(Mostly) Outdoor Activities near Las Vegas You Can Afford

(Mostly) Outdoor Activities near Las Vegas You Can Afford

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  1. You’ve done Vegas a dozen times, have sat through the sometimes entertaining shows, have lost thousands of dollars at the blackjack tables and slots, have ridden the rides and gawked at the death defiers, have seen every Elvis impersonator in town, and now you’re wondering what’s left to do. Well, if you’re the sort who lives for the aforementioned activities, the answer may be to do it all over again, because you probably aren’t a lover of the great outdoors and the thought of more than a few minutes exposure to the sun makes your skin crawl.

    On the other hand, not everyone is like that. It is for you—the others, those who enjoy Mother Nature rather than shun her, you who would rather do something that involves more walking that from one gaming table to the next—that I have written this article.

    My main advice for those who wish to partake in the activities listed below is that you plan your trip for early spring or mid- to late-autumn. You wouldn’t catch me out in the desert when it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, but maybe you’re crazier than I am. If you take this advice the other bit of advice I’d add is to bring a warm jacket or at least a sweater. This area is high desert, meaning it gets cold in the winter, and often in the spring and fall, too.


    Red Rock Canyon                                                                                           

    As the name implies, here there be red rocks—lots of them, some the size of mountains. My colloquialisms in the previous sentence may lead you to believe that there are pirates here as well, but seriously, who ever heard of pirates in the desert? (Well, maybe once on the TV show The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr., but otherwise get real.) However, you will find cowboys gone bad that are just as vile… but I’m getting ahead of myself.


     Red Rock Canyon is a National Conservation Area just west of Vegas that hopes to become Nevada’s first national park someday. If you’re looking for trees, you’ll see few other than Joshua trees that in my opinion should not qualify as trees because they cast virtually no shade, grow no fruit that anyone would want to eat, cannot be used in construction or carpentry and are therefore useless to humans. If they were at least pretty, I could see wanting to protect them, but have you seen a Joshua tree? These things make skunk cabbage appealing by comparison.


     There is no entrance fee for Red Rock Canyon, and as long as it isn’t 115 degrees outside, it’s well worth a gander if you’re looking for something to do.


    Bonnie Springs                                                                                               

    Very near Red Rock Canyon, a woman named Bonnie McGaugh decided—maybe on a whim—that her life’s work would consist of collecting Old West buildings, props and memorabilia and lump it all together in one place where visitors could come and enjoy it all, as well as take in a variety of period shows, including a typical Wild West showdown between good guys and human varmints. This became Bonnie Springs (www.bonniesprings.com), and while it may remind you of the Old West part of Knott’s Berry Farm, keep in mind that it’s a fair sight more authentic.


     You’ll find an old graveyard (I seriously doubt that any human remains are buried there, but you never know; it might be the perfect place to rid one’s self of unwanted corpses), a saloon where you can watch Old West plays and join in sing alongs, several old buildings of various descriptions and—of course—gift shops selling overpriced souvenirs.


     In addition, there is a small but somewhat impressive zoo on the site featuring animals native to the high desert of the Southwest. For some reason, this includes a whole lot of chickens, but I think that’s just because Bonnie has a soft spot for hens and roosters. In fact, it was near the chicken coops that we actually met the one and only Bonnie who had come to feed her chickens and socialize with the guests. She’s a hoot, so I hope you have a chance to meet her, too.


     Admission to Bonnie Springs is only $5, which is a bargain, considering that you can easily blow five or six hours seeing all that there is to see (and Bonnie will talk your ear off for three of those hours). What’s more, while driving to or from Bonnie Springs, you stand an excellent chance of spotting wild burros grazing the nearby fields. And if you’ve never seen one in person, I can attest that they are about the cutest wild critters you will ever see.


    Target Shooting                                                                                                This isn’t an activity for everybody; not everyone secretly dreams of playing Dirty Harry, but a lot of us do. Those who have never shot a gun might find it shocking that many people consider target shooting a family activity. Such shocked people are either sniveling wimps or have spent too much time watching MSNBC. The fact of the matter is that in countries where everyone owns guns—and parents teach their children how to handle the weapons safely—there are virtually no incidences of accidental shootings among children because kids are also taught just how dangerous guns are. And as anyone who has been trained in the use of firearms knows, you never—ever—point a gun at a person unless you mean to shoot them, and you never shoot the gun without aiming to kill.


     The last thing any gun owner wants is to be forced to shoot another person. Make that the second to last thing, because the same person would have no problem shooting another human if that person was trying to kill someone the gun owner cared about, which is why people buy guns in the first place: home protection. And if you own a gun, you damn well better know how to use it properly, and the way to ensure that is to take firearms safety classes and then practice every chance you get. Besides, target shooting is fun.


     You can go shooting for recreation all over the desert once you get out of the city; just be sure you’re well off any oft traveled roads, away from all habitations and it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on current laws concerning target shooting and how to legally transport weapons in Nevada before you head out. The last time my wife and I went shooting—just outside of Las Vegas—our only targets were tiny paste-on targets that were frustrating because they are so hard to hit, but we still had a great time. Also, because the only things handy to support our targets were Joshua trees, we got to blast the hell out of half a dozen of those butt-ugly shrubs that pretend at being trees.


    Pioneer Saloon                                                                                                                       

    There are a number of “Old West” saloons in Nevada, but the very best of these is the Pioneer Saloon (www.pioneersaloon.info). Then again, the Pioneer Saloon is the only Old West bar we visited while staying in Vegas, but you could tell it was the best because of the lamp. Yes, the lamp is the deciding factor, as it is the same lamp (or just like the original) featured in the movie A Christmas Story, the lamp shaped like a sexy woman’s leg in fishnet stockings. If that doesn’t scream “Classy!” nothing does.


     They also have the standard pool table, and while shooting some pool or even while cozying up to the bar, you can order a small pizza (or slices) from the place next door and they’ll deliver it right to you. And I recommend the pizza, because if you want anything else delivered you have to keep in mind that the saloon is in Goodsprings, about 20 miles SSW out of Las Vegas, and a pizza from Dominoes might take considerably longer than 30 minutes to arrive. The pool room is adorned with old photos—especially of Clark Gable, who was rumored to learn of his wife’s (Carol Lombard’s) death while having a drink in the saloon—which is enough for the owners to consider the room a museum.


     For those who just can’t help themselves, you’ll find gaming machines to take away what money you don’t spend on booze and the saloon has frequent barbecue cookouts in its spacious patio (they’ll supply the meat and potatoes, but you have to cook them), as well as a place to throw horseshoes badly when you’ve really had too much to drink. Every weekend the place serves up live music and you can even try your hand at karaoke once you’ve had enough to drink. For me, it took about seven shots of Jack, and even then I told the friend who took us there that there was but one song that I would sing in public, knowing full well that no karaoke machine’s playlist would include the obscure silly song from Tom Lehrer. You can’t imagine my surprise and dismay when it turned out that this particular machine had “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” on its playlist!

    Oh, one reminder I would like to pass on as a final note: If you decide to do all or most of these activities in a single day (it’s doable), be sure you save the visit to the saloon for after target shooting. Drunks with guns is bad medicine.

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