A breath of fresh air: Five daytrips from Las Vegas

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      While Las Vegas is indeed fabulous, so is the area that surrounds it. Here are five outdoor attractions just a short drive from the Strip.

      Hoover Dam’s new Bypass Bridge

      You may have visited the Hoover Dam before, but the new Bypass Bridge gives a whole new aerial view of it. Spanning the Colorado River at 1,900 feet long, the bridge connects Nevada with Arizona.

      The bridge opened to traffic on October 19, 2010. It was built to alleviate congestion on Highway 93, which bottlenecked on two lanes over the Hoover Dam. With the 9/11 New York terrorist attacks, the route became a security concern. Trucks were forced to take an inconvenient detour around the dam for years. All vehicles can now use the new Bypass Bridge, and traffic over the dam is being phased out completely.

      Park your car at the bridge parking lot and walk over the sidewalk, which is separated from traffic by a concrete barrier. It’s worth the trip not only for the amazing view of Black Canyon and the dam, but for the fun of planting one foot in Nevada, and the other in Arizona at the bridge’s state marker.

      Carolyn Ali photo.

      Charming Boulder City is a nice contrast to frenetic Las Vegas.

      Boulder City

      About half an hour outside of Las Vegas, a few miles from the Hoover Dam, you’ll pass through Boulder City, a bedroom community that prides itself on its lack of casinos. (Casinos bookend the city limits, however, so you’re never too far from one.) The vibe is completely opposite from Vegas: it’s laid-back with grassy parks and a charming small-town atmosphere. The city sprang up in the 1930s to house workers on the Hoover Dam, and retains its picturesque architecture and family-friendly motels. It’s a good place to break for a coffee or meal en route to the Dam or Lake Mead, or a nice place to overnight if you’d rather avoid the fray of Las Vegas.

      Carolyn Ali photo.

      A cruise on Lake Mead is relaxing and eye-opening.

      Lake Mead Cruises

      After being cooped up in a Las Vegas casino, it’s a wonderful contrast to get out on the waters of Lake Mead. Fresh air, sunshine, and cool breezes make a 90-minute cruise aboard the Desert Princess paddle wheeler super-relaxing—and you get a water-level view of Hoover Dam, too.

      This cruise also gives a stark view of how low the water levels in Lake Mead have dropped. The ring of white on the canyon wall marks where the high water level used to be—over 1,200 feet above sea level. In October 2010, the water level hit a record low of about 1,083 feet above sea level. It’s the lowest level the reservoir has seen in 75 years, since the dam was built in 1935. (For more on the causes of and the severity of the situation, see this New York Times article.

      Carolyn Ali photo.

      Las Vegas Springs Preserve addresses water conservation issues through its exhibits and outdoor gardens.

      Springs Preserve

      A 20-minute drive west of the Las Vegas Strip, this excellent attraction looks at the flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert and its cultural and geological history. It also tackles sustainability issues. Broaching the issue of water conservation, it features interactive exhibits that show how Las Vegas sprang up because of water, and is now a victim of its own growth. Residents use the lion’s share of water—hotels and resorts take less than 10 percent—and much is wasted on outdoor watering. A peaceful botanical garden displays desert landscape alternatives.

      With both indoor and outdoor exhibits, it’s a great place for kids. A slew of educational games—such as Lawn Gobbler, a Pac Man-like video game that gobbles up grass and replaces it with sustainable alternatives—keep things fun. You could easily spend half a day here, and the breezy Wolfgang Puck café makes a nice refresher.

      Carolyn Ali photo.

      View of Las Vegas strip from near Boulder City.

      Bootleg Canyon Flightlines

      Located at the base of Red Mountain in Boulder City, Bootleg Canyon Flightlines offers four zip lines across the desert. You ride suspended in a harness, and it’s actually not as scary as it looks. From the jump-off point of the first line, there’s a fantastic view of the Las Vegas, glimmering in the desert expanse.

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