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Day Trips: It's Only Natural

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Got gambler's elbow? Recover on a day trip far from the glare of Vegas's neon but close enough so you can be back for the dinner buffet. Here are five outings that are easy drives from the Strip.

• Red Rock Canyon is 17 miles west of the Strip on Charleston Boulevard/ Highway 159. Hike any of its 30-plus miles of trails or drive the 13-mile scenic loop ($5 per car). Info: 702-515-5350, www.redrockcanyon.blm.gov.

• Check out the trifecta: Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and Boulder City, 20 to 30 miles southeast of Vegas. Shop for crafts in town, swim or kayak in the lake ($3-$5) and learn about the concrete powerhouse ($5 per car; $10 for Discovery Tour) -- all in a day. For Boulder City and Lake Mead: www.ci.boulder-city.nv.us; for Hoover Dam, 702-294- 3517 or 866-291-TOUR, www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam.

• Less than an hour northwest of Vegas is Spring Mountain National Recreation Area and Mount Charleston, where you can ski, snowboard or take a scenic lift to the "Alps of the Desert." There also are hiking trails. Skiing is seasonal; tickets $25-$33. Free entry; some parking is $6. Info: Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, 702-645-2SKI, www.skilasvegas.com; Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, 702-515-5400, www.fs.fed.us/htnf/smnra.

• The Valley of Fire State Park, 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert, is noted for its red sandstone formations, 3,000-year-old petroglyphs and rainbow colors. Lots of hiking trails and free park ranger programs. $6 per car. Info: 702-397- 2088, parks.nv.gov/vf.htm.

• If Vegas isn't hot enough, try baking in Death Valley National Park. Sights include Scotty's Castle, alleged property of one of the world's richest gold miners ($8 for a tour), the sand dunes at Stovepipe Wells, Zabriskie Point and nearby ghost towns such as Chloride City. As for activities: mountain biking, hiking, dune rolling, ranger talks, etc. $10 per car. Info: 760-786-3200, www.nps.gov/deva.

-- Andrea Sachs

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