Las Vegas Revisited

The sound of wedding bells has lured me back to Sin City yet again. Story and photos by Trevor Freeman.

Heading North on US93 towards Kingman. October 2007. DAY ONE
"Go-in to the chap-el, and they're gon-na get ma-a-a-ried..." For my third wedding of the year, I would be heading up to fabulous Las Vegas in October. The location was appropriate since that's where he proposed to her, and it was as good a place as any to get married. Booking a room was more of a challenge than usual - all of the rates that weekend were sky high!

It was not until later that I learned of the Vegoose Music Festival, the rodeo, and the SEMA Auto Show were all going on that same weekend. In my search for cheap lodging, I booked my first night at The Riviera and the second directly across the street at the Circus Circus. Having never stayed at either one, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Like so many of my road trips, I started out by getting up early and packing the car. The suitcase, the cooler with drinks, the camera, the tripod, and the spare tire all went into the trunk. I figured the most direct route was to take US60 from Phoenix to Wickenburg and then US93 from Wickenburg to Interstate 40. The junction of the 93 and the 40 is about 25 miles from Kingman, where US93 heads north again across the Hoover Dam and on to Boulder City and where it also becomes US95 and I-515 to Las Vegas. Confused yet? I didn't even need the map I brought, having driven this route a few times now. I stopped by Mickey D's for some breakfast and filled up the car before heading out of town.

Welcome to Kingman, AZ. October 2007. I took my time getting up there, stopping frequently along the way to take photos. First it was the Burro Creek bridge. Then it was the famous roadside rocket in Wikieup with the Peanuts gang. After that it was some old motels and gas stations along Route 66 in Kingman. The Amtrak station was closed for restoration but I stopped anyway to capture the mural on the water tower next door.

Not far down the road you'll find the Route 66 Museum in the old Powerhouse building. You wouldn't believe how much memorabilia they have on display, five bucks is a bargain to see it all! Historic photos and maps explain what life was like during the Great Depression. An old truck illustrates the hardships that the Okies of the Dust Bowl had to endure as they traveled west on the Mother Road. John Steinbeck would certainly approve.

In the back are the usual old license plates and road signs, but they are trinkets compared to the beautiful 1950 Studebaker on display. Its creamy white paint really accentuates the streamlined curves of the era, with the front bearing resemblance to a jet engine. In the corner sits a delightful old gravity-fed gas pump, which looked cleaned up but not over-restored. The old pump stood a few feet above my head - a real giant! Across the street was a nifty looking diner and the Kingman Railroad Park with a huge, old locomotive on display. Heading back to the Interstate, I spied an awesome Route 66 mural on the side of a building. Anxious to keep moving, I grabbed a Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Carl's Jr and kept going. Grabbing a Sprite from the cooler was a risky maneuver at 75mph but I managed it with no spillage.

Santa Claus Arizona. October 2007. Just north of Kingman is the town of Santa Claus, Arizona. This roadside stand dates back to the 1930's and was operated as a sort of Santa's Village for about fifty years. Now abandoned, the place has taken on a creepy vibe as the candy-cane striped poles and Christmas decorations have fallen victim to vandals and taggers. One can guess they used to sell snacks, drinks, and ice cream to travelers, and perhaps an assortment of rocks and desert souvenirs. The sign that says "Santa's Land Office" offers some insight into the building's final days. There's not much to see except a couple of decrepit buildings and a lot of trash, but it's a small part of the weirdness that makes Arizona unique. "Who would be crazy enough to build a Santa's Village in the harsh and unforgiving desert long before air conditioning?" Well, someone was.

Continuing on, the traffic becomes heavier as one approaches the Arizona/Nevada border. All cars have to stop at a security checkpoint so that a uniformed man in a ranger hat can tell you to "Have a nice day." Actually, they are checking to make sure no trucks and commercial vehicles are trying to cross the dam, but it still seems excessive. Cuts through the landscape and some old looking bridges offered clues to the historic alignment of the highway as I descended into the Colorado River Valley. Parking is plentiful yet always crowded near the dam, and I lucked out and found a spot near the bottom. It was a short walk to the overflow tunnel, which seems too large to have been built by humans. Walking across the dam provided many great photo opportunities, and if you didn't take at least one photo for a stranger then you have not done your duty.

Winged Figures of the Republic. October 2007. Because I had already taken the Dam Tour on my January trip, I decided to save my money and take some free pictures. Numerous monuments, displays, and memorials adorn the dam and the workers who toiled there. My favorite is the "Winged Figures of the Republic" by Oskar J.W. Hansen. These two statues contain approximately four tons of bronze, and feature powerful looking men with winged arms extending towards the heavens. The power of man is the idea, and it's crystal clear in these two sentries resting gracefully atop their black diorite pedestals. The toes are polished by the hands of the thousands of tourists who rub them for good luck. I also enjoyed the terrazzo floor with the star chart, the compass surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, and the American eagle designs near the monuments. The old visitor's center is now a gift shop where you can get all the dam souvenirs you want.

After my photographic binge I headed back to the car and continued on my journey. Traffic was slow on the 93 until Boulder City where the road widened to two lanes, and I kept to the right as I made "the climb" out of Henderson. Once that turned into the 515, things really got moving. My goodness, I thought Phoenix drivers were bad, but I was cut off several times in just as many minutes by cars sweeping across four lanes of traffic without so much as a signal! Navigating the freeway system definitely requires the full attention of the driver, and a lead foot doesn't hurt either. I am thinking that the freeways of Las Vegas will never be much nicer than they are now.

Barren walls of dirt flank both sides of the road and the only decorations are the piles of trash built up from inconsiderate drivers. It's like the highway was built hastily by a city reluctant to its presence, despite its tremendous growth. "All right, we'll have a freeway, but it won't be pretty" seems to be the mentality. Getting off at Tropicana Boulevard, the broken glass on the ground shimmered like a sandy beach at sunset. This part of town, however, was far from paradise.

Heading west on Tropicana, I spied a super Goodwill that was having a Halloween sale and I had to stop in and check it out. This Goodwill was unique in the layout of its merchandise: it was more like a department store than a thrift store. Instead of being crammed on long racks, clothes were displayed casually on smaller, rounded racks in the center of the store. The back had a lame electronics section but an impressive lamp selection. I left without buying anything. I drove past the University and past the Hooters hotel and casino and merged right onto Las Vegas Boulevard. If you plan to drive there yourself, note that mid-afternoon on a Friday in October is a terrible time to make your way north on the Strip. I spent close to two hours trying to go two miles to my hotel. The worst part was the stupid billboard truck drivers who look right at you and don't let you in when the lanes merge together. Thanks, but I don't want any "Hot girls direct" to my room today.

The Riviera. October 2007. Parking at The Riviera was an ordeal in itself. The underground garage is valet only, and the free self-parking is in the back. No, it's behind the hotel and past the convention center. Yeah, and the bottom five floors are already full. So I got my bag and the cooler and set off in search of the front desk. Let me tell you something about walking around in Las Vegas: wherever you're trying to get to is through the casino. The front desk, the bar, the buffet, the pool, the gift shop, and the monorail station are all "through the casino that way." Good, now we are clear on that. So I made it to the check in desk and was informed that all of the non-smoking rooms were gone. Check in begins at 4pm and I was checking in at 5pm. "That was pretty fast to have them go in an hour" I remarked to the desk clerk. "Actually, VIP check-in begins at noon" she said cheerfully. Ah.

Every review I had read about The Riviera on various Internet travel sites included the words "going downhill" and "popular with old people." I was prepared for the worst, but was delighted to discover a nice, modern room with clean sheets and everything in working order. My room was on the second floor overlooking the pool. I had a great view of the "Pool Closed" sign and I could see there was no hot tub. Guess I didn't need to bring the bathing suit after all.

After getting settled I called up the bride and went to meet up with the rest of the wedding party. I walked two blocks north to the Sahara and caught the monorail down to the Harrah's/Imperial Palace station. A one-day pass costs $9 for unlimited rides in a 24-hour period, or a three-day pass was available for $40. Why wouldn't you just buy three one-day passes for a total of $27? I guess casinos are not the only way to throw away money in Vegas. I met up with the group at the Geisha Bar and we set off looking for a place to eat. Not far down The Strip at The Flamingo was Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. We got on the waiting list and had about an hour before we could be seated. Next door to The Flamingo was O'Shea's casino, which featured "BEER PONG TABLES INSIDE" in addition to their cheap slots. I watched the girls play some slots while the guys set off in search of the bar.

Walking back to the restaurant, we passed by a showgirl in the company of a midget and a man on stilts, and I felt like we had just walked into some kind of a bad joke. Soon we were seated and were rocking out to a live DVD of Jimmy that was on the TV in our booth. Yes, our table had its on TV in the wall. The waiter came around and everyone ordered drinks. When he got to me, he asked everyone to show their IDs. I ordered something with vanilla and coconut rum that was very smooth and sweet, and did not taste of alcohol at all. The others got some blue drinks that were much stronger. The hamburger was good for a ten-dollar burger and the fries were hot and plentiful. For the second round I tried an "Incommunicado," probably named for its ability to impair your speech. It had a long list of ingredients such as vodka, triple sec, rum, and juice that read like an A-list of every frat boy's dreams. I could smell the thing as soon as they brought it out. The taste was somewhere between mouthwash and gasoline - I mean it burned on the way down! Call me a lightweight if you must, but I finished it with the help of a glass of water.

The Riviera. October 2007. After dinner we were quite stuffed and decided to walk it off. With a quick visit to the bride and groom's hotel, I discovered their room had a group-sized hot tub with a mirrored ceiling above it! Ben said it looked straight out of a funky 70's porno movie and being a little bit tipsy, we all had a good laugh. Not long after that we split up and they headed back to their hotel rooms. I walked down to The Bellagio to do some sightseeing. Besides the fountain show, I also saw the conservatory, the Fiori Di Como by Dale Chihuly (glass flowers on the lobby ceiling), and the world's largest fountain of liquid chocolate. A plaque proudly touts the specs of the contraption: 95 degrees F, 27 feet tall, and 2 years to build. Willy Wonka would certainly have approved.

I rode the monorail back to the Las Vegas Hilton and endured another marathon walk back to the hotel. The hallway of the San Remo Tower at The Riviera has a kink in it where the ice machine is located. Coming back to the room around midnight, I turned the corner and saw a couple of guys loitering in the hallway in front of my room. With my keycard in hand, I swiftly opened the door and went inside, locking the deadbolt behind me. Peering through the eyepiece I was shocked to see one of the guys quietly approach my door and try to open it. What would he have done if he'd gotten into my room? They left quickly and I really should have called the front desk, but the eighteen-hour day was catching up with me and my body was demanding sleep. Well, at least I made it this far.

Please continue to page 2 for the rest of the story.