With so much to see, taste, explore, and experience, is it any wonder why Las Vegas is one of the most popular destinations for travelers?

We love exploring Las Vegas and discovering new experiences, but we often wonder what’s out there beyond the Strip. We wanted to know the best places to go, so we asked Jenelle Jacks, a passionate photographer who finds her bliss on regular outings throughout Southern Nevada.

“There is this sense of unique beauty and adventure when you wander off into the desert and watch the skyline fade away,” said the Las Vegas native. “Surrounded by millions of years of geologic history, it is like leaving the modern world and traveling back in time.”

International Marketing and PR Manager for Cirque du Soleil, Jacks has been “magnetized” by this prehistoric landscape since early childhood. “The serenity of the desert is the ultimate therapy,” she said. “That is, when I’m not climbing every rock face around town in pursuit of that perfect nature-meets-neon shot of the cityscape.”

Lake Mead Recreation Area in Las Vegas Nevada
Lake Mead Recreation Area

Her siren calls include Valley of Fire (www.parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire); Designated as Nevada’s first state park in 1935, this Aztec red wonderland of petrified Jurassic Period sand dunes, an hour north of Vegas, is out of this world.

“I love the optical illusions that the park plays with my camera,” she said. “There are places where the road appears to melt or disappear over the hills.”

The eternal intrigue of Las Vegas starts with its mirage-like mystique. On paper, planting a pleasure empire in the scorching Mojave Desert seems hatched from a peyote button. Yet, pioneers have beaten the odds in the Valley since the Stone Age.

The lifeblood was water from ancient aquifers below the desert surface. Hitting on these bubbling springs in 1829, trailblazing Spaniards named the locale “Las Vegas,” or “the meadows.” In 1905, with the water offering a prime refueling stop for the new railroad linking Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the city officially arose on Fremont Street, the center of today’s resurgent Downtown.

Protecting the site of these oases, which dried up in 1962, Springs Preserve (333 S. Valley View Blvd. Tel: 702-822-7700. www.springspreserve.org) is a national landmark sanctuary of botanical gardens, desert flora and interpretive trails. The Origen Museum and Nevada State Museum showcases Vegas history through indoor and outdoor exhibits. Displays include the Hoover Dam (www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam), which along with the Grand Canyon, is the leading off-Strip tourism destination.