Tuesday, 25 November 2008 12:00 AM
Las Vegas brands itself as the 'Entertainment Capital of the World' and each year many travellers are drawn to the bright lights and excitement.
Too few of the city's guests, however, are aware of the spectacular desert landscape which surrounds the city in the stunning state of Nevada.
Las Vegas is the perfect gateway and after spending time enjoying the sights and sounds of this fun-filled city, why not rent a car and head off to explore the desert?
Here travelbite.co.uk takes a look at the driving times to hidden gems in the Silver State of Nevada, all within just hours of Las Vegas.
Pahrump and Death Valley National Park
Just a short three-hour drive north of Las Vegas, Pahrump serves as the eastern gateway to Death Valley National Park.
As the hottest, driest and lowest of all the National Parks in the USA, Death Valley is a land of extremes. Extreme sports lovers will find adrenaline-pumping hiking and cycling trails in the region's high-desert terrain, while history buffs can explore several ghost towns in the area deserted after the gold and copper dried up.
The nearby Amargosa Valley has 20,000 acres of wetlands, and Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge provides sanctuary to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Rachel and the Extraterrestrial Highway
Journey for four hours and 147 miles north of Las Vegas and you will find the Extraterrestrial Highway (Highway 375) in Sand Spring Valley.
Highway 375 stretches for 98 miles and the tiny town of Rachel is a popular stopping point for UFO fans hoping to learn more about the highway and the mysterious former military testing facility, Area 51.
The E.T. Highway earned its moniker in April 1996, thanks to the hundreds of claims of UFO sightings along the lonely stretch of road, which is close to top-secret Area 51.
Even today, visitors and locals report seeing strange lights in the night sky.
As a result, the E.T. Highway draws hundreds of curious visitors. Day-trippers from Las Vegas routinely stop in Rachel before venturing off to hopefully discover the unexpected. The Little A'Le'Inn, Rachel's local restaurant, bar and inn, is the ideal place to chat with residents about recent 'sightings'.
Sand Mountain, Fallon
For those with six hours to spare, head to the small town of Fallon, located on U.S. Highway 50, which is also known as 'The Loneliest Road in America'.
This 287-mile stretch of road was given this nickname in the 80's and it is said that drivers need 'survival skills' to travel the route.
Drivers can download a Highway 50 Survival Guide here to help them navigate this road.
Be sure to fill up your tank when leaving Fallon because the next town to the east is 111 miles away!
A few minutes east of Fallon, guests will see a giant sand dune rising out of the desert: this is Sand Mountain, a two-mile long, 600-foot-high dune. It's a haven for off-road enthusiasts, and the mountain is often buzzing with ATVs, dune buggies and sandboarders.
Don't just tie the knot - lock your love. In the town of Lovelock, just seven hours from Las Vegas, in northern Nevada, you can exchange wedding vows and then display your enduring love with a 'lovers lock' - an ancient Chinese tradition where couples fasten a lock to a never-ending chain and throw away the key.
According to the custom, as long as the lock remains on the chain, so too will your love be 'locked'.
Join the thousands who have flocked to Lovers Lock Plaza to enact this romantic ritual. Located behind the Pershing County Courthouse on Main Street, Lovers Lock Plaza has a circle of green metal pillars with linking chains.
Place your lock anywhere on the chains then throw away the keys - or keep them as a reminder of your lasting love. Lovers locks are available at businesses throughout the town.
Finally, head north-west out of Las Vegas for approximately eight hours to reach Lake Tahoe, the jewel of Nevada.
The largest alpine lake in the United States, Lake Tahoe is 22 by 12 miles of crystal clear water and has 72 miles of shoreline.
It is a water-sports Mecca in summer and snow heaven in winter.
Zephyr Cove, on the southeast shore, is always lively with jet skiing, boating, parasailing and lounging on the beach. The south shore is where you'll find most of the large hotel-casinos, including Harrah's, Harveys and MontBleu in the town of Stateline, and the world-famous Heavenly ski resort.
Things on the north shore move at a slower pace, celebrating the quiet mountain life.
Head to the Cal-Neva Resort in Crystal Bay, which straddles the Nevada-California border and has the state line running right through the hotel and pool.
The hotel was once owned by Frank Sinatra and was frequented by his close circle of friends, including Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.