Travels in the American Southwest

Back in Las Vegas

Friday morning on the Strip. Last minute jamming of things into boxes for UPS. Had leftover perishable food which I knew a charity would be unwilling to take; eggs, unopened sticks of butter and the like. Struck up a conversation with a CIrcusCircus employee. He lives in a "bunkhouse", a large trailer on wheels holding six "apartments". Cooking is communal, so we offered him the perishables. "Why thank ya," came the deep-south drawl. "I remember when my granmama would churn butter. Used an old wood churn with paddles." Listening to this fellow was like going back to another time. Our extra propane canisters and Fix-A-Flat went to our RV-owning neighbor on the other side.

Returned the RV, cleaner than we got it, then dropped off our packages at UPS, some sixty pounds lighter than their outbound trip! Swung by a local charity where we returned the mountain bikes we'd purchased two weeks earlier. Apologized that I didn't get a chance to fully clean and oil them before donating, but the volunteer waved my concerns aside. He was pleased that the gears worked and the tires weren't flat! I was sorry to see them go, they were really great bikes. Also bid farewell to our kitchen items and bedding, then headed downtown. Stopped by the Shade Tree Shelter. Had some unopened cereal, jelly and the like that the shelter could always use. Kicked a little something into the Sandbox Fund. Staff at the shelter convert the money into coin. Over time, the coins are sprinkled in the sandbox to be found by the children as they play. This gives them a chance to show their mothers, proudly saying, "Look what I found!" It's the little things in life...

Having finished our chores, we settled in at the Golden Nugget. North Tower this time overlooking the pool and the mountains to the West. Was dismayed that the windows wouldn't open. There's a great breeze when you're on the 16th floor but I realized that the hotel was protecting the bathers and sun-worshippers below from knuckle-heads who might be staying above. MSO and I were glad to be back in civilization. I started shuffling paperwork. One pile Yosemite, one Burning Man, one receipts, etc. MSO, waiting to see that I was fully distracted, raced to the bathroom. All she wanted was a l-o-n-g, hot shower in something bigger than the RV's 30" x 30" accommodation. Heck, ladies first - I knew she couldn't use all the hot water! When she'd finished, it was my turn. "Uh, honey. Did you use a facecloth on your shoes or something?" It was beyond dirty. The reply chilled me. "No, that's all from me." The facecloth I used was in only slightly better condition when I was finished. I can't believe how dirty we were. We'd no doubt have someone in the laundry cursing us the next day!

Our last three days are really a jumbled blur for me. Spent one day visiting the Valley of Fire where we hiked and photographed some of the many examples of ancient petroglyphs as well as the stunning red sandstone. We continued on to Hoover Dam. Played tourists, leaning over the edge and shooting picture after picture. Parking is $5 on the Nevada side and the lower lot on the Arizona side. It continues to be free in the upper lots on the Arizona side. Security is tight with large bags and backpacks banned from the visitors center. All other bags are subject to intense search before entering the visitors center. There's even a security checkpoint on US93, a couple of miles west of the dam. Trucks, RVs, vehicles towing trailers and the like are pulled over for inspection while passenger cars are given a cursory look while being waved through the stop. If your trailer, RV or truck is too fully loaded to permit an inspection, you are directed to Laughlin where you can cross the Colorado River into Arizona. They won't let such a vehicle cross Hoover Dam.

Back in town, MSO and I did another walkabout, this time hitting the off-Fremont Street casinos. Cruised through the Lady Luck, Gold Spike and the El Cortez. I can see why Dan, Matt & Stinky chose the Spike for their 2000 Big Empire Cocktail Soiree. Since there was no interesting craps action at any of the three casinos and both MSO and I steer clear of the one-armed bandits, we wandered back to the covered Fremont Street casinos where MSO watched me throw money away at a craps table.

One of the sights MSO had her heart set on seeing was the famed Bellagio Fountains dance and sway. I'd heard that they were more spectacular at night so before sunset we set off to the North end of the strip. I'd decided that we should start our Las Vegas Strip adventure at the top of the Stratosphere and watch the city light up. Grabbed a table at the cocktail lounge facing South and as the sun set, we watched the casinos' neon slowly light up, one by one. The view from the Strat is amazing. I'd put it on my "must do" list. Had some fun with the elevator operator. "This only gets stuck once in a while," he joked. Discovered that in the course of his work day, he makes some 200 trips. "This job really has its ups and down," he deadpanned. We all groaned! I figure that the elevator ride is 30 seconds covering 900 feet. At one round trip every five minutes, eight hours a day, he travels 34 miles a day -- up and down.

Grabbed a cab down to Treasure Island. The Pirate Battle was next on our list. We headed to Buccaneer Bay, just missed out on an outdoor table, having to watch the battle from an inside table by the window. While these seats gave close-up views of a small portion of the performance. Next time, we'll see it from the Strip. Meandered over to the Bellagio where MSO got her wish to see the fountains. We enjoyed the four performances featuring Blue-Eyes' rendition of "Luck be a Lady Tonight" and other selections including "Singin' in the Rain", "Anything Goes" and the song which everyone seemed to be playing in remembrance of September 11th. Ate at one of the Venetian hotel's restaurants. The western-themed "Star Canyon" features beef and pork entrees with a southwestern flair. MSO had the chops while I had the strip. The food was good but I wouldn't put it in the "memorable" class.

By far our most memorable dining experience was at the Golden Nugget's, Stefano's. Impeccable service and fine cuisine makes this restaurant a must-experience. In addition to the attention to detail, the waiters entertain those dining with song. I'm not big on gimmicks but the waitstaff seemed to be truly enjoying themselves as they belted out "Volare" and other Italian-themed hits. Folks dining showed their appreciation by applauding loud and long.

Had one of those rare golden moments at the craps table in Binion's early one morning, long before MSO awoke. (I was allowed to disappear as long as I brought her a large cup of coffee when I returned!) The fates smiled down on me and the two other players on this particular table as number after number hit. Even a couple of parlayed hardways paid off. Struck up a conversation with my dealer. I'd recognized him as having worked at Binion's for a number of years. "Thirteen," he confided. We spoke of the changes I'd noticed over the past few years and he reminisced about the days when Jack ran the place. I routinely place a line bet for the boys when I shoot the dice. If the Force is with me, I like to spread the good fortune. When a new stickman joined the table, he looked around, introduced himself following that with, "Put something on the line for the boys." I cocked an eyebrow, only to have my dealer wave off the stick saying, "He's been taking good care of us." All my earlier gaming misfortunes were forgotten as I left the table with black chips, a rarity for me!

When Monday afternoon rolled around, we headed to McCarran. Our long vacation had come to an end. MSO and I started to discuss what we'll do the next time!

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