Length of stay:1 day
Visited: January 2023
Nevada is the driest state in the United States. It boasts of providing endless entertainment with plenty of casinos, shows and events, and has a vibrant nightlife. It also contains deserts, mountains and dramatic rock formations, offering plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
We flew into Las Vegas to take a road trip through southern Utah to hit up the “Mighty Five” national parks and circled back through northern Arizona. We unfortunately didn’t spend much time in Nevada. We briefly saw some attractions, like the Hoover Dam on the drive to Death Valley.
The Hoover Dam is a concrete dam situated in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was built during the Great Depression as a way to stimulate the economy and provide jobs. It is considered an engineering marvel, but almost a hundred people died during its construction.
We didn’t have enough time to take a tour of the dam, but we figured we should at least check out an overlook of it. There’s a parking lot located just off the highway with a path that leads up a series of steps to the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which is reputed to provide the best views of the Hoover Dam.
Once we circled back to the parking lot, we continued driving along the road to get a better look at the bridge. While there are a few parking lots here, these all required a fee to enter. Since it was still early in the morning and there wasn’t any traffic (or anyone around), we simply stopped in the middle of the road to quickly hop out and take some pictures of the bridge, along with the dam on one side and Lake Mead on the other side.
On the drive back towards the highway, we made another quick detour to check out an overlook of Lake Mead, a reservoir that was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. It is the largest reservoir in the United States. However its water levels have been drastically dropping over the past couple of decades and reached a record low in 2022.
On the last day of our vacation we planned to visit the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area before heading to the airport. The conservation area features impressive red rock formations and has become a popular spot for hiking and climbing. To prevent overcrowding, timed reservations are now required to visit the main part of the park. While our national parks pass covered the entrance fee, there was still a small processing fee to reserve our time slot. Given that we planned to visit first thing on a Monday morning, we figured it wouldn’t be very busy and could just flash our pass when we got there.
We arrived at the main gate for Red Rock Canyon a few minutes before it opened at 8am. There was already a line of cars along the side of the road. After waiting for about 15 minutes, we noticed that none of the cars were actually moving. After waiting a bit more, we went out to investigate. It turns out that part of the scenic drive was washed out due to heavy rain overnight and the visitor centre lost power. They weren’t letting anyone in.
We decided to go for a short hike along the Middle Oak Creek Trail, which is located nearby. There’s a small parking lot off of State Route 159 that provides access to the trailhead. The path meanders through the desert landscape to Oak Creek Canyon, which provided a great opportunity to see some of the different types of plants found in this extreme environment.
After hiking along the path for about 20 minutes, we decided to turn around as the ground was a bit too wet for our liking. The timing worked out well as right when we got back to the car, it started to pour. We drove back to the main entrance of Red Rock Canyon and were surprised to see that it was now open. The person at the main gate gave us a bit of a hard time as we didn’t actually reserve our tickets in advance, but given that the power was still out, he waved us through.
This part of the park features a one-way scenic drive that is 21 kilometres (or 13 miles) long. There are several viewpoints and trails along the way. There is a visitor centre at the start of the scenic drive, but it was still closed since the power was out. It was still lightly raining outside, so we decided to just hit up some of the viewpoints of the sandstone rocks, starting with Calico Basin.
We stopped at a few other viewpoints, but then the rain got worse. There was even some hail.
Oh, and flooding. There was a ranger parked along the side of the road that said we should be fine to drive through the river that had now taken over the road. She also said they’d be closing the scenic drive again so if we leave, we will not be able to return. Fine by us as we had no interest in hiking in these conditions. And here we thought the desert would be dry!
And so we drove back to Las Vegas and got ready to head home.