November 8-12, 2023.
Our first real foray into a big city with the van took place in Las Vegas. It was a place I could convince both my brother and some college friends to fly in for a visit. So, Aaron and I began our trip by parking for a night outside our friend’s house in Henderson.
While Aaron worked the next day, I plotted a roughly 9 mile course from the van to the Vegas strip, where I’d meet my brother and his wife. I love taking city walks as a way to get acquainted with a new place. Besides, I’ll travel hundreds of miles out to a remote wilderness to do a ten mile walk, why not do it in an urban location?
I fell into a rhythm, threading my way through park trails that connected to city sidewalks. I wandered along walled-off communities and into more friendly looking neighborhoods. It was impossible to plan a route that didn’t parallel the airport or major highways, so I spent much of the time trying not to duck under low-flying aircraft. I found the Vegas area pretty pedestrian-friendly, as drivers waited patiently for me to cross, no one cut me off and I never felt unsafe being surrounded by so many cars.
When I arrived at the strip, my brother sent me a string of text message clues to get me from where I was to where he waited for me. We had lunch, then visited the Hello Kitty Cafe and played black light mini-golf in a Twilight Zone themed room. What a surreal day.
Many people do not know that Las Vegas is a very convenient hub for outdoor activities like rock climbing, hiking and canyoneering. I had been aware of this for years, but never had the opportunity to take advantage of its proximity to varied park and recreation areas. I booked a limited-entry permit for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to take my visitors on a pretty desert hike. We explored some washes and slickrock adjacent to where people were climbing on the gorgeous red rocks. Then we continued the drive to the other side of the loop road and hiked into a deep, shaded gash in the cliffs appropriately named Icebox Canyon. What a sharp contrast to the hot, sweaty hike we’d just done!
Later that weekend, my friends Sue and Karen arrived. We also hiked in the Red Rocks area as well as in the nearby Rainbow Mountains Wilderness. This area did not require permits and it was easy to find a parking spot late on a Saturday morning. We scrambled to a few highpoints and did plein air painting at scenic vistas each day that we hiked. I introduced Sue to painting outdoors last year, so I was thrilled to see that she showed up with her own kit on this trip! I set Karen up with supplies and the three of us created art, capturing the scene in three different ways.
There were so many places I didn’t get to on this visit: Sloan Canyon, Mt. Stirling, Charleston Peak, Lake Mead. That just means I’ll be back.
Viva Las Vegas
During our visit, Las Vegas was preparing to host a Grand Prix race. Some iconic sites were inaccessible, traffic was even crazier than usual and massive bandstands were being built up along the strip. The wealth on display was so immense, and in sharp contrast to the unhoused people on the street. People desperate to make a buck selling trashy trinkets outside shops selling ridiculously priced designer bags and things literally no one needs. How inhumane this society is that enables such disparity; I couldn’t help but think about this as I walked through crowds of blissfully unaware vacationers.
Unable to solve the persistence of inequality in those moments, I had no choice but to join the mass of tourists shuffling along the busy streets.
We ate at restaurants for nearly every meal, which completely blew out our budget for the month. The food was expensive and mostly not that great. Drinks also cost way more than they would anywhere else. I had to grit my teeth and not sweat the prices, knowing we’d be back on the road, preparing our own food in the van soon.
With each pair of visitors, I spent quite a bit of time walking along the strip and in the surrounding areas. It’s definitely something I’d recommend doing once in a lifetime. It was unlike any other walk I’d ever taken. Well into the night, lights shine brightly from every hotel, casino and monument. There are fountains and public art and replicas of world famous architecture everywhere. And there are always so many people out and about, you’ll never feel alone.
The Vegas experience I just had to have was partaking in a street daiquiri from one of the many daiquiri bars I’d seen on the strip. Sue joined me in imbibing during one of our long evening walks while Karen made the probably better decision to stick to water instead. Although we didn’t have too far, as the crow flies, to get back to our room, pedestrian connectivity was not good in this part of town. We kept running into dead ends or highways that required us to walk several miles out of the way. Drinking and walking doesn’t suit me well, but I got to cross off that item from my to-do list.
Tips for van travelers
Vegas is a pretty fun place to visit for all sorts of people. Whether you love nightlife, the outdoors, museums, parties, restaurants or people watching, there’s something there for you. Be prepared to spend a lot of money while you’re there, because everything costs money and even things you’re used to paying for cost more.
I spent a lot of time reaching out to AIrBnB hosts about if it was legal/possible to park my van in their lot. This was a surprise. Many hosts operate under HOA’s that do not allow oversize vehicles or vans specifically. Or, they only had access to parking structures with ceiling heights too low for the van to fit. And while some hotels do allow oversize vehicle parking, it is typically for an additional fee. You’ll have to consider the size and type of your vehicle before booking a place to stay.
Once you’re there, I’d recommend using Uber/Lyft/taxi to get to places in town and only take your vehicle out to drive to trailheads and activities outside the city. It’s much less stress trying to deal with maneuvering and parking a large vehicle in such a congested place. And if you want to take a walk, try to plan a route on Google Maps so you don’t get stuck where the sidewalks disappear into freeways, gated lots and parking garages.
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