All That Glitters in Southern Nevada Isn't Neon; Exploring the Hinterlands Northeast of Las Vegas ... Dramatic Rocks, Trout Lakes, Forests

Sunset, March 1991 | Go to article overview

All That Glitters in Southern Nevada Isn't Neon; Exploring the Hinterlands Northeast of Las Vegas ... Dramatic Rocks, Trout Lakes, Forests


All that glitters in southern Nevada isn't neon Las Vegas quickly surrenders to the desert as you drive northeast out of town. The clamor and glamour of The Strip fade with each mile, and Nevada's classic basin-and-range country spreads out, vast and desolate.

Many motorists set their cars on cruise control and hardly give this hinterland a second look. But a trip into the Great Basin and Mojave deserts can be one of Nevada's best bets, offering beautifully remote hiking, camping, and fishing opportunities on day-trips from Vegas or on stopovers along the way to the national parks of southern Utah.

As the sun bathes Catheral Gorge's golden turrets, or torches Valley of Fire's red sandstone, you'll soon realize that Las Vegas isn't the only place in southern Nevada that glows. We suggest detours to trout-filled lakes, dramatic rock formations, and pinon and juniper forests. All are accessible by standard car on paved or dirt roads.

A desert shaped by water

The Pacific storms that dump rain and snow on the western Sierra Nevada leave only small amounts east of the range. Yet water still defines Nevada's terrain.

Geographers describe the Great Basin by the nature of its drainage: its rivers flow into inland sinks instead of reaching the sea. Most of the land off U.S. 93 sits in the Great Basin, though many of our suggested destinations actually drain into the Meadow Valley Wash and, ultimately, the Colorado River.

Walls of blazing fire: near I-15

Valley of Fire State Park. You probably won't see much water in Nevada's oldest state park, but its effects are everywhire. Come early or in late afternoon, and the red pinnacles and arches, carved by wind and water, positively blaze against the clear desert sky. Some 140 million years ago, dunes covered this land> water seeping through the sand helped bind the grains together. Oxidized iron gives the sandstone its red-orange cast--reminiscent of Utah's Zion National Park.

Best time to visit the 39,000-acre park, which ranges in elevation from 1,540 to 3,677 feet, is October to May> Easter week tends to be busy. Stop at the visitor center (open 8:30 to 4:30) or call (702) 397-2088 for maps and information about hikes and petroglyphs (a short interpretive trail leads through several areas with petroglyphs).

The park has 51 campsites ($4). Take I-15 about 35 miles northeast of Las Vegas, then go east 18 miles on State Highway 169 to the park. For a different return, take State 169 east to North Shore Road and go south.

Wild birds, wild canyons: near U.S. 93

To reach U.S. 93, take I-15 about 20 miles north of Las Vegas, following signs for Great Basin Highway. Parks farthest from the city are 175 miles away.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. After 80 miles of desert, Pahranagat's lakes seem a mirage> the name itself is a Paiute word for cplace of many waters. …

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