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Trip report: 14th - 16th July, 2002

Discussion in 'Vegas Trip Reports' started by Scott Hunter, Apr 22, 2003.

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  1. This is part of a larger trip report that I've been working on for a few months. The full report, which will be available on my website in due time, will cover a large area of southwestern United States and will include photos.


    Virgin Atlantic flight VS043 from London Gatwick to Las Vegas was, for the most part, hassle free and enjoyable. I was able to reserve a window seat a couple months in advance so I knew that I would never be completely bored during the 10 hour flight. My window seat was 60A, situated at the port rear of the Boeing 747-400. It was on the last row of the 3-5-3 seating configuration, where the fuselage narrows towards the tail with room for a 2-5-2 configuration. Distanced far behind the long wings of the aircraft, throughout the journey I was treated to a marvellous view of the Earth from the air.

    Ten minutes into the flight, as the plane banked sharply to a north-west bearing to pick up the transatlantic flight path, we flew straight over the London docklands, providing us with views of the River Thames, with its familiar U-shaped bend at Dog Island; Canary Warf tower; the Millennium Dome; and other landmarks of the East End. Our Jumbo Jet then proceeded north, passing over Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Northern Island, before making its transatlantic crossing. Though weather conditions were favourable, albeit rather cloudy, the pilot warned us of unusually strong tailwinds that could possibly result in some turbulence as the aircraft locked into the jet stream. But the journey over the ocean felt as smooth as riding on a hot air balloon. Two hours into the flight, I paused eating my pasta and bread and crouched to peer through the small window adjacent to my seat. I was not disappointed: there, raking the horizon far to the south, were the anvils of colossal cumulonimbus clouds, whose tops I estimated were marginally higher than our plane, which was currently cruising at 33,000 ft. Hunkered over the plastic containers of my half-eaten meal, I gazed at this sight for what must have been ten minutes, awestruck, my face pressed against the cold Plexiglas.

    Although the aircraft flew well south of Iceland, the scenery changed dramatically as we flew over the southern tip of Greenland. Luckily, the all-pervading cloud cleared to reveal the cold, mountainous scenery of Greenland that seemed a world away from the hot desert of our destination. It was here where we did encounter some slight turbulence, probably as a result of updrafts form the edge of the largest island in the world.

    As our flight path curved southwards, we crossed into Canada, home of the immense Hudson Bay, over which we flew for an hour or so, holding a bearing that took us some 300 miles northwest of the Great Lakes, before entering United States airspace over Minnesota. As we flew over Hudson Bay, our plane ascended a further six thousand feet to 39,000 ft, probably due to unstable air patterns ahead or change in the altitude of the tropopause as we travelled south. It was then when I noticed that ice that had begun to crystallise around the outside of the window. The outside air temperature on Skymap read -70°F (-56°C). I peered out the window: there, more than seven miles below, I could see hundreds of icebergs, which appeared no larger than snowflakes, drifting on the still water of Hudson Bay.

    I soon discovered after the the transatlantic crossing that flying over North America at 39,000 ft was surprisingly dull. As the ice-strewn boreal forests of Canada's frozen wilderness gave way to the flat expanses of the northern Great Plains, I became hungry for some mountains. I kept anticipating that the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains would loom up on the horizon at any moment, that the pressurised plane bearing me through the heavens would reveal all there is to see in this great continent, but even at this altitude there were no mountains to be seen. I kept having to remind myself that I was at 39,000 ft - some 10,000ft higher than Mt Everest - and any mountains I may see would appear seemingly uninspiring from this altitude. I did, however, see what I thought was the Missouri River, or a tributary of it, as the picture to the right attests.

    As our plane descended over Southern Nevada I could not help but notice the worrying amount of cloud around. There was also a lot of haze in the upper atmosphere, and the ground appeared no more interesting than a flat brown carpet - a somewhat different picture from that I had conceived. Indeed, from 20,000 ft up one would never have known we were flying above an arid desert in peak summer; and yet during a pilot announcement I was informed that the outside air temperature at our destination was a sweltering 107°F. The plane circled around the southern tip of Nevada, and no doubt the extreme north of Arizona, providing us with impressive views of Lake Mead and teasing views of large canyons.

    As we began our approach into Las Vegas, a conspicuous clump of strange circles, semi-circles and squares caught my eye. What they were and what their purpose was I did not know. After a few laugher inducing sharp turns our plane was lined up with the runaway, along with a great view of the famous hotels of the Strip - I instantly recognised the pyramid of the Luxor and the model skyscrapers of the New York New York.

    Our plane touched down in Las Vegas at approximately three o'clock in the afternoon, which for me marked the start of many visits to the United States. As I walked out of the plane and through the walkway of McCarran International Airport, I touched the panes of glass on the wall: they felt hot. I could see outside that the weather appeared overcast and dreary, like it was about to rain, but ironically Las Vegas was experiencing one of the worst droughts in history; almost no rain had fallen here for four months.

    After a queering for about fifteen minutes to pass through immigration, I collected my bag and headed straight for the exit. Before I could leave the airport, though, I needed to organise transportation to my hotel, the Hilton. After several minutes of attempting to identify myself as a participant in a Virgin Holidays coach tour, I eventually got a free ticket for a ride on a shuttle bus.

    When I walked out of the air conditioned airport I was literally blasted by a wall of hot air - it felt like I had walked under an industrial strength heater above a shop entrance, which ceased to stop no mater how far from the door I walked. I had to pinch myself that it was real; that I was outside. This was one of the most bizarre feelings I had ever experienced. There was a gentle breeze that stirred the hot air which added to the strangeness of it. Words cannot describe how 110°F heat with only 15% humidity felt for the first time, especially with a breeze. The closest experience I can liken it to is using a hair dryer on its slowest, hottest setting, or partly sticking your head into a oven. Yet this heat was neither suffocating nor unbearable. It felt healthy and clean, not at all unpleasant. Having lived in England almost all my life, where to me the sultry days of July and August feel unquestionably hot, I was totally unaccustomed to this bizarre weather. Here, sunshine didn't seem to affect the temperatures, for the sky appeared overcast with a dense layer of high cirrus cloud. In England it feels hot only when the sun is beating down on your body; but here the air itself was literally hot - the slightest gust would blow that baking air into your face; in England it would cool you down. After reading about how people who live in Las Vegas and Phoenix have to endure these summers when 105°F is the average daytime temperature, I had always been eager to find out what this weather feels like; and now that I was here I instantly fell in love it. So I was not particularly impressed when I was ushered onto an air conditioned shuttle bus after just 30 seconds of leaving the airport.

    The shuttle bus dropped off about a dozen tourists at several hotels around the northern end of the strip. Looking out of the window, I was able to get my first feel for a US city. Much of Las Vegas seemed like a building site, for there were construction vehicles and red fences all around the place. Everywhere the ground looked parched, and dust covered most of the sidewalks. From pictures in brochures I had seen I knew roughly what each hotel looked like. I also knew the rough layout of Las Vegas; that the easily seen Stratosphere Tower was located at the northern end of the Strip, and the triple tower Mandalay Bay was at the southern end of the Strip. My hotel, the Hilton was situated slightly east of the northern end of the Strip, opposite Circus Circus and the Sahara hotels. The Hilton was the last stop on the route of the bus. I stepped off the cool air conditioned bus and into the surreal heat once again. After collecting my suitcase I walked towards the lobby of the Hilton, waving my head in astonishment as I passed.

    I was faced with a very long queue for reception, but after a few minutes of frantically searching through my holiday literature I remembered that I needed to go to another section of the registration desk, which fortunately had no queue. I got my key and proceeded to my room, passing the large casino area on my right. I would hear the sound of those slot machines many times over the next couple of days.

    At around 4:40 P.M., after navigating through the long corridors of the Hilton, I found my room and dumped all my luggage on the floor. The room was pleasingly commodious and exceptionally tidy. I opened the large curtains and gazed outside to the west at the Strip. I needed to meet with my tour director, so I went back down to the lobby. My watch read 5:00 P.M., and he was no where to be seen. I spoke to another representative and finally managed to speak to my tour director over the phone. I had an hour to spare before an evening city tour, so without wasting time I immediately walked out of the hotel and headed in the direction of the Stratosphere Tower.

    I discovered that almost all the roads in Las Vegas were built in a grid form, which made it difficult for me because I needed to head in a diagonal direction. The traffic lights seemed useless, so I had to dash across a couple of six lane roads without using them. The heat was intense, and I started to sweat. I took out my water bottle and drunk as much as I could, even though I didn't feel particularly thirsty. The cloud was clearing, and the sun was now beating down on me, which made the temperature feel even hotter. Along the parking lots, and around every corner of the street a gust of hot air would blow up from the baking concrete ground. I don't think I could imagine more of a contrast to my home town in Devon, England.

    As I neared the Stratosphere Tower, I suddenly became cognizant of the dwindling time I had left before I needed to be back in the hotel; and that distances in the desert were remarkably deceptive. It appeared closer than it actually was, which was why I decided to turn around and make do with a couple of long shots of the tower. I resolved that would return here tomorrow; I didn't want to risk curtailing my vacation because of sunstroke or some other heat-related ailment. I had only about half an hour to return to the hotel and change my clothes before the city tour, and the heat made it dangerous to walk quicker than snail's pace. There was scarcely a soul on the sidewalks: after walking for thirty minutes I counted only one other person. I figured they must all be inside hotels until the heat abates slightly later in the evening. The 'other' tourists were apparently more sensible than me; seldom do they venture beyond the confines of their dark, air-conditioned casinos. Sad, but sensible. I was the opposite. I felt debilitated and dehydrated after spending barely an hour walking outside, but at least I had experienced it.

    After a safe return back to my hotel and a change of clothes, I proceeded to the bus bay and there I met my tour director and the tour party. The tour party consisted of a good mix of age groups; the youngest person was about six, and there there seemed to be no one older than about 60. They seemed a very friendly bunch. I was actually joining this coach tour at its halfway point: they had already travelled from Los Angeles up the coast to San Francisco, then across to Yosemite and to here in the desert of Nevada. I had only just discovered this, but after remembering the itinerates of all the different tours in the brochure, it made sense.

    Inside the coach the tour director, Gordon, introduced himself over the microphone. He wore a pair of long beige shorts and a Hawaiian shirt emblazoned with countless Route 66 logos. Gregarious by nature, he proved to be a skilful raconteur; never was there a boring moment inside the coach, and he seemed to have an endless knowledge of every place we visited. I liked him immediately.

    The coach dropped us off on the Strip next to Caesar's Palace whence we explored the surrounding hotels including the Mirage, Treasure Island and the Venetian. This was an excellent starting point. These hotels were indicative of the amazing variety of themes that are manifested in the architecture and design of each hotel in Las Vegas. I was most impressed with the trompe l'oeil sky at the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace that simulates the changes from dawn to dusk through the day. We watched the sound and light show of the statues by the fountains depicting the Atlantis myth amidst a bustling crowd of rowdy tourists. Across to the Mirage, we passed next to the exotic rainforest atrium, complete with a waterfall. As the ceiling turned dark, and so day turned to night outside, we made a stop at the lagoon outside the Treasure Island hotel where, along with hundreds of other tourists, we watched an impressive pirate battle in which the Britannia ship sinks below the waves. Even though it was now night time, the heat had not abated: it was still roasting hot; the temperature must have been at least a balmy 100°F. This was a strange experience indeed. I had always imagined that deserts cool considerably once the sun goes below the horizon, but here that didn't appear to be the case. In fact, I learnt that summer temperatures in the Southwest USA deserts actually peak as late as around 4pm.

    It was at this point when I was beginning to feel the effects of an eight-hour jet lag - although it was the evening, for me it felt like the early hours of the morning. This fatigue was compounded by having to rush around "the city that never sleeps" from one sight to another in the heat. After a spectacular sinking of the British Frigate, we boarded the coach once again and headed to the southern end of the strip. Our coach stopped off next to Tropicana Avenue, and after fighting off the onset of sleep I walked languidly off the coach with the rest of the tour party and into the New York New York hotel, whose ground floor is an amazing recreation of the different streets of New York. As we left the hotel, I looked upward at the Manhattan Express rollercoaster, which I had read about. Being a fan of thrill rides, I couldn't miss not going on this rollercoaster; I would ride it tomorrow. Crossing Tropicana Avenue, we made our way to the Excalibur, with its elegant medieval architecture. One of the highlights of this city tour was standing in the middle of the bridge on Las Vegas Boulevard, straddling the meeting point of the New York New York and MGM Grand, with unequalled views of the neon-lit Southern Strip, watching in the distance the bright beam of light shining high into the heavens from the pyramid of the Luxor.

    We then travelled north past the Rio, away from the Strip to the Downtown area where we stopped at Freemont Street just in time for the Freemont Street Experience - a spectacular light and sound show staged over a giant canopy composed of millions of individual lights. The music they played when I was there was mostly rock and roll such as Led Zeppelin's classic Rock and Roll (one of my favourite bands of all time) and a song from The Beatles, amongst others. The lights reflected the mood of music that was being played. Before and after the light show, there is live music that is played just below the Vegas Vic sign which hangs conspicuously over Freemont Street above the "SOUVENIRS, GIFTS, T-SHIRTS" sign, reflecting the tacky but glamorous theme of this city. After the Freemont Street Experience we travelled back to the Hilton where we parted company for the night, which was a relief for me because in spite of the wonderful sites I had visited, I was beginning to feel listless. After a tasty buffet dinner I was was ready for bed. I enjoyed a much needed shower, adjusted the air conditioning controller to its coldest setting and went to bed. After a few minutes of contemplating the events of the past day, I fell sound asleep.
    15th July - a day in Las Vegas
    Today was a free day in "Sin City", and I was intent on making the most it. After a long sleep my alarm clock woke me up at about 9:00 A.M.; and after groping around in the darkness I turned it off and stepped wearily out of my bed. I put on a white t-shirt and denim shorts, grabbed my wallet and headed straight to the restaurant buffet to have an American cooked breakfast. My first stop was the Stratosphere Tower. Without following any particular route, I walked in a roughly north-west direction. I tired to avoid crossing the road more than was absolutely necessary for the roads were busy and rather awkward to cross. The temperature was slightly cooler today, although it was still in the mid 100s.

    The interior of the Stratosphere appears much like any other hotel on the Strip; the lobby consisted of a large casino area that sprawled across the vast ground floor, a large reception area, and a series of elevators and escalators that transported you to the higher levels of the hotel. I followed the signs for the tower, which lead me through parts of the casino and up an escalator. (Almost every hotel in Vegas tries its best to arrange its elevators so that you have to walk through the casinos to access them.) When I got to the top a booth advertising optional tours caught my eye. I wanted to make the most out of my stay in Las Vegas, even if that meant travelling away from the city (I had originally planned to visit Death Valley, but I later found out that it wasn't operating during July and August because of the extreme heat). After nosing through the many tour leaflets, I told the sales assistant that I wished to go on an afternoon tour of Red Rock Canyon. But unfortunately demand was too low for me to go; so I ended up booking a bargain trip to Hoover Dam that would pick me up from my hotel early in the afternoon.

    I headed towards the tower lifts and purchased my ticket to go to the indoor observation deck, where the thrill rides were located. I was whisked up to the top of the tower in what seemed like only a few seconds. I got out of the lift and walked straight to the window. I stood against the pane of glass and gazed out at the vista, awestruck. I was looking down at Downtown Las Vegas from 1,149 ft above. The tiny little cars on the roads appeared like miniature toys, and it was from here that I noticed the true extent of the urban sprawl that encroached far into the Mojave Desert. Surrounding the city was a ring of mountains. I figured the hills to the west were those of Red Rock Canyon, but the atmosphere was rather murky and visibility was far from perfect. I walked around to the opposite side of the observation deck which had views of the Strip side of Las Vegas. Las Vegas Boulevard could be seen easily directly below, trailing into the distance before the point at which it turns about 30° and runs exactly south to most of the larger hotels of the city. My own hotel could be seen too, revealing all three of its towers (from the ground it appears as one large block). Almost everyone says that Las Vegas is a city to be seen only at night, when the neon signs that make Las Vegas famous shine out from every building; but to me Las Vegas looks equally stunning during the day, probably because of context: the buff coloured vacant land and the vast sprawl of grey suburban housing that is visible during the day reminds me that the city is in the heart of a desert which, for the average tourist, is both a peculiar and alluring thought.

    After about fifteen minutes of watching little cars crawl around little streets, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to hit the thrill rides that were currently causing a deep rumbling noise to reverberate around the observation deck. After a quick elevator ride up to the top, I was greeted by the same view of the Las Vegas skyline but from 60 ft higher, and without the confines of a glass enclosure. I decided to not go ride on the rollercoaster that spirals around the top of the tower: although it's acclaimed as "the highest rollercoaster in the world", it didn't look particularly exhilarating, especially after the pictures I had seen of the Manhattan Express rollercoaster, located at the New York New York. The other ride located at the top of the tower was Big Shot, a thrill ride that shoots riders 160 ft up in the air in under two seconds. The statistics sounded good, so I decided to give it a go, even though I had begun to feel slightly nauseous after watching at it for several minutes. After purchasing my ticket I walked up to the base of the ride, removed my shoes, and was escorted to my seat by the ride assistant. After a couple of minutes of waiting nervously, before I could shout "WOOHOO!" I was propelled 160 ft up into the sky on a burst of compressed air. The fall back down to earth was a phenomenal experience: I couldn't describe the exhalation I felt as I the ride suddenly dropped down the pole so quickly it felt as if I had left my stomach somewhere at the top of the tower.

    After a re-ride I decided it was time to return back to the Hilton in plenty of time for my trip to Hoover Dam. After about half an hour of waiting outside in the heat of the midday sun, I boarded the coach and was on my way southeast to the Arizona border. We stopped briefly on the outskirts of Las Vegas to collect our tickets, which included some reading material on Hoover Dam. We passed through Boulder City where I had my first sighting of a saguaro cactus that had been artificially transplanted. It seemed healthy enough, albeit slightly withered through lack of water, surprisingly. Boulder City looked like a very pleasant place to live, with neat, irrigated lawns and houses which crisscrossed the opulent suburbs, only a stone's throw away from desert wilderness (and Las Vegas). As we descended through the precipitous escarpments and steep gullies of the land that surrounds Black Canyon, I started intently out the window to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive bighorn sheep which had recently been reintroduced into the area. Unfortunately I did not see any animals.

    After a routine security stop we arrived at Hoover Dam. I was told by the tour director that we had been "lucky" with the weather: the previous day it was 115°F at the dam; today it was about 105°F. We had two hours to explore the dam on our own. I stopped along the road and gazed into precipice of Black Canyon and the immense concrete wall of Hoover Dam. About 20 feet down the rock face that I was currently peering over I could see a group of small rodents scuttling around the nooks and crannies of the rocks, oblivious to the sheer drop a few feet away. Heeding the onset of vertigo, I decided to walk along the sidewalk on the Nevada side of the dam which offered some solitude from the crowds that currently thronged the dam itself. I walked far behind the dam and into the parking lot, where I stood beside a wall and looked out at Lake Mead and the four water intake towers; two for Nevada, the other two for Arizona. I stayed here for about ten minutes, marvelling at the view and soaking up the wonderful heat of the Mojave Desert. As a rule of thumb, when it is hot in Las Vegas it is even hotter at Hoover Dam. In fact, the Colorado River's banks along its course between Canyonlands in Utah to its mouth in Mexico are almost always intensely hot during summer. Its stretch from Hoover Dam south to Yuma is second only to Death Valley as one of the hottest places in North America. This is also true of the Gila River valley from the conflux of the Colorado and Gila Rivers near Yuma to Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun. The weather at Hoover Dam is similar to that at Glen Canyon Dam, some 300 miles upstream through Lake Mead and Grand Canyon, which I would visit in three days' time.

    I left this tranquil spot and walked over to the visitor centre. The exhibits inside were interesting enough, but engineering doesn't particularly interest me. I found it strange how so many of the visitors at tourist attractions seemed to congregate in the confines of a pokey little visitor centre, when the actual sight that they had travelled so far to see was there outside for the viewing. I was later to discover that this trend was particularly prevalent at the viewpoints of Grand Canyon, such as Yavapai Point Observation Station.

    I left the exhibits and ascended a tower that overlooked the dam and Black Canyon. The view was very impressive, but the shape of the dam and its location made it difficult for me to take any decent photographs of it, so I left the tower and walked outside once again. I strolled along the road that went across the top of the dam; to my left was Lake Mead and the water intake tower for Nevada, which was accessible from the road on which I was walking. As I neared the midway point, I peered over the edge of the wall down the vast concrete face of the arch-gravity dam. I imagined this would be the ultimate thrill for a suicidal skateboarder! I strolled along a couple of meters further and stopped again this time straddling the Nevada-Arizona border. I could see that I was exactly halfway across the dam, for the two water intake towers, each with their massive clocks showing local times, were of equal distance from where I was standing. I had beaten my coach tour party to it!

    I walked on into Arizona up a series of steps and through another parking lot to a vantage point that overlooked the rear of the dam and Lake Mead. Most of the license plates on the cars were those of Arizona, whose relatively colourful logo is emblazoned with images of saguaro cacti and a sun. Unfortunately there was neither the sun nor saguaro cacti here today: the sun was hidden somewhere above a dull looking sky, and there was hardly a plant to be seen. I had never seen a more desiccated landscape than that of this particularly arid area of the Mojave Desert. The surrounding rock looked like it had been dynamited out of the landscape only yesterday.

    After a refreshing drink at the cafeteria, I boarded the coach and travelled back to Las Vegas. There was commentary for most of the journey which I tried to listen to, but I felt too sleepy to properly take it in. It was around half past three in the afternoon when we reached the outskirts of Vegas. I decided to get off the coach at the Flamingo Hilton because I didn't need to go back to my hotel. I originally planned to head straight for the New York New York, home of the Manhattan Express rollercoaster, but I couldn't resist exploring a couple of the hotels en route, this time during daylight. I crossed Las Vegas Boulevard and entered Caesar's Palace, only to accidentally walk out of the exit a minute later.

    The New York New York is one of the more eye catching hotels in Las Vegas. From outside it looks like several individual miniature skyscrapers, but a walk into the lobby reveals that the towers are actually linked underground by a series of elevators. I had no idea where the entrance to the Manhattan Express was located, although I had read that the rollercoaster passes through the inside of the hotel. I followed the signs from the lobby and eventually got to the entrance, which I presumed was in the corner of the hotel. I placed all my belongings in a safe and, after waiting a few minutes in a queue of about thirty people, most of whom sounded like hardcore American rollercoaster riders, I was ushered onto Row A which, to my surprise, was the waiting area for the front row of the rollercoaster! Once it got moving everything appeared in order; the restraint felt secure, and as the carriage exited the hotel the all-pervading heat of outside made it feel as if I was riding an indoor rollercoaster. After a short, steep climb, the rollercoaster banked and plunged sharply into the first drop, picking up speed as the momentum increased. The top speed was apparently 67 miles per hour but where on the track this was achieved I did not know. Indeed the whole ride was somewhat of an endurance test, with intense sharp turns, helixes, sections of inverted track and corkscrews abound.

    Feeling a little giddy, I stepped off the rollercoaster and, moving like a drunkard, made my way to the safes. I then left the New York New York and headed over the walkway to the opposite side of the strip, home of the largest hotel in the world, the MGM Grand. From above it looks like a gigantic "X"-shape - a huge central block with four towers that protrude outwards from the centre, all bathed in an incandescent emerald green lustre that belies its vast proportions. Like so many hotels in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand takes on a completely different appearance at night; the colours are almost always attributable to lights, lasers and neon. Feeling like a small fish being swallowed by the mouth of a blue whale, I walked through the entrance and down a short flight of stairs, at the bottom of which I gazed out at the vast lobby full of slot machines, reception dusks and restaurants. As I descended an escalator I had a view of an artificial rainforest atrium - this hotel was obviously themed on the jungle, hence the green light of its exterior.

    But the largest hotel in the world did not look any more special than the other lavish hotels of the Strip. I moved on, crossing Las Vegas Boulevard once again, this time making a stop at the Excalibur, with its surreal medieval architecture. This hotel has got to be seen to be believed: after sunset its myriad of white towers and blue and orange turrets glow brightly against the blackness of the night. After ambling through the lobby, which frankly appeared no more special than the other hotels I had visited over the past couple of days (a guide book would later tell me that the hotel features live wrestling, simulators and a magic show), I proceeded to one of Las Vegas' most visually striking hotels: the Luxor. In a city of superlatives, the Luxor rises above the rest - quite literarily. The second largest hotel in the world, the Luxor is a vast 30-storey pyramid themed around Ancient Egypt. I stood at the base of this spectacular hotel, mesmerised as I watched the bright lights along the corners of the pyramid flash in succession toward the ground like a giant alien spacecraft about to take off; and at its apex shone a large dome of dazzling light which projected a vertical beam of light far into the heavens - so powerful that it can be seen from planes cruising above Los Angeles 250 miles away. However, walking inside the hotel was an anti-climax: the hotel felt cold and uninviting. As I looked upwards inside the lobby, I saw a large pyramid roof which I found utterly perplexing.

    Omitting a visit to nearby Mandalay Bay on grounds of hunger and fatigue, I decided to head back. I was almost tempted to walk even further south to a McDonalds, but it looked difficult to get to on foot and I didn't want to walk any further. Instead I took the free monorail back to Excalibur and rode the number 301 bus northward to Circus Circus. The bus was packed with tourists, most of whom gazed fervently out the window at the hotels along the Strip, hoping especially to see the Bellagio's famous dancing fountains in action, shouting "water, let's see some water!"; but unfortunately the fountains were not operating at the time our bus passed by them.

    From Circus Circus it is only a short walk along Riviera Boulevard to the Las Vegas Hilton. When I arrived at the hotel I immediately headed to Star Trek: The Experience, hoping that it was still open. Luckily it was, so I paid my entrance fee and walked straight into the exhibit. Along the walkway were displays telling of the history of Star Trek, and from the walls of the large room hung great models of the USS Voyager and Enterprise D - (I happen to be a part-time Trekkie). When I reached the waiting area for the actual "experience" - that is, an episode re-enactment with a simulator ride - I was told to wait fifteen minutes for the next show.

    Our group of about ten of walked through a door into a dimly lit, futuristic waiting area, which I presumed was supposed to be a shuttle bay. We were assigned rows to stand in which were denoted by lines of lights on the floor, and after a few minutes of commentary the doors opened and we were ushered onto a shuttlecraft by Starfleet officers (the shuttlecraft was actually a glorified simulator). And so the battle commenced as the Federation Shuttlecraft jerked and jolted as it courageously fought a mêlée against the might of the Klingon Birds of Prey, using every weapon available to annihilate the enemy. Obviously we won.

    I didn't know what to expect of Star Trek: The Experience; I originally thought it was simply a collection of memorabilia, but as it turned out the "experience" part certainly lived up to its name. It comprised of walking into a recreation of the Enterprise D's bridge, using a turbo lift, and an excellent simulator ride, and the whole experience is played out by actors and you're there as part of the mission. A superb finish to a great day.

    But my stomach told me that it wasn't quite the end of the day. While I was in the Star Trek mood I decided to dine at the famous Quark's Bar and Restaurant, where you can actually sit down and eat in a bizarre Star Trek-style fashion, complete with waiters who double up as actors, and even Quark himself. The menu is completely Star Trek themed, too. The food is delicious, and the waiters are very friendly; when Quark made an appearance he started a pretend argument with one of the waiters! You can only truly appreciate the brilliance of Star Trek: The Experience if you're a Trekkie, and there is certainly no shortage of them in America. If you're a person whose proclivity is to act in a way similar to that of an officer aboard Deep Space Nine, this experience should be more than satisfactory.

    After having satiated my appetite, I left the restaurant and walked out of Star Trek: The Experience, stopping for a moment near the exit to muse on the dark Borg-themed SpaceQuest Casino which, like every other casino floor in Las Vegas hotels, emanated a cacophony of beeps and peals that resounded around the room. This 24th-century gambling casino is particularly prodigious: the multicoloured lights of the slot machines contrast against the black shadows magnificently, and here and there thin green lasers, which reminded me of the lasers attached to the eye pieces of Borgs, dance slowly through the gloom above. Indeed this is a very dark casino where, given time, one can easily let their imagination transport them into the 24th century. Of all the casinos I had walked though, this one was the most original. I headed back to my hotel feeling bloated and exhausted, but content that I had crammed as much sightseeing into the day as was possible.

    Thanks for reading.



    [ April 23, 2003, 07:15 AM: Message edited by: Scott Hunter ]
  2. The Hangman

    The Hangman Tourist

    Jan 20, 2003
    Thank you for taking the time to write this report and sharing it with us. Welcome.

  3. Lynne in the Falls

    Lynne in the Falls Tourist

    Mar 21, 2003
    Niagara Falls,Ont.
    Hey Scott!!
    That's Canadian for Hi.
    After reading your trip report, I realized that you saw more of Las Vegas in one day, than I've seen in approximately 20 trips there. I thought you must be a teacher, but after looking at your profile and your web site, I found that you are a student, younger than my kids. You have seen more of the world than I ever hope to see in my lifetime,(and I figure if I'm lucky, I still have another 30 or 40 years left)
    You seem to have managed to see it all and not get caught up in the gambling thing.
    I say good for you!
    I think you must me an amazing young man, and I wish you all the best for your future travels.
    Lynne in the Falls
  4. EskimoTony

    EskimoTony Tourist

    Jul 29, 2002
    Dallas, TX
    A great trip report with incredible detail. Do you write professionally?
  5. Scott Hunter

    Scott Hunter Guest

    Hi Lynne and Tony. No, I don't write professionally (I am only 19 years old). I had such a great time out West that I felt I had to write a trip report so that I could read it later in life and remember the fantastic time I had there. I really appreciate the positive feedback.

    In a few weeks I will have the full trip report ready.


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