Las Vegas: Off The Beaten Path

Calico Basin, Oct. 2013. Photo by Dad.
Calico Basin, Oct. 2013. Photo by Dad.

Today’s guest is artist, singer and my mom Kathy who makes her home in San Diego. She’d swear she’ll never leave the ocean again except she never swears. This is Kathy in her own words. 

The glitter and glam of the Las Vegas Strip, which includes fine dining and the best entertainment in the world, entices over thirty-nine million tourists each year. However, most of them never experience the impressive natural landscape a mere thirty minutes away from the strip.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am impressed by the abundant talent Vegas offers—singers, dancers, magicians, and instrumentalists, not to dismiss the sound and light producers, costume designers and hundreds of others who are as important as the star performers who draw crowds. But I cannot write about Vegas without mentioning the natural beauty of the desert, particularly the Red Rock areas.

I must confess that during the ten years I lived in Vegas I took for granted the awesome beauty of Nevada’s natural landscape. Many weekends my husband and I drove out to the Calico Basin that is surrounded by massive red rock. We ran our dogs (and kids) freely, often not seeing another human being. At the time, my closed mind saw nothing interesting about the desert. Almost thirty years later I was anxious to see the very spot again. Our friends warned us that much of the Red Rock area was probably closed due to the recent government shutdown. A great deal of rural Nevada is B.L.M. property. Sure enough, as we turned off the main road into Calico Basin we passed a row of cars parked along the side. People (tourists, I imagine) were obediently looking on at the beautiful scenery without any thought of taking down the flimsy barrier that stopped them from exploring further.

Remembering what we would have done as locals, my husband and I drove up the road further—past old ranches, and signs reading, “Please don’t feed the wild horses.” As our car climbed a little higher, we passed a few beautiful custom homes of various styles—some I couldn’t identify because the design came from the owner’s imagination, I suppose. There is no H.O.A. to set rules on architecture and landscape in the basin—thank goodness!

And then, there it was—overwhelming beauty of the Red Rock up close. There was a fenced parking area with an open gate just below the giant, mountainous rocks. We drove inside and parked. There were half a dozen or so other cars—mainly four wheel drive types. It appeared that this was not a tourist group of people. A couple of young men changed into hiking shoes, swung backpacks on their shoulders and began the hike up a trail that had not been there when we lived in Nevada. We weren’t prepared to do any serious hiking, but did take a nice walk on the gravel road.

I paused along the way to take in the natural sculpture of the rock. On the ground that surrounded the path was various bluish-gray foliage, and daisy-like yellow flowers that popped up here and there. I’m an ocean person, and was surprised by my own feeling of humbleness as I stared at the massive red rock—like I do when the ocean waves are crashing on coastal rocks, causing me to realize how powerless I am compared to the sea. But there I was in complete submission to the red rock. “I could live here,” I stated. That must have shocked my husband because when we lived in Nevada, all I could talk about was going back to the coast. Yet, for a moment I pictured myself living freely in Calico Basin. My husband reminded me of the cost to build, etc., etc., etc. I’m a dreamer. He’s the realist.

Before I made the final steps to our car, I came upon evidence that a wild horse had been on the trail—yes, a large pile of excrement. I laughed, though sad because I had not seen the horse. But there were other sights awaiting us back on the strip. Still, nothing will surpass Calico Basin’s red rock.

Directions: from the Las Vegas Blvd strip, get on Charleston Blvd, drive west. Cross over I-215, and go another ten miles and you’re into open land. Roads are well maintained. About 3 more miles and you turn north (right) on Calico Basin Road. There’s a nice site at entrance, but drive up the winding road to the parking lot. Red Rock will not be missed. Enjoy!

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