For the majority of the 40 million+ people who visit Las Vegas every year, the city is a place of gaming, girls and gun ranges, somewhere to lose yourself in a haze of hedonism. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority may shy away from the “Sin City” sobriquet (you’ll struggle to find these words on its web site) but the implications of its “What Happens Here, Stays Here” marketing campaign are as clear as the desert sky.
For a significant but smaller number, Las Vegas is somewhere to begin or end a journey, a city with great airline connections and – if you avoid the weekend – upmarket hotel rooms at a reasonable rate, but not somewhere you’d probably choose to spend more than a couple of nights.
However, as local travel writer and photographer Deborah Wall is keen to point out, that would be a big mistake. For as her book Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 Hikes in the Southwest dramatically illustrates, nowhere else on earth is it possible to enjoy such an extensive range of world-class natural wonders less than a day’s drive away.
Part travel guide, part history, part paean to the Southwest, Wall’s descriptions of the region are warm, personal, and informed. Her love for and knowledge of the 101 locations covered here shine through, and her superb photography captures the full beauty of the Southwest’s many different geologies and landscapes.
The book concerns itself primarily with southern Nevada, Arizona, southern Utah, and California’s Death Valley, and is broken down into National Parks, State Parks, National Monuments, and other highlights. So, to take Red Rock Canyon as an example – a land of prickly pear, petroglyphs, and mountain lions just 17 miles west of the Strip – Wall describes trails ranging from a boardwalk interpretive loop to a six-mile loop.
Slightly further west but still only an hour from Vegas, there are the Spring Mountains where trailhead elevations begin at around 7,800 feet and Charleston Peak summits at 11,918 feet. Follow Wall’s recommendations here and you’ll encounter 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines, 100-foot waterfalls, and Depression-era roads. Unless you visit in the depths of winter that is. In which case you’ll find snow, seven feet deep.
Further afield she looks at destinations that will be familiar to many visitors: Zion, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon. But for each, her descriptions of the hikes are studded with gems: where to find waterfalls; the best place for a picnic; how to identify scat; child-friendly trails; how to escape the crowds.
Less well-known but equally rewarding trails are described for such wonderfully-named locations as Peek-a-boo Canyon, Coyote Gulch, Wee Thump Wilderness, Robbers Roost, and Bowl of Fire. And for each, Wall provides an invaluable at-a-glance guide to the hike, covering its length, difficulty, elevation gain/loss and anything in particular you should be aware of before setting off, such as the potential for flash floods or slippery terrain.
But if this suggests a book aimed solely at the serious hiker, that would be to give completely the wrong impression. Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 Hikes in the Southwest offers as much useful advice to families with children as it does to those heading out on strenuous multi-day treks.
This is a book that will appeal to locals and visitors alike, one that readers will refer to over and over again, delving in to discover the almost unlimited number of scenic wonders within easy reach of Las Vegas, that most improbable of gateways to the great outdoors.