By Renée S. Gordon
Thirty-six million people a year visit Las Vegas, Nevada, a surreal city at the juncture of neon and fantasy. There is literally something to enchant people of all ages, whether you play games of chance or not. Vegas is indeed a 24-hour city and though it slows down, it never comes to a complete halt. www.travelnevada.com
Native Americans inhabited the Las Vegas area for at least 8,000 years prior and archeological evidence tells us they wintered in the Las Vegas Valley while migrating to adjacent mountains in the summer. American mountain man Jedediah Smith is recorded as being the first non-Indian to enter the region. The Spanish quickly followed and in 1829 Rafael Rivera, a Mexican scout, traveling the Old Spanish Trail named the area. Las Vegas, Spanish for “the meadows,” was chosen after the discovery of artesian wells that created fertile places in the Valley.
Thirty Mormons established the first permanent non-native settlement in Las Vegas in 1855 and Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park commemorates the colonization. The adobe fort is the oldest building in Nevada and interprets early history. www.parks.nv.gov/olvmf
Boulder Dam, now Hoover Dam, was begun in 1931 and caused a huge influx of male workers followed closely by individuals wanting to cash in on their presence. That same year gambling was legalized. Ten years later the first Vegas Strip resort, El Rancho Vegas, opened.
African Americans were always part of Las Vegas’ story but lived in a segregated enclave, Westside, until housing was desegregated in the 1970s. The 10-block neighborhood lacked paved streets and municipal services. Blacks’ residences, entertainment and businesses were confined to Westside. They worked in the “back of the house” casino jobs but were banned from staying, playing or attending shows in the resorts. African American headliners, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., etc., were not allowed to linger after their show but were escorted through the kitchen. In 1955, the first integrated resort, partially owned by boxer Joe Louis, the Moulin Rouge, was located in Westside.
In 1960, Dr. James McMillan, the president of the NAACP Las Vegas Chapter, gave the city 30-days to desegregate or become the site of a protest. The city announced their plans to desegregate on the 29th day, the Moulin Rouge Agreement was signed and restrictions on African Americans were lifted in all but housing.
Modern Las Vegas is unlike any other city in the world and with 78 resorts and 2,374 restaurants what else would one expect. It is best known as a gambler’s paradise but believe me even the most jaded among us will find something to thrill them. There are shows of all types with price ranges that fit all budgets. Some of the most entertaining are free and I have listed a few of the most singular freebies.
You must not miss the Fountains at Bellagio. This free extravaganza occurs daily from 12 PM until midnight. A thousand fountains spew water 240-ft. into the air in synchronization with lights and music. The display is more than 1,000-ft. along Las Vegas Boulevard. www.bellagio.com
Only in Vegas can you experience a volcanic eruption up close, safely, every 15 minutes. The earth trembles and lava and fire gush 100-ft. upward from a 54-ft.volcano at the Mirage nightly. This show, though regularly scheduled, may be cancelled due to weather. wwwthemirage.com
Masquerade Village’s Show in the Sky gets my vote as a “must-see.” These four, thematic, rotating shows cost $25-million to mount and consist of five illuminated floats that run on an overhead track. A host of dancers, aerialists and musicians perform simultaneously on the stage. This extravaganza is hourly in the evenings at the Rio. www.playrio.com
The Sirens of Treasure Island is such a huge draw that the line forms at least 30 minutes before each show and there is a VIP section for hotel guests. This re-enactment of the Battle of Buccaneer Bay is waged between a band of female pirates and a horde of renegade male pirates. This show is also weather dependent. www.treasureisland.com
The best free thing of all is simply to walk the streets, particularly along Las Vegas Boulevard, and take in the sights. New York-New York Casino has an oft-photographed facade that features 12 replicated towers of the iconic NYC skyline, a 150-ft replica of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Express Roller Coaster. This is best photographed from in front of the Tropicana. www.nynyhotelcasino.com. A 1/2-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower beckons you to Paris Casino Resort. www.parislasvegas.com.
While on your stroll, don’t miss the 1,149-ft Stratosphere Tower. It is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the nation. Tower rides are offered as well as Sky Jump Las Vegas controlled jumps from the 108th floor. Call for rates. www.stratospherehotel.com
End your trek with a little retail respite at Bonanza, the world’s largest gift shop. If it is a Vegas souvenir and you can’t find it here no one wanted it anyway. www.worldslargestgiftshop.com
Las Vegas is not quite the bargain it once was but car rental rates continue to be affordable and you will find that Vegas is a wonderful hub from which to take day trips to nearby locations. It is possible to drive or take a coach tour to the Grand Canyon. It is a long day, 291-miles, but it is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and you may never be closer.
The concrete arch-gravity Hoover Dam, 27-miles from LV, and Lake Mead, 116-miles from LV, are frequent excursions from the city. At 726-ft., Hoover Dam is one of the United States’ greatest architectural achievements. It took 5,218 men five years to construct. The work was hazardous and the hard hat was created during its construction. Located in Black Canyon it weighs 6,600,000-tons.
Lake Mead is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. It averages 590-ft deep, covers 248-sq. miles and holds enough water to cover our entire state to a depth of 12 inches.
By far, my favorite excursion is a trip to Death Valley National Monument. There is something transforming about going from the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas to the serene lunar landscapes of Death Valley. The 142-mile drive is on good roads that are well marked. The drive is full of photo-ops including the sign that welcomes you to California and then the Nevada sign on your return.
The Shoshone Indians’ oral history relates that they have lived in the valley since time began and they had made optimum use of the natural resources. They were mystified as to why settlers believed the land to be inhospitable.
Documents tell us that Antonio Armijo led the first traders along the Old Spanish Trail through Death Valley in 1830. Once the route proved lucrative others followed. The area became known as Death Valley when 49ers on a wagon train traveling to California used this as a short cut. As the one wagon to make it out departed one man said, “Goodbye Death Valley.”
Conditions for driving the tour route are far less harsh than they once were but it is best to fill your tank in Death Valley Junction because once you enter the monument gas prices soar. There are not many food options so you might also carry water and food, especially if traveling with children. Plan your route in advance so that you are certain to hit your chosen highlights. There are sites that are for viewing only and sites that offer hiking trails or guided tours. Wear walking shoes, dress in layers and carry a jacket. There is a fee for park admission. www.nps.gov/deva
Dante’s View is breathtaking in its desolate beauty. The drive to the top is curving and offers views all the way. Once you have achieved the top you are at an elevation of 5,475-ft. and the panorama takes in the entire Valley. Visitors can see the salt flats and the lowest point in North America, 282-ft below sea level. Telescope Peak, 11,049-ft., also affords you great views but the last 6-miles are on a footpath and this is not to be undertaken in the summer.
Ubehebe Crater is a 600-ft. deep volcanic crater and as such it has a totally unique appearance. It can be viewed from the road.
Made famous by the film of the same name, Zabriskie Point overlooks sculpted rocks that have formed a landscape of golden badlands. The viewpoint is a brief hike from the parking lot.
The Harmony Borax Works was constructed in 1882. The borate had to be hauled out of the Twenty-Mule-Team Canyon by huge wagons pulled by 18 mules and 2 horses each. Each 7-ft. high wagon was equipped with 5-ft. wheels and carried 10-tons for the ten day journey of 165-miles. Remnants of the works can be viewed on a self-guided tour.
A tour of the 2-story Spanish Mission vacation home of Albert Johnson, known as Scotty’s Castle, is a great way to end your Death Valley day. The home cost $2-million in 1922. It is closely associated with Johnson’s friend, guest and con man, Walter Scott. In addition to the ADA accessible house tour visitors can take an underground mystery tour. Call for fees, hours and reservations.
Death Valley was declared a National Monument in 1933, a Biosphere Reserve in 1984 and a National Park on October 31, 1994.
Las Vegas and Death Valley are at opposite ends of the spectrum but somehow they make a perfect pairing.
I wish you smooth travels!
If you are looking for something closer to home make a trip to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, officially the Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton region. The Allentown Art Museum has joined with arts organizations and local businesses to mount a 4-month commemoration of the history of Rock n’ Roll and the artists who created it. Events and exhibitions are held at various venues and interpret the history through photographic displays, female contributions to the genre, fashion, lectures, film and concerts. Events are scheduled from February thru May 2012. A complete schedule is available online. www.rockthroughthevalley.com
Information on the Lehigh Valley is available at www.DiscoverLehighValley.com
Leave a Comment