Some people swear that Las Vegas is the centre of the universe — but Moira Gardener discovers that what surrounds Vegas is just as spectacular as what’s in Vegas.
Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps with its gaming, rivers of alcohol, beautiful women, and unending entertainment… Hold on! Wait just a minute here. Is that all there is? What more is needed for a vacation?
Yes, there are all those things in Vegas. In fact, one of the first responses you get when you say “I’m taking a Vegas vacation” is a knowing grin and a comment like “you don’t seem like the type” or “hope you’re lucky”. But you know what? There’s a heck of a lot more in and around Las Vegas than the obvious. The challenge is to find the other side of Vegas.
Our first time in Vegas begins with oooo-ing and ahh-ing over the glitzy incredible architecture we discover during our self-guided walking tour from Mandalay Bay through all the other hotels and back to base camp – our endearing name for our accommodation. We see real lions, the Eiffel tower, the MGM golden lion, Excalibur castle, the Statue of Liberty, a Parisian café and the gondolas of Venice. Las Vegas is a living photo album of the world.
The Venetian Casino, Hotel and Resort is one of Vegas’ most fascinating architectural designs, featuring shops and restaurants that appear to be outside — yet they are actually inside. The dome-shaped ceiling is three stories high and painted to look like blue sky with puffy clouds. Indoor canals are frequented by gondolas whose talented gondoliers serenade their passengers. A stage in the middle of the square is surrounded by outdoor cafés that are –you got it — indoors. The talent on stage varies from comic Italian opera singers to classical music quartets. Ahh, Venice.
Waking up on our second day in Las Vegas, we are serenaded not by opera singers but by cooing pigeons that land on our 17th floor ribbon-like concrete balcony to do their mating dance. We decide to adopt them for the duration of our stay, and feed them raw oatmeal. Then it’s time to pick up our rental car and fulfill our challenge — find the other side of Las Vegas.
First on our list is Spring Mountain Ranch. Once frequented by the Hollywood crowd of the 1950s, this ranch is now an historic State Park. Original buildings and a pioneer cemetery surround the ranch house where our park host meets us. He is a wealth of information and so hospitable we wanted to take him home with us. He confirms that the wild mustangs and burros in the area are rounded up and adopted out, something I’d heard before the trip. He tells us how Howard Hughes and German actress Vera Krupp were among some of the former owners of the ranch. Ms. Krupp owned the famous Krupp diamond. when she died, it was sold as part of her estate to Richard Burton as a gift for Elizabeth Taylor.
Down the road from Spring Mountain Ranch is Red Rock Canyon State Park, an outcrop of red rocks growing up out of the desert. Hikers, climbers and cyclists come from around the world to enjoy nature’s offerings in this place of beauty. Unfortunately for us, the Joshua trees, a type of yucca scattered throughout the desert, have been blackened by fires started by lightning. And you can’t round them up to protect like the mustangs and the burros.
The next stop is Mount Charleston Lodge, 7,700 feet above the desert. Being January, we found snow there and skiing facilities. After taking a peek at the lodge, we drive back down the mountain, stopping at a log-frame souvenir shop to pick up a postcard of snowy mountains with big horn sheep (I didn’t see any during our visit). Later on, as I look closely at the post card, I discover it’s actually of Mount Rundle in Canada’s Banff National Park. I thought it looked rather familiar. Farther down the mountain, we enjoy hot chocolate around the fireplace at the resort and meet a local woman who has brought her children up to play in the snow. According to the concierge, in the summer it’s 20 degrees F cooler up on the mountain than in the desert, and yet Vegas residents apparently don’t visit it often.
The following day, we are off to the wondrous Valley of Fire State Park with its many hiking trails and serviced campgrounds. This place is a must-see with its other worldly red rock formations and petroglyphs. In fact, some of the alien worlds on Star Trek were filmed here. We proceed on through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to Hoover Dam which borders Nevada and Arizona. This dam is another amazing architectural feat.
Going southeast, we experience the historical part of Bolder City, the town that built Hoover Dam. It has that old-fashioned small town America feeling, and an authentic Navajo trading post. It’s fun to wander the streets and imagine how the town must have been during the construction of the dam.
Hunger struck, we head back to the Las Vegas strip and the busiest Dennys in the USA with affordable and surprisingly nutritional food, and exemplary service. We take a final evening walk along the street and watch the Volcano of Fire outside the Mirage Hotel.
As we board our plane for home, I know I will be back for more — because in Vegas, if you so choose, you can have the best of it all: the desert in its untamed beauty, the fast pace of the non-stop city, and a promenade to stroll at night with its views of musical water fountains, volcanoes in action, and pirates in battle. As spectacular as this is, I really fell in love with the other side of Vegas – the Nevada desert — and gained a renewed love for the friendly American people we met.
“Las Vegas” Wikipedia
“Venetian Casino, Hotel and Resort” @ Moira Gardener. All Rights Reserved.
“Spring Mountain Ranch” @ Moira Gardener. All Rights Reserved.
“Red Rock Canyon State Park” @ Moira Gardener. All Rights Reserved.
“Valley of Fire” @ Moira Gardener. All Rights Reserved.