Friday, March 11, 2016

The Outdoors of Vegas

Clark County, Nevada
February 11-12, 2010

I am not one to burrow myself inside a casino during the daytime, and I can only endure so much traffic and solicitors along the Strip. With the February weather in Vegas sunny and in the 70's, I set off into the outdoors of Las Vegas. Yes, there are outdoors to enjoy in the Vegas area that are not made by the hand of man.

I chose three contrasting spots for my Vegas outdoor adventures. One well-known with a Federal designation to recognize its significance. One shown as a small red square on my road atlas with no clues of its worth. One at the end of a long road next to a long waterway.

Mount Wilson in Red Rock NCA
Along the eastern front of the Spring Mountains, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA) has a picturesque gallery of mountains and colors created by the twisting rocks of the Keystone Thrust Fault. The Spring Mountains can be seen from afar from the high spots of Vegas like the Stratosphere and my 12th floor hotel room, but the views of the NCA are enhanced as you get closer. Access to closer views was provided by a 13-mile one-way scenic road with plenty of pull-off vistas and hiking trailheads.

Most road atlases mark attractions with a small red square, but no two squares are alike. The characteristics of a red square and the attraction it denotes can vary substantially:
  • The attraction can be immense in size like Yosemite Falls or small like a hand-dug well in Kansas; 
  • It can be managed by the National Park Service or provided by a small business-owner;
  • Access to the red square can be easy if it is next to an interstate freeway ramp or almost impossible if only the roughest of dirt roads go there; and 
  • The title of the square can tell you all about the attraction (George Washington Birthplace) or leave you with a mystery as to whether it is worthy of visitation (John E. Williams Memorial Preserve). 

Entrance to Keyhole Canyon
My red square for the day was Keyhole Canyon, and I had to travel on US Highway 95 to the southern parts of Clark County. Being somewhat of a mystery, I had to do some research on the Internet to  figure out how to get to this red square. Although visible from the highway and less than a mile from pavement, the Nevada Department of Transportation has not deemed Keyhole Canyon worthy of signage. Driving down the highway, I knew that I overshot my exit and took out my trusty iPhone to track my position and the location of the canyon. After a short turnaround, I exited the highway onto a sandy, one-lane road. I could see the opening of the canyon and just had to guide myself through the maze of dirt roads to get there.

Pictographs of Keyhole Canyon

Keyhole Canyon is a box canyon with a narrow opening into the western flank of the Eldorado Mountains. The canyon is not wide nor deep and did not even have any water when I visited, but it was eye-opening as I walked pass the entrance rocks. The canyon floor opens up to a chamber that secludes you from the valley outside and offers shade from the hot Nevada sun. After it rains you can imagine a small waterfall dropping  from a ledge and filling a small basin at its foot. It is not hard to see nomadic Indians dwelling in this canyon when water was plentiful or screening from the hot summer sun was needed. These nomads left a lasting impression of the importance of this Native American archaeological site with the many petroglyphs and pictographs marking the walls of the canyon.

Nelsons Landing on Lake Mohave of the Colorado River
Ready for some car exploring, I took a turn onto State Highway 165 which led me through the Eldorado Mountains a few miles north of Keyhole Canyon. My road atlas showed the road being a dead-end with a finish next to the Colorado River. The road went up the mountains, through the small collection of buildings called Nelson, and then down the mountains to come to a close at a place called Nelsons Landing. I was all alone at the end of this dead-end road. Upon seeing the wide waterway, I had to remind myself that I was not next to the Colorado River but rather Lake Mohave, a reservoir formed by the damming of the Colorado River at Davis Dam. I then reminded myself to enjoy this view of water that has traveled all the way from Wyoming and Colorado and to enjoy the solitude provided by this particular location and this particular moment.

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