The “Other” Las Vegas, Part 2
written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH
In addition to visiting weird and wonderful museums:
- Hoover Dam
- Grand Canyon
- Mojave Desert/ Red Rock Canyon
Not to be missed, the Hoover Dam is one of the world’s engineering marvels. It was constructed during the Great Depression as a way to stop the rapacious flooding of the Colorado River, and re-direct its waters into Lake Mead and toward irrigating the rich farmlands of California.
You’ll be amazed the size of this project, and the complexity and danger faced by those who built it, as illustrated by displays in the visitor’s center and museum right beside the Hoover Dam. Today Hoover Dam is a National Historic Landmark.
Or, for do-it-yourselfers, it’s an easy 30-mile drive from Vegas. Don’t miss a stop to see the humble town of Black Canyon, where Hoover Dam workers were housed. Once at Hoover Dam, attractions include the Visitors Center, observation deck, and a brief tour of the power plant.
What a sobering, elegant natural antidote the Grand Canyon is to the giddy make-believe of Vegas.
Tourists have a zillion options. You can choose to go to the South or West rims, each offering a different viewpoint on this natural wonder. And, choose your transportation: fly, bus, float, hike, or drive in a jeep.
If you can spare an extra day, enjoy the chance to hike and stay in a Grand Canyon lodge in the such as Bright Angel, Yavapai, or El Tovar.
Day-trippers might choose a half-day tour by plane and bus, and spend a total of two hours in the Canyon, returning back to Vegas for lunch. Or, you can even swoop down into a canyon by helicopter. Some enjoy tiptoeing out on the Skywalk, a glass and steel walkway that extends 70 feet into the Canyon.
The spectacular Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area is a half-hour car ride from Vegas.
Stop at the Visitors Center for maps and information before taking the forty-minute one way-driving loop. Or, park and then hike or picnic.
Tips: Call ahead to book onto free tours given by local volunteers and to determine which level hike might be suitable. (Hiking can be rugged.) There’s no cell service in the park; bring ample water as there are no stores.
- Lake Mead
- Colorado River Water Trips
A half-hour from the Strip (but worlds away!), Lake Mead National Recreation Area affords a quiet opportunity to enjoy the reservoir that was created by the damming of the Colorado River.
You can swim, sunbathe or fish here, or rent a houseboat for an overnight stay. Most day tours will not combine the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, but if you rent a car, it’s easy to combine outings.
Lake Mead is the largest manmade body of water in the Western Hemisphere.
Book ahead for a full day adventure of boating down the Colorado River, and, conditions permitting, a river swim.
GET THE INSIDE SCOOP ON VEGAS
- Clark County Heritage Museum
- Nevada Black History
What makes Vegas Vegas?
About twenty miles from the Strip, this museum puts the Vegas experience in historical perspective. One exhibit details the history of gaming in Las Vegas, complete with an 1898 Dewy slot machine. Outside are winding paths with local Mojave desert flora, a 1918 model steam engine, and—beloved by kids of all ages— “Heritage Street,” featuring a handful of restored early 20th century buildings.
The University of Nevada at Las Vegas is home to the Nevada Black History Project. Their special collection (sometimes edited into traveling exhibits) of papers and photo archives offers a rare glimpse into the lives of local African Americans. There are fascinating insights as well into such entertainment luminaries as Louie Armstrong, who was paid to play at the fanciest hotels in Vegas, but because of racism, was not allowed to stay on the Strip. By appointment.