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BAG HAYFORD PEAK
Itching to scale the 54-foot (16.5-meter) volcano in front of the Mirage hotel? Instead, drive north on U.S. Route 95 to the lightly visited Desert National Wildlife Range (desertcomplex.fws.gov/desertrange), which is home to 9,912-foot (3,021-meter) Hayford Peak, the highest summit in the Sheep Range. Hike five and a half miles (8.8 kilometers) from the end of the rough Hidden Forest Road and camp beside a broken-down bootlegger's cabin, where spring-water is available. Then continue one and a half miles (2.4 kilometers) up limestone slopes to Hayford's summit. On clear days, views stretch west into California and south as far as Lake Mead.
The art collection at the Bellagio can't hold a headlamp to Sloan Canyon, a sacred Indian site and home to more than 1,700 petroglyphs. To reach the canyon, which was designated a national recreation area last year (702-515-5000), drive south from the DNWR, turning off Route 15 onto the power-line road east of Wheeler's RV park, then continue south on a dry river wash. (You need a 4WD vehicle.) The central gallery, with images of bighorn sheep, cowboys, and cactuses etched into its ruddy basalt, is only a half-mile (0.8-kilometer) hike from the parking area. Afterward, retire to Boulder City's Boulder Dam Hotel ($89 and up; 702-293-3510), built to house dignitaries who came to marvel at Hoover Dam. Stroll to Carlos' Mexican Cafe to dine on steaming zucchini-and-pine-nut burritos (702-294-6640).
PADDLE DEEP CANYONS
In Black Canyon on the Lower Colorado River, a half hour southeast of Boulder City, paddlers wind between thousand-foot (305-meter) sandstone walls, past hot springs and side canyons. Kayaks rule at this time of year, when personal motorcraft are banned. Rent your boat at the Willow Beach Marina ($65; 928-767-4747), the put-in for the 10.2-mile (16.4-kilometer) trip to the base of Hoover Dam. You can camp on any beach; Gold Strike Canyon, just short of river mile 63, offers the unique chance to pitch a tent beside a piping-hot waterfall. The natural sauna cave nearby is a partially sealed hot spring.
THREAD THE VALLEY OF FIRE
After paddling out in the morning, follow Lake Mead's winding Northshore Road past Overton Marina, then follow Park Service Road 109 to explore St. Thomas (www.nps.gov/lame). The Lazarus of a ghost town was inundated by Lake Mead in 1938 but has recently reemerged from the depths thanks to the persistent drought. Before heading back to Sin City, check out Valley of Fire State Park (www.parks.nv.gov/vf.htm), where the one-and-a-quarter-mile (2-kilometer) White Domes Trail threads an 80-foot-deep (24 meter-deep) slot canyon (18 inches at its narrowest) (56 centimeters) that opens up for scorching sunset vistas.
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