Leaving the Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas has a myriad of fabulous things to do that have absolutely nothing to do with gambling, glitzy shows and weddings. Step off the Strip, and you’ll find beautiful countryside, historic locations and all manner off offbeat attractions. Here are seven unexpected extras in this over exposed city:
55 miles north of Vegas you’ll find the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s biggest state park. Driving through the red sandstone terrain and hauntingly desolate beauty of this part of the Mojave Desert, it is easy to see how the park got its name. There are camp sites, hiking trails and areas that have petrified wood and 3000 year old petroglyphs. The scenes set on the planet Mars in the movie Total Recall were filmed in the Valley of Fire, as were many other movies and television series where outer space needed to be depicted.
Until you visit, you can never really get a sense of the massive scale of this masterful feat of engineering. Built to dam the Colorado River during the Great Depression and opened in 1935, the Hoover Dam was the largest concrete structure of its time, and is still impressive 85 years later. It is very much a working dam, providing power to Arizona, Nevada and California, but also a major tourist attraction and well worth a visit. The Art Deco style detailing everywhere on the dam is beautiful, and the surrounding scenery is jaw-droppingly pretty (take a helicopter ride over the area for a real treat).
This drinking hole for miners was built in 1913, and when you step through the doors it is as though you are stepping back in history. The walls and ceiling are adorned in stamped tin, and the bar has a very wild-west feel. So much has gone on in this bar, which was once frequented by “street girls” looking to coax miners from their pay packets, and there’s a whole room full of artifacts that will tell you stories from the Pioneer’s history (perhaps most notably, it was here that Clark Gable drank and waited for three days to learn the sad fate of his wife Carole Lombard, after her plane crashed in the desert). It is well worth the 20-minute drive from Vegas, and if you are lucky you may show up in time for one of the Saloon’s epic hog roasts.
For the past 37 years, this shack has been serving frozen treats to the grateful citizens of Las Vegas. The stand is just a stones throw from the Strip, but you’d have to search it out to see it. Order yourself a Western sundae, which comes with hot fudge, caramel and pecans for a delicious and cooling treat. Warning: there can be big line ups at weekends.
Once owned by reclusive millionaire Howard Hughs and a string of old time celebrities, the ranch is now a state park and the main ranch house has been turned into a museum that is open to visitors. Just 15 miles from Las Vegas, the ranch is a 520-acre oasis of green in the dessert and can be a full fifteen degrees cooler than in the city. It is a beautiful place to while away and afternoon. When touring the house, ask to be shown the secret rooms that are accessed through a closet and was allegedly created to give a safe room to the owners in event of the ranch being robbed.
Surprisingly, there is a ski hill just 30 minutes from Las Vegas: Mount Charlston, which is set up for all manner of winter activities when there is enough snow (the mountain is actually snow capped for about six months of the year), and has plenty of other recreational activities that happen year round. The mountain, with an elevation of 11900 feet, is where locals go to escape the heat of the city.
If you find yourself in need of a dose of culture that has nothing to do with kitsch or neon, head downtown to the Arts District, a hip urban area filled with galleries, bars, vintage stores and an identity very different to that found on the Strip. Every month there is a First Friday celebration, where the streets are closed to cars, the galleries are open late and the city puts on free entertainment. These events are one big party, and where you’ll see as many locals in attendance as you will tourists.
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