Within minutes after crossing the state line into the Pacific time zone (of course, being Nerds, we all immediately turned our watches back an hour and reveled in the knowledge that we would thereby arrive an hour ahead of schedule), we realized that Nevada was going to be an entirely different animal, unlike any place any of us had ever seen. Our first exposure to this alien world was the hamlet of Mesquite. Founded 1894, population 15,000, elevation 1,597 feet, and home to not one, not two, but FOUR casinos! Of the three of us, I was the only one who had ever seen a casino before, and that had been a small floating one moored on Lake Michigan, just outside Whiting, Indiana. We were instantly captivated by the garish signage along I-15, trying to lure us into the Casablanca, Eureka, Virgin River, or Oasis. In the dayâ€™s waning light, the full-spectrum neon and flashing incandescence in the middle of frickinâ€™ nowhere was a mild and oddly pleasant shock to our systems, after having seen nothing but rocks and stones (except of course for a few towns in Utah) for the last several hundred miles. The temptation of the low buffet prices that were the main feature of many of the signs almost got us â€“ especially Brad, for whom the idea of unlimited eats for $7.95 was almost too much for him to bear. Cooler heads and stomachs prevailed, however â€“ why spend any time at all here when our Trek pilgrimage was less than 100 miles from being complete? We sped on, full of anticipationâ€¦if tiny little Mesquite had made such an impression, would our unprepared minds be able to handle the Vegas-ness of Vegas? I remember being mildly surprised by how quickly night fell in the Nevada desert. It was almost like God had lowered the blinds all at once. With as dark as it was out here, we should be able to see the lights of the Strip from scores of miles away. We began scanning the horizon, looking for that telltale glow. On the right we passed a strange sprawling structure that we surmised was a huge power plant. Was this the switching station for Las Vegas? But donâ€™t they get their power directly from Hoover Dam? Then what the hell is that thing? Just how mysterious is this city anyway? Are we in over our heads here? A few minutes later, the first truly magical moment of the trip occurred. We crested a hill, and bang! Suddenly there was the Stratosphere tower, growing out of a meadow of light. Holy crap, we can make out individual buildings from here, and weâ€™re still 30 miles away! As we drew nearer, everything just kept getting bigger. I recalled a scene from the sci-fi classic â€œFantastic Voyageâ€, in which everyday objects got almost unrecognizably large as the crew of the submarine "Proteus" was miniaturized to the size of a bacterium. Does everything exist on a 10X life-size scale in Vegas? Moving into North LV, suddenly automobiles began to crowd the interstate. What the--? Where did all this traffic come from? Memories of fighting the Eisenhower Expressway when I used to live near Chicago came flooding back as we began searching for our exit while battling rush-hour-like traffic. Construction along the highway made things no easier. I was beginning to suffer from culture shock before even having gotten out of the car! Now I know why they call that part of town the Spaghetti Bowl. Somehow we got off where we were supposed to, at Sahara . Off the ramp, make a turn, and omigod, weâ€™re actually in Las Vegas! Leaving the interstate plunged us into an atmosphere of what I could only describe as â€œtacky grandeurâ€. Iâ€™d never seen so much electricity being used at one time in my life. And this was at the north end of the Strip, which Iâ€™ve seen described on this board as being rather second-rate compared to areas further south on LV Blvd. Still, to the uninitiated occupants of our car, just passing the unusual lines of the Sahara caused our jaws to drop open. Is that a roller coaster going through the building? And on the left â€“ what is that, a big cow?? Yep, the Holy Cow Brewery (now sadly no longer with us), and immediately adjacent, what must be the worldâ€™s largest gift shop or, more likely, crap repository. We couldnâ€™t ogle too much, though, because we would miss our turnoff onto Paradise Road. We headed south, past the Riviera. CRAZY GIRLS, the sign screamed. Thatâ€™s right, I almost forgot, there are half-naked women to behold here! I decided then and there that we would have to view some undraped female anatomy while we were here, if for no other reason than to provide Continuing Educationâ€¦after all, knowledge is a Nerdâ€™s best friend. Would we be able to tell if surgical enhancements were present? Would we be able to get close enough to tell? Now letâ€™s not get distractedâ€¦eyes on the prizeâ€¦the Hilton looms ahead. The feeling of being Lilliputians in Brobdingnag increased as we pulled into the drive leading to the Hilton. I almost felt like the entire town I grew up in could fit within the boundaries of this property. I couldnâ€™t believe how long it took us to reach the parking garage from the street, and then where to park? Of course, now I know that valet parking is always the way to go in Vegas, but at the time we thought that the very term â€œvaletâ€ was only associated with high rollers, and so we sought out the self-parking waaaaaay far away. We grabbed our luggageâ€¦jeez, Brad, what else have you got in these bags?â€¦and headed for the huge Y-shaped structure of the hotel. How many miles to the main desk? Iâ€™ll never forget the moment we walked through the doors into the hotel itself. Sensory overload! Weird carpeting, crowds, and the noise! Bells, buzzers, the rattling of coins, the warbling of cell phones, and we werenâ€™t even all that close to the casino! As we moved through corridors that seemed to us to rival those of the Pentagon in their length (little did we know!), a large sign for the Star Trek Experience hove into view. I couldnâ€™t resist; I turned to my colleagues and flashed the Vulcan salute â€“ live long and prosper! Damn, we were going to have fun!!