There’s More to Vegas Than You Think

“Where are you going?”


“What!? YOU are going to Vegas?”

We called our first trip to Las Vegas, years ago, the “Over My Dead Body” trip…. Everything I knew about Vegas seemed at odds with the way I choose to live my life. But Vegas, I found out on that first trip, has some wonderful experiences, some great people, and some incredible natural areas to explore.

Despite the billboards that we saw on our drive into Las Vegas, it is not necessarily a city characterized by “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas,” Life on The Strip, gamble your heart out, over-the-top consumerist, glitz & glamour urban environment that should not exist, environmentally speaking, in the desert. It is not just a city with an underlying atmosphere of seedy desperation and depravity, or the hell-hole of addiction place that lives in my crime-fiction/Hollywood/ Breaking Bad fuelled assumptions and ideas. (How’s that for a run on sentence filled with high & mighty, elitist, emotional hyperbole and a whole lot of unfair assumptions!).

Most people go to Vegas for the nightlife, the shows, the gambling, the deals and the shopping. We were there for the Nevada desert.

A view of the desert from one of the climbing crags, overlooking the scenic loop of Red Rock Canyon.

The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a spectacular landscape to explore. It gives you a taste of the desert with its cacti and Joshua trees, its dry stream beds and washes, and incredible eroded sandstone rock formations.

Hiking up a dry creek bed/wash in search of our climbing crag.

The rock that makes Red Rocks famous rises up out of the desert, a little like Ayers Rock in Australia’s outback. It stands out spectacularly from its surroundings with its massive size, its undulating wave-like eroded shapes and its incredible red, pink and cream colouring.

Where the sandstone emerges up out of the desert floor, it has colouring in stark contrast to its rather grey surroundings.
The red sandstone of the first turnout rises up, like a gigantic scarlet mound and reminds me a little of Ayers Rock (Uluru) in Australia.

The reason we were there had everything to do with the rock. We were there to climb!

There are over 1,000 climbing routes in Red Rocks and the Calico Basin area, with climbs that appeal to everyone including boulderers, trad climbers and sport climbers.

We had no difficulty finding crags that appealed to the mixed bag of diversity that represented the climbing skill levels and desires of our group. I was most assuredly the weakest link of our group, and when I couldn’t get on hard routes, I still had a blast enjoying the airiness of the crags, watching others do the impossible on some seriously hard stuff, being a belay slave, and climbing the 5.8s and 5.9s myself.

In my next post, I’ll show you what the crags we went to are like…

If You Go… Climbing Advice

  • Daily passes to Red Rocks cost $15 (they doubled in 2018), and annual passes are $30. They are available at the park gate.
  • Desert Rock Sports rents crash pads, if you’re into bouldering. It has a small room at the front of the store where it sells consignment clothing and gear. This is a great place to pick up deals on items like backpacks, a puffy coats and technical clothing.
  • Mountain Project is a terrific online resource for up to date info on routes, and to find out about new routes that have been developed and are not yet in the guide books. Red Rocks is a climbing Mecca with thousands of routes. New routes go up regularly, so any guide book will be out of date, guaranteed. Do some research ahead of time to save yourself time and to make your trip there more suitable to you, your group and your climbing style.IMG_2862
  • The guide book that we used is Red Rocks: A Climber’s Guide, by Jerry Handren. It breaks the climbing down, crag by crag, both inside the Red Rock Canyon park and outside in the Calico Basin and beyond. It includes trad routes and sport climbing routes. Routes indicated with a red dot are safe for sport climbing. Routes indicated with black dots are old routes, possibly with old bolts that have not been replaced. Consider the black routes mixed climbing, and bring along trad gear backup.

    IMG_2863 2
    Pay careful attention to the red and black dots in the guide book.
  • Keep an eye on the clock, especially if you are doing multi-pitch routes. Cars left in the Red Rocks parking areas after the park closes are subject to heavy fines. If you are planning a multipitch climb, you can get Late Exit Permits up to seven days in advance for multi-pitch routes on the Angel Food Wall, Ice Box Canyon, Juniper Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon. Should you be doing an exceptionally long route on some of the big mountain walls, like Mt. Wilson, Hidden Wall or Rainbow Wall, you can get 1-3 day over-night permits. Call (702) 515-5050 to make arrangements.
  • Be sure to take a sunscreened lip balm. All of us had sunburned lips after the first day of climbing, despite applying (in my case) a regular Blistex lip balm that usually works like a charm. You will need one with sunscreen in it or your lips will blister, peel and crack. To put it in perspective, in the 30 years I’ve known Bill, he’s never had chapped lips. Not once. Until this trip.

If You Go… Staying in Vegas Advice

  • If you have a large group and are staying for a week, rent a house in the Summerlin neighbourhood in the Vegas suburb that offers quick access to Red Rocks. There are lots of restaurants and grocery stores around.

    Our group, heading out to dinner, pictured outside the house we shared in Summerlin.
  • Renting a house with a group is not only a terrific way to save money, but it’s far more comfortable too. You have full-on kitchens for cooking healthy meals or preparing lunches for the next day’s adventures. You have laundry facilities, and often backyard swimming pools. And many of the homes are what we call McMansions… with lots of bedrooms, often with ensuite bathrooms, too. The first time we went to Vegas, we had 18 people in 5 family groupings sharing a house with a swimming pool, big beds, lots of washrooms and a huge pool table room. This time we had a house for 8 people (4 couples) with 4 bedrooms, a pool, a lovely kitchen, a huge outdoor dining area (with candles) a pool table and a 3 car garage. All for the same price, or less, than paying for a hotel room for each couple/family. Look into it on AirBnB or VRBO (Home Away) You won’t regret it.
  • Go to Albertson’s for groceries. We enjoyed Whole Foods the last time we were in Vegas, but not this time. It seems to be even more about seriously expensive, eclectic items (like fresh cured pickles, organic & ethically sourced everything, vegan and gluten free eating, etc.). It was hard to eat simply, shopping there. We’d heard good things about Trader Joe’s, but it was hard to find things in. Albertson’s has everything you need, including high quality produce, good cheeses and meats… and the best sandwich bread ever (try their rosemary sea salt sourdough bread!) and it’s well organized.
  • IMG_2119
    Eating in our private room at Cenaletto’s.

    Should you wish to venture out into the city proper, there are so many excellent dining options. There is still free parking at the Venetian (we heard that many of the big hotels are now charging for parking). We arranged ahead of time for our group of 8 to eat at Canaletto in the Venetian in a lovely private room that looked out on the piazza. It was no extra charge, and we were able to order off the menu, and were not restricted to a fixed menu, thanks to a wee bit of negotiating, and we could hear each other speak. I highly recommend it.

  • IMG_2372
    Tacos El Gordo

    Are you after something “cheap & cheerful” (as our good friend Monika calls it)? Join us on the hunt for the best, most authentic Mexcian tacos in town. Our two favourites this trip were Tacos El Gordo in east Las Vegas (the line-ups were insane, but the atmosphere was fascinating… see the video below!) and Frijoles & Frescas (where the crunchy tortilla lies inside a soft wrap, making them much easier to eat). Try the Al Pastor (marinated pork) tacos at both locations!

  • Speaking of pay parking issues, as of two weeks ago, the outlet malls are now charging $5 for parking. Imagine, having to pay to go and spend (give them more) money there! Geez. The times they are a changin.’ If you go online and register with the North or South Las Vegas Premium Outlets, they will send you an email that you bring with you to their customer service office on site. There you pick up a coupon book that gives you shopping deals that can be applied on top of the deals that the retailers are already giving you there. Normally, you need to pay $10 for the coupon book.

20 Comments on “There’s More to Vegas Than You Think

  1. Last time I was in Vegas, I was there to pick up my wife, who flew in, and then drive elsewhere. She wanted to see the town, so I drove her down the strip, on our way out of town… never got out of the car. I did love your rambling intro though! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’d been on a road trip w/ friend, Madison John, up in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Then we went down to Lee Vining and hiked a bit in Yosemite and met a couple other friends who’d flown in to meet us and do some backpacking just north of Yosemite (Hoover Wilderness). One of the guys got altitude sickness and I walked him back down to base camp and got him situated near Twin-Lakes and spent the night w/ him. He seemed good next day and I departed – the others would meet him in a few days and they all had planned to fly back home. My plans included meeting my wife in Vegas in a few days, and then we did the southern Utah trip and went on to camp/hike in Gilla Wilderness in central NM, then visited Albuquerque and friends in Santa Fe for a few days. I dropped my wife back at Albuquerque airport and she flew home and I closed out the road trip.

        I’ve done a few posts describing the road trip… I’ll find the first post 4 u so you can check it out… it was quite the trip! Not sure of the year, maybe 2010 or 2012 I think. I’ll include link below. Thanks for asking! 😉 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I got a few things/hikes mixed up in my earlier description. Those road trips get lengthy and I was often with the same people, so watch for my next post. I’ll clarify/re-blog my 2010 and 2012 road trips with links and brief descriptions. They were some of my earliest posts… and some of my best hikes. And not many folks were following… so I’ll give them another shot!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. That climbing looks awesome! I might have to do this trip sometime, flights to vegas are always pretty cheap and I’m always looking for a reason to go somewhere warm in the winter!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We like Vegas and gambling is the last thing we do there. Did we share with you that we seriously thought about retiring in Las Vegas Area? Actually, we already bought tickets to fly from Virginia to Vegas for apartment hunting in April 2016. That’s before the full-time RVing idea won out. We love deserts of the Southwest. There are so much to do, and occasional live performances couldn’t hurt.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My husband and I did that “over my dead body” trip also. It was short and sweet, with seeing Elton John as our “excuse” for going. We did take the helicopter tour over the Hoover Damn and part of the canyon………I’m not sure I have the nerves for rock climbing though! We stayed on the strip, and enjoyed some fabulous dining. Three nights was enough 😉

    Liked by 2 people

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