Search for serenity leads to five places to see before you die

Ever wonder where Las Vegans vacation? This year, I went on a search for serenity. Las Vegas has more excitement than one person can ever sample, but it’s short on serenity.

For years, I’ve had my eye on Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Right now, you’re either saying “huh?” or there is a big smile on your face as your own memories rush back.

Even though Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’shay for the huh? crowd) is an easy day’s drive from Las Vegas, it doesn’t seem to be a popular hot spot for getaways by Las Vegans. Maybe it’s because to enter the canyon you must hire a Navajo guide. (I can recommend Adam Teller at Antelope House Tours.)

But for those who enjoy beautiful scenery and Native American history, Canyon de Chelly is a perfect getaway. If you think it’s not a big deal, it’s among the places listed in the best-selling 2003 book “1,000 Places To See Before You Die.”

All the places my friend and I visited on this 1,160-mile road trip loop (with the exception of Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah) were among the 1,000 places in Patricia Schultz’s “life list” for world travelers.

Yet I had never made it to that area, despite its proximity to Las Vegas.

Now, I have checked off five places in the book: Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Ariz., Mesa Verde National Park outside Cortez, Colo., the narrow gauge railroad ride in Durango, Colo., and Canyonlands and the Arches national parks, both near Moab, Utah.

Want to feel like a national park is your personal playground? Go to Canyonlands or Mesa Verde off-season. The Arches was our least-favorite spot, not because it wasn’t a photographer’s dream. It was. But we had become used to relative solitude and the Arches was crowded.

This trip embraced history, archaeology, anthropology and geology. I could daydream about what it would be like to be an Anasazi Indian living in Canyon de Chelly in A.D. 700 or ponder a rock formation in Canyonlands which had a strong sexual overtone that was manly above and feminine below.

At Mesa Verde, we got up close to the ruins of cliff dwellers dating back to A.D. 550, and marveled at their construction.

Then, taking a break from majestic mesas and canyons with their warm colors, we took the popular narrow gauge railroad ride in Durango, which offered cooler colors, and mountainside and river loveliness.

Canyonlands, which has only been a national park since 1964, is Grand Canyon without the hordes.

It’s half the size, but packed twice the punch because it is accessible both from the bottom of the canyon at the southern entrance and the top of the canyon from the north.

I’ll never see the bottom of the Grand Canyon unless someone pushes me off the edge, but the bottom of Canyonlands was unforgettably beautiful. It was about colors and shapes and shadows, and the frustration of not being able to capture it all with a camera because it’s 360 degrees around you.

By going offseason, the first week in May, when it was still a little chilly and not everything was open in Mesa Verde, we avoided crowds, which contributed to that whole serenity thing we had going.

If you’re a serious hiker, you wouldn’t want to make this trip in just eight days, as we did. You’d want to spend more time or hit fewer parks. But for non-serious hikers, like me, who like overlooks and short, level walks, eight days was just right.

Now if only I can find someone who wants to see my 170 photos without me holding a gun held to their head, it will have been the perfect trip and one I can recommend to Las Vegans looking for a peaceful escape.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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