Going Au Naturel in Las Vegas

by Sandra Scott

No, I don’t mean getting naked in Sin City. But there is a whole world of nature waiting to be discovered just minutes from the glitzy, neon-studded casino areas of Las Vegas. It may appear that the desert around the city is an expanse of nothingness but that is not the case at all.

Here are five ways to get in touch with nature while you’re in Vegas.

Springs Preserve

On my most recent trip to Vegas I visited Springs Preserve, which is actually within the city but you’d never know it. The Spanish explorers named the valley Las Vegas (meaning “the meadows”) because of the springs and greenery surrounding the area. The ever-expanding exhibits trace the history of the area from the days of Native Americans to the present, with a focus on the influence of nature. One of the most incredible exhibits shows how flash floods occur in canyon areas. The display is complete with thunder, lightening and a torrent of water cascading over the rocks. There are wild animals, gardens and plenty of learning activities for young and old.

Flat Water Rafting

One of the most unique experiences in the desert is flat water rafting, which can be experienced only a short distance away from the Strip. Our group put into the Colorado River at the foot of the massive Hoover Dam and headed down the river through 12 miles of Black Canyon. The slow moving, wheelchair-accessible trip allows time to marvel at the canyon walls and includes a stop at a cave and a beach for lunch. Transportation between the city and the put-in area can be included.

Bonnie Springs Ranch

Less than one hour from the Strip you can experience old-time fun on the 115-acre Bonnie Springs Ranch. There are cowboys, gun fights and hanging reenactments, fascinating Nevada history, horseback rides and a huge petting zoo. A great family-fun place to experience the Old West at a spot that was once the oasis in the desert, where settlers heading west during the mid 1800s stopped before heading into Death Valley.

Red Rock Canyon

The Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, 17 miles west of the strip, has a 13-mile scenic drive, rock climbing, horseback riding and a series of hiking trails from an easy one on the Willow Springs Loop to a strenuous 5-mile hike to Turtlehead Peak. The interpretive centre has excellent displays along with a variety of programs.

Botanical Cactus Gardens

What do a chocolatier and a cactus gardener have in common? A lot! Both work in the sweetest but prickliest place in Las Vegas. Ethel M Chocolate Factory has one of the world’s largest Botanical Cactus Gardens with more than 300 species of cacti and succulents native to the American Southwest, along with others from Australia and South America. Watch chocolate being made and then tour the 2.5-acre garden — both are amazing.