Guys, I'll just get this confession off my chest right here, right now. I have never really "done Vegas." Having visited Sin City a number of times, it tends to be my pitstop on the way to Zion, or a quick layover enroute home to Reno. While I think my first real experience of The Strip is coming up as both Nick's sisters are about to turn 21, for now, my memory of Southern Nevada surpasses far more than casinos and neon lights.
This is the Vegas I love.
I recently joined TravelNevada and a handful of other journalists — including my friend and adventure travel blogger Justin Walter — on an expedition exploring the "grit and gravel" beyond Vegas' infamous nightlife. While #VegasStrong was emblazoned everywhere around the city — a staunch reminder of recent events — the city's grit issued out of every bar, conversation and rock crevice I came across. I couldn't be more proud to share the Nevada love — blog post rhetoric aside, I hope you'll agree that this is a really special place. From moonshine tasting, deciphering centuries-old petroglyphs, and meeting big horn sheep, this trip was one of my favorites of 2017. Here's a little recap of all we did — may it inspire your next adventure in Southern Nevada!
1. Bike to the Hoover Dam
The "grit and gravel" theme rung true on our 18-mile roundtrip bike ride along the River Mountains Loop Trail as I hit some gravel and was bucked off my bike at one point, resulting in some nasty scrapes that are still healing... a visceral reminder of an amazing trip! You're probably not as clumsy as me though, so no worries... the trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. Starting in Boulder City, you'll eventually meet the Historic Railroad Hiking Trail which will take you all the way to the jaw-dropping Hoover Dam. Bonus points if you spot the state animal, big horn sheep, along the way! We found them nonchalantly eating berries off bushes and blocking traffic... just a normal day in Southern Nevada!
2. Stay Downtown
Our accommodations were at the Downtown Grand, which turned out to be the perfect homebase for our daytime adventures. Fremont Street has received major funding in the last five years, and with Zappos headquartered across the street and trendy Container Park nearby, this was a really fun zone to explore during the evenings. Yes, it's Vegas, and it's still rowdy, but if you're more interested in shooting sunrise than stumbling home at sunrise, this is your jam. Looking for a great dinner spot? You won't go wrong with gastropub Park on Fremont.
3. Drink Up!
In between our dusty adventures, I enjoyed getting to know Southern Nevada's beverage scene. We indulged in beer flights one afternoon at the delightful Boulder Dam Brewing Co. — highly recommend. One of my personal favorite afternoons of the trip was spent getting to know George Racz, owner and founder of Las Vegas Distillery, the first distillery in the state. While I've experienced several distillery tours in my day, this was by far my favorite, as George immediately made us feel like family. His generous use of the word "sexy" and affable Transylvanian accent aside, George actually taught us about his liquor. I don't think there was any one of us who didn't want to get into the booze business after stumbling out the door!
4. ATV the Logandale Trail System
I'm not sure how I've lived 30 years without ATVing before, but that mistake was quickly rectified on this trip. The guys at Adrenaline ATV were super professional and a lot of fun. We covered over 20 miles in our ATV excursion; you couldn't have wiped the grin off my face if you had paid me. If you're visiting Vegas this is a MUST; best of all, Adrenaline ATV will pick you up in Vegas for a stress-free adventure!
5. Petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park
While National Parks tend to get the spotlight, this year I made it a point to explore more state parks. Valley of Fire quickly rose to the top of my list. I am OBSESSED with petroglyphs, and Valley of Fire did not disappoint... it seemed like every ten feet we came upon another ancient discovery. It's a really wonderful feeling to stand in a gorgeous stretch of protected public land and look at a rock face where another human being left their mark eons ago. Goosebumps.
Bonus: I was able to snag some epic road shots near the Rainbow Vista area — for the best light, plan on shooting an hour before sunset!
6. Rock Climbing at Red Rock Canyon
Whether you're an avid climber or a total beginner like me, Red Rock Canyon is superb. With malleable sandstone and routes for every level, I am so glad this was my first real outdoor rock climbing experience! We had two rad guides from American Alpine Institute lead us to a few "secret spots" that ended up not being so secret, which I loved — it was really cool to get a feel for the thriving climbing community in Southern Nevada. I attempted three moderate climbs and was able to complete two, much to my astonishment — my fear of heights literally melted away and I had an absolute blast. I haven't stopped talking about this since I got back... just ask my husband!
Out of all the locals I chatted with, everyone unanimously agreed the desert surrounding Vegas is an outdoor lovers' paradise, which at this point, no longer surprises me. Admittedly, I did sit down at a few roulette tables during the evenings (when in Rome!). Is it weird if I spent my winnings on new climbing gear?
Let's just say Southern Nevada continues to surprise me... in the best possible way.