So Close and Yet So Far

The Resort on Mount Charleston

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I woke to birdsong. It was the first time in a long time that I hadn’t peeled my eyes open to the sound of the neighbors’ yipping mongrels, a buzzing saw, a garbage truck—the soundtrack of suburbia. Up here, it’s quiet save for the occasional birdcall against the refrain of a steady, gentle wind. It’s a welcome change along with the drop in temperature: On average, Mount Charleston is 20 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas Valley below. So while the weekend temperatures nudged into triple digits, my third-floor room at the Resort on Mount Charleston was a breezy 80 degrees with the patio door wide open to the vast Kyle Canyon wilderness. Formerly the Mount Charleston Hotel, the Resort is just 30 miles from central Las Vegas, and about 15 from the northwest suburbs. Just moments past the new Horse Drive overpass on I-95, Las Vegas ends and the desert begins. It’s here that Kyle Canyon Road darts toward the mountains, which still have snow dribbling down their faces.

Built in the 1980s by aerospace magnate Robert Bigelow, the Resort has been updated inside and out since it was purchased in 2008 by the Siegel Group, which also renovated the Artisan, the Gold Spike and Rumor Boutique Resort. While the Resort is not exactly “new,” the Siegel Group continues to buff its patina into something closer to “like-new.” Even now, the koi pond is being refurbished; the carpeting is said to be next, and a pool addition is just awaiting the green light.

The 61 rooms are clean, pet-friendly and offer stunning views. The Resort is also an ideal jumping-off point to the miles of trails that begin just moments from the woodsy lobby. Don’t bother bringing your laptop—Internet is laughably slow. Rooms offer flat-screen TVs and DVD players, some boasting fireplaces, though in summer all fire is prohibited on the mountain. But with so much to do in the summer, there is little reason to be indoors during the day.

From the nearby parking lots, my friend Curtis and I, with a backpack of box lunches provided by the hotel, took the trailhead for Cathedral Rock and wound steadily up through the trees to ice-cold streams and rivulets, where dog owners dozed in the shade while their furry friends dove into the muddy pools.

The next weekend, again ready for the sweet relief of a nearby mountain, I signed up for horseback riding at Mount Charleston Trail Rides. Owner Robert Humpherys welcomed me, and, as a novice rider, I requested a horse that operated on autopilot. Misty, a 19-year-old deep burgundy mare was, as trail leader Jimmy said, “the boss of the corral”—my kinda gal. She delivered me safely up a gravelly fire road between two ridges that rose up all around us to a grove of pines where we rested in the needle-carpeted shade, feeding apples to our steeds. Before our descent, I climbed back up onto her sturdy, 15-hand-high frame.

“Wow,” I said, “it’s even cooler up here!”

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I’d been charmed by the decrepit Happi Inn for years. A two-story motor lodge built in 1973, it sat across from Mandalay Bay without offering even a hint of the same comfort or safety. It was a couple of plain, two-story buildings covered in fading salmon paint, with rotting AC units hanging under each window like loose teeth. For a long time, the marquee sign was missing the panel that said “Happi Inn,” leaving just “MOTEL.”

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