Las Vegas was, in a word, awesome.
We left early Friday morning, after a bite to eat at McDonald’s and Gigs running into an old friend there. There was hardly any traffic and we made good time getting out of town. It rained while passing through Wickenburg, and we caught sight of two rainbows side-by-side from the car.
Continuing on, we were having a good conversation and making regular updates with the video camera. Passing through the Joshua Tree stretch of road, we stopped at a pullout to take some pictures. From there it was a good long drive to Kingman, which was our next stop. The wind was strong and it made getting gas a chilling experience, but it was nothing compared to the fierce winds at the local skatepark.
A couple of bikers were rolling around and we said hello. A few pictures later and we were on the way again, following the signs towards Las Vegas. The road turned north/northwest and began to get more interesting. The desert landscape was quite beautiful as we approached the Hoover Dam/Lake Mead Recreation Area. Once more we stopped for photos when we could see the Colorado River from the road.
A security checkpoint let us know we were close to Hoover Dam. The guard on duty lost his hat to the wind and began to chase it, but only after waving us through. The traffic slowed as we approached the Dam and we took a few photos of the lake behind it. It was much lower than it was on my last visit in 2004. This time we had decided to take the tour, because I had printed out some coupons for it online.
We had to be x-rayed before entering, and first watched a short film about the construction of Boulder Dam aka Hoover Dam. The tour guide packed us into the elevators and we went down to the power station building, some 500+ feet below the surface of the Dam. Walking down a long, dark tunnel with rock walls, it smelled like a cave inside. We emerged in a massive room where the turbines were visible, doing their thing and generating hydroelectric power.
The tour guide was a fast talker and it was kind of hard to understand his accent. Most of the people on the tour were more concerned with getting cool pictures than listening to him talk. The Italian Marble flooring was a touch of class inside the already impressive building. Next we were herded into a smaller room with plexiglass windows. The floor was rumbling because we were standing over an intake pipe, 30 feet in diameter through which thousands of gallons of water were flowing every second.
After that we headed back up to the top and got some pictures from the Observation Deck. We checked out the winged statues and the various plaques and memorials near the Dam. The Art Deco styling of the Dam is very classy and way past cool. By this time we were getting hungry so we headed for the car and got moving again. Passing quickly through Henderson, we soon arrived in Las Vegas and had some lunch.
Because it was too early to check in, we stopped at the world-famous Pinball Hall of Fame Museum on Tropicana Avenue. With over 180 beautifully restored machines, it was worth stopping for. I played Super Mario Brothers, Mario Pinball, South Park Pinball, and some old school tank game from 1980. Me and Gigs also tried this weird machine called Hyperball that we thought looked awesome, but we didn’t really get it and it was kind of disappointing.
Then we decided to head to the store to pick up some refreshments for later. We stopped at Wal-Mart but it wasn’t a super one so they didn’t sell the type of beverages we were looking for. The 7-11 down the street did though, and we were carded for the first (definitely not the last time) on our trip.
From there we headed to the New York New York to get our room. Getting to the parking garage was a challenge but we triumphed!! We headed up to the 9th floor of the New Yorker tower and found our accomodations very satisfying. Booking online had earned us a Park Avenue upgraded room and a coupon voucher for free drinks, free spa admission, two-for-one meals, and a free roller coaster ride.
We took a short rest and then proceeded downstairs to explore. The casino floor was bustling and the re-creations of New York streets were impressive. We went outside and walked through the Excalibur, the Luxor, and the Mandalay Bay. Each was very opulent and we almost went to the shark exhibit, but decided to save it for another time. About that time it was getting dark and cold and windy, so we began looking for places to eat. We walked all the way back and then some, past the Monte Carlo and over to a CVS drugstore.
I paid a ridiculous amount of money for four batteries, and was already griping about how expensive everything was. We decided just to head back to the hotel and get some pizza from the stand we had seen earlier, but not before stopping by the bar to get our free drinks. After a long day of driving and exploring, we called it a night.
We awoke late the next morning to the sound of the roller coaster roaring by the window. I proposed (quite literally) that we should get some breakfast and we chose the America Cafe located downstairs. After breakfast, the Bellagio was a short walk away, and we made the Conservatory our first stop.
The ceiling in the lobby was adorned with thousands of hand blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly. They sure grabbed your attention! The Christmas display was still up, complete with lots of poinsettias and some really cool fountains. The Ansel Adams exhibit in the museum of fine art was worth visiting, and was pretty crowded so early in the day.
In search of some animals, we made our way across the street to The Flamingo. The wildlife habitat was still around, but the penguins had been moved to the Dallas Zoo. At least they still had the flamingos, Japanese koi, turtles, and lots of birds.
Moving on down the strip, we stopped at The Venetian. The hand-painted frescoes on the ceiling were difficult to photograph due to their size and the low lighting in the casino. The canals added a touch of class to the expensive stores and boutiques that trailed along the casino floor. The Tao nightclub at The Venetian advertised a “Religious Experience” which sounded interesting but at the same time, was probably just some advertising gimmick. The bathtubs filled with flower petals lining the entrance reminded me of that scene in American Beauty with the rose petals.
We stopped across the street at The Mirage to check out the rainforest (and their impressive orchid display), the massive aquarium (complete with super-cool eels and sharks), and the ever popular white tigers. As we were getting tired of wandering, we headed back to the parking garage to get the car. It took over half an hour to drive less than two miles to the Sahara Hotel and Casino at the far north end of The Strip. Once again we took a little rest before heading back out.
The room was not as nice as the New York New York but it was decent. There was a nice beverage store in the lobby which we stopped to check out. About this time we began our longest walk of the whole trip, from the Sahara all the way down to the Bellagio. Of course we stopped along the way for dinner at the food court of a mall that makes Scottsdale Fashion Square look like it’s for poor folks, and for some other attractions.
We saw the volcano eruption at the Mirage, the fountain show at the Bellagio, and took some really neat photos. The monorail seemed to be the quickest way back to the hotel, and it was cheap and completely empty. Along the way we passed by the Las Vegas Convention Center, where we could see workers setting up for the 2007 CES convention.
We got the car and headed north to Fremont Street to catch the last show for the evening. The screen there is as large as 15,000 plasma TV’s or something like that, with over 500,000 watts of sound. The show was short but entertaining and we headed back out into the cold looking for a bite to eat. We ended up getting some pizza from the Luxor and taking it back to the room with our refreshments. It was a nice way to end a very busy day of adventure.
Preparing to leave called for a hearty breakfast, so we stopped at the Sahara Buffet and had our fill of both breakfast and lunch. Before leaving we wandered around the casino for a little bit. Maggie won $20 on the quarter slots and I won $4 at the penny machines. Nothing too big but we were eager to hit the road so we packed up the car and bid farewell to Vegas.
We stopped in Henderson for gas and then it was a straight shot for home. Traffic was slow going over the Hoover Dam but we made it through eventually. From there it was just a smooth ride back with good music, good company, and good scenery. We stopped to stretch our legs in Wickenburg and were home by sundown.
Overall the trip couldn’t have gone more perfectly. For a couple of wide-eyed youngsters to take on Sin City and walk away with our heads held high was really against the odds. Fortunately we didn’t have any car problems, we didn’t get lost, we had enough money, we had reservations, we had a safe trip, and we had each other. Probably the most important thing about this trip was the realization that good luck means more than just winning in the casinos. Or maybe it was simply because my good luck charm was there with me the whole time.