Friday, March 31, 2006

The two faces of Las Vegas

There is an incredible dichotomy in this city. The better known side is euphamistically called "Sin City," and I strongly suspect this is by far the better known side of the city. As you can imagine, Sin City encompasses the row of big-dollar casino/resorts known as "the Strip," along with the more aged downtown casinos. Co-pilot Egg and I visited the strip yesterday afternoon, hoping that the "sins" would be primarily nocturnal. We started at the older, more run-down northern tip, parking at the Circus Circus. We went inside to see some of the circus acts that they have running throughout the day. That was pretty neat, and being free of charge, it fit well in my "take more from Vegas than you give" strategy.

From there we walked south down the strip, stopping to marvel at the incredible facades of the newer casinos. Our goal was to get as far as the Bellagio to see the incredible water fountains. I'm also a big fan of the Bellagio's lobby, being very intrigued by Chihuly glass. This certainly has to be among the top-five most beautiful hotel lobbys in the world.

In stark contrast to the glitz and flash of the casinos, I spent quite a bit of time hiking in the Red Rocks Canyon area. I've always loved the mountains, and being able to get right up close to them and study the various types of rock and the wide variety of flora was a real treat. I bought a 1 gig memory card for the new Olympus before we left, and to date I've managed to take over 400 pictures. I've been loading them onto the laptop (I will never travel without a laptop again - more on that later) and I've been astounded at the quality of the pictures I'm getting.

This morning we went to a casino in Summerlin rather than drive all the way back to the strip. I was able to find the nearby casino by using one of the most incredible internet tools I've ever seen, Google Earth. This thing has been a life saver. Co-pilot M got very sick the second day we were here, and by Wednesday evening had been losing fluids top and bottom for 24 hours. Dehydration was setting in, and we needed to find medical help. I had already bookmarked the Summerlin house we're staying in, and it was a simple matter to find a nearby urgent care facility. We drove there in just a few minutes, and since the initial triage showed an elevated pulse and signs of dehydration, we got in to see a doctor fairly quickly. The staff were very cheerful and helpful, and an IV of fluid, a shot in the rear, and two prescriptions later we were done. Like I said, I don't think I will ever travel sans laptop again. It has been a boon for finding restaurants, casinos, grocery stores, and anything else you may need in a strange city.

This afternoon we drove up to Mt. Charleston which demonstrated yet another facet of this diverse city. Just 30 minutes from our rental home in Summerlin, we were at 7000+ feet and tromping through snow. There are a few houses up there, costing way north of $1,000,000. They're worth every penny given the incredible mountain views they're exposed to on every side. We stopped at a very nice log hotel for lunch, then continued our trek up the mountain. It was very enjoyable and we all had a great time basking in the incredible scenery.

I took this using the self-timer on the camera as I was hiking up in Red Rocks Canyon, while pondering how the canyon could possibly have been given such a strange name.

Sin City can be very interesting just to look at. The enormous expense of building casinos like this should be a strong hint as to who exactly the odds favor.

Co-pilot Egg is the lucky member of our family. While Co-pilot M and I were losing nickels playing video poker, Egg hung out in the arcade. She hit the jackpot when a flaky machine went nuts and spewed out a couple thousand of those tickets you get from Skee-ball machines. It was enough to win a cute little lava lamp.

One of the neat things about Red Rocks is that not all of the rocks are red. The contrast between the various types of rocks brings a surprise around every corner. Truly awesome.

More than just a cool toy, Google Earth has been a real boon to the weary vacationer.

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