Tag Archives: Las Vegas

Vegas – It’s a wrap!

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.

IMG_3770A 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 IMG_3772feet 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.

IMG_3773Near 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.

IMG_3325Another 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!IMG_3323

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!


It’s Vegas, baby!

IMG_3734Las Vegas is an endlessly glittering adult playground. It’s hard not to get sucked into the frenetic fun, not that I try very hard! I like it – for a while. Staying in an RV resort, rather than a hotel on the strip, makes for a very different Vegas experience. We can retreat to our motorhome quiet, and break the Vegas experience into smaller doses. We had a guest (Jeff’s brother) for the first few days, increasing the fun.

IMG_3738I won’t detail our visit to the Strip and environs, others have ad nauseum. We certainly spent time wandering and gawking at the enormous casinos and brightly blasting video screens. Since our stay was longer than past visits, we had the opportunity to attend several shows. The first was “Love”, Cirque du Soleil’s take on Beatles music. It was spellbinding and exciting at the same time. I liken Cirque shows to watching fireworks – eyes wide to try to catch all of the action, ooo-ing and aahhh-ing every other moment. Just fantastic! The second show was IMG_3762seeing Jewel in concert. Jeff and I are longtime fans and it was serendipity that she was playing in town during our visit. Her uniquely expressive voice still soars and her lyrics touch the soul. Another fantastic show experience. The third show was “V – the Ultimate Variety Show”. We got the tickets at one of the “Tickets 4 Tonight” half price booths, where you can get discounted same-day tickets. It wasn’t in the same league as the other shows, but the gymnasts, comics, aerialists and illusionists were talented and entertaining. Just all good fun. I miss my season tickets to the Broadway musical series at the Broward Performing Arts Center and Vegas has helped to scratch that live performance itch.

I also have been able to play some blackjack! Real blackjack tables, not that “blackjack pays 6-5” crap. I mean $5 minimum tables with 3:2 payouts, decent player rules and attentive cocktail waitresses. You’re not going to find that on the main Strip, but just a block OFF strip is a great little casino called Ellis Island. Good tables, nice dealers, and an off-menu $9.99 sirloin steak special. Other good tables can be found downtown on and near Fremont Street or at one of the locals casinos, such as the Station casinos. Gawk at the Strip, but gamble elsewhere!

Other highlights include:

  • Valley of Fire State Park:  About 90 minutes drive away, it has spectacular red  and multicolor sandstone formations, slot canyons, and ancient petroglyphs. Most of the formations are easily accessed by short hikes.IMG_3751    IMG_3745
  • Shelby American Factory tour: Carroll Shelby was a fascinating man of many IMG_3742careers – race car driver, racing team manager, and car manufacturer. His company developed such groundbreaking sports cars as the cobra and super snake. We attended the free factory tour which informed of the man’s storied history, viewed historic cars and even toured his shop which still converts vehicles into his signature models. It wasn’t really my thing, but Jeff’s mechanic brother was in car enthusiast heaven.
  • Pinball Museum:  I was with boys, so we did boy things! The “Pinball Museum” is really an arcade loaded with antique machines. Admission is free, but you can pay to play any of the machines ($0.25 and up per play). Cards posted on most  machines described their history, but that was the extent of the “museum” aspect. Jeff was delighted to find his favorite 1970’s era pinball machine – Top Car. He inserted a quarter and promptly racked up 7 free games. He’s still got it!

We still have a few more days here, enough time for more Vegas-y fun!