It seems strange that some of the greatest wonders of the natural world can exist in such close proximity to some of mankind’s most audacious creations. This juxtaposition of natural and artificial is the essence of a visit to Las Vegas and the Southwest’s national parks.
The Las Vegas Strip is unabashedly gaudy and synthetic. You can eat under a mini Eiffel Tower, take a gondola ride on an indoor Venetian canal, or shop for Nikes in a Moroccan market. Everything is large, loud, and bright. Maybe it’s all the cigarette smoke, but after a while, things start to seem hazy. It is not a city that encourages self-reflection or inner peace.
But drive just a few hours east, and you’ll find yourself in a different world. The vastness of the Grand Canyon, formed over millions of years, will make you feel small in more than just the literal sense. Bryce Canyon, where the rock has been worn down by wind, rain and time into formations called “hoodoos”, will teach you that change is inexorable. Eventually, the hoodoos that exist today will disappear, to be replaced by new hoodoos that were once the solid rock we walked on. In Zion National Park, as you walk along the trails at the bottom of towering sandstone cliffs, you can get dripped on by water that has been flowing down through the rock for a thousand years – a reminder that in the span of the Earth’s history, the existence of humans is a mere blip.
Along the way, you’ll cross land that is sacred to the Navajo and Hopi peoples and land that is the burial ground for countless dinosaurs.
The builders of Las Vegas may aspire to the majesty and power of the natural world – going bigger and bolder with each new resort – but ultimately, the more we try to compete with Mother Nature, the more we come up short.
What a remarkable planet we live on. What a shame it would be to lose these natural wonders to steel and concrete. If you’re skeptical about the value of these parks, I encourage you to visit them yourself. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but seeing something in person is worth a million. Start your trip in Vegas, then head east. See what truly takes your breath away.