Vegas, Al Fresco

Todd Coleman

In 1976 my mother, Patricia, and my father, Jimmie, met at Las Vegas's Desert Springs Hospital, where they both worked as nurses. Their first date was a picnic at Lake Mead, 25 miles east of the Strip. The fare was not gourmet: Ritz crackers, Cheese Whiz, Pepsi-Cola. But it launched an Evans family tradition. Like most locals, we have a wild enthusiasm for the man-made theatricality of Vegas, but once off the Strip, driving along Boulder Highway to the lake or hopping on the 215 en route to magnificent Red Rock Canyon, just 15 miles from the city, we fall fast for the natural landscape.

It's no secret that Las Vegas sits in the Mojave Desert. Sometimes we hike off the trails, competitively trying to spot roadrunners or big-horned sheep. But as we settle into lunch—nowadays it's more likely to be herb-grilled chicken, say, with red onion jam, and angel food cupcakes with liqueur-soaked berries, and always lots of bottled water—we're so stunned by the crimson-hued sandstone that we give up the hunt and eat a wordless meal surrounded by majestic, quiet beauty.