Vegas day trip: Red Rock Canyon

Should the endless glory of the Las Vegas strip ever cease to amaze you, consider heading to the local Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for a little bit of fresh air and R&R. Situated only 25 minutes northwest of the city, the nature reserve is a world away from the high frequency Vegas atmosphere, a serene, bucolic landscape where one can jump out of the car, hike around the massive, sandstone features and drink in the sprawling views of the Keystone Thrust.

Red Rock Canyon Road, a 13 mile one-way loop is the jagged, wandering backbone of the park, the starting point from which visitors can begin a day hike, technical climb or rock scramble and from where a long line of autos and bicycles gape at the surroundings.

It’s hard to not pull over at every outlook to jump out and take photos, but one of the first opportunities to do so is the best. About one mile into the park on the right, a precarious stacking of sandy red boulders and formations peers over the road, providing scenic hikes for all levels of adventurers. Fifteen minutes of this glorious nature will put any Vegas hangover at ease.

The scenic drive is open from 6AM until dusk and costs $5 to enter with a day pass. Make sure to arrive at least two hours before sunset so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the park.

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Top 10 national parks, thanks to TripAdvisor

More than 3,000 TripAdvisor readers in the United States have selected the top 10 national parks. Big shock: nine out of 10 are out west. Only Maine made it onto the list. But, let’s face it – if you want big, impressive national parks, you have leave the East Coast.

These readers are definitely interested in the national park scene. More than 70 percent plan to visit one this year, up from 62 percent in 2008. And, searches on TripAdvisor for “national park” and “national parks” are up 21 percent for the first five months of 2009 (relative to the same period last year).

So, what are the top spots?

  1. Zion National Park, Utah
  2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  3. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  5. Redwood National and State Parks, California
  6. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  9. Yosemite National Park, California
  10. Acadia National Park, Maine

“As Americans look for inexpensive travel ideas this summer, many are seeking out the amazing natural beauty that lies in our country’s own back yard,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. “National Parks can offer travelers an active, affordable and often awe-inspiring escape outdoors.”

Cockpit Chronicles: A view from the office window

There’s a bit of strategy involved with being a pilot on reserve. At least that’s the case at our company. On any given day there may be 4 our 5 reserve pilots qualified at the base to fly a particular airplane and division (domestic or international, for example.) If another pilot calls in sick or if there’s an unassigned trip the next day, crew scheduling will assign a trip to the most junior pilot first, unless that pilot has more flight time for the month than the other pilots on reserve. If everyone is equal, a senior pilot may either choose to fly a trip or pass it along to the next pilot.

Why would someone choose to go to work when they don’t have to?

They might want to take a two day trip tomorrow instead of a four-day trip the day after. Or they may prefer the destination or even the pilot they’d be flying with. I usually try to hold out for an interesting destination if I can.

However, due to a lack of pilots on the reserve list, more often than not you won’t have any choice when crew scheduling calls. We may be short of pilots, but at least my airline hasn’t resorted to using this kind of tactic to fill a trip. Camille or Myra will usually call the night before to let you know that you’ll be flying a trip the next day. That was the case last weekend when they ran out of reserve pilots domestically and needed someone to fly a two-day trip to Los Angeles.
I wondered what I’d do in L.A. for 24 hours. I looked up who the captain was and I was thrilled to see it was Bill, an exceptional pilot, who I always enjoyed flying with. It seems like half of my domestic trips are with Captain Bill. We tend to talk about airplanes for most of the flight. Not Boeing products, mind you, but small planes or as some like to say, “real flying.”

You might be surprised to learn that most pilots don’t fly small planes anymore. Some like to say that they can’t imagine doing any flying after coming home from work, and others just don’t feel they can afford it. I’m rapidly slipping into the latter category. Having grown up around ‘little’ airplanes, I could never imagine giving up flying them completely, but now that I have a family and home, it’s hard to find any extra money to pay for $5 a gallon fuel.

Bill has it figured out though. He avoids flying larger cross country airplanes such as a Beechcraft or Cessna, and sticks with the low and slow variety. Airplanes that give you the most “fun per dollar” as I like to say. He lives on a lake in Massachusetts and flies a light sport airplane he calls his contraption out of his back yard. It’s an amphibious biplane that looks like a blast to fly. I’m sure most other pilots think he’s crazy, but once you’ve flown this kind of airplane with fantastic visibility and the ability to splash down almost anywhere you just can’t give it up. And he’s burning car gas at the rate of about 4 gallons an hour. That’s $14 an hour to operate not including any maintenance.

About the only time I’m able to fly small planes has been when I go fly a friend’s or a relative’s airplane, like we did on a San Francisco layover in December, or my brother Kurt let’s me borrow one of his airplanes. Kurt moved 1000 miles away to Michigan, so this isn’t very easy anymore. There’s always that elusive captain upgrade, when I hope to buy this. If I can just convince my wife, of course.

The flight out to L.A. gave me a chance to get a few scenic pictures. I enjoy the view down below and we don’t get as much to look at when we’re flying international trips over the Atlantic or Caribbean sea. I snapped some pictures over the Rockies and just east of Las Vegas I took a few pictures of Lake Mead, which researchers are saying could dry up in fifteen years. At least it will make it easy to get to this airplane that’s at the bottom of the lake. I’d love to get a closer view of this extraordinary area of the country someday.

We flew over the Big Bear ski resort and Red Rock Canyon just west of Las Vegas which looked great. These gallery pictures below are best viewed large. Click on any of them to get the full view.

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The arrival into LAX was uneventful. Bill was nice enough to give me the Westbound leg. It was a kind gesture since we were flying a 767 there and a 757 back. I owe him one. As I’ve mentioned on my last 767 trip, it’s a nice treat to fly the larger airplane.

So what big plans did I come up with for the long Los Angeles layover? Lots of sleep, a burrito for lunch at Chipotle and dinner with Bill at a Japanese place. An exciting layover for us! But I just can’t pass up those fresh Chipotle burritos and the WiFi in the hotel kept me occupied. It’s so tough to get anything done at home with kids in the house, so I often get my blogging done on a layover–this time finishing the training story from last week.

Surprisingly, I haven’t had any excessive delays since I started writing about my trips 15 months ago. With all the stories in the press of late flights and stranded passengers, you would think I’d seen more of this. My luck ran out on Saturday though. Our airplane that we were taking to Boston was about an hour late arriving at LAX. As it landed, it flew through some heavy construction dust that was blowing across the runway. Enough in fact, for the mechanics to decide the engines needed a borescope inspection. Since that would take our airplane out of service for the day, we had to wait a few hours for another airplane to arrive. After a 5 hour delay, we landed in Boston at 2:30 in the morning. Because I slept 12 hours on this layover I wasn’t feeling the least bit tired.

Thanks for all the comments and the great response. We’re going to start a weekly feature called “Plane Answers” in a few days. Anything you’re curious about, feel free to email me. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll surely find someone who does.

I’ll leave you with this video showing more of the view from this office window taken over the past year.



>Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.