Tag: Nevada

Sandstone, Sweet Sandstone: Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park

I was in Las Vegas recently and though it has its many charms (and vices), I think it can get a liiiiittle overwhelming.

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I mean, what isn’t just INCREDIBLY charming about a large shoe?

If you’re looking to get away from the glitz and gambling (and TERRIFYING street performers) of Sin City, have no fear, nature is here to cradle you in its sweet, sandy arms.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley (which I sadly did NOT get to visit), Nevada and Zion National Park in Utah are all features that are under 3 hours away.

Some quick tips before you step foot into ANY of these places. If you aren’t keen on reading further, at least read this:

  • Bring lots of water – often at visitors centers or at the head of a trail their will be a water fountain or water refill station, but if you’re out on the trail, you’re probably out of luck
  • Which brings me to my next point, GO before you go (I stole this phrase from a Zion sign) – hit the bathroom before you hit the trail and scope out any other pit stops along the way
  • If a sign says DON’T do something – like don’t stray from the trail, don’t swim in the water, don’t feed the deer – then don’t do these things, it’s safer for you and the surrounding environment
  • Lastly, it’s never a bad idea to check the websites of these places for weather conditions or any other alerts like a trail or park closure – it would be a real bummer to drive all the way only to find out the trail you wanted to hike is closed

Now onto the good stuff!

Red Rock Canyon

red-rock_01

Much red. So rock. Wow.

Red Rock Canyon is a great place for hikers, bikers, climbers and it’s barely 30 minutes out from the Las Vegas Strip. If you’re one of those I’d-rather-admire-nature-from-the-car types (or your feet are hurting from walking up and down the Strip because you’re too cheap to pay for parking), they have a one-way scenic drive for some easy 40-minute cruisin’.

red-rock_02

Climbers gon’ climb.

There’s a fee per car, per bike or per pedestrian but these are really minimal – we paid $7 for our car – but check the website for fees if you’re really concerned.

red-rock_03

If you love rocks, this is the place to be. If you don’t love rocks, it’s still pretty cool.

Plenty of stops along the way of the drive for you to enjoy the activity you prefer. Ask for a map when you pay your fee or when you stop at the visitor center (or check it out online, which I would do before you arrive, because cell service in no bueno due to canyon). I did a little bit of exploring and photographing – I think I’d like to dedicate myself to an actual hike the next time I visit.

Zion National Park

zion_02

OOOOOOOOOH.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is just a bit over two-and-a-half hours away from Las Vegas, so dedicating a day to it is pretty easy to do, not just because the drive, but because of how much there is to see.

There are nine designated stops inside of the park and they have a pretty nifty shuttle system that runs through Springdale (the town outside of Zion) and the rest of the canyon. It’s a great way to avoid any parking problems and it’s also FREE-NINETY-NINE (meaning, you know, free). It seems to run in early Spring – Late Fall/Early Winter. We were there during Thanksgiving weekend and that seemed to be the last shuttle run. Private vehicles are also allowed to drive along the same scenic drive.

Although the shuttle is free, there is a fee to get into the park. And be forewarned, if you go during a holiday/holiday weekend, it will be crowded as HECK.

zion_03

AHHHHHHH.

I could ramble on for days about the trails, camping and climbing available, the cute little Zion lodge you can stay at or just how beautiful it is, but my words and these few photos cannot do it justice. You simply have to see for yourself how vast and HUGE these formations are.

I’d like to boogie on back here some day soon (when it’s warmer, because I’m a big baby) to do some serious hiking and exploring. I encourage you, if you’re visiting to slow down and take some time, to not just only enjoy Zion but to check out the picturesque small towns on the way in.

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10/10 would canyon again.

If you were waffling about visiting either of these places, I hope this makes you decidedly un-waffled and that you take the plunge!

Until next time, safe travels!

xx
Katie

Nevada Road Trip: Day Three and Four: Valley of Fire State Park and Stops Along the Way

Generated on Google Maps

Generated on Google Maps

After our morning at Lehman Caves, we started our way south, and took the park ranger’s advice on things to see as we headed towards the Nevada town of Mesquite where we were planning on staying for the night. Our first stop was the semi-obscure Parowan Gap Petroglyphs in Utah, which we were fairly certain we would miss on the road. However, just north of Cedar City we managed to see the signs pointing to the petroglyphs, and stopped to check them out. The area is named for the geological feature called a “gap” which is formed by wind and ancient rivers as they carve their way through rock. The gap is now home to a paved road, but as much as it attracts travelers in modern times, the gap attracted historic

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Native Americans as well, who left their beautiful art behind. The area is currently managed by the BLM, and while there is little more here than a fence keeping hikers away from the ancient carvings, and a dirt road to park, the Parowan Gap isn’t far from the main highway, so it is worth a stop. Petroglyphs are some of the most ancient art that we have, and it is always good to connect with the people of the past, and appreciate the landscapes that inspired them to create.

(c) AB Raschke

Kolob Canyons (c) AB Raschke

Heading further south, past Cedar City, we ran into a small part of Zion National Park- Kolob Canyons. I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing our visit here, because I think Zion deserves an entire post on its own, and I actually haven’t had the opportunity to visit the main section of the park. At any rate, Kolob Canyons is a great place to visit while traveling down the 15 towards Arizona. It showcases the red rock mountains that make Zion so famous, and so it is nice place to site-see and hike. Unfortunately, when I visited, there was still snow on the ground, which created a beautiful contract between the green of the sparse, ever-greens, the red of the mountain-sides, and brilliant white of the snow. However, this also meant that the trails were muddy, and hiking in my normal, light-weight Merrell Lithe Gloves was somewhat difficult in the circumstances. In better weather, and with better equipment, hiking during the early spring would have been nice. Kolob Canyons was fairly quiet when we visited, which is most likely rare during the high season.

(c) AB Raschke

Valley of Fire (c) AB Raschke

I’m a little hesitant to say it, but Zion wasn’t the highlight of this leg of our trip though. Rather, the Valley of Fire , a Nevada State Park that I had no idea existed before the Great Basin park ranger told us about it, turned out to be one of the most amazing things that we saw. In my defense though, it was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1968 (according to Wikipedia), and it has been a park since the mid 1930s, so I guess its appeal has been long-term as well. The park itself is characterized by some literally awesome sandstone formations- most of them a brilliant red in color, but the park is also home to formations of a variety of colors, which create some unbelievable vistas.

For travelers like us, who just had a few hours to spend in the park, but wanted to see as much as possible, the size and organization of the park is perfect (although, as I write this, I wonder about its impact on the ecology). There are picturesque roads leading to all the best formations, which can be easily reached and explored. There are also some moderate-easy trails for visitors like

Valley of Fire (c) AB Raschke

Valley of Fire (c) AB Raschke

myself that want to wander. In fact, some of my favorite memories from the Valley of Fire come from the trails where you can walk though narrow canyons of sandstone or over massive waving, dunes of ancient sand deserts.

There is also camping in the park, and a very nice visitor center, so overall, it is just a great place to visit, and definitely a highlight of our Nevada trip. The other nice thing about the Valley of Fire is that it is right next to the Lake Mead Recreational Area, so we were able to avoid driving through Las Vegas on our way home, and enjoyed the beautiful and varied landscapes that surround the lake.

I think I will be taking a break coming up, so don’t expect a post on May 1st. I have way too much going on with my graduate research right now.

If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. šŸ™‚

Nevada Road Trip: Part Two- Day Three: Great Basin National Park

(c) NPS

(c) NPS

We started our day by cooking up an eggs breakfast in the full kitchen of the Get-Away Cabin, using the groceries that we had stocked up at the Border Inn’s convenience store. Considering the limited resources of Baker in the off-season, it was a really enjoyable meal, and as far as I could tell, our best bet for breakfast since we didn’t want to drive the eight miles to the Border Inn again, before our 9:00a tour of Great Basin’s Lehman Caves.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Saving some time would have been especially important had we not spent some time in the visitor’s center the day before, because the National Park is being extremely careful about protecting its bats from White Nose Syndrome. White Nose Syndrome first appeared in North American bats in New York in 2006; and is named for the white fungus that grows from the noses and wing membranes of infected bats (Belert et.al. 2008). In some bat species, such as the little brown bats, this disease has 90-100% mortality rate, and may affect half of the bat species found in North America, while it has been confirmed with symptoms in seven different species, two of which are endangered (White-Nose Syndrome.org). Wikipedia estimates that this disease was responsible for 5.7-6.7 million bat deaths as of 2012; this is a major concern not only for the endangered species involved, and their ecosystems, but us as well, as bats provide invaluable pest control and pollination services to humans. In any case, White-Nose Syndrome has not yet reached Nevada, but the National Park Service is doing what is can to make sure that it never comes to Lehman caves. This means that visitors who have shoes or cameras that they have taken into other caves must be disinfected. The process is easy, but it takes a few minutes.

Old signatures in Lehman Caves (c) AB Raschke

Old signatures in Lehman Caves (c) AB Raschke

Lehman Caves themselves were discovered by Absalom S. Lehman in 1885 (most likely), and shortly after his discovery he began bringing paying visitors down into the caverns, which are full of graceful formations, and at the time, were definitely an adventure to boast about having done. Early visitors went down into the pitch black caves with only candles to light their way, and with these candles they had to squeeze their way past thickly growing formations and through narrow passages. Many celebrated their exploration victories by writing their names on low cave ceilings with the smoke and heat from their candles. Some tourists at the time didn’t have that luxury, as their candles may have blown out and left them in the darkness, lost. Luckily, all early visitors had a guarantee from Lehman that if they didn’t come out of the cave within 24 hours, he would come looking for them, and he knew the caves well. (NP History of the Lehman Caves : http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/historyculture/lehman-caves-discovery.htm).

Wheeler Peak (c) AB Raschke

Wheeler Peak (c) AB Raschke

My own experience with Lehman Caves was pretty tame, as the pathway through the cavern is now paved, and many of the formations that would have once forced visitors to squeeze by have been removed. There are also electric lights throughout the cave, as is fairly standard in caves open to the public. Lehman is probably one of the nicest caves that I have seen in the US, and I would rank it as being at least as good as Kartchner, although none of its formations are as large as Kubla Khan. There is also some unique historical aspects to this cave, that I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as the old signatures on the low ceilings from the early visitors. I also got to see a roosting bat during the tour, which was a first for me.

Bristlecone Pines (c) Wikipedia Commons

Bristlecone Pines (c) Wikipedia Commons

Besides Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park is also home to some of the oldest trees in the world, the Bristlecone Pines. Unfortunately, the only way to reach the grove was snowed in when we were at the park, and we hadn’t snow-shoed before, so we didn’t have the skills to brave to snow in order to see these trees. Thus, this was something that I missed out on when I came to Great Basin, but for anyone that visits during the season (Great Basin is one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48- so it is a great place to explore if you don’t like crowds) this should be a must-see. For those people with experience snow-shoeing, there was also equipment available at the NP visitor center.

Day 4 to come on April 15th!

If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. šŸ™‚

Nevada Road Trip Part One: From Phoenix to Great Basin

Created by Google Maps

Created by Google Maps

I have a life goal to see all of the national parks in the United States, which is easier said than done, because there are a lot of them! But so far, this has led me to visit more than a few places that I didn’t previously know existed, and I haven’t regretted any of them. One of the national parks that I had never heard of was Great Basin, which seemed fascinating based on its name and its location north of Las Vegas in Nevada, an area that I had never explored. My dad and I were further intrigued by this place after learning that it is home to the Bristlecone Pine, one of the longest lived life forms on the planet. Finally, when we had a few days free, we decided to take a road trip up to Great Basin, and without much planning we ended up visiting several beautiful and intriguing places. The following account will mostly cover the places that we visited during this road trip, but I will also highlight a few places along the way that would be worth stopped at but which we didn’t have the time to visit.

Day One: Setting Out

(c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

Lake Pleasant (c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

The first day of our road trip didn’t start until 15:00, so our only goal was to make it up into Nevada for our first night. Luckily, the drive between Phoenix and the Las Vegas area is pretty nice, and it would actually have several good stops along the way for travelers with a full day. First, Lake Pleasant is worth a stop for anyone that hasn’t been, as it is a good example of Arizona’s artificial lakes, even if it isn’t one of the most beautiful. After living in the desert for a few years, it is hard to not appreciate water where-ever you find it, and besides some good desert winds for sailing, Lake Pleasant also has some nice hikes nearby in the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Furthermore, this area is home to wild burros, which I have seen on several occasions, and they are some great charismatic megafauna to see in the Sonora.

Further down the road, there is also the Hassayampa River Preserve just outside of Wickenburg. I actually haven’t made it to this area before, so I don’t have any personal experience with it yet, but it is somewhere that I hope to visit in the near future. Another oasis in the desert, the river preserve protects something that is rare now in Arizona, a river still flowing in its banks, thanks to the Nature Conservancy. There are plenty of trails here, and like Lake Pleasant it is good to experience any water that the desert has to offer, even more so, in places where some natural riparian ecosystems remain.

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Of course, the biggest attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, which we hit around 20:00. When I initially envisioned this trip last year, I had hoped to visit during the day and take a tour of the Dam. There is actually quite a bit there to see and do during the day, and in any case, this place is a major historical landmark for the country, and it has also shaped the Southwest in a very serious way. Las Vegas certainly owes its size to the resources provided by the dam, and the life-line of the Central Arizona Project shows the link between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Sadly, I didn’t get to take a tour this time around, but the dam is open to visitors until 21:00. So, we at least got to drive across the dam, park and take pictures of the landmark at night. It was a very peaceful place without the crowds, and there were some good views of the stars to boot.

Our day ended in Boulder City, where we spent the night in a Quality Inn a mere five minutes from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Day Two: Through the Desert to the Great Basin

(c) AB Raschke

Lake Mead (c) AB Raschke

Before we hopped in the car for the day, I dragged my dad to Lake Mead, because I had to get my national parks passport stamped and I wanted to go on a little hike before our journey. As it turned out, we found a really great little trail outside of the fee area, and we both really enjoyed this stroll. The Historic Railway Trail is right by the entrance to the park, and as its name implies, this trail follows the former track of the railroad that brought materials from Boulder City to the site of Hoover Dam as it was being built. Besides the great views of lake from the trail, we really enjoyed getting to see the massive tunnels that were built through the mountains in order to fit the large pieces of dam equipment through. From the trailhead to the first tunnel is about a mile, so it was a great section of the trail to walk when we only had a limited amount of time.

From Wikipedia

Lower Lake Pahranagat Lake From Wikipedia

From Boulder City to Baker was quite a drive. Most of the towns that we passed, besides Las Vegas, were quite small. Alamo, which is perched just north of Pahranagat Lake, didn’t have much to offer along the side of the road, and when we asked about places to grab lunch there, the gas station attendant only told us about two different restaurants. We ended up at the Windmill just north of the town, and it was quiet enjoyable. Not only did they have some good standard American fare, but they also had a nice little bakery where we got a fresh cookie and a lemon square.

From there on out, we entered the Great Basin region, which gave us a taste for what we would see and learn more about in the National Park. This region is characterized by parallel ranges of mountains, which remind me of the sky islands in Arizona, rising up out of the dry lowlands to peaks of lush forests. The lowlands, instead of being Arizona desert, however, were large, flat plains of sagebrush and grasses, where we spotted herds of cows and even a few ranchers on horseback.

Once we got to Baker, we were somewhat surprised at how small the town at the gateway to Great Basin NP was. In fact, since we traveled to the park out of season, there were no open restaurants, and according to Wikipedia the population is 68. That being said, we had a reserved a great little place to stay for the night called the Get-Away Cabin. The owner was very friendly and welcoming, and she even bakes her guests delicious little loaves of banana bread.

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

After getting some tips about what to do in the park the at the visitor’s center for the next day, we drove a few miles out of town to check out the Baker Archaeological Site, which wasn’t much more than a few outlines of Fremont buildings among the sagebrush. There was some good information in a little guide book that the BLM provided at the site, however. After a short stop there, we made it out to the Border Inn where we enjoyed a delicious dinner, and picked up some groceries.

Day 3 and 4 to come on April 1st! And Washington DCā€¦ someday!

If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. šŸ™‚

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