Las Vegas is a brand of excitement. While many have covered stories and adventures on the wild side, the desert city has an abundance of natural wonders that visitors may not want to miss. Situated in a basin on the floor of the Mojave Desert and surrounding mountain ranges, much of the landscape in Las Vegas is rocky and arid with desert vegetation and wildlife. One of the world’s greatest wonders, while it’s in Arizona, is a popular Vegas outskirt adventure as it’s only a 2-hour drive away from the city – the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Grand Canyon (West)
The Grand Canyon is – although many people think it is – NOT the biggest canyon in the world, sure it is the most famous. Besides, the red rock formation of the canyon only makes the natural wonder so much more dramatic and one-of-a-kind.
If you want to have the full experience of the majesty and grandeur of Grand Canyon, I would strongly recommend you to go to the Grand Canyon National Park (a.k.a. the North Rim and the South Rim); and it might take a few days to visit other famous spots like the Oljato-Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, the Wave, and Horseshoe Bend.
The Grand Canyon West is not within the National Park, it is a privately-owned company operated by the Hualapai Tribe and requires the purchase of a tour package to entry. The site consists of three scenic areas around the airstrip – the Hualapai Ranch, Grand Canyon Skywalk at Eagle Point, and Guano Point. Every entrance package includes parking at the terminal and shuttle bus transportation to the two scenic viewing areas, and the Hualapai Ranch. In addition to the admission, visitors could pay extra for add-ons such as professional photographs of their visit to the Skywalk, air tours, or meal plans.
The Hualapai Ranch is usually the firsts pitstop of the package tour. There are few huts and houses where tourists could pet the horses, interact with the “cowboys” or pay for horseback riding along the rim. Nothing too exciting there, except there are canyon-facing cabins for visitors to stay overnight, join the cowboys to make S’mores, and hear stories around an open fire.
The Eagle point is the highlight of the site. There I saw the Eagle Rock, named for its shape, and it is considered sacred by the Hualapai Indians. With its beautiful views of the canyon walls, this is “where the Heavens and Earth meet”.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk – a glass bridge 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon floor is an attraction opened since 2007. Some (especially the Hualapai Tribe) might think the horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge is too commercial, and a disturbance of the sacred ground. Still, it became a talking point for the general public. However, personal cameras are not allowed on the Skywalk (huh! “safety issues”) and visitors need to pay for an add-on for professional photographs on the bridge – and I guess that’s where I decided to draw the line at paying an extra fee for walking on the bridge.
Another scenic point in the site and it offers breathtaking panoramic canyon views on the Grand Canyon and azure Colorado River. There is a small Hualapai Market where the tribal members sell Native American jewelry and crafts.
All in all, the Grand Canyon West may be a little bit too commercial for travelers yet it is a convenient way to get a taste of Grand Canyon and experience the nature away from the neon lights of the Strip.
On our way to the Grand Canyon, we passed the Hoover Dam. The massive structure is the lifeline to all people in the area as the dam, constructed in 1935, controls floods, provides irrigation water and produces hydroelectric power.
The Dam’s construction began in 1931 and was completed in merely four years. It took thousands of workers and costs over one hundred lives, and it is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume.
The 726-foot high curving cement façade creates a striking view as we walked along the bridge at the front. If you have more time, it’s possible to take a guided tour or go on a boat trip on Lake Mead to learn more about the history and achievements of building this mighty dam on the Colorado River, and marvel at the fruits of their labor.
Red Rock Canyon
In Red Rock Canyon, 500 million years of history lie exposed in rock. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is where we learned a lot more about the Mojave Desert. The rugged, scenic canyon lies within the Mojave Desert (North America’s smallest, driest desert), and it’s defined by its geology, elevation and characteristic plants such as Joshua trees.
In the Mojave, mountain ranges alternative with low, flat basins, giving a rhythm to the landscape and providing living space for a wide variety of plants and animals. There is a scenic drive route with numerous trails for visitors to explore the natural wonders.
About 250 million years ago the earth was caught in a catastrophe virtually beyond comprehension. Exactly what brought the ancient world to an end is still widely debated, although extra-terrestrial impacts, intense volcanic eruptions and drastic sea-level changes that caused oxygen levels to fall are possible explanations. Whatever its cause, this extinction radically changed the course of life on earth. Early fossils of reptiles, dinosaurs, and mammals were found in the red sandstone cliffs and grey limestone layers in the Red Rock Canyon. These discoveries provided clues and evidence of the ancient world was like and helped scientists understand the evolution of life.
Today, the conservation area contains a diverse flora and fauna and is home to a sanctuary of life. Plants in the desert have many survival strategies by growing in canyons, where it is cooler and wetter. Animals do well in holes. We looked closely to the rocks as we were driving through the scenic route, hoping to see some ground squirrels, Whiptail lizard, and the desert tortoise (and not to step on Tarantula in between the cracks on the ground…)
It was fulfilling to learn how different kinds of rocks formed through millions of years of processing, and the views of the area were stunning and unique.
If you are looking for something active, I saw some rock climbers in the area and I am sure it would be exciting for climbing up the rocks and enjoy the great view on top!
Fancy to travel a little bit further? Visit Utah’s Zion National Park, or even Bryce Canyon! The dramatic landscape and natural scenery is something I never get tired of.