Going to Las Vegas on business is pretty cool, the Belaggio is amazing and it's a great place to meet, but the Deserts of Nevada and Las Vegas are the real attraction. All the Mojave is interesting, but California's Death Valley Basin is the most amazing. This sunken ancient lake bed is situated between 2 mountain ranges in the Sierra Nevadas, and I would recommend a visit in the deep winter, when the daytime temperatures are only in the 80's.
If you went back 30,000 years or so, you would be in a Lake; Lake Manley to be exact. (The lake was named after William Manley, who was forced to walk to the Los Angeles area when the wagon train he was leading got stranded here). The salty remnents of that lake can be seen in the Borax deposits (I have some in a bottle on my desk) remaining there. It makes a great detergent; remember "20 Mule Team Borax"? The picture to the right is 20 Mule Team Canyon where you can find this mineral in abundance.
Most of Death Valley is in the Death Valley National Park.
I spent most of the afternoon in Mosaic canyon; a 3 hour hike up and down . Overhead, i'd occasionally see a spooky military jet streaking across the blue sky from the United States Air Force Air Warfare Center (Nellis AFB) north of Las Vegas. This is also where Jack Bauer dumped the stolen Nuke, but I didn't see any indication of the detonation.
Death Valley was a lake. There is always some water in Badwater Flats and if there is a rainy season (such as in 2005), there is enough water to take an oar or paddle powered boat into (if you get permission). The Flats are the top of a huge aquafer under Death Valley, fed by the Amargosa river. If you look closely at my picture below, you can see some minnows who somehow live in this incredibly salty and hot massive puddle in the Desert...300 feet below sea level.
When you stand at Zabriskie Point, you wonder what must have been going through the minds of the Wagon Train folk who had to pass by here on the way to California. Probably something like, "Geez, I might die doing this, St Louis wasn't that bad.... ". This is also the site of Furnace Creek Lake which dried up during the Pleistocene 5M to 10,000 years ago; along with Lake Manley. Furnace Creek disappears into the desert floor here too. This is where most of the Borite formed as the Lake slowly disappeared. It is provoking to think that camels, mastodons, birds etc left tracks in the lakeshore muds along with fossilized grass and reeds.
Now, few things can live here, it can get to 130 degrees in the Summer. As I stood here, a thirsty looking raven kept company with me. I didn't have much to offer him.
Death Valley is about a 3 or 4 hour drive NW from Vegas. You drive through miles of the Mojave Desert, and the sights are amazing and beautifuf, if you like the desert. I do. You pass Crystal, Nevada which is a general store and a brothel , you know, the necessities. As you cross the Nevada-California border, you pass through Pahrump. This is as weird a town to live in, in America, as you will ever see. Imagine Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright going to town from the Ponderosa, getting some supplies, killing a couple of Bad Guys in a gun fight, and heading out. "That was somethin', huh Hoss!"