Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 Hikes in the Southwest, by Deborah Wall. Imbrifex Books, 2017.
Fly nonstop to Las Vegas (as easy as flying the tourist nonstop to Disney World), take in a few shows and then escape to the desert trails. What a deal! Described public recreation areas are handily sorted by distance from base camp, with day trips first and then fanning out, leaving you with two options: either return to Vegas for a hot shower and great food, or pack your rental to explore farther afield. Either way you are a winner as flights to and from this entertainment mecca are readily available.
Deborah Wall, a freelance writer and photographer specializing in outdoor subjects, shares her intimate knowledge of each trail’s special characteristics and delves into past American and Native history. Just as important, especially for Easterners who are accustomed to forested rocks and roots, are her safety alerts. For the uninitiated and unprepared, this radical change of terrain and climate can be life-threatening. Those accustomed to summer hikes in moist forests need to rethink their water requirements and accessing trailheads on isolated roads requires spare gasoline canisters. The biggest danger is flash floods, which can occur suddenly from an “invisible” storm miles away. In schoolteacher fashion, she repeats these warnings often, as well as the caution to respect the fragile environment and “look, not touch” the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs.
Destinations are accompanied by detailed maps, elevation/temperature charts, special warnings as well as distance and travel directions from the Las Vegas hub. As a runner, I forged ahead to my particular pipe dream, the Death Valley National Park, thrilled to pick out familiar stopovers on the Badwater route. After that, I traveled to Utah’s Zion National Park, made familiar to me by Ultrarunning’s feature write Cory Reese. Then ignoring the standard mystery book prohibition, I skipped to the back where hikes were arranged by tempting categories: Children’s and Teen favorites, Birdwatching, Stargazing, Wildflowers, Petrographs & Pictographs, etc.
The photographs are stunning and worthy of a coffee table presentation, giving a you-are-there feel to the stone bridges and arches, slot canyons, hoodoo towers and ancient writings. I was overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of the landscape captured by Wall’s lens. As I armchaired though the options, potential choices became impossible to narrow down and as in Veruca Salt’s iconic Willy Wonka song, I was tempted to shout, “I want it NOW!”
But will the “Now” transfer to future generations? There is more to this travel guide than adventure, as Mike Foote points out in “No Free Lunch” in the September 2017 Trail Runner magazine. With the threat to sell off the irreclaimable heritage of our public lands, Foote pleads, “So, will we organize and fully leverage our 8.1 million members to stand up for public-lands protection and access? Or will we wait until we are forced to react to a threat that limits our ability to explore the places we love like so many others before us?” While Wall steers clear of these controversies, her magnificent documentation of our natural wonders is evidence enough.