America 2017: Day Fourteen (3 November)

Here’s to Las Vegas,
It’s one of a kind,
Here’s to the smiles all around
Neons are flashing
‘Bout music and passion
All over town

Here’s to the winners
Cheers to them all
Everyone’s winning today

Forever, for always, for everyone
Here’s to Las Vegas
And I’m here to stay

– Barry Manilow

Friday 3 November 2017

Henderson, Nevada

What a day it’s been!

We started out our day in the Valley of Fire State Park, an incredible array of other-worldly formations the likes of which make you think you’re on another planet, and ended in another place famous for it’s other-worldly formations: the Las Vegas strip. Safe to say, some of the sights you see down there make you think you’re on another planet, too.


Valley of Fire State Park is south of Overton, Nevada, about a ninety-minute/80km/50mi drive from Henderson. We took a route through the Lake Mead National Park into Valley of Fire State Park at it’s eastern entrance. The park gets it’s name from the spectacular red sandstone formations that dominate more than 46,000 acres of state park. Valley of Fire is actually Nevada’s original state park, and was designated a National Historical Landmark back in 1968.


It was a beautiful day for being out in the desert, with some cool cloud adding a little more texture to the scenery. We did a mixture of walking and driving, and although the wind occasionally gusted up towards 30km/h, it was mostly sheltered and we didn’t have too much trouble with wind whipping up the sand. On a side note: it’s forecast to be fairly windy each of the next two days here in the Las Vegas area.


It’s fascinating to walk amongst the formations – with names like ‘Elephant Rock’, ‘Fire Wave’ and the ‘Seven Sisters’ – that’ve been present in this area for millions of years, back when the entire area was the bed of a giant sea. You look out across the vast valley and can imagine the desert floor being an ocean, with the large formations perhaps as islands. Then you consider how far the earth has come, from this area once being full of water, to it now getting very little water to it, especially in the brutally-hot summer months. You wouldn’t want to do too much hiking out there in June, July or August, that’s for sure!


Our return drive to Henderson took us past Nellis Air Force Base, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and downtown Las Vegas. We stopped at a Dairy Queen near the house for a milkshake, and once home, I took the opportunity to have a very enjoyable nap before our early dinner.


Then, it was off to the Las Vegas Strip. We parked at Mandalay Bay, site of the tragic events that rocked Vegas the world just a few weeks ago, and explored the strip heading north, using a combination of walking (on the street and through casinos) and the very-handy trams that move you efficiently from one casino complex to another.


In just over two and a half hours’ walking, we saw most of the mammoth resort-casinos – Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio, Mirage, Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand, Paris-Las Vegas, New York-New York and Harrah’s – that line Las Vegas Boulevard for miles. It was a beautiful night in the desert, and there was a good, happy vibe amongst the many patrons. At least outwardly, the city seems to have bounced back from the shocking tragedy of October, though it’s hard to completely forget what happened when you see the memorial to those who lost their lives at the hands of Stephen Paddock, nor when you witness law enforcement helicopters buzzing low around where large groups of people were gathered at T-Mobile Arena, just in case. Those are reminders you can’t shake.


The Strip was it’s usual quirky self. The professional bull rider’s association finals are in town, so there were lots of people getting around in Stetson hats and cowboy boots, speaking with very pronounced southern accents. I saw a hen’s party, wide-eyed family groups, couples, big tourist groups, and countless girls complaining that their feet hurt. For better or for worse, there’s nowhere on earth quite like the Strip here in Las Vegas. It’s one heck of a melting pot.


Dad likened the whole experience to going to the zoo – there was certainly plenty to see. Mum wondered if perhaps this wasn’t humankind at it’s worst. I suggested that humankind at it’s worst was still a few hours away. If you want something memorable out of a trip to Vegas, take a walk down the strip early in the morning, at or just after sunrise, and you’ll see things that you wish you could unsee.


All in all, a fun day – and one of great contrasts: Valley of Fire in the morning and the Strip in the evening. Tomorrow, we go through the Colorado River’s Black Canyon on a raft tour.

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