From the Valley of Fire to Vegas

Valley of Fire State Park is about an hour's drive from Las Vegas. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian

Nevada offers stark contrasts in sights

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part travel series. The first part can be found in the March 29 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.)

NEVADA, U.S.A. — After leaving the otherworldly attraction of the Extraterrestrial Highway, my friend and I found ourselves with some extra daylight to burn. Instead of heading straight back to Las Vegas, we took a trip to Valley of Fire State Park. I had seen photographs of the natural wonder and knew it would be worth a visit.

The sun was low when we entered the park, which is located 15 miles off of I-15 on the Valley of Fire Highway. Immediately we were in awe of the bright landscape. The red sandstone formations were carved out millions of years ago by shifting desert sands. I often wonder how early native peoples felt when they first stumbled upon scenes like this—nature is truly an incredible force.

Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s first state park. Sadly, the visitor’s center was closed by the time we arrived, so we were unable to learn more history about the location from local experts. But even the short couple of hours we spent in the park was enough to be overwhelmed by its beauty.

But the desert, of course, is not the main attraction that draws visitors from around the world to the state of Nevada. Las Vegas, also called “Sin City”, “The City of Lights” or “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” really needs no introduction.

I am definitely not a gambler. But Las Vegas has plenty of hidden gems. While some of the better-known attractions are indeed impressive (we caught a fantastic Fountains of Bellagio Show set to music by Lady Gaga), there are lesser-known spots to enjoy, too.

Though we were on a budget, we did find some great places to eat. One was a sports bar called Ringer. Inside the maze of Planet Hollywood, Ringer offers a decent selection of drinks and finger foods. I had what was perhaps the best Philly Cheesesteak that I’ve ever eaten outside of Philadelphia itself. Another night we walked a few extra blocks to the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery. The spot has been a favorite of visitors and locals alike since 1968. The small casino’s restaurant is tucked away in the corner away from the bustle of the slots and features delicious craft beers.

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A unique art installation featuring colorful water spouts is situated within The Shops at Crystals mall in Las Vegas. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian

We visited the Shark Reef Aquarium on our last morning in the city. The aquarium is located inside the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and holds a number of different fish, reptiles, rays and of course, sharks. It was enjoyable, though I would advise anyone interested in checking out The Polar Journey attraction (included in your ticket price) to just stick to the aquarium. We waited for almost an hour and were not impressed.

Throughout Las Vegas’ many indoor malls are plenty of interesting sights. A large golden dragon sculpture had been put up for the Lunar New Year, as well as a unique water spout art installation. We also paid a visit to The Tipsy Robot, where you can watch a robot arm create your very own craft cocktail. (It was only slightly unnerving.) 

On our final night in the city we attended a concert by Canadian rock group Metric inside The Cosmopolitan. The band was touring with Zoe, a group from Mexico who definitely converted me as a fan. The music hall within The Cosmopolitan, The Chelsea, was one of the best venues I’d ever been to. It was clean, with good acoustics and very helpful staff.

There were plenty of attractions that my friend and I were unable to experience on our short, 3-day trip to Nevada. Next time I hope to try out the roller coast that sits atop Last Vegas’ Stratosphere Casino Hotel & Tower. I’d also love to tour the desert again to search for a ghost town.

So many possibilities… I know it won’t be too long before I head back to The Silver State.

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