In the minds of many people, the words "Las Vegas" and "natural beauty" don't go together. The city's kaleidoscope of neon lights isn't exactly in earth tones. And beyond that, many of the structures that make up the desert metropolis are mock-ups of somewhere else -- the Eiffel Tower, the canals of Venice, the New York City skyline. It can all seem a bit unreal. And, let's face it, that ringing carnival sound of slot machines isn't exactly like the chirping of birds.
But if find your way out of the air-conditioned casino and into a rental car, you might be surprised what natural wonders you'll spy. Believe it or not, Las Vegas is within a few hours drive of some of the most uniquely beautiful national parks in the United States. In fact, some naturalists and adventure-seekers skip gambling altogether to venture out into nature's scenes. The contrast between pristine blue sky and the Nevada desert's reddish earth is a sight to behold. And Las Vegas is a prime home base for travelers hoping to cycle, climb and hike in California's more lush landscapes. Let's find out which parks are within driving distance of Las Vegas.