crimson and burgundy. Orange and green lichens add further contrast, as do spring-fed areas of lush foliage. And formations, such as Calico Hill, are brilliantly white where groundwater has leached out oxidized iron. Cliffs cut by deep canyons tower 2,000 feet above the valley floor. During most of its history, Red Rock Canyon was below a warm, shallow sea. Massive fault action and volcanic eruptions caused this seabed to begin rising some 225 million years ago. As the waters receded, sea creatures died, and the calcium in their bodies combined with sea minerals to form limestone cliffs studded with ancient fossils. Some 45 million years later, the region was buried beneath thousands of feet of windblown sand.

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Mount Charleston Photograph by aconnel73170 About 100 million years ago, massive fault action began dramatically shifting the rock landscape here, forming spectacular limestone and sandstone cliffs and rugged canyons punctuated by waterfalls, shallow streams, and serene oasis pools. Over the years, water and wind have

“Going to Red Rock Canyon gives me a sense of serenity and

allows me to clear

my mind

been ever-creative sculptors, continuing to redefine this strikingly beautiful landscape. In 1990, Red Rock Canyon became a National Conservation Area, further elevating its protected status. Its current acreage is 197,000.

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as Vegas sizzles with excitement, but let’s face it – the summer heat can get out of control. Temperatures reaching 115 degrees. The 160th straight day of sun. Even the most ardent of sun worshippers are looking for a break and hotel swimming pools and air-conditioned malls just aren’t enough. Luckily just 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas visitors can find all the cool mountain breezes, fresh air and allaround scenic beauty of Mount Charleston. Part of the Spring Mountain Range and Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston ranges from 3,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. It is Nevada’s eighthhighest mountain peak and one of the top ten most topographically prominent peaks in the United States. Featuring trees like juniper, mountain mahogany, Aspen and Ponderosa pine and animals such as wild burros, songbirds, deer and desert tortoises, Mount Charleston feels a million miles away from the city. Mt. Charleston is perfect for skiing, picnicking, hiking and horseback riding. This is not your typical Las Vegas experience.

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55 Miles from Vegas

Valley of Fire State Park Photograph by listorama

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his ancient sandstone valley, colored in hues from vermillion to gold, features a fantastic array of caves, domes, and arches. Scan the cliffs near the west entrance for desert bighorn sheep. Washes and canyons throughout the park are dotted with creosote bush, brittle brush, and beavertail cactus. Look at the base of the plants for desert iguanas and Gila monsters. Rocky areas are preferred by desert-banded geckos, collared lizards, Great Basin whiptails, and chuckwallas. Desert tortoises, sometimes visible in late spring and early fall, burrow in sandy washes and dunes. Golden eagles, turkey vultures, and red-tailed hawks can be seen soaring; ground squirrels and antelope ground squirrels appear everywhere. Equally visible are ravens, roadrunners, sage sparrows, house finches, and several wren species. Wildlife to Watch: Best time to visit is October through May. Good viewing of predators and small mammals year-round. Birds of prey common in spring and fall.

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Beyond the Lights of Vegas  

An exploration of the natural beauty found on the outskirts of Vegas.

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