Sunday, July 12, 2015

Las Vegas And Hoover Dam

The next stop on our "California" adventure was Las Vegas. We left the Grand Canyon early in the afternoon with the goal of getting to Vegas by around 6pm as we had plans for later that evening.

We stopped off at a random exit to get gas and I told Diana about how the small road we were driving on was the original Route 66. You've probably heard of how Route 66 was the road people would use to get from the Midwest (Chicago, for example) out to Santa Monica, California back before the freeway system was built. It was the lifeblood for countless small towns along the way because it provided jobs at restaurants, gas stations, motels, and road-side attractions. There's not really much left today except for things like the giant thermometer in Barstow, California, which we passed on our way out, and the giant (note a theme?) dinosaurs near Palm Springs.

Gettin' our kicks on Route 66...

Like the Grand Canyon, one of the places that I've always heard of but had never seen was the Hoover Dam. This giant dam is part-reservoir, part-hydroelectric plant built in a canyon on the Colorado River, which marks the border between Arizona and Nevada. The Colorado is the same river that created the Grand Canyon.

Looking down the face of the Hoover Dam:

Our route from the Grand Canyon to Vegas took us over the bridge in the photo below. The Hoover Dam, named for a United States president, is, umm, really big. It's hard to appreciate the scale looking at the photo above but, in the one below, those white spots in the lower-right-hand corner are cars.

I always thought the Hoover dam was far from Vegas. Maybe back in the day it was but now it's basically in the suburbs like 30 minutes via car from the Strip. Like I said, the scale was impressive. What was scary, though, is the lack of water in the reservoir. The southwestern U.S. is in the middle of a giant, multi-year drought and is verrry dry. I remember right when I arrived in California back in the early 90s, I had just missed a big drought. Well, this one's even bigger and shows no signs of ending.

The white ring in the photo below is how high the water in the reservoir should be. Although, if you look down the face of the dam, you remember how deep the water really is, but still, not a good trend...

We made it to Vegas around 7pm and checked in to the place we were staying. Something that's really annoying about Vegas (and maybe at other places too - I'm not sure) is the dreaded 'Resort Fee', which all the hotels there seem to charge.

Resort fees are mandatory $20-plus (U.S.) per-person usage charges you pay on check in supposedly for things like the pool, WIFI, and so on. It's ridiculous; kinda' like buying an airplane ticket and the airline passing a hat to pay for the fuel when you check in. It's a scam IMO and seems to be a way for them to make rooms appear cheap until you arrive tired with your bags from the airport only to have to pay a couple hundred extra for your stay.

Anyway, I found a place called the Jockey Club, which is sandwiched between the Bellagio, Paris, and the ultra-hip (although I'm not sure why) Cosmopolitan. I think it's a time-share place that rents rooms when the owners aren't around. The benefit is that there are no resort fees and the apartments have a full kitchen and living room not to mention the awesome, mid-Strip location. The price was good especially when you add the like $40-60 per-night extra we would have paid for the resort fees. So, in summary, if you're going to Vegas, keep your eye out for crappy fees.

Paris, or at least the Las Vegas version, at night:

Diana wanted to see Cirque du Soleil while in town so we chose the 'Michael Jackson One' show at Mandalay Bay. We didn't really want to pay too much so we bought the two cheapest tickets in the theater, which were still $75 per person. They were in very last row over on the right side but, since the theater isn't very big, were actually pretty good.

We took our seats, which were near the women who are taking photos just behind Diana in the photo below. About five minutes before the show started, an usher came up to us and asked if we wanted to move to better seats. I may have quoted my dad when I asked "Is the Pope Catholic?" She took us down past where the ladies with the white and black shirts are standing (farther down), which, if I remember correctly, cost like $200 each! Score!

Cirque de Soleil shows are impressive to say the least. I'm not much for live theater but they do a good job. I saw 'O', which is Cirque de Soleil's water-themed Vegas show, a few years ago and that was a fun time. The Michael Jackson theme seemed a bit contrived but it was still full of those classic-CdS tidbits that you watch and just think, who comes up with this stuff?

I think my favorite part was when they did Billy Jean and the room was completely dark. There were probably like five dancers on stage dressed in black so you couldn't see them but each one had LED lights on their costumes. As they danced, the lights would turn on and off, which created a very cool effect. The best part was how the dancers' lights were synchronized between them so that they appeared to "jump" across the stage. Although difficult to describe, it was definitely memorable.

The next morning, I created a monster by introducing Diana to the Bloody Mary breakfast at the nearby Cosmopolitan. What could be better than a big-ole' made-in-USA breakfast? That's right, breakfast with cocktails! Let's just say, especially for a non-teetotaler, Diana was a fan!

After breakfast, we continued our strangely European vacation first over at the Venetian (note those gondolas and canals are indoors)...

...and then over at Cesar's Palace. It was just like being back in Rome...well, except for the fire, water, music, light, and animatronics shows under an artificial, indoor 24-hour "daylight" show each hour? Yeah, welcome to Vegas, right?

Who knew there was so much Europe in the desert southwest of the United States?

But, just when we may have forgotten where we were, we visited the Hershey and M&Ms' stores. Let's just say that they sell real, umm, American-sized items...

Yummy! My sister and I could go into sugar shock together with ginormous boxes of one of our favorite candies!

For our second and final evening in town, we decided to go to Fremont Street, which is the Zappos' sponsored version of old-fashioned Vegas. Fremont is the downtown street that runs between some of the oldest casinos in Vegas. They've covered it with a giant LED-light-show roof, added in some zip lines, and tried to create a more-family-friendly version of Vegas.

Other than the music-and-light show and the odd sensation of having people fly overhead Superman style (no, we didn't try it), the highlight of the evening was when Diana ran into one of her childhood heroes, Mr. T!

Before heading back to San Diego the next morning, we took the opportunity to sample the Bloody Mary breakfast over at the Bellagio. Breakfast was good but I think the Bloody Marys (or, is it Maries? The spell checker doesn't like either.) at like $14 or more each, were a bit pricey and small for my taste but, whatever, we were in Vegas baby.

Back when we were in Dubai, I told Diana Vegas was similar in some ways. Both are too hot for humans to be able to survive without air conditioning. Lots of luxury stores and shopping. There's that desert setting. And, of course, the supersized roads and buildings. Vegas may win out for me on account of the Bloody Marys but, either way, both are an adventure worth having!

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