Las Vegas, Nevada is synonymous with lights, nightlife, the strip and casinos. The city hosts thousands of young people each year as they enter the gates of adulthood. I chose to not be one of them so on my 21st birthday I stayed away from Las Vegas. I watched my friends visiting America from India visit Las Vegas in their 3-4 month stint; I watched older Indian families gush about their 60 and 70 year old parents in Vegas yet Vegas never enticed me. I am too restless to sit and gamble, too much of a lightweight to drink the tall drinks of Vegas, and the crowded clubs of Vegas were not my cup of tea. A year back I canceled one of my Southwest tickets to elsewhere and was given $69 to spend on another trip. Having visited Los Angeles and San Diego several times, Las Vegas was the most economical trip for the money. After over 10 years in California, I made my way to the most famous inhabitant of California- Las Vegas.
In addition to visiting the strip and other tourist traps, we decided to take the road less traveled into the outskirts of Vegas. While most people visit California for the sun, I am not a fan of heat. We visited Vegas in December to avoid the high tourist traffic, and I’d rather deal with cold than heat. People warned us of the cold and we were prepared with the thickest jackets we owned. We used them at night, but the weather during the daytime was pleasant and perfect. We began our desert expedition the morning after we arrived. We rented a car and began our adventure into the desert. We started off with the magnificent Hoover Dam. It was defined as a modern day engineering miracle, and for two engineers it was right up our alley. We had a tight agenda so we did not do the tour. We walked around the dam as we marveled at how the dam was built. It was enormous in size and it blew our minds to know someone built this dam. The Hoover Dam has been built in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. The water was blue against the rocks around, and it was magnificently beautiful. The colors were magical. We read online during research that we could drive to the top of the viewpoint and could see Grand Canyon. We were excited to get two for the price of one and drove to the highest point we could get to, but there was no Grand Canyon in sight. We paid for our cardinal sin of greediness!
The Mike O’Callaghan- Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge stands across from the Hoover Dam. The bridge carried the US route 93 across the Colorado River. The bridge has a walkway for people who want to walk the bridge and soak in the scenery around. We intended to do so as well, but missed the turn and ended up driving on the bridge in true lazy tourist fashion. We wanted to visit the Valley of Fire state park known for its many red rocks. Our GPS decided to bail out on us as we left Hoover Dam, and we drove around with no directions until we realized we were in Arizona. We turned back and made our way into Lake Mead recreational area. Valley of Fire can be reached through freeways or the scenic Lake Mead way. We decided on the later unintentionally. Lake Mead State Park is large, beautiful and extremely scenic. The mountains against the water made the water purple, pink and blue. The colors were beautiful and least expected in a desert. We drove past Lake Mead and stopped at various scenic points to take pictures. Each picture exceeded the other in beauty. I stood there marveling at the desert. My ignorance was expecting dry land with no color, and here I was witnessing nature at its best. Las Vegas trip was turning out to be a complete surprise factor.
Our iPhones found their signal as we reached Lake Mead and I entered Valley of fire into Google maps. She startled us by saying 56 miles to Valley of Fire. We were committed on reaching Valley of Fire, and we decided to go forth with our journey. We reached Valley of Fire in time for sunset. As we entered the park, the lady at the entrance booth told us to head over to the White Dome for the best sunset view. I am a sucker for sunsets and sunrise so we were going to White Dome. We drove down the Valley soaking in the tranquility, the red rocks in various shaped: some looked like the head of a bird and some like an elephant. My imagination was running wild indeed. We reached the White Dome, parked our cars and were planning to hike for 1.25 miles to a canyon for the sunset of our lives. Instead, we walked for thirty minutes, found a ledge high up in the canyon and hiked to the ledge. It gave us an aerial view of the entire area, and we basked in the beauty of the place. The sky was overcast so we couldn’t see much of a sunset, but the hike was totally worth the effort. Valley of Fire is the oldest and largest park in Las Vegas, and it was a complete delight We began our journey back to the strip where we were staying for the weekend.
Although we drove all day, the colors of the desert enticed us. We were intrigued with the changing landscape, the purple-pink color of the water from the canyons, and the tranquility of the experience. The strip with its glitz and glamor might scream Vegas, but the hues of the desert provided the much-needed soup to my soul. Stay tuned for Vegas part 2: the strip, shows and the nightlife!