Area mountains offer relief from summer heat

Since pioneer times, Southern Nevadans have headed for the high country west of Las Vegas seeking relief from summer heat. A wide range of outdoor activities awaits mountain visitors who picnic, camp, hike and horseback ride where days are cooler. Evening theater productions, outdoor concerts and after-sunset hikes and programs enhance summer experiences at various locations in the mountains.

Within a half-hour's drive from downtown Las Vegas, you can escape the heat in the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, a forested island with high, rugged peaks topped by lofty Mount Charleston. Route 157 accesses Kyle Canyon, where the Toiyabe National Forest maintains an interpretive center, picnic areas, campgrounds and several trails. In Lee Canyon, reached by Route 156, forest facilities include picnic and camping sites and forest trails. Camping and picnicking sites and trail heads are found along Deer Creek Road, Route 158. This high road connects with the Kyle Canyon and Lee Canyon roads, forming one of Nevada's treasured byways, a favorite for scenic drives.

Outdoor concerts are planned for weekends this summer in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. In Kyle Canyon, performances by various bands and musical groups will take place on Sundays at The Resort at Mount Charleston and on Friday and Saturday nights at the Mount Charleston Lodge. Enjoy Music on the Mountain at the Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort on July 28, Aug. 18 and Sept. 8. The Lee Canyon facility opens Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this summer.

Other summer activities at the Lee Canyon Ski and Snowboard Resort include taking a scenic ride on a chairlift for $10 for adults and $5 for children and playing 18 holes of disc golf at the top of the lift. The facility plans a 4-mile run from the Mack's Canyon turnoff to the ski resort on Saturday. On Aug. 4, the Festival in the Pines will feature crafts, entertainment and food vendors.

Although lower in elevation than the forested heights of the Spring Mountains, the dramatically beautiful area of vivid sandstone cliffs and canyons known as Red Rock offers summer relief with slightly higher elevations than the city and much cooler temperatures at night. Access the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area on Route 159, the extension of West Charleston toward Blue Diamond.

The Las Vegas Astronomical Society cooperates with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association, federal agencies and state parks to plan night sky programs. On Aug. 25, drive to the visitor center in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for a program on meteors at 6:30 p.m., followed by viewing through society members' telescopes. Stay late if you like, but you must arrive by 8 p.m., when the gates are locked. Dress in layers. Check the Astronomical Society's website for a full listing of programs in Southern Nevada.

Within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, historic Spring Mountain Ranch State Park offers many outdoor activities. The park is minutes from Las Vegas. At this time of year, visit the park early in the day or in the evening for the best escape from the heat.

At Spring Mountain Ranch, join an expert guide on a full-moon hike, a magical experience offered a couple of nights each month when the moon is full. Call the state park at 875-4141 for upcoming dates for after-sunset hikes.

Enjoy evening performances during the annual Super Summer Theater season at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. This year's productions include "Oliver," July 11-28; "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Aug. 8-23; and "Leader of the Pack," Sept. 6-22. Call 594-7529 for more information, ticket prices and reservations. For comfortable seating in the open pasture area, bring blankets to spread out and low beach chairs for sitting. Some theatergoers picnic before the show. You have to transport everything from the parking area to the open pasture where the outdoor stage is set up. Pack in snacks and beverages to enjoy during performances or purchase them on-site. Bring a jacket for everyone, as the nights cool off fast at the base of the Red Rock cliffs.

Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.