Nevada is often overlooked as a travel destination beyond the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. However, those willing to venture outside the city limits will be richly rewarded with awe-inspiring natural landscapes waiting to be explored. This article shares one writer's journey to Henderson, Nevada that uncovered spectacular state parks, hiking trails, and beautiful scenery.
Henderson Nevada: An Unexpected Travel Gem
Henderson Nevada.....Most travel writers come to realize that whatever the carefully laid-out plans, we are all subject to unexpected changes in our plans. Detailed plans, reservations, and the like had been made for a much-anticipated trip to Utah. One week before the departure date, a personal bomb landed smack dab in the middle of my plans. Sixteen months later, starving for travel, I again resolved to make Utah my destination. Once again, things did not work out and after a quick evaluation, I planned a trip to Henderson, Nevada for February. Henderson was a distance from Las Vegas (benefit #1) and more or less central between the Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon, both Nevada parks that had some good press. Little did I know that my opinion of Nevada would change and my plate would be filled with travel meals that were superb.
Lake Las Vegas: An Affordable Retreat
Lake Las Vegas, just past Henderson is a man-made, lake playground that costs much less in winter. I managed to find a penthouse, one-bedroom condo, overlooking the lake, at the most reasonable cost. The galley kitchen enabled me to cook my own meals thus making up for the difference in accommodations. The view, facing the lake was a super relaxing way to start and finish every day.
Red Rock Canyon: Hiking and Childhood Memories
A few years ago, I visited Red Rock Canyon, some 45 minutes from Henderson, and did some hiking in early January. That particular week was rainy, wet, and damp and the hikes were uncomfortable. I was not really expecting much. Red Rock Canyon features a beautiful 13-mile scenic drive that offers panoramic views of towering, red, sandstone walls in the Mojave Desert. There is a well-maintained visitor’s center that is the send-off to some 1.125 million visitors per year. It turned out this 197,000-acre park had far more selling points than I had realized on the first trip. My passion is to find wilderness that has great hiking. Red Rock Canyon Park delivers some 26 detailed hikes as well as the chance to venture out into the desert.
I will not bore the reader with the details of each hike undertaken, because we all have individual and different tastes. However, in the park, I was treated to a new form of hiking, at least for my experience. One has the chance to climb the canyon walls, scrambling over huge rocks, from level to upward level. There is no trail, the hiker forges their own trail. I usually hike with a water bottle and a camera around my neck. The camera proved to be a massive annoyance as climbing was always from different positions and the camera refused to stay secure. If you are going to do what I call rock scrambling, a small backpack is a must. Trying to make rock scrambling typical, was a disaster.
The allure of rock scrambling (my term) likely comes from early childhood memories. A field was near my home with large boulders that provided the setting for games of adventure, after the Saturday movie matinee. Despite the bothersome camera around my neck, it was a return to childhood at an advanced age. The challenges to go upward until thwarted by reality were a welcome treat. So, if you want to re-explore your childhood, then Red Rock Canyon offers treats. A suggestion would be to arrive during the week and bring water. It gets hot and the weekends have many visitors.
Valley of Fire State Park: Breathtaking Vistas
Turning in the other direction of Las Vegas is the popular Valley of Fire. The way to the valley park is along Lake Mead, which is pleasantly boring and traffic is sparse. Travel time from Henderson, taking one’s time is one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes. Perhaps it was the time of the year, but the entry gate was not manned and the fees, which were nominal, were using the honor system.
Filling in the entry papers with car details etc. the vista was nothing to write home about. However, some 300 feet into the park, one climbs a rise and the park unfolds like a painting. I have to admit, I was in total surprise. The panoramic views are astounding. It was one of those proverbial “wow” moments. Being a fan of Utah, in the 10th degree, I was not expecting the meal, I was delivered in Nevada. In a ten-second period, my opinion of Nevada changed. The desert has this ability to shock us with its wide open spaces. The stark intermingling of iron into the soil and the rocks creates tones of red. The shades are in constant evolution with the time of day and the intensity of the light. Early in the morning and later in the day the tones become softer and more mellow. Midday, under the stronger light one seems to see a monochromatic red and the views are not in full parade.
The Valley of Fire is a 46,000-acre state park that has no real services, however lots of visitors. The views are panoramas and there are many hikes to suit all tastes. Of course, you can go in your car and be thrilled, but get into the backcountry and the hike is King. One suggestion is to do your research before you arrive because I saw no evidence that the state was in a helpful mode. Nevertheless, I was more than impressed and the trails I hiked were well worth the efforts expended.
Nevada Surprises with Hidden Gems
Nevada surprised me this time. I had always seen Nevada as an extension of Las Vegas, which I have grown to dislike. The real savings grace of Las Vegas, in my mind, is the airport. Coming in and going out is easy with a preferred traveler card.
We all have perceptions and they generally dictate our actions, But, sometimes we are faced with changes that take us out of our little closet and we find gems that we did not know existed. The Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon are two such places. You have to scratch the surface, but there is gold underneath.