Thinking of escaping to Las Vegas any time soon? While it’s fun to take in a glamorous show or two and try your luck with the one-armed bandits, after a while you’ll want an activity that won’t blow your budget. Fortunately, you’ll find it not far from Sin City—at Valley of Fire State Park. When you’re ready to strap on some light-weight hiking gaiters and get some exercise, be sure to tank up, slather on sunscreen, and head into the Mojave Desert. It’s not too far to drive, and just right for a day trip.
Once voted “Best Scenic Drive in Southern Nevada” by readers of Nevada Magazine, Interstate 15 (Valley of Fire State Park Scenic Byway) takes you 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas to Nevada’s oldest state park. Although the Strip’s neon tubes are missing here, brilliant colors are not. Shades of deep red, brown, and orange seem to glow even more vividly at sunrise and sunset, thus the name Valley of Fire. The park was dedicated in 1935, but its sandstone formations were formed some 150 million years ago from vast shifting sand dunes. The modest Visitor Center is the best place to learn more about the geology, ecology, and history of the park and the nearby region, so stop in for a brochure.
Several scenic roads wind throughout the park, each one leading to yet another unique feature— petrified logs, dramatic rock outcroppings, and ancient petroglyphs. Eroded by wind, water, and time, the Beehives and Rainbow Vista are especially impressive. The White Domes Road ends at a stately formation of sparkling white rock. Be sure to stop at Atlatl Rock to see 3,000 year-old Indian rock art up close. An atlatl, the predecessor to the modern bow and arrow, was a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. You’ll see this tool clearly depicted among the well-preserved petroglyphs. Atlatl Rock is also a nice shaded spot for a picnic.
To stretch your legs, take one of the many hiking trails that lead to even more amazing sandstone formations. Don’t miss Mouse’s Tank. Named for a renegade murder suspect who hid out here in the 1890s, Mouse’s Tank is a natural basin where rainwater collects. A scramble up the rocks provides a nice bird’s eye view, but the best part for history buffs is the numerous petroglyphs etched into the boulders that flank this half-mile sandy trail— evidence that the area has been visited for thousands of years. Keep your eyes open because chuckwallas and collared lizards often scamper out of the shady rock crevices. Snake gaiters are a good idea, too.
Getting bored with flat pavement? If so, now’s the time to change up your running routine by finding trails near your home and on your travels. Even if it’s just once a week, running off-road can stave off boredom and help you get stronger. Uneven surfaces make you engage your core and lateral stabilizing muscles. Groomed trails that are wide and mostly level make for a great introduction to running off the road. The opposite of that are narrow dirt trails with a variety of obstacles such as tree roots, rocks, sand, hills, and more. When you first start out, it’s important to avoid comparing your trail pace to your normal road-running pace. Naturally it will be slower on tougher terrain, and that’s OK. Purposely slow your pace and develop a trail tempo. Staying sprain-free is key if you want to make trail running your hobby, regular conditioning, or weekly off-day. When you’re ready to pound some terra firma instead of pavement, these helpful tips from Runner’s World and REI can help reduce the risk of injury:
Adopt good posture. Shortening your stride can make you more agile and able to react quickly to obstacles. You’ll also be able to lengthen a single stride when needed—to avoid landing on a rock or muddy patch, for example. Keep your gaze 10-15 feet ahead and scan the terrain for obstacles. Hunched shoulders put stress on your back and rob your lungs of inflation space. They are also a sign you’re too tense, so take a moment to relax them. Then hold your shoulders straight, align them with your back and lean your whole body slightly forward as you run. Keep your hands in relaxed fists. Orient your arms so they are perpendicular to your torso, rather than pumping diagonally across it. Your fist should lightly graze the side of your running shorts on each swing. Having an efficient swing motion helps you build forward and upward momentum through your entire torso, rather than relying solely on your legs. When running uphill, maintain a proud posture and pump your elbows back to propel your body forward and upward. The main thing to focus on is to lean into the ground and use your forward momentum.
Wear the right shoes. If you’re going to weave trail running into your life, it’s wise to invest in a pair of trail running shoes. They differ from road-running shoes in that they’re often beefier to handle rugged terrain but also lower profile (lower to the ground), which reduces the chance of ankle rolls with a high heel. The proper tread offers better traction on muddy, wet trails. It can also help you brake when needed on steep descents. Trail running shoes should fit snug in the heel but have room in the toe box. Once laced/tightened you should not be able to slide your foot out of the shoe.You don’t need a new pair of shoes your first time out, but eventually you will want something more substantial if you find you like trail running and plan to continue. Once you buy a pair, take care of them. After a wet or muddy run, remove the insoles, wash off the mud, and stuff with newspaper or paper towels to dry. You’ll be so glad you did this at the end of a run instead of throwing crusty, muddy shoes in the back of the closet and having to deal with them several days later.
Know the rules of the trail. Yield to other trail users (equestrian, hikers, mountain bikers). Generally, downhill runners should yield to uphill runners because the effort to stop and restart on the uphill is greater, and downhill runners often have a better angle of vision. But when in doubt, just be kind and courteous regardless of whether you’re headed up or down. Stay on marked trails and run through puddles, not around them (making the trail wider). Leave no trace, and don’t litter. Runners should yield to bikes, it's so much easier to stop and start on foot than it is on a bike.
Add appropriate accessories. Although many trails provide shaded routes, it’s still wise to wear sunscreen. Sunglasses not only block harmful rays and glare, they also protect your eyes from tree branches and bushes. Wearing a hat and bug spray will help prevent insect bites and ticks. Grabbing some trail running gaiters will keep the dirt, gravel, and briars out of your shoes that can cause hot spots and abrasions. A neck gaiter gives you a little style on the trail, and is handy for keeping the sweat out of your eyes. Bringing hydration with you on a trail run is a must! And so is food. Calories count!
Running over downed trees or through mud and sand takes some time getting used to, so it’s best to progress slowly. Tackling obstacles will get easier as your body gets stronger and more seasoned on trails. When in doubt, walk. Extend the amount of time you currently stretch, and add some additional stretches to your routine. It's important to stretch after your body is already warmed up; stretching while your muscles are cold can lead to injury. Trail running can be zen running. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel more peaceful having left behind car exhaust, noise, and other people!
Each year as the weather warms, local fire departments receive hundreds of calls for snake removals. Rattlesnakes emerge from their dens in search of the warm rays of the sun, and they can be grumpy. They seek out warm areas like driveways, pool decks and sidewalks when they are cold, and cool places like garages and wood piles when they are hot. Snakes are not bad. In fact, snakes have an important role in the ecosystem (for one, they help keep the rodent population down). However, you should call the Fire Department immediately if a rattlesnake is inside your home or in your yard. If you or your family members or pets are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
It is important to remember that a rattlesnake or other pit viper that is seen in the desert or other natural habitat away from urban areas does not warrant a call for removal. The number one recommendation if you see a snake while out hiking is to simply leave it alone. Snake bites can result in serious injury, or death. Hikers should never be out alone, wear sturdy boots, and stay on well-used trails as much as possible. Avoid tall grass and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day. Keep your hands and feet out of areas you cannot see. Rattlesnakes can be several feet long and can strike about half their body length. Even baby rattlesnakes can possess dangerous venom as soon as they hatch.
Most snakes are not outwardly aggressive for no reason; they usually strike if they are startled. If you accidentally step too close or move a log or rock they call home and are struck, do not attempt to cut out the venom with a knife and do not try to suck out the venom either. This does not work, and can increase anxiety and create additional problems. Do not apply a tourniquet or use ice packs or heat packs. In other words, do not do what they do in the movies!
Instead, stay calm and call 9-1-1 immediately. It's the first and most crucial step to take. While you wait for emergency assistance to arrive, remove any watches, rings, or other articles of clothing or accessories that could constrict swelling. Immobilize the area of the bite and keep it lower than heart level. If possible, clean the bite area with soap and water and cover it with a clean compress or moist dressing. If you’re in a remote area without phone service, get yourself to the nearest medical facility as quickly as possible.
Of course, the easiest way to treat a snake bite is not to be bitten to begin with. Be alert of your surroundings and wear snake gaiters. When enjoying the great outdoors with your dog, never let him off the leash in areas with snake activity. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.
Hiking Mt. Rainier National Park
Encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice and originally known as “Tahoma” to the Klickitat Indians, Mount Rainier is the most beautiful backdrop any national park could hope for. “The mountain is out” takes on special meaning with your very first glimpse of the 14,410-foot volcanic peak— the highest in the Cascade Mountain Range. Although Mt. Rainier National Park is a mecca for hikers, windshield tourists enjoy the views just as much from the pavement.
More than 140 miles of road loop through the park, so there’s always a waterfall, lake, or mountain vista ahead. Even if you stay at one of the park's campgrounds (reservations strongly suggested) and won't need a hotel room, stop at the National Park Inn for the view. The wide covered front porch is a good place to admire the evening alpenglow on the south face of Mount Rainier. The porch’s rustic, yet comfy chairs are made for lingering as long as you’d like. There’s also a museum, an information center, and a well-stocked store and gift shop next to the Inn.
Paradise is not only a state of mind at Mount Rainier National Park, it’s a real destination perched at the 5,400-foot elevation. The panoramas from Paradise are incredible on a clear day— the snowy summit seems close enough to touch! Historic Paradise Inn was renovated several years ago and is a definite must-see. Originally built in 1917, the rustic interior and furnishings are simplistically beautiful and huge stone fireplaces at either end of the spacious lobby make warming up on chilly day a real pleasure. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the geology, glaciers, flora, and fauna— everything you need to know about Mount Rainier and the surrounding Tatoosh Mountain Range. You can also shop for gifts, eat a meal, and talk to park rangers here. To get a little closer to Nisqually Glacier or the lovely wildflower meadows surrounding Paradise, pick up a trail map or a park ranger can point the way to excellent hiking. Serious mountain climbers attempting the 8+ mile trek with 9,000 feet of elevation gain to Mount Rainier’s summit team up in Paradise, so you’ll likely see gear-laden mountaineers on their descent. If snow still covers the trails you want to explore (common even in July), snow gaiters will keep your legs warmer and drier. If the trails are dry when you visit, hiking gaiters will protect your lower legs from wet weeds, briars, and the dust.
If first-rate scenery and outdoor recreation are high on your list, you’ll definitely be headed in the right direction if you visit the nation’s fifth oldest national park. And when you do, you'll easily see why Washington is known as the Evergreen State.