Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who Puts a City in A Place Like This Anyway?

It’s in the middle of a desert. There’s no available drinking water. On a day when the temperature reached 106, the meteorologist on the news commented, “If you don’t like the weather today, you should probably move.” What on earth possessed someone to build a city here, of all places?

The story of how I got to this God-forsaken patch of sand makes up another one of those transitional days, but the 300-mile drive from the Grand Canyon wasn’t without its highlights. After finally leaving behind the Colorado Plateau and allowing my water bottles to come back to normal sea level atmospheric pressure, the temperature started to rise. Just as people back in the Northeast were complaining that the temperature had crossed 100, the thermometer on my car hit 107.

After traversing a desert, surrounded on 3 sides by mountains, I apparently reached the Colorado River, crossing it for the ninth out of eleven times on this trip. I’m told I passed over the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge and that an incredible engineering marvel lay just feel from my window, but I have my doubts. All I saw when crossing the river was this:

Hoover Dam Bypass, or so I'm told
Finally, I came over a ridge and saw the Las Vegas skyline in the distance. Because it’s nestled between mountains that are many times taller than even the Stratosphere, or maybe because I’m now used to 5,000-foot canyons and 14,000-foot peaks, the 1,000-foot skyscrapers didn’t impress me. They seemed (and probably were) an afterthought on the landscape, stuck there somewhat arbitrarily.

Driving towards my hotel on the Strip, I passed through that somewhat sleazy heavy commercial blue collar area that every major city has. In Boston, it’s Charlestown and South Boston. In New York it’s every borough that’s not Manhattan. Apparently in Las Vegas, it’s the entire city except for the Strip and a block on either side of it. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Finding Bally’s, I parked, walked through the Paris hotel and casino, walked through the Bally’s casino, waited in line for an hour, and finally checked into my room. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this much room. It’s bigger than my living room, dining room, and kitchen combined.

That's a king-sized bed. And you don't even see the entier room, Where's the bathroom?
It does have a very nice view of the Strip, especially the Paris next door.

When I checked in, one of the things I was presented with was a book of coupons at cooperating hotels. One of them made my dinner plans much easier. I had head about the Village Seafood Buffet at the Rio before, and had already decided I wanted to try and get over there. So when I found the $10 coupon for it, off I went.

I decided to walk to the Rio, fully aware that the 2 blocks constituted over a mile of walking. I figured that if I was going to have all the seafood I could eat, I would have to earn it first. The only problem was that it was still over 100 outside. Well, that and the fact that my feet are covered in blisters from the desert sand infiltrating its way into every layer of clothing. But walk there I did. And it’s a good thing, because I had a very hard time finding the place inside the Rio. If I hadn’t gone through all the trouble of walking there in the first place, I might have given up and had dinner from my cooler. But because I was invested, I managed to find it.

While I was waiting in line, I got to experience more of Las Vegas’ first-class family friendly atmosphere. I say “more,” because I had already passed a very large man in a string bikini on the sidewalk (but to be fair, there was also a troupe of Elvises and Mario and Luigi), and had walked over hundreds of discarded flyers and pamphlets for peep shows. Not to mention the fact that the main attraction at Bally’s is apparently a burlesque show, advertised obnoxiously everywhere, including my room key. Anyway, at the Rio, apparently it’s always carnival. They have this cool thing where animatronics floats and balloons with real-live people inside them hang from the ceiling and throw things at the people below. While this may very well be an important part of the Carnival celebration, it sure felt a lot like Mardi Gras and I expected clothes to start flying down onto the children watching below.

Eventually I got in to lobsterpalooza. With my coupon, it came to a reasonable $32, which I would have gladly paid even if it wasn’t so reasonable. I’ve been following some very Spartan eating habits so far on this trip, usually having only 2 meals a day and going through a ridiculous amount of cold cuts. Before I set out, I decided that I wouldn’t trust any seafood I found between Pennsylvania and here. When I passed a sign in southern Utah for “Fresh Littleneck Clams” I actually became physically scared. I don’t know where you get littleneck clams in Utah, and I didn’t want to find out.

So between my seafood withdrawal, my cheap eats for the past 2 weeks, and the fact that I walked a mile to get there, tonight was my night to splurge (well, tomorrow night may be my night to splurge too, but we’ll see how that goes). I made sure I did it right. No wasting stomach space on side dishes and non-swimming items. The closest thing I had to an appetizer was a few pieces of sushi before moving on to the main event: lots of lobster tails and crab legs. I still don’t understand the big commotion over lobster. It’s good, but it’s not good enough to demand the prices people charge for it. For the money, I’d much rather have crab legs. Tonight, I had both. The lobster here were pretty small, but who cares when you can have as many of them as you want? After 2 large plates of lobster and crab (and a little side of calamari and an oyster, to say I’ve had one) I was just about done. The best part of the meal? No carbs.

No carbs and Orlando, the waiter. My soda was never less than half full and he said hello to me when he passed me in other parts of the buffet area. Anything I might have needed, he took care of before I even thought to try to flag him down. Orlando was definitely my hero tonight.

On the way back, I stopped next door to Bally’s at the Bellagio to watch the fountains. The very John Tesh-esque music was so happy you couldn’t help but be happy just listening to it. It also didn’t hurt that after the big finale, everyone watching got sprayed with a little mist. Not bad on a 97 degree evening.

I don’t have very much time in Las Vegas to do “Las Vegas stuff” as I wrote on my itinerary. Harry Potter 7.2 isn’t going to happen here, and will probably have to wait until Fresno. Tomorrow I head back to the alleged Hoover Dam for the Pun Tour, and depending on what time I get back, I may try another buffet and maybe one big attraction, but I can’t stay out too late tomorrow. I have to go to bed early because I’ll be leaving around 2am on Monday morning so that I get to Death Valley for sunrise, and can be out of there before it hits its forecast high of 118. What follows are probably the most anticipated 4-6 days of the trip for me. Stay tuned…


  1. If you want to see the dam from the bridge, you have to get out and walk on the sidewalk. I bet they put those high walls up so that it doesn't scare the crap out of drivers when they look down.

    Here is an excerpt from an article I saw:

    The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is not just any bridge, however. Soaring 890 feet above the Colorado River, it’s the second-highest span in the United States (the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is 65 feet higher). And as much as it was constructed for cars and trucks, the bypass bridge was built for sightseers, too: from its six-foot-wide sidewalk, pedestrians have a grand view of the famous concrete dam, just 1,600 feet upstream.

    See full NY Times article (which has a photo):

  2. I couldn't even tell there was a sidewalk. I don't know where I would have parked either because it's a 75mph highway. I think the walls may be there to block strong crosswinds. There were sighs about a high Wind warning on the bridge stretching over 30 miles into Arizona.

  3. THe new bridge was finished in November- the middle was missing last yr when we were there!
    The view from ur room is AWESOME!!!! Other shows to try to see the Mirage volcano and the TI Pirates (this is actually a show so check w the lobby on the times for this and get there early it gets really packed on the sidewalk).
    Have fun on the Dam tour...