America Roadtrip Part 5: Las Vegas, a set on Flickr.
So, on to the final part of my roadtrip recap!
After our morning in the Hollywood Hills and driving out of Los Angeles, we hit the Interstate for the drive to Las Vegas. It takes about four hours, but the further you go the more interesting the desert landscape becomes.
We arrived about 7.30pm. It was dark and as we stopped at a red light just off The Strip, we took the opportunity to put the roof down on the Mustang. If you’ve got a convertible, you have to arrive with the roof down. It’s the rules. The effect was spoiled somewhat by the fact that the radio was playing perhaps the least appropriate ‘Arriving in Las Vegas’ song imaginable – the live version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton John! It was funny though, so we didn’t change the station.
We checked in at our hotel, The Flamingo. It’s in the middle of The Strip so it’s easy to get about from there and it’s reasonably priced – though our room was next to some sort of cleaning cupboard, around which the maids gathered every morning at about 8am, talking rather loudly.
Once checked in, we went out for the evening. With all the neon lights, Las Vegas looks far more impressive at night, though the seedy side of the city is also more apparent. There are people handing out cards for hookers and advertising strip clubs all day, but they multiply enormously at night. It’s hilarious though, more than once I witnessed these people try to pass a hooker’s card to a man walking hand-in-hand with his significant other. Nobody takes the cards, so you end up with pavements littered with business cards featuring naked women. It’s an odd place. Even the bar we ended up in that first night, in The Cosmopolitan, had three dancers in booths above the bar. After a drink or two, we decided we had to spend a couple of dollars on the slot machines (it has to be done, after all). I even won a couple of dollars. Another day I decided I had to play a table game and promptly lost $20 at roulette.
Guns, Guns, Guns
The following morning we tried one of the buffets for which Vegas is famous. This was at the neighbouring hotel, Ballys, and was ok but nothing special. Fortified on eggs and American solid bacon, we went to the Las Vegas Machine Gun Experience for go at a shooting range. They offer various packages at about $150 each, but they allow you to split the cost between you. One of my friends and I split the ‘Zombie Hunt’ package which let us fire an M4 machine gun, 12 guage shotgun and a pistol. The M4 was my favourite and the recoil of the shotgun hurt! The world is now safe from zombie Father Christmas. You’re welcome.
The staff at the shooting range got their minibus to drop us off at a bar they recommended a little out of town. After a quick drink, I left the others to enjoy happy hour and walked back into town to look at the hotels. I stopped by the famous ‘Welcome To Las Vegas’ sign – the picture above has been thoroughly photoshopped to remove all the distracting wires behind it! From there I started at that end of The Strip and went to look at a lot of the hotels: Mandalay Bay, Luxor, New York New York, Excalibur, Paris, Caesar’s Palace and The Venetian. After dinner we went to a KISS-themed glow-in-the-dark min golf course near the Hard Rock Hotel. Strange, but fun!
The Grand Canyon
The next day was the one I’d been looking forward to – the Grand Canyon! On the way we made a brief pit stop at the Hoover Dam, which is an impressive piece of engineering.
I’d assumed we’d be heading to the main tourist area, the South Rim, but my friends understandably expressed some unwillingness to make the 4-5 hour drive. Instead, we decided to go to the West Rim. While the North and South Rims are operated by the National Parks Service, the West Rim is run by the local Indian tribe, the Hulapai, who own the land. This meant a bouncy journey over a very uneven unpaved road to reach the visitor centre and an almost complete lack of any explanatory information about how the Canyon was formed or its importance in the culture of the Hulapai.
However, the scenery was impressive! Your ticket includes a free regular shuttle bus running between four points – the visitor centre, viewpoints Eagle Point and Guano Point, and Hulapai Ranch. We didn’t have time to go to the ranch but did enjoy the views from the other stops. The scale of the place is enormous, and the West Rim is apparently less impressive than the South! I’ll have to go there one day. Unfortunately, the choice of the West Rim meant no helicopter ride, which I’d been really looking forward to. We did discuss taking a night flight over The Strip instead but in the end there wasn’t time for that.
On eventually making it back to Las Vegas we went to check out the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is the old Strip; they’ve covered several blocks over and the roof has a light show. It was busy and had a better atmosphere than the main tourist area, but there wasn’t that much happening so after a late buffet dinner we split into two groups. Three stayed there and the rest of us went to The Stratosphere. It’s a large tower hotel, 110 or so floors of it, at one end of The Strip. We had a drink and enjoyed the night-time view of the city from the 108th floor bar, while being impressed at the guts of the people on the amusement rides on the top of the tower. One of them involves riders jumping off the top of the tower and falling down a line to a landing pad hundreds of feet below!
Leaving Las Vegas
I had planned to spend the Friday at Zion National Park, which looks amazing. One of my friends had intended to come with me, but once we had arrived in Vegas he told me he wasn’t sure he was going to want to do all that driving. What I should have done was push him for a definite answer so I could book a tour if I needed to, but I thought he might decide to come after all, so I didn’t. After the Grand Canyon, I asked for a definite answer, was told ‘no’ and tried to book a tour, but it was too late. It was disappointing, but in some ways it might work out for the best. There are holidays which purely go around the National Parks in the American southwest, which would allow me to spend more time at Zion than a day trip as well as visiting other parks I’d like to go to, such as Bryce Canyon, Arches and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Instead, our final full day began with perhaps the best food of the holiday – breakfast at the Caesar’s Palace buffet. It was expensive, but worth it. We arrived at ten to eleven – they change the menu to the lunch menu at eleven, so we loaded up on the vast options of (mainly) breakfast food before realising that there was a dessert table and stocking up there too!
We then went to look around the shops, mostly within Caesar’s Palace. The whole thing is done on a Roman theme, with statues and the like scattered everywhere. For the last night we wanted a really nice meal, so after a recommendation from the Concierge we booked Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, Saypo. The food was pricey but lovely!
We finished off the evening by watching the free fountain display at The Bellagio (excellent) and the Sirens of TI show at Treasure Island (awful, but also free) and a few drinks.
While the holiday wasn’t perfect and I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to (helicopter flight, whale watching trip, Zion National Park, second day in Yosemite), with a group of eight people there will always be some compromise. I got to see so many places I’ve always wanted to go so I can’t complain!
The only problem is now I need another epic trip to look forward to… maybe Peru next year?