I like Las Vegas. There’s just something about its unapologetic, in-your-face, flashy hedonistic vibe that’s appealing – in measured doses. Not staying directly on the Strip made our stay much more enjoyable and relaxing.
A must-see in the Vegas area is the impressive Hoover Dam. Jeff and I had visited the dam many years ago during our very first trip here. It was pre-kids, so it had to have been in the late 80’s time frame. It’s changed a LOT since then. They’ve built a parking garage, new visitor center and gift shop, even a new bypass highway. The most striking change was the Lake Mead water level. We visited not long after historic high water levels and the water level was near capacity. Now the water level is more than 100 feet lower! It was quite dramatically different from what I remembered. The power generator room was the same though, still humming along.
So, we took the dam tour. We saw almost the whole dam thing, including the dam exhibits and dam gift shop. We took some dam photos. We watched employees just doing their dam job. OK, I’ll stop now.
Near the Lake Mead recreation area visitor center is the trailhead for the historic railroad trail. The wide gravel, gently ascending trail follows the route of trains that hauled supplies for the construction of Hoover Dam. Midway on the trail is a series of five tunnels. They are unusually large for rail tunnels, because of the oversize components transported through them. The trail also offers spectacular panoramic views of Lake Mead as you climb toward the tunnels. The trail is 2.2 miles (one way) to just past the last tunnel, 4-ish miles (one way) if you continue all the way to the Hoover Dam visitor center. The trail is best hiked (or biked) during cooler seasons as it can get extremely hot in summer.
Another fascinating stop in Vegas is the National Atomic Testing Museum. Having also been to the Oak Ridge Museum of Science and Energy not too long ago, it continued the story of nuclear weapon development that began with the Manhattan Project. The museum did a fantastic job of taking you through the timeline of the introduction of the “atomic age”, beginning of nuclear atmospheric testing, transition to underground testing, and finally, phase out of testing altogether. It was interesting to see how the concept of atomic energy infiltrated our popular culture, resulting in “atomic” named drinks, songs, toys and even “atomic fireball” candy. (I have some in my candy jar at this very moment!). A display case also showed items such as a 1950’s era Atomic Chemistry set – just what every budding scientist needs!
One thing I hadn’t really thought about was just how recently nuclear weapon testing took place – up to around 1992! It’s just not something I was overtly aware of at the time, although I must have known through news reports. Now, nuclear weapon research takes place primarily through laboratory scale experimentation and computer modeling. A significant amount of the budget goes simply toward maintaining our nuclear arsenal and keeping it stable. All in all, the museum drove home the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons and how horrible it would be to actually use one ever again. I wish we could be rid of them all. If you do go to the museum, here’s a $4 off coupon.
So, Vegas is a wrap! One post script – on our way toward California, we stopped at Peggy Sue’s 50’s diner. An original roadside diner, it was built in 1954 with 9 counter stools and 3 booths. A California couple reopened the diner in 1987 and added on. It now has 3 large dining rooms, a pizza joint, gift shop, even diner-saurs! The ladies room had a unexpected display – it made me look twice!! The hamburgers and home made soup was fresh, home made, awesomeness. The available parking area is massive, and the management allows overnight parking, making for a great boondocking overnight stop for trucks or RVs.
Off we go – to Paso Robles!