Travels in the American Southwest

Las Vegas and Mt. Charleston

Flew into McCarran Tuesday afternoon. It's my opinion that Midway airport in Chicago has the most intensive security I've ever seen. Because of a CD player and GPS device in my carry-on bag, I was pulled from line as my carry-ons were brought to the "Sniffer". This device is programmed to pick up the slightest trace of explosives. I feigned nonchalance as the sniffer did its work, remembering that I had bottle rockets in the suitcase only the week before. Everything was removed from my carry-on bag and camera case and subjected to Mr. Sniffer. Well the gunpowder molecules must have dissipated during the week and I received a pass from a most thorough security team. (I was simply waved though other security checkpoints at other airports [including MacCarran on my home bound trip] while carrying the same items.) The Bell Limo driver was very chatty telling us of the latest on the Binion murder trial appeal, the early closing of Desert Inn (an associated arson attempts) and the overabundance of meth labs in Las Vegas, accounting for close to one drug lab bust per day. "Hello downtown! CmdrMark's back. Gawd, I love this town!" Spent my first three days and nights in Las Vegas. Stayed at the Golden Nugget on an upper floor in the South Tower with an east view. I love the sunrise in Vegas as it peeks over the mountains! The Nugget is the jewel of the Downtown area. Spacious room featuring a king size bed, good size bathroom with hair dryer and an in-room safe. Wandered under the Fremont Street Experience, emerging on the east end to see displays of Old Vegas' neon. I'm pleased that in a city where "throw away" seems to be a motto, preservationists have saved/rescued some of the memorabilia. I've read that a museum dedicated to the old neon signs is in the works and know I'll be visiting it when it becomes a reality.

Spent time throwing dice at Binion's Horseshoe and the Plaza. Won some; Lost some! Sampled some of the restaurants downtown including Magnolia (4 Queens), the 50's cafe at the Plaza, Golden Gate's Bay City Diner, Lilly Langtree's (Golden Nugget) and of course the Nugget's breakfast buffet. No complaints about any of them. Service was uniformly good with smiling, friendly servers the rule. The food; Filling and served hot. Had a supurb filet at Lilly Langtree's and the Bay City Shrimp special at the Golden Gate is this cheap scoundrel's idea of a great time!

Since part of this trip was going to be travelling the wilds of Nevada, I had reserved a minivan to use for travel and sleeping. Unlike other rental experiences, this one went off without a hitch (and since I wasn't coming in from the airport, no airport tax!). Grabbed the CAT for a slow and enjoyable ride down the Strip, losing count of all the little wedding chapels on the way. Hopped off at Mandalay Bay. Got ripped off by a cab driver who insisted that you had to go through the tunnel to get from MB to the rental car location. You didn't...A man is as a man does.

Spent the remainder of the day shopping for provisions and supplies. Since I had sent some 200 pounds of camping gear out via UPS's Hold For Pickup service, the first item of business was to pickup my equipment at the UPS Customer Counter on MLK. Dollies were available making the chore of moving the boxes to the van a breeze. Swung by Deseret Industries, a second-hand charity institution on Main Street north of downtown. Picked up a useable 10 speed bike with knobby tires as I was planning on doing much riding over the following couple of weeks. Also got a real nice teapot to heat water for my morning cup of tea. Spent the balance of the day checking out of the Golden Nugget and shopping for perishables I planned to cook that evening. As I headed away from town on US 95N, I set my sights on Mt. Charleston, Hilltop campground to be specific. It was there that I planned to spend the night doing a shakedown. As I approached SR157, the thickening clouds finally let go. It didn't just rain, it was a deluge. Rocks and stones crashed across SR157 as I headed up. "This is the desert. Other than a couple of quick showers, it's been bone dry for something like 165 days. Why now?", I thought. I parked the van at the campsite and with water flowing through the campsite threatening to wash away the picnic table, barbeque stand and even the fire pit, I started to inventory my supplies. As the rain let up, I decide to brew a cup of tea. "Hmm, where's my box with chemical fuel, kite and walking staff?" (First 'oh darn' of the trip!) It's sitting in Housekeeping at the Golden Nugget because I forgot it in the room. Hop in van, drive an hour back to Las Vegas pick up forgotten box, turn right around and return to the Hilltop campground. (Well at least I can see what kind of mileage the van gets!)

My plans for a hot meal were not to be. Due to the dry conditions recently experienced, there was a "no open fire" policy on Mt. Charleston (yes, even with the recent downpours!). As the skies cleared, I enjoyed my poptarts and yogurt dinner under the stars. Hopped into bed knowing that tomorrow would come too early and bring with it lots of miles on the road in search of ghosttowns. The ultimate destination for tommorrow: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park east of Gabbs.

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