There's a stark contrast between this magnificent canyon, with its steep, 3000ft-high, rugged, red-rock escarpment, formed naturally and abruptly some 65 million years ago, and the deliberate, artificial beauty of the Strip, born of ongoing human toil, less than 20 miles to its east. A 13-mile, one-way scenic loop drive passes some of the canyon's most striking features, evidence of dramatic tectonic-plate collisions. Opportunities for hiking and rock climbing abound, or just be mesmerized by the vistas – as long as you're not the driver.
South of the loop, a side road leaves Hwy 159 and enters the petite Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, abutting the cliffs of the Wilson Range. Established in the 1860s, the ranch was once owned by the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Popular with picnicking families on weekends, today it's a verdant place, with white fences and an old red ranch house containing historical exhibits.