I took a trip to Vegas last weekend to tag along on one of the popular monthly tours of the Nevada Test Site, which I had to book months in advance and unfortunately on a Tuesday, necessitating a few days off from work.
After griping about not getting Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, and anticipating no President's Day off, I was grateful for a little post-Christmas vacation.
But being a not-very-Vegasy Vegas traveler, besides the test site tour, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do while in Vegas. After all, most of my trips there have been on business, during which I've been stranded on the Strip carless, shackled to my hotel casino.
Once I got to Vegas Saturday night (after an uneventful stay at the Hooters Casino), all I could think about was getting out of Vegas.
Fortunately, like many popular getaways of the mid-20th century, Vegas is nicely situated in the middle of nowhere desert land. Although densely populated and commercialized now, a half hour drive in any direction takes you out into the wilderness, and to the northwest: Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock is probably one of the best-maintained Bureau of Land Management sites I've ever visited, with clear signs off the main road, a large visitor's center (with multiple bathrooms), and a paved scenic drive loop that takes you through the park, past all of the overlooks and trailheads.
It also takes you by some desert tortoise crossings...
...and wild burros, grazing their way off the shoulder.
Of course some people just drive through Red Rock Canyon (as I would've been apt to do four or five years ago), but between two visits in four days, I got out of the car and meandered along four different trails, including...
(where the moderate trail seemed to end at a big pile of red rocks, prompting me to turn around and go back)
Pine Creek Canyon, site of an ancient pine forest
(which featured ruins of an old homestead)
(which required some pretty unfamiliar bouldering from me)
On my final hike in Red Rock, towards the end of daylight on Wednesday, an hour before I was supposed to start driving back to LA, my hiking date (a local who I'd only just met three days before) led me deep into Ice Box Canyon, whose temperature reflected its name. I didn't take any pictures, mostly because I was trying to keep up with my fellow hiker whose familiarity with the path allowed him to hike at a pretty fast clip. And I started to wonder why I'd agreed to hike with a complete stranger, out into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by no one, with nothing but rocks to echo my own screams back at me. Alone, I usually worry about getting lost, but with this other person, who knew his way well around the canyon, I worried about never coming back. My inner New Yorker took inventory of my hiking pack - car keys, ID, Blackberry - and wondered what might be taken or used against me, what might be left to identify my discarded body should something go terribly wrong.
But in the cold box of the canyon, we sat on a rock and rested, sweat cooling my hot, worried forehead, breathing slowing. It was quiet, though I thought I could hear a distant creek, one of the many lost creeks of Red Rock.
I waited to see what would happen.
My date got up and faced me.
"Ready to go?" he asked, as he held out his hand.
I scrambled up off the rock on my own. "OK..."
A quick hug and a kiss later, and we hiked back to my car before the sun dipped behind the mountain.
Photo Essay: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Photo Essay: Joshua Tree's Pine City
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