We began our Third American Roadtrip (also, awwww, our Honeymoon) in the City of Sin, “Walt Disney World for Adults”, the Marriage Capital of the World: Las Vegas. Shimmering in the middle of a scorching-hot desert it is crazy that this place even exists – it shouldn’t, it really shouldn’t; and yet it does. For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year it’s a throbbing, neon-lit, alcohol-slushie-fuelled, high-rolling myriad of wonders and horrors.
We stayed in the cheesy New York New York hotel at the end of the strip. Opened in 1997, the hotel-casino boasts pastel skyscrapers, a faux Statue of Liberty roughly half the size of the original, a very pretty Chrysler tower and a clattering roller-coaster which transports screaming tourists all around the building. We found it to be a bit naff inside – the room we had was completely drab and there was no whiff of an upgrade – but it was pretty cheap, so a fairly solid choice.
Awaking at the crack of dawn on our first day we got up and wandered the strip whilst it was still (relatively) cool; past revelers in various states of disarray. We strolled past a sublimely crummy Arthurian castle, “Paris”, flamingos at the Flamingo, Egyptian pyramids and into the Venetian where gondolas bob on an eerie indoor canal. You’ll either love or loathe this, and luckily for us we’re kitsch aficionados, but the brash strip – with vans emblazoned with strippers patrolling day and night and billboards screaming “BEER PONG JELLO SHOTS” is not entirely family-friendly, we grant you.
Fun for everyone however is the Neon Boneyard. The ‘Boneyard’ houses more than 150 historic signs which you can view close-up at ground level including world-famous signs – Caesars Palace, Binions Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget and the Stardust. It’s part of the Neon Museum who are dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic and cultural enrichment. A very worthy cause. We stopped by for a guided-tour and we’re so very pleased we did. Our tour guide – Bill – was superb. He was passionate about Las Vegas’s heritage and the fabulous neons in their collection, whilst being totally wise-cracking and droll. Miss this experience at your own peril.
Of course this inspired a trip to another icon and before we left the city we just had to drop by the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign which was designed by Betty Willis in 1959. The sign is typical of the googie architectural movement – a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age – and we bloody loved it. It’s located in the median at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South, north of the historic stone pillars of the old McCarran Airport on the east side, and across from the Bali Hai Golf Club and the (closed) Klondike Hotel & Casino on the west side by the way.
Next we stopped by the Gun Store to try our luck at an indoor shooting-range. Inside the store the walls were pasted with articles decrying Obama’s stance on gun-control and our eyebrows raised sharply when we saw that there were “Kiddie’s packs” for the children who came here to shoot guns. Josh elected to shoot a Desert Eagle, Hannah a .44 magnum and after a brief but stern safety talk we were ushered into the range where we had five shots a piece and a target (naturally it was a stereotypical middle Eastern terrorist) several feet away to blow to smithereens. And? Well. Josh was a sharp shooter. Confident, calm and deadly accurate. Hannah fired one shot – which flew wildly in the wrong direction – and then could barely stand up straight owing to jelly-legs and something approaching pure fear. We’ll leave it for you to make your own mind up about whether guns are a good thing or not, but Hannah was dismayed that she felt nothing like the bad-ass she thought she would, just terrified by the weapon kicking in her hands.
A calmer attraction, we also popped by the Atomic Testing Museum which documents the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in the desert north of Las Vegas. When we visited it also had an exhibition about Area 51 and was a lovely, genuinely informative stop on our tour.
And onto food. Dang we ate well in Vegas. We tried our first ever In-N-Out Burger and can report they are most excellent. We opted, naturally, for Double-Double burgers, fries and shakes and they were terrific and terrific value. If you’re not wearing all-white we recommend a visit to Hot N Juicy Crawfish – famous for a Man V Food challenge and the kind of restaurant where you are given a giant-bib, plastic gloves and an acre of kitchen roll when you’re seated. Here we ate fried catfish, prawns and crawfish in a ludicrously tasty and seriously garlic and chilli sauce which was easily the messiest meal we’ve ever experienced but also one of the most fun. Everything’s bigger in America right? Well it was at Hash House A-Go-Go, home to self proclaimed “twisted farm food” where for breakfast we were presented with chicken, bacon maple waffles that were genuinely bigger than our faces and banana caramel French toast which kept us well-fed for days. Another Man V Food spot where, yep, food won.
We’re hardly puritanical but we didn’t go too booze-crazy in Vegas. It’s certainly easy to with cheap deals everywhere. I think it may have been the jetlag/strange waking times which meant we didn’t have epic nights out but we can recommend those who like beer heading to the Pour 24 in the New York New York where Josh was surprised at the selection of tasty craft beers. They also serve Jello shots which naturally we had to indulge in (when in Rome…) Hannah’s cocktail-lust was satisfied in the very beautiful Chandelier Bar in the trendy Cosmopolitan hotel where she enjoyed the camp cook-out themed drink served with a toasted marshmallow.
The Hoover Dam, located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on U.S. 93, straddles the mighty Colorado River, which forms the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona. Considered to be the world’s largest dam and an engineering marvel at the time of its construction in the 1930s, Hoover Dam brings much-needed water and power to the Southwest. During our tour we were taught about the dam’s immense size and its huge hydroelectric generators, and also to note the elegant Art Deco designs on the dam’s four towers, spillways, and power plant. The Nevada side plaza features two Modernist-style bronze sculptures called the Winged Figures of the Republic and a polished terrazzo floor. Here you’ll also find a plaque commemorating the 96 workers who died during the dam’s construction. It was well worth a drive out of town and a vertigo-inducing marvel.
You may agree with Elvis who said “Viva Las Vegas” or more so with Hunter S. Thompson who said: “For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.” We’d recommend you start by planning to spend about 48 hours here for your first trip and returning if you like what you see…
Rate the state:
Good for: gambling, duh. Every kind of imaginable cuisine, partying, kitsch, sunshine.
Bad for: families and recovering alcoholics.