Sunday, December 30, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

Sunday started early; Las Vegas is two hours behind Dallas and I had been having trouble adjusting my sleep pattern anyway, so at 5am I was wide awake. I coaxed Brett out of bed to come with me to do some early morning photography in the hills surrounding the city.

We paused in the hotel food court for McBreakfast. The place was deserted apart from a few folks who looked like extras from Jerry Springer, The Opera; one was clearly a Working Girl finishing her ‘shift’ and then there was the couple who looked like the very definition of trailer-trash… hollow eyes, grey skin, long greasy-looking hair, wearing shellsuits. Actually, they seem to make up about half of the denizens of the casino; very few of the folks playing all those slot machines look like they can afford it. There is a certain horrible pathos about the look of them and the looks on their faces; glazed concentration, tinged with a vain, slightly desperate hope. If Dante were alive today, he’d include endless rows of slot machines as one of his circles of Hell.

Anyway, by the time we got into the desert the sun was already well up and a haze was beginning to form so I didn’t get the early-morning-sunlight-on-the-hills shots that I was hoping for. However just being in the desert in the morning was worthwhile in itself. It is pure and silent and beautiful – quite the refreshing contrast to the clutter and noise of the city.

After a couple of hours driving a circuit through the desert west of the city, we headed southeast with a view to visiting the Hoover Dam which isn’t far away. We stopped briefly in Boulder City for a coffee and to visit a cash machine and I was impressed by the township; it was almost chocolate-box pretty, very well kept and the people we encountered in the Starbucks gave it a real small-community feel.

From Boulder the road was clear (and in very good condition compared to Texas!) until a couple of miles from the dam, when it slowed to a stop-start queue for the rest of the way. There was a security checkpoint a mile or so before the dam itself where the police were randomly pulling cars aside to search (because terrorists would never plan for that!) but the congestion seemed to be caused simply by the weight of traffic on a narrow mountain highway leading to a tourist attraction.

The dam is located very picturesquely and we decided that, having come all this way, we should take the full tour which, as well as visiting the turbine rooms, involved a trip into the heart of the dam itself. I was surprised by their policy on photography though – they were happy for us to take as many as we liked. A far cry from the camera Nazis you find in some places! I think my personal highlights were standing in one of the bypass tunnels and looking at the enormous 30-foot wide pipe which delivers water to the generators and later looking out of a ventilation duct in the face of the dam and thinking of the huge mass of water behind me. Seeing one of the actual turbines in pieces for an upgrade was pretty impressive too!

Back at the hotel we got cleaned up for the evening and tried to plan our remaining time in Las Vegas. Having only come here for a few days, expecting it to get old fairly quickly, I’m surprised by how much I want to do while I’m here; it really is a grown-up Disneyworld! We’ve booked ourselves onto a helicopter and trail-wagon tour of the Grand Canyon for early New Year’s day before our flight and are planning to do the Star Trek Experience tomorrow, as well as some day time photography along The Strip.

We took the monorail from the MGM Grand all the way along to Sahara Station and walked from there to the Stratosphere with a view to having dinner there either tonight or tomorrow. They were fully booked for tonight but weren’t sure about New Years Eve (!?) and we should contact their reservation line to check… In the end we ate at the Nascar CafĂ© in the Sahara before riding the little rollercoaster they have and taking the monorail back south.

The journey on the monorail is accompanied by two recorded voices; one is the overly solicitous lady trying to make sure no-one sues anyone by warning you to hold on to the handrail every time the car accelerates or decelerates and lets you know that the doors are about to close and what the next stop is… the other voice is the cheesiest talk-show-host kind of inane drivel and terrible jokes. It would be so much better if they just played you some elevator music while you look out of the windows, as the monorail gives you scenic views of most of the big hotels on both the old and new parts of the Strip.

On the way back to the Luxor, we got off a stop early and went to see the Bellagio Fountain show.

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