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Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Just beyond the neon and greenbacks of Vegas lies a priceless wilderness gem.

Little-Known Fact: A 7,000-foot limestone escarpment surrounds Red Rock Canyon.

The second we enter the casino it’s painfully obvious we don’t belong. Bleary-eyed players look up from their cards just long enough to cast suspicious glances at our hiking boots. Lights flash, swingers wink, bells clang, and coins clink. It’s Vegas, baby, and we need to get away. We flee to the desert and immediately strike pay dirt in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

We start from the Sandstone Quarry turnoff, a little more than a quarter of the way through the 13-mile paved loop maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. We wander north for several hours, following trails and washes until we spot a rock formation to act as our base for our first day of hiking, bouldering (vertically inclined visitors will find dozens of challenging rock climbing routes, many with fixed protection), and sunning ourselves on the smooth stone like giant lizards.

There are several short, frontcountry loop trails established in the conservation area near the paved road. But since we like to experience the more scenic and isolated parts of Red Rock, we use our maps to hike farther into the backcountry on sturdy rock or gravel, navigating around stands of vegetation.

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