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By Jerry Lustig

Whether you’ve been there before or you’re planning a first-time trip to Las Vegas, don’t spend all your time in the casinos. There’s so much more to see and do, especially in the summer when the days are longer and the weather is warmer.

Take a day to explore Red Rock Canyon. Just 17 miles west of downtown, off Charleston Boulevard, lies one of Mother Nature’s remarkable achievements. On the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert this 195,819-acre natural phenomenon, a national conservation area, draws a million visitors a year to explore its wonders. (Legend has it that none go home disappointed.)

A very short drive off the highway brings visitors to the welcome booth, where a modest $5.00 fee per car is collected. That’s right, just $5.00 per car (passengers are free). A short hop, skip and jump brings you to the new visitor’s center and gift shop manned by volunteers who greet visitors with a friendly smile and a real desire to be helpful. Then it’s on to the 13-mile, one-way loop drive through the canyon. Along the way there are places to park (several with rest stops) for viewing the amazing rock formations in sandstone, gray and shades of red.

In the words of the Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, “The Red Rock Canyon presents awe-inspiring views most wouldn’t expect to see near a major metropolitan city. In contrast to the bright lights and hype of the strip, Red Rock offers desert beauty, towering red cliffs and abundant wildlife.” About 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects live in the park. Visitors are warned to stay clear of all living flora and fauna for their own safety as well as for the animals’.

The mountains surrounding the scenic drive were formed over millions of years by the movement of the earth’s crust in concert with other geologic forces and fossilized sand dunes. Centuries of interaction between iron oxide and sandstone produced the brilliant red colors on many of the canyon walls.

For those seeking more energetic activities there are hiking and bicycle trails and the ultimate experience, rock climbing. Before embarking on any of these activities, because of the varying degrees of difficulty, enthusiasts are urged to discuss their plans with the park rangers. Camping grounds and picnic areas are also available. But please bring your own food and water.

After completing your tour around the canyon, stop again in the visitor’s center, check out the exhibits and peek into the gift shop, where many artifacts and other remembrances of this experience will tempt you to bring something home to be cherished and shared with friends and relatives.

And speaking of cherished memories, don’t forget your camera and binoculars.

* Red Rock Casino Resort Spa is located about 4 miles east of the canyon off Charleston Boulevard. If you’re looking for a Las Vegas resort with less glitz and more sophistication than you are likely to find along the strip, this is the place for you. It’s got it all: a huge casino, multiplex theatre, bowling alleys, fine dining and a food court, shopping, a business center, meeting rooms, ballrooms, spa, beautiful guest rooms, and so much more. The appointments throughout the public areas are classically subdued and meticulously maintained. The staff are friendly and well trained in their jobs, courteous and helpful. If you ask a staff member where something is they’re more than likely to take you there personally.

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