I have been going to Las Vegas a few times a year for three decades and, on occasion, gotten away from The Strip for various adventures. I’ve gone hiking through Red Rock Canyon, strolled through Summerlin, and had dinners with friends who live in the outlying areas.

However, I’d never made the 75-minute drive to the Valley Of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park (1968), with a history that goes back to ancient cultures (300 BC). The red sandstone formations were created by shifting sand dunes as long as 150 million years ago, and when the sun hits them just right, the landscape looks like it’s on fire.

So, when I took my wife and daughter for a getaway on the weekend before the holidays, we got up early Friday morning, rented a car, and headed north. I’m really glad we did.

As we drove through the park on a beautiful, crisp day (blue skies, fifty-degrees), we saw stunning vistas and hills and “beehives” made from layer upon layer of rust-colored rock. Although my wife and I were limited in our climbing and hiking by bad knees, we got out at several points and walked around with our mouths open. Because of the weather, there were plenty of other people in the park, but not so many that we had trouble getting around. The only other animals we encountered were the wild goats that roam freely, graze on the scrub brush, and don’t really care about human visitors much.

We spent a solid three hours inside the park, took a couple of hundred photos, and left with smiles on our faces before heading back to the man-made topography of The Strip. There, we made the mandatory stop at The Peppermill, the treś-cool diner on the north end, where I grab a meal during nearly every Vegas visit.

That night, we went to a show at The Mirage starring Shin Lim, a terrific card magician who won “America’s Got Talent” twice. The impressive close-up magic he did on stage was projected on video screens in the theater, making it easier to see the effects, but without giving away anything about how he pulled them off. He also performed a couple of illusions involving cards that had been pre-set at every seat and a few tricks in the audience that I’d seen before, but most of his work was stunning and beautiful. See for yourself in this combination of his two appearances on Penn & Teller’s show, where he fooled them both times…

Lim gets top billing, but the co-headliner of his show was Colin Cloud, a mentalist (he refers to himself as a “forensic mind reader”) who pulled off some dazzling bits, almost all of which included people plucked from the crowd. You gotta love a guy who puts a big white envelope front and center on the stage with the words “Ignore This Envelope” written on it. I’m always amazed by performers who can keep the schtick going while remembering everyone’s names and ad-lib their way around unpredictable responses from random people they’ve never met before. I especially appreciated Cloud emphasizing that he wasn’t doing anything paranormal, that he has no psychic ability — he’s just really good at what he does. If fact, he’s one of the best I’ve seen.

I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but my wife and daughter love the books and movies, so while I went off to play poker at Bellagio on Saturday, they went to see Potted Potter, a show at Bally’s in which two British guys run through all seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes, complete with snarky comments, quick costume-and-wig changes, and just the right amount of mayhem (a la The Reduced Shakespeare Company). Over dinner at Osteria Costa — a pretty good Italian place at The Mirage — both women gushed about how much fun they’d had.

On Sunday, I was in NFL-and-poker mode through the afternoon, so the ladies went off The Strip to hit Ronald’s Donuts (my daughter loves the place because it has delicious vegan donuts), then returned to ride the zipline over the Linq Promenade, and did some shopping at a store that sells nothing but socks and underwear. That’s a place you’ll never find me, just as you’ll never find them in a poker room, so we were all happy.

The weather wasn’t warm enough to hang around the hotel pool, but we made up for it inside: I ran well at poker and made a couple of good football bets, while my daughter beat the roulette table and walked away with her winnings. In other words, we had a helluva trip, our last family adventure of 2019.