We’ve just returned from our holiday in the US and despite the dreaded jet lag (which always seems much worse when traveling back home in this direction), we are all beaming from a really wonderful time together in the sunny, warm desert. It’s incredible what a change of scenery (and weather!) can do for you! We spent 10 days visiting Michael’s family in Las Vegas, and managed to make some really great day trips out of town to explore the natural wonders of the surrounding area. It’s amazing how much the landscape can change in just a one-hour drive — how you can drive out of sprawling Las Vegas and within 30 minutes you’re out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but desert in every direction. I thought I would share our adventures in case you feel inspired to go on a little desert holiday of your own. Who knew a holiday in Vegas could be so much more about the great outdoors than the casinos and hotel pools?! (I hope you don’t mind all the photos…)
Our first adventure was a local one: Red Rock Canyon is just outside of Las Vegas and only about ten minutes from Michael’s parents’ house. I was so impressed by how the desert goes from dusty browns to vibrant reds in an instant. We hiked around the rock formations and the boys had fun chasing after lizards. We even saw some wild burrows at the base of the canyon!
Next, we drove an hour outside of Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park. It was like nothing I have ever seen before! Giant rock formations in crazy shapes and in the brightest fire-red colour you can imagine. There are also areas with petrified wood and 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs. We spent some time at the visitor center which has some nice child-friendly exhibits on the geology, ecology and history of the park, and then we went for a walk out to ‘Balancing Rock’ as you can see in the photos above.
From the Valley of Fire we drove over to the Hoover Dam. We underestimated the distance to the dam so it ended up being quite a long day, but it was really cool to see the dam and the newly built bypass bridge that goes over it (900 feet above the Colorado River!). I was also so surprised by how low the water level is — if you look at the photos, you can see the white bits of the cliffs where the water level once was. I also loved the Art Deco design style of the dam – even the bathrooms were beautifully designed!
Our last excursion was my favourite: we drove 2½ hours out of Vegas to Zion National Park in Utah. After the long drive, we parked at the visitor center and took the shuttle bus deep into the canyon. We got off the bus at the last stop where the river flows out of the canyon and you can walk along the riverbank. We were all excited to get out and stretch our legs so we went for a long walk along the river. The sun was setting and casting a glow along the steep red cliffs above us, the air was still warm, the kids were all happy to have their feet in the water, and as we walked along we saw deer in the meadow next to us (which then inspired us to break out in an endless rendition of ‘Doe a Deer’ from ‘The Sound of Music’). It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I just kept thinking how lucky I was to be there with my family, surrounded by so much natural beauty. It turned out that the entire park has that effect – it’s just SO stunning, you almost can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it all.
We stayed overnight in a cabin at the Zion Mountain Ranch, which is a really charming little ranch with a great kid-friendly restaurant. The kids went on a horse-back ride in the morning before we drove back into Zion for more hiking. We then hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail which led us up to a viewpoint with incredible views over the canyon (see the last photo), so incredible that we just sat there staring for the longest time.
We had such a great trip and I’m so happy we were able to get out and explore a bit. We didn’t make it to the Grand Canyon like we had hoped, but it will be high on our list for our next trip. And at some point I really want to visit Joshua Tree as well, so if you have tips on either of these places (or any other great places in the area to visit) please share!