Our desert holiday

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!

xx Courtney


Comments (21)

April 30, 2014

I feel refreshed just looking at these photos. Stunning! I need to go to Zion National Park next time I am in the area. Glad you had a great time!

April 30, 2014

Just amazing. Looks like a photo shoot

April 30, 2014

What an absolutely AWESOME holiday! You could get a photography prize for some of those shots (Particularly the one of Ivy crossing the lake)! We were in Vegas & at the Canyon for our honeymoon & ran out of time to go to Zion – your photos have seriously got me thinking about our next trip there!!! You helped convince me I could do Australia, so I think this one might be possible too 🙂 X

April 30, 2014

I wanted to go to Vegas when I was in my 20’s but never got round to it, then I had children and thought no more of it. You have sold a totally different side to it I never considered. Such a great holiday choice… And with children!

April 30, 2014

Beautiful photos, Courtney! What a fantastic time it looks like you all had. We hike with our kiddos in Oregon and when we visit Yellowstone but I’ve never thought of taking them to the desert. Zion is on our list for our next visit home. Thank you for the inspiration! Jaime x

April 30, 2014

Great photos and beautiful scenery! Wow Vegas defiantly has much more to offer then the casino. Did you drive from LA to Vegas or direct flight? Thanks for sharing what looks like an amazing holiday xx

April 30, 2014

Stunning, inspirational and eye-opening in terms of breaking the prejudice that Las Vegas is all about casinos and huge, soulless hotels. x

April 30, 2014

Absolutely breath taking scenery and photography makes me want to jump on a plane and go there with my little ones. I have been to Vegas but if only I knew about what lies beyond the strip. Thanks for sharing 🙂

April 30, 2014

Thanks so much for sharing. This was a lovely post as I used to live in that part of the country and I miss those desert mountains! You had mentioned Joshua Tree – if you do go, I recommend reading some Dr. Seuss with your kids beforehand, as the trees look just like his illustrations, so that might add an element of fun for them.

Courtney in London
April 30, 2014

Oh we love Dr. Seuss books! Thanks for the tip. xx

April 30, 2014

Amazing photos! I would never have considered Vegas for a family holiday- but this shows a totally different side to it! Looks like it was a geart trip!
Anneka x

April 30, 2014

Thank you for sharing the other side of Las Vegas, Courtney! There are so many amazing areas beyond The Strip that many visitors never bother to see. Instead they complain about feeling overwhelmed by all the noise/people/smoke/etc., when there’s some pretty incredible topography just minutes away from all of the artifice. Perhaps I should finally write a post about it… 🙂

April 30, 2014

Courtney, these are beautiful photographs. We just returned from the desert ourselves. Starting in Scottsdale we drove to the Grand Canyon and on to Sedona. We were similarly amazed at how the landscape so quickly changes when you drive north from the sprawling Phoenix area. I would love to know what lens you were using for your photos, they are lovely. Our photos will be up on my blog tonight in case you care to take a peek.

May 1, 2014

What a great trip Courtney! Love how the desert makes you feel and your photos totally communicate it. We also went back to the States for a visit but kept it on the East Coast, so nice to travel and change up your state of mind. Thanks for sharing 🙂

May 1, 2014

Courtney! How fun! I love the pics and the sweet clothing all your kids wear, they look like they were ready for an amazing photo shoot at the desert! Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

May 1, 2014

Amazing trip and great pictures. I love the yellow dresses from the girls. Really cute!

May 2, 2014

Your Zion’s moment along the riverwalk sounds perfect! I really love that place. What a pretty memoir!

May 3, 2014

I’ve been to many national parks here in the US and Zion by far is my favorite, especially backpacking The Narrows. Such an other-worldly place, it was an escape from the usual scenery (albeit beautiful) that we are accustomed to seeing. What a treat to have experienced it with your young family! I think it is great that you are exposing your children to the wondrous natural sights at such a young age… My parents did the same with me and I feel it has helped me appreciate the amazing planet that we live on and often take for granted.

May 6, 2014

What fantastic memories you’re making for your kids! They’re very lucky to have parents like you. It looks like you had a wonderful time.

Maria xx

May 10, 2014

Lovely pictures!
What is the brand of your little ones nap sack?
My 2nd one is on the way & I love the idea
of doing to school walk with this nifty cosy bag!

Thank you!! Sally

October 15, 2014

Thank you for all your tips on Vegas and Zion. We are going to Zion next week with our 7 and 9 years old. We will also visit Page and Grand Canyon, can’t wait. We actually visited Joshua Trea this summer with our kids and we loved it. We drove from San Diego and did the Scenic Route via Anza-Borrego desert. It was an amazing trip! We stopped in Julian, a quaint little town in the mountains and great to stop for lunch or coffee. If you arrive in Joshua tree national park I would recommend to stay at Joshua Tree village. It is very laid back and has a couple of nice eateries. We did the Barker Dam hike with our children and we loved it. After that we drove onto Keys View with amazing views over the desert all the way to Mexican border! Make sure you start very early as it gets hot really quickly. We booked a vacation rental via moon light resa retreat. If you google you will find their website. Beautiful houses geared towards families. Ours was close to the village and had a nice garden w/hammock and games, dvd’s,etc. Wished we stayed longer in the Joshua Tree village as we were here only for 1 night but could have easily spend 3 nights and do some more hikes.

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