Need some serenity away from the madness at the heart of Las Vegas? This is just the place.
Assuming you haven't lost all your money (or your marbles), and you still have a day to spend in Sin City, there's plenty to do--there are shows and museums aplenty. But if you want a little peace and quiet--and the mere sight of more tourist mobs is too much to handle--there's a little-known gem you'll love, not too far out of town.
Drive about 50 miles on I-15 northeast of Las Vegas; there lies this relatively low-profile panorama of Jurassic-era red-rock formations. The Valley of Fire is the state's oldest park, and notable not just for its proximity to the madness of the Strip but because it provides such a lovely counterpoint: Come here in the morning and the only sounds you'll hear will be those of the breeze through the canyons--so much more peaceful than the ping-ping-ping of a slot machine.
Sandstone formations such as the Beehive and the Seven Sisters are delightful curiosities, and perfectly visible from your car (the park can be driven through; the road brings you to Lake Mead), but it's worth it to actually tackle a trail or two on foot: The staircase to Atlatl Rock or the half-mile round-trip hike to Mouse's Tank reward visitors with a trove of Indian petroglyphs (the Fremont and, later, Anasazi farmers were here from about 300 B.C. to 1150 A.D.).
Admittedly, the Valley of Fire is no Monument Valley, but it's both an easy and fast trip to the "real" desert. If you can, stay for sunset, and see how the place got its name.
Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nev.; (702) 397-2088. Admission: $6 per car; $14 to camp overnight.
(Lorraine Cademartori, Forbes.com)