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Introducing Red Rock Canyon

The startling contrast between Las Vegas' artificial neon glow and the awesome natural forces in this national conservation area can't be exaggerated. Created about 65 million years ago, the canyon is more like a valley, with a steep, rugged red rock escarpment rising 3000ft on its western edge, dramatic evidence of tectonic-plate collisions.

A 13-mile, one-way scenic drive passes some of the canyon's most striking features, where you can access hiking trails and rock-climbing routes, or simply be mesmerized by the vistas. Stop at the visitor center, for its natural-history exhibits and information on hiking trails, rock-climbing routes and 4WD routes. Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association operates the nonprofit bookstore there and organizes activities, including birding and wildflower walks (advance reservations may be required).

Call ahead to reserve guided horseback tours led by Cowboy Trail Rides. Mountain biking is allowed only on paved roads, not dirt trails. Rent bikes at Las Vegas Cyclery in suburban Summerlin.

To get here from the Strip, take I-15 south, exit at Blue Diamond Rd (NV Hwy 160), and drive westward, veering right onto NV Hwy 159. On the return trip, keep driving east on Hwy 159, which becomes Charleston Blvd. About 2 miles east of the visitor center off NV Hwy 159 is a campground, offering first-come, first-served sites with water and vault toilets.