Fire Wave trail, Nevada

I don’t quite feel sorry for people who go to Las Vegas and don’t leave The Strip. To each their own. I see the appeal of it - bright lights, drinks, small men handing out cards of naked women, doing the jobs Americans just won't do. But there is more to do than going from casino to casino and looking at the same slot machines, even if the gargantuan buildings are super cool.

In that vein, we rented a car from Treasure Island - the neighboring resort to our own home base, The Mirage - which I wrote about, BTW - for a trip north through the desert. I don't remember what kind of car it was, I just remember that hitting the speed limit was a little challenging for it. The limit north of town on I5 was 75 MPH, which is about 50 MPH faster than you will go on The Strip, even in those expensive sports cars you can rent on Las Vegas Boulevard. Save your money and buy a Red Bull - you'll get there sooner.

So in a short time, our rattling vehicle reached the Valley of Fire State Park. This is not a hidden gem - gobs of people know about it - but it is one worth visiting. We paid our entry fee at the booth and drove on the curving road that wound through the canyons of the park. You can witness the beauty of this park and not leave the car, but since you're already there, you'll want to hop out and take a look at the dozens of miles of trails.

The first stop was the visitors center, which I highly recommend to visitors like you and me. The map you can get is invaluable to enjoying your time in the park, as is the water to fill up your bottles. And if you're lucky, you'll get a close up view of the big horn sheep that wander the hills, until overzealous photographers rush up and scare them away. Tourists.

There are some many great trails to choose from, but choose we had to do. And our first trail was Fire Wave, so named because the colorful patterns in the sandstone. It was searching various blogs of Las Vegas hiking trails that I came across Local Adventurer, and after seeing the beautiful pictures, I knew this was the trail for me.

The trail starts at a small parking lot that descends through some normal looking scrub and rocks. It winds its way from the east, then south, of a large outcropping. The trail in the early stages is mostly sand, and it weaves through mini-canyons that provided a couple of seconds of shade before it's back into the sun. We were visiting on a September morning, and the sun wasn't too brutal, though shade on this trail was almost non-existent - take that into account.

It wasn't long before reaching the sandstone formations that gave the trail its name. The path was well-marked, and the trails left the sand and ascended onto the rock. The ascents weren't very steep, so any reasonably able person will be able to enjoy the trail and the views.

The formations and colors were amazing, especially when contrasted to the cloudless blue southern Nevada sky. The variety of patterns in the park were beautiful, with the Fire Wave trail in the foreground contrasting with the rust-colored rocks in the background where the trail started fifteen minutes before.

Valley of Fire was just too close to Vegas to miss, especially if you've been to the city multiple times. There is so much amazing scenery to be seen, and it doesn't take too much effort to see it, even in a suspect, rattling subcompact.

The Mirage, Las Vegas

Though I am a cat person, I felt our two cats were enough. My wife, however, discovered a kitten while we were vacationing near Pentwater, and felt a third cat was needed. After some brief negotiations, I won a trip to Las Vegas (a place I like and she… doesn't) and we got a cat (which I tolerate and she seems to like). Of course, I got three days in the desert and she got fifteen years of a cat, so when you look at it that way, she got the better end of the deal.

With so many choices to stay in Vegas, one of the factors that led me to The Mirage was the pool. I wanted some nice relaxation time by the water, and the Mirage's pool looked excellent. It's central location was also an important factor, but those weren't the only ones, and I'll get into those as we move along.

The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was the tropical smell. I would love to have an air freshener that has that same scent in my office. And if there was a waitress that delivered me some tropical drink like they do at the all-inclusives in Mexico, that would be even better. The Mirage scent put me in a relaxation / vacation kind of mood, and the quick and painless check-in process didn't break my "we-just-got-here-and-I've-got-lots-of-vacation-left" high.

Just walking through the hotel was an experience. The marble floors and the bridge through the plant-filled atrium. Extravagant restaurants. Gaming tables, and the sounds of slot machines. It's part of the Vegas extravagant experience, one of the reasons I love visiting the city. Even if I can't afford some of the those restaurants or shops, I don't care - it's being in that environment that gives me a charge.

We were given a room on the 24th floor overlooking the pool and the Strip running south. LOVED the room, mostly because of the view, but also the room itself was appealing with a contemporary look. The windows opened a little bit, enough to hear the white noise of The Strip below, and (carefully) hold the camera outside to get a glare-free picture. The large bathroom would have allowed a snug game of Four Square. (We didn't end of playing Four Square in the bathroom, in case you were wondering.) A couple of semi-comfortable chairs laid about for the short time we were conscious in our hotel room. My opinion of Las Vegas hotel rooms is that they should be bases of operation for all the fun stuff that you should be doing out on the town.