The reason for enduring airport hell and scary hotel buffets was a family reunion in Las Vegas, which is fabulous (the sign says so)!
My first visit to Sin City surprised me. Everything had a soft, rose-colored glow, perhaps from the feldspar and iron oxide dust blowing in the high desert winds.* It's not a bad place for a family reunion, as long as the family members are mostly adults and not scandalized by things like open containers and smoking almost everywhere. There's something for everyone in a very small area. When we weren't doing stuff together, our horde quickly sorted itself into small groups of gamblers, show goers, gawpers, shoppers, clubbers (night), clubbers (golf), nappers, and explorers. Gentle readers will be unsurprised that after a bit of gawping, DH and I drove off with the other intrepid explorers (and my current travel sock) in search of natural beauty.
We went to Red Rock Canyon in the mountains about half an hour west of the city. The canyon is a great place for hiking, road and mountain biking (there are nice facilities for cyclists!), technical climbing, and camping. (NB: Sufficient water and proper footwear are must-haves, also a comb and tweezers to prise off cholla spines.) For the less ambitious or less able, there's a paved nature walk and an excellent scenic drive. Here's a view from the nature walk – the corral in the middle distance is for the managed herds of feral burros and feral horses.
The austere beauty of the place reflects its complex geology. There's perpetual springs and arroyos [intermittent creeks] that feed the meadowlands [las vegas] below, old gray limestone and younger cross-bedded tan sandstone and red sandstone. (I've always wanted to see a good example of cross-bedding, so was really happy.) These are ancient marine sediments, normally found in layers with the oldest at the bottom and the youngest at the top. But at Turtlehead Peak, a thrust fault (the Keystone Thrust Fault) has lifted the old limestone above the young sandstone.
It was much cooler in the upland canyon than it was in the Las Vegas basin. When the sun went behind the canyon walls, the temperature dropped so fast that we saw a mysterious, highly localized ground fog form and dissipate over the course of a few minutes.
I'd love to go back and explore some more. Viva Las Vegas!
*How windy was it? It was so windy, the dancing fountains had to be turned off.