Sunday, August 4, 2013

National Parks In The Southwest

By Tiffany Milligan – A Vegas Local

Some of the most beautiful national parks can be found within four hours of Las Vegas. It’s hard to believe there’s ANYTHING out there once you leave the city of Vegas, when all you see are tumble weeds and sand mounds… but alas, there is life out there! Right in Las Vegas’ backyard you will find, The Grand Canyon and Red Rock, and if you venture out a bit farther you will find great treats like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon! So if National Park Vacations are right up your alley, but the “dreaded spouse” wants a little taste of the city, Vegas can cater to both ;) See for yourself, the parks are EVERYWHERE! America the Beautiful is more than just a song, it’s the name of the annual pass that will get you into over 2,000 National Parks and areas for a mere $80 (covering your carload or, if a per person fee is charged it will cover four people…not too shabby I must say). Even better, if you’re older than dirt (just kidding!), but really, if you’re 62 or older you can get a lifetime pass for just TEN DOLLARS!

Red Rock National Park

Photo by Bruce Fingerhood
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Red Rock is a favorite “tour of the southwest” for our local cyclists and hikers, as it is literally less than five minutes west of Las Vegas and provides great trails! There are trails for all levels, from beginners to those “in better shape”… LOL. Love horses? Wild West Sunset BBQ Dinner Ride will allow you to saddle up and roam the rock formations, hopefully spying a long horned sheep along the way. Prefer to play “Buffalo Bill” earlier in the day?? The Maverick Breakfast Horseback Ride is for you! However you prefer to explore Red Rock Canyon, you can’t make a bad choice…well unless you’re one of the aforementioned “elders”, with a bad heart, no history of exercise and you’ve planned an eight mile hike to the top of the peak!

Grand Canyon Sightseeing tours

Photo by Tiffany Milligan
Grand Canyon National Park is just a “hop, skip and jump” away in the neighboring state of Arizona…especially if you leave Las Vegas and head there via airplane with a Grand Canyon helicopter tour! The South Rim Explorer will get you there in 45 minutes (it takes a little over 4 hours to drive), provide a gourmet box lunch (isn’t that kinda contradictory? Lol), allow you to take in all the views, and take a short hike if so desired. If you’ve stopped in the Phoenix area, on your way to see us in Vegas, it would be a great time to do the Grand Canyon Day Ground Tour. On the Day Ground Tour you will take the famous Route 66, spying a few sites along the way, and spending THREE HOURS in Grand Canyon National Park. There’s no way to describe the overpowering wonder of the world without diminishing its size, so bring your camera and take plenty of pictures!

Zion Park

Photo by Steve Corey
Zion National Park
Tours and trips to Zion National Park take only two and a half hours by car from Las Vegas! Now this is a National Park Vacation worth the trip! TWO HUNDRED MILLION YEARS have went into the gorgeous, weather-carved, seven layered terrain! TWO HUNDRED MILLION!!! Hiking Zion is huge! If you only do ONE HIKE there EVER, hike “the Narrows”! This hike is through water (how often do you get to hike in water?!) and will test your balancing skills. You will be warned that you need “gear” to do this hike, but I managed with some tennis shoes and my backpack. You will get wet; some places were chest high on me (I’m 5’9”). If you’re prepared to hoist your little ones on your shoulders, let them join you, if not, leave this hike for a time when it’s adults only! There are many ways to see the scenery of Zion National Park; horseback riding, jeep tours, driving tours, and biking to name just a few!

Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park

Photo by Niamor83
Bryce Canyon National Park must be included in your tours of the southwest! Four hours from Vegas, this can be routed into your Zion Park visit! Rent a lodge outside of the park’s entrance if you want to stay overnight, and then plan on spending a lot of time ogling over the hoodoo formations in the limestone! Rain erosion has molded the limestone into many astonishing shapes that will boggle the mind. Hike a trail or walk the rim and capture some amazing photos of the red and tan formations framed by stark green trees and a deep blue sky (unless it’s cloudy, then whole “deep blue sky” is out the window). If you want to explore Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter, rent some snow shoes or skis and take a nice cross country tour!

National Parks in the Southwest

Photo by InkKnife_2000
Joshua Tree National Park
Just three hours in a car and you can be in Joshua Tree National Park; a great place to camp out at one of their nine camping spots. There are 12 self-guided paths that allow you to explore the desert landscape and become acquainted with the fun Joshua trees that populate the area… and have even made their way into the illustrations of Dr. Seuss books! Keys View Vista is 20 minutes off the beaten path, but if you go on a clear day you MIGHT be able to see all the way into MEXICO!

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley A National Park in the Southwest

Photo by Bust It Away Photography
3.4 million acres of HOT DRY DESERT, just a couple hours from Las Vegas, is what this park is all about. The name says it all. Death. How appealing, right? Yet the fact that it’s the hottest and driest spot with the lowest elevation in North America, drives one million visitors there annually. Do yourself a favor, skip this park in the dead (ha, I said dead) of summer. There’s hiking and biking and guided trail tours that are tons of fun when the weather cooperates. Take the time to explore Furnace Creek and then cool off with an inside tour of Scotty’s Castle House!

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