Las Vegas, Nevada is one of those few places in the world that nearly everyone wants to visit at least once in their lives. It’s a bucket list destination and spending a week or so enjoying everything that the city has to offer is how many people relax and enjoy their time off. While that’s fine, there’s a lot more to both the city and the surrounding region than buffets and roulette tables. The region is one that is rich in natural as well as cultural beauty, so when planning your own visit be sure to spend that time gambling and eating, but also plan to leave the city a couple of times, witnessing the dramatic beauty of Nevada for yourself.
Wayne Newton’s Home: Casa de Shenandoah – For many, Wayne Newton is the epitome of old Vegas, and now that he has opened up his mansion and estate to the public, anyone can see what this lavish lifestyle is like in person. The mansion was built in the 1970s and is the centerpiece of what is now a 55-acre estate that includes 8 homes, 2 barns, 60 horse stalls, 3 arenas and a plane. At $50 million, it’s also one of the country’s priciest celebrity retreats and touring this opulent compound is a rare opportunity to look at how the other half truly lives. It’s hard not to be impressed walking up to the main house itself. Immaculately manicured lawns and gardens lead guests through the massive main doors of the house, and believe it or not but “Danke Schoen” is pumped through an outside speaker system, just to add to the effect of entering the sanctuary of Mr. Las Vegas himself. Walking through those sparkly front doors – Baccarat crystal is everywhere throughout the house – that sense of awe and wonder was everything I had hoped for and more. The tour is campy and fun, but it’s also educational and active – which I didn’t expect. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours and to get outside and enjoy the sunny Vegas weather.
National Atomic Testing Museum – My most recent trip to Nevada was all about exploring the more rural side of the state and driving the famous Extraterrestrial Highway. To get ready for the adventure, I stopped off at this small but incredibly informative museum to see a special exhibit they’re currently featuring as well as to tour the larger collection. Since 2011, the National Atomic Testing Museum – located just east of The Strip – has been a national museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, making this small site one of just 37 national museums in the country. The extremely well curated exhibits cover the history of the nuclear age, from the first test at the Nevada Test Site through to the modern era. It’s informative, interactive and incredibly engaging and I’m really happy that I spent some time visiting. It’s a place that frankly is easy to drive by, but I think this should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list. In addition to their main exhibits, they’re also hosting a special collection all about Area 51. Since my drive along the ET Highway included a stop at Area 51, the exhibit was the perfect introduction to better understanding not only the history of this military installation, but the cultural impact that the belief in aliens has had on our country and the world. It’s an interesting, quirky exhibit and a lot of fun to discover.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – A very easy drive from Vegas, this is a great way to spend half a day or even the entire day if you’re into hiking and nature walks. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 20-minutes from Vegas and can even be seen from The Strip, which is probably why more than 2 million people visit every year. Another reason for the incredible number of visitors is thanks to the stunning scenery and how easy the site is to explore, making it an ideal daytrip. Driving up to the refuge, I kept wondering if I was in the right spot, but then I saw the massive red peaks and knew that I had arrived. Paying a nominal fee to enter the site and the driving loop, I was excited to see one of the country’s most iconic landscapes for myself. The site includes a 13-mile, one-way driving loop providing access to the key features of the area. With plenty of parking and scenic overlooks along the way, the road has been perfectly designed for anyone who wants to experience Nevada’s stunning natural treasures. There are also a number of hiking paths through the area, also easily accessed from the main road and while I didn’t avail myself of those options, this is a dream getaway for anyone who likes to hit the trails for a few hours. I was surprised in every way by Red Rock and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Seven Magic Mountains – I love public art installations and when I learned that a new one was located just outside the Vegas city limits, I couldn’t wait to visit. The “Seven Magic Mountains” art installation is a two-year exhibition located in the desert right outside of the city. Created by artist Uno Rondinone, the site features seven 30-foot tall day glow totems made up of colorfully painted, locally sourced boulders. This installation, on view through May 2018, is meant to mimic hoodoos and other natural rock formations evoking the art of meditative rock balancing but also to offer juxtaposition between the natural and the fabricated. In a desert location with Vegas in site, it’s a perfect representation of that dichotomy. It’s also just a really cool piece of artwork to visit in person and located out in the middle of the Nevada desert, it felt as if I was a million miles away from everything else.
Hoover Dam – I’ve wanted to visit this engineering marvel since I was a kid and was thrilled to actually make that a reality on my most recent trip. Located on the border of Nevada and Arizona, Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s during the Great Depression and was an incredible effort involving thousands of workers over 5-years. It was, and is, also an amazing feat of engineering and man’s ability to work with the land to provide life where none existed before. Today the dam still provides incredible amounts of power to nearby states, most notably southern California that depends on the dam for much of its power. But it’s also a visually beautiful site, the massive dam itself has a sort of architectural allure that’s hard to ignore. Touring the power plant as well as walking the wall of the dam itself, it was hard not to be impressed by the power of this site. Just opposite the dam is another architectural marvel, the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Bridge. Completed in 2010, the goal of the bridge was utilitarian, a bypass to draw highway traffic away from the top of the dam. In the process of solving this transportation problem, designers created what I think is one of the most beautiful bridges in the country. Soaring 900 feet above the river below, the bridge incorporates the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and is the world’s highest concrete arch bridge. But after spending the afternoon here, that incredible scale is just par for the course. Everything here, the dam, the power plant and now the bridge all seem impossibly large. Oversized structures in an oversized landscape. It’s an industrial type of beauty for sure, but one that incorporates natural elements in a perfect fusion of man made wonders and those given to us by Mother Nature.
There’s a lot to see and do in Nevada even if you don’t want to stray too far from the bright lights of Las Vegas. However, from my own personal experience, I can attest to the fact that there’s a lot more to the state than first meets the eye, you just have to get out there and explore to capture a little bit of that magic for yourself.