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.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are adjacent to each other across the California border from Las Vegas. They contain earth's most massive trees, giant sequoias so huge they far surpass the size of any other species.
Yosemite National Park presents a striking change from Las Vegas. It features one of the planet's greatest concentrations of natural features, including Yosemite Falls, the Mariposa and Merced giant sequoia groves, and the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers.
Driving south from Las Vegas takes you to Joshua Tree National Park. The Joshua tree, a member of the lily family, is actually an oversized yucca.
Just over 100 miles west of Las Vegas is Death Valley National Park, a brutally rugged but beautiful land of extremes. It holds records for the continent's lowest point (282 feet below sea level) and highest recorded temperature (134 degrees Fahrenheit).
Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is further into Arizona from Las Vegas. Hundreds of years ago the Pueblo built houses into the canyon's red sandstone walls.
Also across the Arizona border from Las Vegas is Petrified Forest National Park. Its 93,532 acres include an amazing display of petrified wood.
Directly east of Las Vegas in Arizona is Grand Canyon National Park. Its great expanse and awe-inspiring vistas reveal spectacular desert landscape.
Nevada's Great Basin National Park lies near Las Vegas. It includes the limestone Lehman Caves, the Wheeler Peak glacier, and Lexington Arch, a natural limestone arch more than six stories tall.
Arches National Park is a timeless landscape of giant stone arches, pinnacles, spires, fins, and windows. You'll quickly forget the casinos of Las Vegas.
Canyonlands National Park, the other side of Utah from Nevada's border near Las Vegas, includes spectacular rock formations, canyons, arches, spires, pictograph panels, Puebloan ruins, and desert flora. The area is largely undeveloped.
Capitol Reef National Park, its elevation ranging from 3,900-8,800 feet, is composed of red sandstone cliffs capped with domes of white sandstone. It is in Utah's slickrock country, almost 400 miles from Las Vegas.
Further from Las Vegas is Bryce Canyon National Park, a 56-square-mile area of colorful cliffs created by erosion. Towering rocks worn to odd, sculptured shapes stand grouped in striking sequences.
Zion National Park, about 150 miles from Las Vegas in Utah, features spectacular canyons and rock formations. They resulted from upheavals of the earth and erosion by flowing water and frost.
Utah's Scenic Highway 12 showcases a land of ancient cultures, pioneers, and explorers. Learn about this scenic drive, and see maps of it.