Trust me, none of us moved to Las Vegas specifically to raise a family. Most of us came here in search of some personal goal. Maybe the plan was to become a star or major talent dancer, musician or magician. Maybe it was to make a killing in the once-booming economy. There are lots of good reasons to move to the City That Never Sleeps, but I’ve never heard anyone say they chose Vegas because it is the ideal place to raise a family.
Among the challenges for families in this 24-hour town are its transient nature and work schedules that interfere with school activities and recreational outings. Then there’s the summer heat, which means outdoor activities have to be scheduled early in the day. Video games and movies are fine in their place, but kids need outdoor fun, and that can be hard to find in Vegas, even in cooler weather. After all, Las Vegas is mainly suburbs – neighborhoods with block walls and sidewalks – and the small neighborhood parks and sidewalks don’t offer enough open spaces for the kids to play and explore.
For these reasons, and others related to the slowing of the economy, some Las Vegans have given thought to relocating to other cities to raise their families in an environment with a better balance of work and play. I say, “Hold on a minute.” There are many great places for families to play both inside and outside the city limits. Before you pack your bags, pack up the kids and a picnic and head out to explore more of the Las Vegas Valley.
Over the years, I have become a fan of some new and expanded parks that address family needs for fun and exercise, such as Wetlands Park, Springs Preserve, Sunset Park, Lorenzi Park and Floyd Lamb State Park. These large parks create open space for families to walk and picnic. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park and Bonnie Springs/Old Nevada are all close to home. Mount Charleston, Lee Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Area all offer additional options for desert outings within an hour’s drive for families that want to get back to nature. Farther away are the Valley of Fire State Park, the Colorado River, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Death Valley National Park – all excellent destinations for families who want a change from the glitz-and-glam on the Strip.
Near the top of the list of unique winter destinations for families is Valley of Fire, which has majestic sandstone formations, excellent trails, picnic areas and petroglyphs. Kids enjoy the short trail to Mouse’s Tank, the last hiding place of the notorious renegade Indian known as Mouse. To the west, Death Valley offers wide-open desert and fascinating history, including Scotty’s Castle, a 1930s ranch house named for an upstart caretaker who made a local name for himself spinning crazy tales of a gold mine bonanza. The house is an amazing contribution to early 20th-century architecture; kids like the homemade swamp cooler, the indoor waterfall in the living room and the vintage theater organ in the upstairs music room. Ash Meadows, 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas, makes another excellent day trip, offering warm, geothermal creeks and family-friendly walkways. Kids like to visit the small cabin where Jack Longstreet, a notorious horse rustler and outlaw, lived.
Any car trip into the desert past will stir questions about plants, animals and bird life, ecology, mining and a myriad of other topics. What a wonderful way to explore nature together with your family or friends.
Taking time to connect in these unique desert settings is special and timeless. The Las Vegas Valley is part of the Great American West, so get out and blaze a new trail with your family. The cowboys and Indians are gone, but wide-open spaces await you.
Go ahead, leave Las Vegas with your family. Just remember to drive back home under the huge, starlit desert sky in time to catch the night lights of the Jewel in the Desert – Las Vegas.