Las Vegas will eat you alive with crowds and noise. After spending 10 days working on an event at one of the giant Las Vegas casino hotels on the Strip, my coworkers and I were ready to get the hell away. After we got all of our gear packed and shipped to the next venue, we had half the day left with nothing to do so we piled into two rental cars and headed north to the Valley of Fire State Park. The park is about 50 miles north of Vegas and abuts Lake Meade but it feels like a completely different planet. No lights, few people, no slot machines or liquor stores, and none of those damned bush speakers (every bush on the Strip seems to have a speaker buried in it playing a "hip" music mix because, you know, God forbid there should ever be any silence anywhere.) This state park is genuine desert wilderness. And it's awesome!
The day we were there was the second day in a row of very high winds in the Las Vegas area. Flights were being diverted to Los Angeles to land, or if they were cleared to land in Vegas, looked like those "scariest landing" YouTube videos. Seriously windy.
For the first part of our excursion, we had blue skies and sunshine, and the wind had little impact on us beyond making driving the rental minivan a bit interesting. As the afternoon wore on, though, the dust storm began and changed the blue sky to a weird, dull grayish brown. (Here's a noisy YouTube video of the dust blowing into Vegas that day.) It never got to where we couldn't see where we were going but the look of the park definitely changed, giving it an even more Mars-like feeling.
We spent the day hiking and climbing around on the rocks, and looking at petroglyphs left by the Anasazi. For a bunch of Midwesterners and Easterners like us, this was totally different outdoors than we're accustomed to.
We watched the sun go down (not a great sunset; too much dust made it look post apocalyptic) and then finished the evening sitting in one of the park's tiny stone cabins, on the dirt floor, eating prepackaged cookies left over from lunch and drinking a room-gift bottle of wine. It was great.