Desert Encounters

By Kate Riley September 6, 2011

Over the weekend, we saw a side of Las Vegas we’ve never seen before, thanks to my parents who played tour guide.  My folks have recently retired there and know a thing or two about the area. Yes, we did get to spend one night downtown at the Bellagio (don’t you love that Chihuly installation on the ceiling?) but even better was the tour of Red Rock Canyon that we toured 20 minutes outside of town, beyond the city lights.

Call us ignorant, but we never knew there was something more to Las Vegas than big casinos, Snooki parties, and Elvis impersonators.  Apparently, there’s a lot to see once you get away from the glitz, and the desert is quite a sight.

red rock canyon view

Red Rock Canyon reminded me of three things: Sedona (Arizona), Road Runner cartoons (high five if you also love those Looney Tunes), and sliced honey baked ham.

red rock canyon

Am I the only one that sees the shapes of food in the rock formations? We took the kids on a little hike to stretch their legs and explore the territory.

dad with kids red rock canyon



We left the Canyon on our way to see the mighty Hoover Dam, but not before we had an encounter with some local shady characters.


Beware, these wild burros approach you innocently.

burros across road

They perk up their ears, bat their big brown eyes at you, and come right up to your car.

burros approaching


They stick their noses right in your face, it’s part of their presentation.  Mighty pushy if you ask me.

nose in car


They sniff around . . .

sniff around


Then they start in with their sales technique.

looking for real estate


“Um, no.”

lots of land


“No thank you.”


anything to eat


“No, Mr. Burro”



Then they turn to Plan B, enter their partner in crime.

partner in crime


They’ve learned that two noses are better than one.

two burros


And they persist.

yo driver


At which point, we delicately pat them on the noses, drive away slowly, then peel out quickly, leaving severe tire marks and hoping they didn’t get our license plate.

After that encounter, we made our way to the Hoover Dam, which is quite a feat in civil engineering and enough to give you a severe case of vertigo if you look straight down from the top.

hoover dam

hoove dam bridge side

Don’t look down!

dont look down

While in Nevada, I fell in love with this perennial shrub with fern like stems and amazing ombre blooms.  I learned it’s ‘Mexican Bird of Paradise’ and I can’t grow it in my yard.  Boo.  But I still love it.

mexican bird of paradise


Next time you’re in Las Vegas, do save a day trip for a drive through Red Rock Canyon, but watch out for pesky locals dressed in burro’s clothing.  Trust me, they’re just trying to sell you something.




  1. As a Vegas native, I can appreciate your trip to Red Rock! I miss it out there. My favorite place was Cathedral Gorge. It’s outside of Vegas, heading out towards Pahrump. There’s a turnoff that leads to Tecopa (which, btw, has China Ranch date farm where you can eat your weight in date shakes, cookies, bread and an assortment of dates). Cathedral Gorge is a church built into a gorge. It was made by a man for his dying wife. It had a waterfall, music, a bridge, even a bathroom build into the gorge wall! There was also a large statue of Jesus. Sadly, most of it has been vandalized, but it was a beautiful peaceful place. Oh, and if you were up in Red Rock, you should’ve checked out Bonnie Springs. It’s nothing fancy, but a fun wild west town and petting zoo. I grew up going there. Most Vegas people bring their kids there for the nostalgia. And if you’re into swap meets, Broadacres Outdoor swap meet is the best. Prepare for walking but it’s a lot of fun. You never know what you’ll find. Okay, enough Vegas tour guide! ;)

  2. Speaking of food… when I first saw the post in my reader I read the title as “Dessert Encounters” and the top sliver of the first photo looked like a fancy cocoa powder-dusted chocolate cake (or something like that)! :)

    And I must say you seriously freaked me out with the rattlesnakes. Aaahh!

    Sounds like you all had a great time!

  3. The commentary about the burros was hysterical but where were there little hats? There was a ceramic burro in front of one of the houses we looked at, before buying ours. I’d look at the burro every time we rode by (it’s around the block from us). What’s funny is that house backs up to my daughter’s best friends house. lol

    It’s scary that some “wild” animals are so pushy. They are so cute though.

    Glad you had a great time.

  4. Awwww… the burros (we call them Donkeys here in South Africa) are too cute. Could just eat them up.

  5. I loved reading about your visit! I do agree with Red Rock being quite amazing…I love it out there and am waiting for the weather to get a bit cooler so we can go out for some hiking. Aren’t the burros funny? (and your commentary made it even more fun) Our kids loved it when they came up to the car. Sounds like you had a great time…I know we love it when family/friends comes to visit us, I imagine it’s fun for your parents to play tour guide.

  6. I’m laughing at Catherine’s comment, because I too read the title as “Dessert”. Good thing I gave up my job as an English teacher ; ) I’ve never been to Vegas, but am now more intrigued to give it a go some time. It’s a part of the country I’d love to get to. Love the John Wayne bit. Hilarious.

    Looks like a great trip.

  7. I toured the Red Rocks and the Hoover Dam many years ago and fell in love with the area! Love the photos of the Donkeys… cute..

  8. Next time you go, you should check out the Valley of Fire – it’s about 45 minutes from “the strip” and contains the same kind of rock as at Red Rocks, except much more awesome. It’s fantastic; well worth the trip.

  9. Beautiful photos, Kate! Hubby is a rock climber so we’ve been once when we were young ;)

    I was looking at the rattler pics like “does she *know* what that is?!?” glad you were just pulling our chain. Hubby encountered one in our yard over the summer when the kids and I were gone. I think I’d have died of a heart attack right on the spot.

    You’ve made me want to to plan a trip to the desert now. It’s so hot here though, I really just want to go downhill skiing somewhere, build a snowman and wear cute boots!


  10. I love the drive to Hoover Dam. It is really beautiful and loooooooooong drive.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate,

  11. LOVE IT! I’ve been to Vegas lots for work in the past, but never got out to Red Rock. It looks gorgeous! Glad you all had a great time!

  12. AH… Vegas, there is never enough time to see it all. Your commentary with the burros is hilarious. Just like the vultures on the strip… sell, sell, sell… It has been a few yrs. since we have been there… & last time we never went to the strip (there are plenty of casinos off strip : )
    time to go back & see some more… Thanks for sharing your fun.

  13. Great post! I’ve never been into the desert around the city, that would’ve been cool. When you mentioned the ham, I thought “what the heck is she talking about?” until I scrolled down to the pic, and yes…one of those rock formations totally looks like a spiral ham. It’s like one of those posters they used to sell at the mall when you’d have to find the hidden pics by crossing your eyes. ;)

    I’m pretty sure those burros are responsible for some of the wilder crazy MLS listings that make their way to posts on Hooked on Houses!

  14. Great recap! When I saw the snake pic, I recoiled and thought “She (like me) panicked over the spider on her bistro set (yes, I remember ALL your posts), how is she that freaking close to a rattler!?!?”

    Fun shots of the burro too…we have several like that from animal parks here (giant heads stuck in the car window), they are fun blown up and hung in my son’s room.

  15. We went to Red Rock Canyon on our honey moon 10 years ago (from the UK) and we thought it was amazing, if a little scary! We drove around in our mustang, no sign posts, petrol light blinkered on, dusk came, saw lots of signs that said No Shooting (that were full of bullet holes) and a mysterious car pulled out from a lay-by behind us as we drove past. Never so pleased to finally see the twinkling lights of Vegas below us as we rounded a corner! But what a place, definitely worth a visit too. We also still have our keepsake Hard Hats from our Hoover Dam tour – my husband got very wobbly legs trying to walk over the ‘grid’ in one of the tunnels that showed a loooong drop to the bottom :-)
    Oh, happy days!!!

  16. Snake – freaked me OUT! Stuffed – whew
    Donkeys – how crazy fun is that!?? I wonder what kind of commission they make and if they are experiencing a bad market right now.



  17. So, I am reading your post of Vegas with interest and then come to the snake, and I’m like “whoa! is she really that close?”. As I read on, I chuckled when you said it was a Photoshopped picture of a stuffed snake. Then I came to the burros…I sat here trying to drink my coffee but spilled it down the front of my shirt from laughing so hard at your “conversation bubbles” and then almost wet my pants in the process. Just wanted to say thank you for my delightfully “wet” morning! Love the post!

  18. HA! Those burros are too funny! Thanks for sharing =)
    My husband and I were in Las Vegas this weekend also! We stayed downtown and didn’t make it to the desert-maybe next time! We just loved seeing the Chihuly and having a lovely dinner for our anniversary at Bellagio. I hope to make a post about that soon…the dessert (not desert, lol) chef at Le Cirque in Bellagio made us a special Anniversary dessert that was just amazing ;)

  19. I have a Mexican Bird of Paradise growing in my front yard, I have to trim it constantly, it can get taller than I am. It grows like a weed here in Phoenix, but I’d trade it for your lavender any day :)

  20. That’s so funny that your kids like John Wayne. I grew up in Newport Beach when John Wayne lived there. My boyfriend at the time worked in a pizza place and everybody would fight over who got to deiver the pizza’s to John Wayne’s house. My boyfriend’s turn came and he saw John Wayne sitting on his couch, watching TV without his toupee!

  21. I have to say that I love that you took your kids to Vegas. My parents never had anyone that could watch my sister and I so they would always take us everywhere. I have fond memories of vacations there. Funny story….well to me anyway…I distincly remember going to Red Rock Canyon one time when my uncles met us in Vegas and my Uncle Gary (known for thinking he knows everything) was trying to tell all of us that Red Rock Canyon gets its name from a native american tribe that used to inhabit the area…therefore they named this canyon after them…you know…the “red man.” I was about 12 and I’m like….”Oh…that’s interesting. Yeah…that would have been crazy if they named Red Rock Canyon after the giant red rocks that are in the canyon.” I think that was the beginnings of my sassiness!

  22. Cute post! Love the donkey(s). I’ll have to check out Red Rock Canyon. We just live 5 hours from Hoover Dam – want to check it out again sometime when I can actually take time to do the tour.

  23. I’m glad you had a good time in Las Vegas and you got away from the Strip. I’ve lived here most of my life with the exception of college and a brief period after college when I lived in Sausalito. The beauty of the desert is something I have learned to appreciate more and more the older I get. i wanted to join your home town party post but I never got around to it. It was my intention to show things away from the tourist attractions. And, I was going to say I have never seen a rattlesnake while hiking in Red Rock but then I saw he was stuffed. I have seen that rattlesnake. The burros were adorable, if you got video of that it would be great on YouTube.

  24. I was born and raised in Vegas and just moved from there in July. Your photos are making me a little homesick. I had a view of Red Rock Canyon from my back balcony and I loved to take my girls hiking up there. Feeding those burros was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. Thanks for a little peak of home!

  25. Great post Kate. I lived in Las Vegas for a couple years and have been to Red Rock and Hover Dam. Both are cool. Red Rock is beautiful. I hope you didn’t take the kids on the boring Dam tour. Even as a grown up I got bored. haha There’s some interesting info, and then some not so interesting info. Are your parents liking it there? I would move back tomorrow. It’s such a diverse city. Not many people think about life off of the strip.

    ~ Catie

  26. Years ago, hubby and I visited Las Vegas. Our favorite part of the trip was our journey into this area. We saw the burros, a road runner, and then Hoover Dam. We still talk about that trip. (Actually, it was our delayed honeymoon. hehehe)

  27. hahahahahah!!! Was slightly worried about your sanity with the snakes then laughing my butt off with the burros. Great change of scenery!

  28. I go to Vegas every December with my husband for his work conference and we extend the trip several days to sight see. We always go to Red Rock and I love it! Next time you visit your parents, drive up to Mt. Charleston. You’ll die at the gorgeous views and the incredible homes. Many have been foreclosed because of the real estate debacle – some are sitting wide open and I may or may not have taken self guided tours. *cough* ;) Dress warm for the trip because it may be 80 degrees in Vegas, but at the top of the mountain it’s usually snowing and wind is whipping like you can’t imagine. LOVE~LOVE~LOVE Mt. Charleston!

  29. Best post I’ve read today! Those critters are so cute…well maybe not the snakes, you had me fooled for a minute there thinking you had seriously lost your mind getting so close! The Mexican Bird of Paradise is beautiful, but I doubt that I could grow it in Oregon!

  30. I loved this post, it gave me flashbacks to my rock-climbing days at Red Rock Rendezvous. That area is so beautiful and I’ve even flown in a helicopter over the Hoover Dam. I grew up on Lake Mead every summer since like 6 months old, now my husband and I have a boat and we go there and shore camp in the crazy heat. The best part about this post? The knowledge of the flora. At an In-N-Out in Hemet, I photographed the same flowering shrub and was going to use my google goggles search to figure it out, but here you are giving me the name- can’t beat that! Trying to find some lovely flowering hot weather loving plants for me here in Southern Cal. Thanks for the insight!

  31. Thank you Paula, I will definitely put Mt. Charleston on my list! Yes Lauren, Lake Mead is amazing, next time we visit, we will spend more time! And no Catie, we didn’t take the kids on the tour, they’re a little young, but just walking across was amazing! Thanks so much Lani for the history lesson, LOL!


  32. Vegas is one of my favorite places ever because there is more to it than people realize!! I grew up going there over the last 30 years and never tire of it. I loved seeing the burros, they were my favorite as a kid, soooo fun. My parents retired there as well and we still love it. I was totally going to mention MT. Charleston as well because it is GORGEOUS like Paula says. In the last 5 years or so they added log cabins you can rent near all the beautiful homes she mentioned. They are small and cozy and awesome literally hanging on the mountain side. You can even take a horse drawn sleigh ride in the winter!!!!! It’s a must do in the winter because in the city there is no snow but you drive 45 minutes and there is all the snow you need. Summer or spring is a must too because it is always 20 degrees cooler up there and there are some great hiking trails. I could go on and on but got to get painting!!

  33. Kate,
    Just had to tell you something funny, I live in AZ and have all the “Mexican Bird of Paradise” bushes I could ever want… although I would give my right arm to be able to grow Hydrangeas in our yard. Your Hydrangeas are gorgous :)

  34. My family moved to Las Vegas last fall (has it already been almost a year?!) and I have been pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do off The Strip. Being a midwesterner, I was hesitant when we arrived but am enjoying life in the desert. we love Red Rock and in the winter took our 3 year old sledding at Mt Charleston. There’s a little bit of everything all within a day’s drive. Next time you visit, come over to my house and give me some decorating advice! :-) Then you can really see “normal” life in Vegas.

  35. LOL crazy burros! :) The scenery is definitely a good reason to go to Vegas, love doing things outside of the city when we’re there. When you drive to the Hoover Dam from the Strip, the little town that you drive through just before you get to the dam has some amazing antique and thrift shops!

  36. Oh yes Trude, thanks for mentioning! We did stop in mini downtown Boulder City, loved the antique shops and the diner too!


  37. I love love love Red Rock Canyon! My husband and I stumbled upon it one year in Vegas. We also went up a mountain that was really a forest and the weather was so cool we had to wear a jacket. I wish I could remember the name of the place.

  38. Thank you for doing a wonderful post about my town that included more than The Strip! I’m so glad you were able to take the time to get out and explore. There’s a bicycle trail in Henderson that my FIL goes to and he has seen a few live rattlesnakes there. They like to curl up on the asphalt trail since it stays so warm during winter. So far I haven’t seen them there. I prefer your stuffed version a lot better!!

  39. Hi,
    I agree with Jenoside – I much preferred Valley of Fire to Red Rock Canyon. Only Valley of Fire doesn’t have the burros. Also, outside of Vegas (I think in Boulder) is a candy factory. The tour of the factory is free and at the end you get a free chocolate. They also have the best cactus garden I’ve ever seen. At the time we were there they were also putting a water feature at the back of the factory to show what type of plants grow around the water.
    Lots of things to do around Vegas.

  40. Hi there, loved all the comments about Vegas and Boulder City! We moved to Las Vegas back in 1978, in summer, needless to say all my plants passed away in the front yard before I got them inside! LOL It was HOT, very HOT!
    Now I live in Boulder City am retired and am loving it! I will tell you that every eatery here is good! I haven’t had a bad meal yet! I am enjoying the quiet small town lifestyle too!
    I try and let people know what’s going on here so I hope you get a chance to stop by for a visit!
    This is a walking town, every weekend there is something going on, parades, just a fun place! Hope you have a good week! Hugs Kat =^.^= I love your blog! And am a follower :)

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