Now fully vaccinated and thirsting for regional travel beyond California, my spouse and I were interested in Las Vegas, primarily Las Vegas on the cheap. When we spotted a good deal on a timeshare through Interval International, the Polo Towers right on the Las Vegas strip, we coupled the idea with a side trip to California’s Alabama Hills and Death Valley National Park, driving over the Sierra and down Highway 395 to reach our destinations.
We are not gamblers, having learned long ago how easy and quick it is to part with $40 at the blackjack tables, so our plan was to enjoy Sin City, do take-out meals and link the city’s free activities into a fun six or seven days. Our timeshare was sandwiched between the huge casinos, with MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, New York, New York and the Paris casinos all within short walking distance. Our favorite casino and resort, Bellagio, was just three blocks up the strip.
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Las Vegas looks like it has rebounded quickly from earlier pandemic shut down, with almost all the casinos wide open and crowds of carousing younger people on the streets. Fortunately, the resorts and casinos were doing a good job of pandemic precautions, stressing masking up, hand sanitizer and most of the street crowd was masked up.
Prior to arrival, I had searched https://www.tripadvisor.com/ and https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ for the most popular activities. Upon checking in, the resort gave us several handouts, including one featuring free shows and sights. We settled into a very nice one bedroom suite, with full kitchen, and prepared to venture out. That evening, we did a short walking trip, down the Vegas Strip a few blocks to the MGM Grand, then back, taking in New York, New York, Planet Hollywood and the Paris resorts, somewhat leery of the large evening street crowds but admiring the bright lights with so many colorful dimensions.
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Our first day was devoted to seeing one of the town’s top attractions, actually about 15 miles northwest of Vegas. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a scenic and geologic gem. Featuring the most colorful sections of the Mojave Desert, the 13 mile Red Rock Canyon Loop is a marvel; from October through May, a https://www.recreation.gov/ reservation is required. Cost is $15, though your annual national parks pass, or our federal senior pass, gets you in for free, but for the cost of the reservation, $2.
The red rocks are sand dunes frozen in time. Eons ago, an inland sea covered southern Nevada to the Colorado plateau. As the sea receded, the earth’s crust pushed up to form the surrounding mountains. Loose sand from the seafloor and winds begin to deposit dunes near the foothills of several of the mountain formations, piling a half mile deep in some areas. Eventually the layers of sand were buried by other sediments, such as calcium carbonate and, with time and water, the conglomerate hardened into sandstone.
The reddish color in the banded rocks is iron, which leaches out to the surface where it becomes oxidized from exposure to the air. Here it’s known as Aztec Sandstone, forming the color of the cliffs and red bands of red rock canyon. A number of nearby hikes are freely accessible, like the First Creek Canyon hike that takes you into the mouth of the First Creek Canyon.
Red rock canyon may seem desolate and dry at first glance, but a closer look reveals a wide variety of flora and fauna. Over 600 species of plants grow here, many unique to the Mojave Desert, with 38 species of mammals, 44 species of reptiles and 170 varieties of birds calling the area home.
Pack your binoculars for a chance to see bighorn sheep, coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, wild burros and horses. You may find chuckwalla among the reptiles, the desert horned lizard, desert iguana, western-banded gecko and others. Bird varieties include Anna’s hummingbird, red tail hawk, road runner, turkey vulture and many others. Noteworthy among the plant variety are agave, buckhorn cholla, Mojave yucca, joshua tree, pinyon pine and western redbud.
The second “wow moment” can with an evening walk to the Bellagio Casino. It’s a first-rate hotel, resort and casino, fronted by a 1,000 foot lake. But it’s the Fountains set in the lake that are the attraction, marvelous during the day, even more stunning at night. The Fountains are reportedly the most ambitious water feature ever conceived in terms of complexity and scale. Here, more than a thousand fountains dance in front of the hotel, enhanced by music and light, spanning more than 1,000 feet with water soaring as high as 450 feet into the air. The Fountain shows occur day times and evenings on 15 or 30 minute intervals; stay for a couple shows since each varies in water features and dramatic music. While at Bellagio, venture inside to see the Chihuly glass installations in the hotel lobby ceiling, as well as the hotel’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
Also on most visitor’s lists of free or inexpensive outings:
- Wander the strip and admire the themed casinos and the lights, including the Venetian casino, where you can dine beside a Venetian canal and take a gondola ride; the New York, New York, built to replicate the Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Statue of Liberty, or the Paris, with ½ scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.
- The High Roller, a 500 foot tall Ferris wheel, admission tickets start at $21, offering lofty and exciting views on high.
- The Neon Museum, featuring the early neon signs that set Vegas up as the world’s light show, $20 admission, kids six and younger are free; for a one hour tour in the neon sign boneyard.
- Just outside the city, take in the Hoover Dam Bypass, where you can walk the new arched concrete and steel composite bridge, and take dramatic photos of the dam just a few blocks below. A bit further by vehicle is the Grand Canyon, the north rim (with seasonal accessibility) or the west and south rims, all within a few hours of Las Vegas.
For more information: Las Vegas, https://www.visitlasvegas.com/; Red Rock Canyon, https://www.redrockcanyonlv.org/.
Contact Tim at [email protected] Happy travels in the west!