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The Coolest One-Day Trips From Las Vegas

Las Vegas, America's 'Sin City,' is surrounded by natural wonders, mysterious locales, and places with human imprints from millions of years ago. It is easy to attain a much-needed change in pace for scenically- and emotionally charged day trips within two hours from the Strip. These places of real power will recharge you with energy and maybe even bestow some luck before you head back into the gaming scene.Area 51 Although t...

Las Vegas, America's 'Sin City,' is surrounded by natural wonders, mysterious locales, and places with human imprints from millions of years ago. It is easy to attain a much-needed change in pace for scenically- and emotionally charged day trips within two hours from the Strip. These places of real power will recharge you with energy and maybe even bestow some luck before you head back into the gaming scene.

Area 51

Although the focal point of Area 51 is an off-limits US government installation, the area immediately around is the next coolest thing for scenic drives and mystic strolls through a unique atmosphere. Area 51 is featured on TV shows, talks, and documentaries as a magnetic locale veiled in mystery. Many claim to get an eerie feeling of something palpably out of this world that makes one contemplate whether the government really is hiding aliens and UFOs a hand's-reach away from society. The cool destination attracts plenty of curious, extraterrestrial fans and seekers of paranormal sights, like flies to a honeypot. Few know that the locals who work at the mysterious facility, the Men in Black, get to their Area 51 "office" and back home to Vegas via a daily plane from the McCarran Airport for one jealous-worthy commute.

The day trip encompasses a scenic ride through the open desert to the state's tiny town of Rachel, Nevada. It is set just over two hours away via the scenic Extraterrestrial Highway, also known as State Route 375, right from the heart of Vegas. The great day trip is free-access to the cool atmosphere, inclusive of priceless scenery on-the-way, and time spent with friends. Even the town of Rachel, with 54 residents, is veiled in mystery, where one will run into like-minded seekers of the otherworldly sights to chat up and share a drink at the bar.

The town's themed Little A'Le'Inn Bar and Motel welcomes guests for a unique overnight stay proximate to Area 51. Its bar serves alien burgers and out-of-this-world souvenirs, along with maps that guide all the way into Area 51, the Groom Lake Air Force facility, legally, up to the stern warning signs at the edge of the base. Farther down the Extraterrestrial Highway, the Alien Research Center offers facts over fiction about Area 51, along with a greeting giant silver alien at the doors. The real mind-boggling day trip into the greater unknown is optimal for an everyday curious traveler, conspiracy theorists, and military enthusiasts.

Emerald Cove

The Emerald Cove is among the state's top naturally vibrant, hidden sights and one of the best kayaking spots near Las Vegas. The cove is carved through the sturdy canyon walls along the secluded part of the Colorado River within the Black Canyon Wilderness area at the Arizona-Nevada border. The natural wonder is home to picturesquely-green waters (full of algae), hence the name. The glimmering, vibrant green waters reflect the sun's rays for an emerald spectacle all around. It is only accessible via a small vessel rather than on foot due to tight passageways.

Kayaking is the most popular option for exploring Emerald Cove. Tandem kayaks are made for two people to enjoy the marvelous scenery together with a friend. Aside from kayaking, one can tour the cove via a canoe or stand-up paddle boat, with priceless emotions guaranteed over the scenic beauty and unforgettable experience regardless of the method.

Thousands of avid explorers visit this Colorado River's enchanting grotto for a memorable outdoor adventure on a cool day trip. It is easily accessible through most of the year, with complementary dips in the waters during summer when temperatures reach over 100 degrees. There are kayaking tours that highlight the cave's geological features and the region's diverse wildlife while guiding one through a first-time kayaking experience. One can venture even deeper into the waters via a glass-bottomed kayak to see nature's full glory and power.

The unique and beautiful Emerald Cove awaits thrill-seekers under an hour southeast of the city, with eerie silence and darkness of the cave. Following the tour, one can take a dip in the cave's pool, which is also great for wading and swimming amidst vividly-shifting scenery. Wildlife enthusiasts enjoy sighting blue herons, bald eagles, and desert bighorn sheep around the area.

Lake Mead

The Lake Mead National Recreation Area lies east of Las Vegas, some 30 to 40 minutes away from the Strip. It is easily accessible to day-trippers via a scenic drive passing by the Colorado River and the Hoover Dam, with an entrance fee of only $25 per vehicle into the area. A whole recreational galore of favorite pursuits awaits for a relaxing and peaceful day spent in lush nature by the largest human-made lake in the world. The "coolest" thing about Lake Mead is the refreshing change in scenery from the hot and bustling strip to the cool and calm waters, ideal for swimming. One can sunbathe during the day, take sunset strolls along the scenic walking trails winding the lake's shores, or opt for a cruise dinner.

The massive lake with a 1.5 million-acre recreational area packs enough cool activities to enjoy from morning to night and visit times again to see and experience everything. Other wet and dry fresh-air activities include kayaking and traditional paddle wheel boating. There is recreation along the shores, like waterside and hiking trails, and relaxing over a scenic picnic in a shaded spot. A cruise aboard the Desert Princess comprises a real dream-come-true pastime. It offers a relaxing glide through the waters over wine and dinner at sunset, with immense blueness to one side and the scenic shore getting smaller to the other. It is the perfect and much-needed respite and change from the noise of the Strip and mundane sights of the Nevada Desert.

There are many guided tours around the desert oasis, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and scuba diving. The trails are also perfect for biking before cooling off at one of the swimming areas. The adrenaline junkies get the thrill through the Lake Mead National Park ATV Tour experience. The ATVs traverse 22 scenic miles of the Mojave Desert, stopping at 900 feet above the Colorado River for breathtaking views and descending for a dip in a different body of water. It is easy to spend the entire day at Lake Mead with the region's best Angus Beef burger and fries to recharge at the Lake Mead National Park's onsite restaurant.

Red Rock Canyon

The nation-famous Mojave Desert in California expands into Nevada, where a stunning Red Rock Canyon in Clark County awaits some 17 miles west of Las Vegas. It is open year-round, with cool activities like biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and even sighting waterfalls cascading into the canyon on certain trails. The impressive Red Rock Canyon is the first national conservation area implemented in Nevada, comprising an immense and isolated scape with incredible sandstone rock formations. It is eerily scenic and quiet for a thought-after change in pace, mood, and sights from the bustling Strip. 1.2 million tourists visit the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area each year for the must-sees, like the gorgeous red and cream Calico Hills and the impressive Keystone Thrust.

The mountains in the region were formed over millions of years through various geological processes, like fossilized sand dunes and the earth's crust collision. The notable Keystone Thrust fractured as a fault when two plates shoved up and over each other for a magnificent contrast of grey limestone to red sandstone today. Also known as the Wilson Cliffs, this collection of unique sandstone peaks and walls reaching up to 3,000 feet high is easily sighted from the Strip. It is an ideal playground for active hikers and climbers who enjoy conquering the peaks while others relax underneath over a scenic picnic. The La Madre Mountain dominates the range from an 8,154 ft stance.

There is a 13-mile scenic loop drive with great chances for memorable photo shoots throughout the canyon, like the picturesque Calico Hills' colorful sandstone, ancient Indian limestone roasting pits, and Willow Springs with "handprints" and pictographs. The crimson-red sandstone rocks get their coloring from iron oxide, built up over centuries. There is also plenty of wildlife roaming the conservation area, including 200 different mammals like burros, rabbits, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wild horses, bobcats, and mountain lions. Birding opportunities include hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, and burros.

Valley Of Fire

The picture-perfect valley is the state's most iconic natural wonder that is unlike anything else in the entire nation. It is located under an hour from Las Vegas, some 49 miles northeast, with a price to enter of $10 per vehicle. The Valley of Fire is home to ancient petroglyphs left by the Native Indians in the area over 3,000 years ago. The cool day trip offers trekking the incredible scenery with bountiful knowledge into the lives of past residents who carved insights into the perfectly preserved rocks today.

The Valley of Fire State Park is full of history and stunning landscape, covering 40,000 acres of peaks and plateaus, ancient trees, and millennia-old petroglyphs in the red Aztec Sandstone. This unique landscape was created over 150 million years ago by shifting dunes and named after the striking Aztec red sandstone. Its dynamic scenery is hypnotizing, with shifting shades from the ancient rocks of various sizes and forms that blaze brazenly red against the sun's light. Following a stroll through the fiery scape, it is time to scavenge for the prehistoric hand petroglyphs and even dinosaur bones for a truly-prized find. The absolute must-stop landmarks are the iconic Fire Wave Trail, Elephant Rock, and the petroglyph-covered Atlatl Rock.

The entry price includes access to the entire park on foot or via a scenic drive, with a day full of sights and activities on the premises. There are opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and even camping under the wide-open skies for the best star-gazing, with $20 for a tent. There are also guided hiking tours through the Nevada valley's oldest state park and the Valley of Fire visitor's center. One can learn more about the relics and stock up on souvenirs to remember the nature-made wondrous canyon inscribed with human touch. It is best to visit during the pleasant weather in spring or autumn to avoid summer's scorching temperatures of up to 120 degrees.

These cool day trips within two-hour scenic drives from the Strip will leave one in awe and shivering for more excitement. From chilling mysteries to cooling dips and millennia-old natural wonders with the lingering spirit of our ancestors, each one is a unique, unparalleled, and nation-famous destination that offers an overdose of coolness.

Birds and big mountain views are just two reasons to try this Arizona hike

Special for The Arizona RepublicUbiquitous yet largely invisible to the casual hiker, barn swallows play an interesting game of hide-and-seek with those who wander through their habitats.The migratory species feeds in midair, capturing insects (they love flies, which explains their name) in acrobatic swoops over open terrain, rangeland and farms.Also known as cliff swallows, the tiny birds build their nests in rock crevasses, caves and crags, but have discovered that human-made structures like highway tunn...

Special for The Arizona Republic

Ubiquitous yet largely invisible to the casual hiker, barn swallows play an interesting game of hide-and-seek with those who wander through their habitats.

The migratory species feeds in midair, capturing insects (they love flies, which explains their name) in acrobatic swoops over open terrain, rangeland and farms.

Also known as cliff swallows, the tiny birds build their nests in rock crevasses, caves and crags, but have discovered that human-made structures like highway tunnels, bridges, culverts and abandoned buildings are also suitable locations for their distinctive nests.

Travel:You can be one of the first to hike this history-filled trail in Arizona. Here's how

Plastered to ceilings and walls, the cup-shaped nests are made of dry bits of local grasses molded with mud and lined with feathers. For observant hikers, the earth-toned cups — which mostly look like wads of mud flung onto ceilings — can be spotted in overhead shadows in the concrete tunnels that usher trails under busy roads and freeways.

The tunnel under State Route 69 in the Yavapai County town of Mayer outside of Prescott is rife with nests as the surrounding landscape is dotted with farms, washes and open range where the swallows never hunger for a meal of insects.

That tunnel ferries trail users between the Big Bug and Copper Mountain segments of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail, a 100-mile historic route that runs between Phoenix and the Verde Valley. While a walk through the tunnel is — at least for nature nerds — an interesting passage, there’s much more to love about the Copper Mountain segment.

The trip begins at the Big Bug trailhead about an hour's drive north of Phoenix. Take the left fork a few yards south of the restroom, passing through the tunnel and heading into wide open pastureland. Save for a few lonesome junipers, the scrubby, windswept terrain has little shade and even less to disrupt big mountain vistas including glimpses of the long mesas of the Pine Mountain Wilderness and the pine-covered Bradshaw Mountains.

After passing a couple of ranch sites, the trail dives into an unrelenting series of ups and downs. At the 1.6-mile point, the trail meets the Copper Mountain Loop junction.

The 8.7-mile add-on loop heads left for a twisting trip through the foothills below 5,026-foot Copper Mountain.

The loop reconnects with the Copper Mountain segment at the Russian Well Segment 3 miles north of the south junction.

To stay on the main trail, head right and follow the route northward through drainages, gullies and grasslands where grazing cattle are nearly as pervasive as the swallows that dart among the cows and cactus diving for their dinners.

Black Canyon Trail: Copper Mountain segment

Length: Copper Mountain segment: 4.6 miles one way (9.2 miles out and back). Copper Mountain segment with loop: 15.1 miles for the entire loop plus access from trailhead.

Rating: Moderate.

Elevation: 4,020-4,414 (1,265 feet of accumulated elevation change).

Getting there: Use the Big Bug trailhead. From Interstate 17 in Cordes Junction take Exit 262 for State Route 69 heading north toward Prescott. Continue 4.2 miles to the signed turnoff for the Black Canyon Trail on the left.

Facilities: Vault toilet.

Details: Black Canyon Trail Coalition, https://bctaz.org. Prescott Hiking Club, https://www.prescotthiking.com. Information about cliff and barn swallows, https://azdot.gov/adot-blog.

Colorado city named one of '52 Places to Go' worldwide in 2023

At No. 45 on the list is Grand Junction, which The New York Times describes as "a bonanza of canyons, arches and cliffs, without the hordes of tourists."GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The 2023 edition of The New York Times' annual list spotlighting "52 Places to Go" worldwide includes a western Colorado city.Coming in at No. 45 on this year's list is ...

At No. 45 on the list is Grand Junction, which The New York Times describes as "a bonanza of canyons, arches and cliffs, without the hordes of tourists."

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The 2023 edition of The New York Times' annual list spotlighting "52 Places to Go" worldwide includes a western Colorado city.

Coming in at No. 45 on this year's list is Grand Junction, which the newspaper describes as "a bonanza of canyons, arches and cliffs, without the hordes of tourists."

> Video above: Take a virtual drive over Colorado National Monument

"Travel’s rebound has revealed the depth of our drive to explore the world," the publication says of this year's list. "Why do we travel? For food, culture, adventure, natural beauty? This year’s list has all those elements, and more."

The list says Grand Junction "offers attractions similar to those of Moab, Utah, the gateway to Arches National Park, without the throngs."

It highlights the nearby attractions of Rattlesnake Canyon, Colorado National Monument and the Palisade Plunge mountain biking route.

"All trails lead back to downtown Grand Junction, filled with shops, craft breweries, locavore restaurants and wine-tasting rooms from area vineyards," the article says.

The Colorado River passes through Grand Junction, Aug. 24, 2022, in Mesa County, Colo. In November 1922, seven land-owning white men brokered a deal to allocate water from the Colorado River, which winds through the West and ends in Mexico. During the past two decades, pressure has intensified on the river as the driest 22-year stretch in the past 1,200 years has gripped the southwestern U.S. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun via AP)

The global list often spotlights Colorado places. Steamboat Springs was featured in 2015, Downtown Denver made the list in 2018, Colorado Springs was featured in 2020, and Estes Park was highlighted in 2022.

"We are honored to be included in this prestigious list of international destinations showcasing Grand Junction as one of the best places to travel in the world in 2023,” Elizabeth Fogarty, director of Visit Grand Junction, said in a news release. “The Grand Junction inclusion in this list positions us as an under-the-radar outdoor adventure hub and a vibrant city that is thriving; and I am sure this will inspire travelers from around the world to explore this very special place.”

This remote-feeling hike to a river isn't far from Phoenix. Here's how to try it

Special for The RepublicTucked in the hilly backcountry between Interstate 17 and the feeder gullies of the Agua Fria River, the Little Grand Canyon segment of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail offers easy access to a remote-feeling hike escape.The 1.4-mile slice of the more than 80-mile route that runs between Carefree Highway in north Phoenix to the fringes of Prescott National Forest near Mayer showcases a rugged, water-ravaged landscape entrenched by mountains, mesas, washes and mineral-rich foothill...

Special for The Republic

Tucked in the hilly backcountry between Interstate 17 and the feeder gullies of the Agua Fria River, the Little Grand Canyon segment of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail offers easy access to a remote-feeling hike escape.

The 1.4-mile slice of the more than 80-mile route that runs between Carefree Highway in north Phoenix to the fringes of Prescott National Forest near Mayer showcases a rugged, water-ravaged landscape entrenched by mountains, mesas, washes and mineral-rich foothills just over 30 miles north of downtown Phoenix.

Named more for the presence of the Little Grand Canyon Ranch on the banks of the Agua Fria rather than for any resemblance of the real geological deal to the north, the segment delivers a pleasing rotation of eye-popping vistas served up by way of edge-hugging switchbacks and slinky single tracks.

Hikers should be aware that the area is also a popular draw for recreational shooting and OHV use. Expect to hear a constant pop-pop of rifles and the rev of quad engines during the first half-mile of the hike.

The trail itself is open only to foot, horse and non-electric bike travel, so the noise is soon absorbed in stony clefts and acres of pristine desert.

To find the route from the trailhead, follow the short access path to a T intersection, go right and hike past a chain of RV campsites. The trail is well-signed throughout.

Right from the start, mountain views command attention. To the southwest, the distinctive slanted flattop of Indian Mesa stands among stone sentinels at the remote upper finger coves of Lake Pleasant.

As the trail makes an easy descent along a narrow trail cut from buff-colored compacted volcanic ash, scaly metamorphic shelves and quartz outcroppings, views of the Bradshaw Mountains to the north peek out over vivid green foothills covered in paloverde trees, creosote, cholla and massive squads of tall saguaros.

At the 1.1-mile point, the trail crosses a major wash with scoured caves and quartz-laced boulders polished smooth by years of rushing water. To stay on track at this and all wash and drainage crossings on the hike, be sure to locate the trail signs placed on the opposite side before trudging forward.

The route then passes a rustic gate and the unnamed junction for the Little Pan loop segment before making a dive into the wide floodplains and chiseled channels of the Agua Fria River.

At this point, the trail enters its Williams Mesa segment, heading downhill on a loose-rock cliff face to meet a forest of willow and mesquite trees at the river’s edge. The sandy waterway is strewn with haphazard deposits of rocks, pebbles and flood debris.

Water lingers in pools below sheer cliffs and in glassy rivulets flush with spent cottonwood leaves.

The route crosses the broad desert stream and picks up where a few trail signs cling precariously to a sheer rock face where the path heads directly up and on for another 3 miles to its connection with the Cheap Shop segment near the Little Pan staging area on Azco Mine Road.

The river makes for a nice turnaround point for a 4.2-mile trek. Consult Black Canyon Trail maps for ways to build a loop or longer hike in this gorgeous pocket of foothills that’s not too far from civilization.

Black Canyon Trail: Little Grand Canyon route

Length: 4.2 miles round trip as described here.

Rating: Moderate.

Elevation: 1,699-1,939 feet.

Getting there: Use the Table Mesa Trailhead. From Interstate 17, take Table Mesa Road (Exit 236) which is 36 miles north of downtown Phoenix. At the end of the off ramp, turn left, go a few yards and then veer right onto Frontage Road (the unsigned west end of Table Mesa Road). Continue to the large Table Mesa West sign, turn left and continue to the Table Mesa trailhead at kiosk No. 5 on the right, 3.1 miles from I-17. Roads are maintained dirt/gravel, suitable for all vehicles.

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I-17 Anthem to Sunset Point Construction Begins this Week

By ADOTThe first phase of work for the Arizona Department of Transportation’s long-awaited Interstate 17 Improvement Project from Anthem to Sunset Point is now underway. Drivers will start to see changes to this 23-mile corridor as the work zone is established and construction begins.Map from improvingi17.comThe $446 million project, which will add capacity and reduce congestion along this heavily traveled corridor, is expected to take approximately three years to complete. It includes 15 miles of widening from Ant...

By ADOT

The first phase of work for the Arizona Department of Transportation’s long-awaited Interstate 17 Improvement Project from Anthem to Sunset Point is now underway. Drivers will start to see changes to this 23-mile corridor as the work zone is established and construction begins.

Map from improvingi17.com

The $446 million project, which will add capacity and reduce congestion along this heavily traveled corridor, is expected to take approximately three years to complete. It includes 15 miles of widening from Anthem Way to Black Canyon City and the construction of approximately eight miles of flex lanes from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point. Drivers can expect various construction activities through the 23-mile corridor and should plan their trips accordingly.

“The I-17 Improvement Project is an important investment in Arizona’s transportation infrastructure,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “All who travel I-17 regularly for weekend trips and daily commutes will benefit, including commercial truckers who use this Key Commerce Corridor to haul goods and services throughout our state. This project is critical for Arizona drivers and our state’s economy.”

“I want all drivers to be aware that ADOT is adding lanes to improve safety and reduce driver frustration by relieving the congestion the current configuration causes,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “Although there will be additional lanes, it is up to drivers to behave responsibly, operate their vehicles according to the law and, above all, be patient and courteous with each other. Let’s get everyone safely home.”

ADOT partnered with the Maricopa Association of Governments and the Federal Highway Administration on this much-anticipated project.

“The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) recognizes that transportation is not only about getting where you want to go, it also is about our quality of life – visiting family, doing the things we love with the people we love,” said MAG Transportation Policy Committee Chair Jack Sellers, a supervisor for Maricopa County. “Transportation is about our economy. It is about safety. That is why transportation investment is so important, and why MAG contributed funding to this project from Anthem Way to the Yavapai County line.”

The project has been funded in part by $50 million of Proposition 400 funds, a dedicated sales tax approved by Maricopa County voters, along with state and federal funds, including $40 million in state funding from higher-than-anticipated revenue amid Arizona’s strong economic recovery.

The developer team that is designing and building this project is Kiewit-Fann Joint Venture.

Construction officially starts this week. While some construction activities may take place during the daytime hours, lane closures along I-17 will occur only during off-peak travel times in either the northbound or southbound direction, depending on the day of the week. Most lane closures will occur weeknights from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Lane closures that impact drivers will not be scheduled on weekends and holidays to keep I-17 open and keep traffic moving during heavy travel days.

Work crews will begin with guardrail repair, equipment mobilization and work zone preparation. The work zone preparation will occur inside and outside the existing lanes and will include wildlife surveys, spraying for noxious and invasive weeds, clearing vegetation and salvaging viable native plants, cacti and trees.

The work also includes removing rumble strips, paving the shoulder areas, and setting up temporary concrete barriers. The existing traffic lanes will be shifted by four feet to accommodate the construction zone. All of this work is expected to take about six weeks.

Construction work at New River Road will begin Monday, Sept. 26. ADOT will maintain one lane in each direction, and interstate access will not be impacted at this time. The New River Road bridge work is expected to last until February 2023.

In addition to the widening and flex lane construction, this improvement project includes the widening of 10 bridges and the full replacement of two bridges. Work will occur at various areas throughout the 23-mile corridor for the duration of the project. Drivers are encouraged to sign up for weekly traffic alerts to stay informed: improvingi17.com/lets-connect.

Once complete, the I-17 Improvement Project will help alleviate congestion and improve safety and traffic flow north of the metro Phoenix region. The 23 miles of improvements include 15 miles of roadway widening from Anthem Way to Black Canyon City. One travel lane will be added in each direction along this stretch. In addition, an eight-mile flex lane system will be constructed from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point. Flex lanes are a new feature for Arizona’s highway system and are proven technology to help reduce congestion on I-17 during peak travel times and allow for traffic movement during emergency situations.

The I-17 flex lanes will operate as a separate, two-lane roadway carrying one direction of traffic at a time depending on the greatest need along the steep, winding eight miles between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point. For example, the flex lanes will be able to carry heavy northbound traffic on a Friday or heavy southbound traffic on a Sunday. Similarly, ADOT will be able to open the flex lanes to accommodate traffic any time if a crash or other incident causes long delays.

The two flex lanes will be next to, but physically separated from southbound I-17 using concrete barriers. Access to the flex-lane entrances will be controlled by gates. Overhead message signs will alert drivers to the open direction of the flex lanes. The flex lanes will be operational seven days a week.

For more information about the I-17 Improvement Project, visit improvingi17.com, call 877.476.1717 or email info@improvingi17.com.

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