Having generally assuaged our travel ambitions on the East Coast, we are slowly but surely starting to tackle the frontiers of West. Due to the shortage of financial means, our trip planning these days stems from the selection of cheapest seasonal airfares, which, Texas no longer a destination, leaves us with little choice at the end. Luckily, there is a spot in the country that generates an incessant tourist traffic all year round. Though those tourists might be more suitably called gamblers, for us the fact of the matter is that in the airline business popularity nourishes affordability. As you have probably guessed it, the name of that place is Las Vegas.
From the very conception of this journey I have rightfully assumed that Vegas did not earn its reputation of a family-burdened rather than family-friendly city for nothing. And since we were traveling as a family, our focus had to be on something other than the adult entertainment. Thankfully, Las Vegas sits amid one of the country’s most remarkable topography systems. So remarkable, in fact, that we were staring at the opportunity to see such landmarks as the Death Valley, Lake Mead, and the Grand Canyon all in one shot. On such agenda, Las Vegas hardly even mattered.
But it would be unjust to completely pass over a man-made wonder—for surely a thriving neon-lit oasis in the middle of a desert is one—in favor of Mother Nature’s divine creations. So, here is photo summary of my round-trip ramble down the Las Vegas Boulevard (a.k.a. “the Strip”), the city’s main entertainment artery.
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I left our Circus Circus suite about half-past-five in the evening, accoutered with a couple of maps and camera gear. I started on the West side of the Strip, northbound.
Having left the Hilton behind, I charged toward the Stratosphere, which marks the northern end of the boulevard. Besides the tall and spotless hotel buildings and catchy LED advertisement panels, I already found manifestations of one essential part of the Sin City’s public image—prostitution.
With such a barefaced display of depravity, one might assume that prostitution is legal in Las Vegas. In reality, though, prostitution is legalized in other parts of Nevada, but not in Vegas. It boggles my mind how the ever-resourceful pimps are able to dodge prosecution in their line of work. Yeah, the smutty brochure stand is one thing, but the dozens (if not hundreds) of street promoters giving away “business” cards, and vehicles functioning solely as mobile billboards for “escort ” services is an entirely new level.
But I digress. Next was a self-proclaimed world’s largest gift shop aptly named (for the likely amount of profit it yields) “Bonanza.”
Continuing past the Sahara Avenue was inexpedient if I were to take full-size photographs of the Stratosphere, so I hurried to the east side of the Las Vegas Boulevard, took the photo, and started traveling in the opposite direction.
I quickly advanced back to roughly my starting point, passing the SLS (noticing a Porsche and a Lamborghini parked in front of the hotel), Hyatt, and Riviera on the way.
Two blocks later I found the answer to the question that had been spinning at the back of my mind for some time now: whether I would encounter a house of worship, other than those to the god of fortune, in the capital of gambling. And there it was, the Guardian Angel Cathedral, an inconspicuous lone pavilion behind a second-rate shopping center. I rather think that it should not be too wasteful (and certainly in the best interest) for a city like Las Vegas to oblige its only guardian angel with something better than a back-seat spot on the Strip.
Right around the Fashion Show Drive I was entering the middle, most boisterous section of the boulevard. Wynn, the Palazzo, the Fashion Show Mall, the Grand Canal Shoppes, and other recognizable names were to follow in succession.
For completeness of my future report I peeked inside the Grand Canal Shoppes building to appraise the quality of its décor.
As expected, the wealth and finesse of the interiors were fully commensurate with the mall’s splendid façade.
The Mirage and the Venetian materialized on the horizon next. If the two wage any sort of cross-the-street rivalry, the Venetian certainly has more to show for it.
As I kept progressing toward the most crowded segment of the Strip, I would increasingly run into street characters of one of the following categories:
- beggars, of whom the surprising majority appear, or even claim (!), to have been on a better path only “the other day”;
- fairly naked girls and partially naked guys, some demanding money for photographs and others encouraging it;
- shady gofers distributing ads for predominantly male-targeted adult entertainment (to whom I referred earlier);
- people posing as well-known cartoon and comic-book characters; and, of course,
- plain old weirdos.
Although I caught a glimpse of the High Roller, a newly built observation wheel beside the O’Sheas Casino (a thousand or more feet away from the Strip), I carried on north. Lots of things in Vegas are just better at night, and it was one of them.
Next I saw three of the most famed casinos: Caesar’s Palace, Bally’s, and Paris. Thanks to its half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower, Paris is the obvious winner as far as the looks go. (To be fair, I could not make out much of the Caesar’s luster until I caught up with it walking back on the west side of the Strip.)
The last couple of blocks featured the Miracle Mile Shops (where one might contemplate a tattoo master at work practically at the front door), the Hard Rock Café, and views of the towering New York-New York Casino and other places of more humbler magnitude.
Closing the stretch were the Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay, but I was not impressed by their designs. With four more miles of strenuous walking ahead of me, I swiftly transferred to the other side and commenced my return.
I could now have a better look at not only the things on the west side that seemed too distant or obscure from the east, but also the things on the east side that were too big to be examined face to face.
Naturally, I passed the New York-New York complex again.
And again walked by various smaller places, which, given a closer look, somehow appeared not so impersonal after all.
Monte Carlo and Planet Hollywood were also better observable that time.
Paris’s Eiffel Tower, however, looked magnificent regardless of the viewpoint.
Between the dancing fountain shows (which I meant to return for after dark) the Bellagio looked rather mundane.
The Caesar’s complex, on the other hand, presented itself not as dingy as it did initially from across the boulevard.
The evening illumination imparted a dab of charm to the Treasure Island Casino and amusement park, but it was not enough to countervail the feigned air of adventure characteristic of all this decorative sham.
Before I knew it, I was back at Circus Circus, visually one of the least crowded joints on the Strip during the late hours.
Having waited out for the darkness to fully settle, I was out again, on a new mission. This time I had a ride and two particular targets in mind: the Bellagio Dancing Fountains and the Eiffel Tower Experience (ascend to the tower’s observation deck).
I left the car inside the Bellagio’s capacious parking garage and walked through the lobby towards the front entrance overlooking the lake. And I was glad I did, for I found the hotel’s interiors to be designed and embellished to very high standards.
Perhaps even a hotel clerk can be a less stressful and despairing job when placed in such lavishly adorned environment.
When I finally elbowed my way to the lakefront, the fountain show had started, and I could not assume a good position in time (each show only lasts a few minutes). So I snatched the moment to covertly photograph two street entertainers bedizened in their feathery costumes.
I was also going to take a picture of their leporine counterparts, but they objected excessively to my moochy intentions, so I present an earlier shot I took on the sly while driving.
Before long, the show finally began, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. In that particular instance the fountain choreography was laid to Ennio Morricone’s celebrated Ecstasy of Gold. Since no photograph can fully convey the impression of an ongoing audiovisual performance, much less with rapidly shifting water streams backed up by an intense and dramatic score, I did not expect any of mine to work miracles. But here is one just for the sake of it.
When the blare of the closing crescendo faded out, I was en route to the second destination of my nighttime campaign. Thankfully, it was just across the street.
Once I located the entrance to the ticket office of the Eiffel Tower Experience, I had to wait a minute for someone with whom to split the two-person discount coupon I had preloaded on my phone. Since the next two visitors were a young French couple, only one of them benefited from my coupon. I only mention them because during our small talk the Frenchman affirmed my suspicion that the admission to the original tower in Paris actually costs less. (I am not complaining, though, as the lines are surely orders of magnitude longer.)
When we reached the observation deck near the top of the tower, my misgivings about hindered observability came true. Shut with two dozen other people in a circular metal-gridded room, I was about to lose hope of taking any decent photographs. But then I noticed a series of small apertures spaced approximately four feet apart around the circumference of the enclosure. Somehow or other, I was able to use my camera by inserting the lens into these openings (as much as the angle would allow) and operating the shutter on a hit-or-miss basis. The results follow.
Ten or so minutes later the elevator took me down to the lobby of the Paris casino. I proceeded outside and back to the Bellagio’s parking garage to retrieve the car. I then drove straight to our hotel, had a quick midnight collation, and decidedly called it a day.
* * *
The following morning we were departing for the Valley of Fire and other geological wonders east of Vegas, with the expectation of returning two days later for our flight home. But before we left we wanted to swing by the most photographed local landmark—the Fabulous welcome sign.
When we finally did come back, after two days and 800+ miles of grueling rides around the Grand Canyon, we had, much to our surprise, more than four hours to spare before the flight check-in. Among other things, we used that adventitious break to watch the Bellagio Dancing Fountains Show, this time the whole family.
We felt that it served a good coda to our journey, just as I think it is to this post.