Las Vegas – my favorite desert mirage. ~Val Saintsbury
I visited Las Vegas for the first time last September. It’s a city like no other. A man-made oasis in the middle of the dessert, full of tourists, neon signs, concrete, casinos, buffets, show girls, people-watchers, dreamers, losers, wannabes, snobs, singers, beggars, rejects, people who want to have fun, drug dealers, addicts, and lights. It’s like everything you have always imagined it to be and nothing like it.
Friday. On our way to Vegas we flew over the Grand Canyon – such an amazing place. A total opposite of what awaited us.
Las Vegas is not as big as I imagined. It primarily consist of the Strip, where all casinos are lined up, Fremont street in the heart of downtown, and some subdivisions and shopping areas for all the people who work there and cater to the world’s sinful needs. Conveniently, you can see the Las Vegas Strip from the airport. It’s that close.
The casinos are definitely impressive. All wonders of the world exist in close proximity, attracting tourists like ants to chocolate. Once you go in, it feels like being in a labyrinth. No matter where you are headed, you have to pass through a casino.
We had a whole week to spend in Vegas, that’s why we headed out of the city on our first evening. Red Rock Canyon sounded promising, and the advice we got was to visit it at dusk. Only 15 miles west, it felt like being in a different world. The landscape around Vegas is striking.
Since it was already dusk, we opted out of the hike and we drove the loop instead. The views were truly breathtaking.
“The night before I left Las Vegas I walked out in the desert to look at the moon. There was a jeweled city on the horizon, spires rising in the night, but the jewels were diadems of electric and the spires were the neon of signs ten stories high.” ~Norman Mailer
“Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.” ~Tom Wolfe
A walk on the Strip was a must. It is an approximately 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch, populated with some of the world’s largest hotels, each more exuberant and dramatic than the other. Almost as fascinating as the hotels and casinos are the people who walk the Strip. 99% of them are tourists, just passing by. And since “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” they gamble, drink, wear embarrassingly short dresses and have fun, even if they are not actually having fun.
“Nevada’s one of the most conservative states in the Union, but you can do what you want in Vegas and nobody judges you.” Drew Carey
“People do stupid things in the heat of the moment. I’ve been in Vegas where I’ve gotten married for, like, five minutes.” Lance Bass
Vegas is a sensory overload. So many lights, so many sights, so many people, so many shows, so many restaurants, so many opportunities. It was solely created for entertainment, to make you feel happy, to give you freedom, to help you live your life. Same day, different shadows.
By far, my favorite thing in Vegas was the fountain show at the Bellagio. There are no words to describe it. It’s perfectly synchronized with the music, and it goes from gentle and elegant, to swift and dramatic. The show takes place every 30 minutes in the afternoons and early evenings, and every 15 minutes from 8 pm to midnight. Every time we went by there was a different song playing. Magical.
This sight always makes me think of Ocean’s Eleven… Definitely a romantic spot in Vegas, great for people-watching and contemplating your next step.
Saturday. Off in the car we go, Hoover Dam bound. Away from the city lights, and into the desert.
Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the US states of Arizona and Nevada. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. The dam was controversially named after President Herbert Hoover.
Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead, and is located near Boulder City, Nevada, a municipality originally constructed for workers on the construction project, about 25 mi (40 km) southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. The dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction; nearly a million people tour the dam each year. Heavily travelled U.S. 93 ran along the dam’s crest until October 2010, when the Hoover Dam Bypass opened.
The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is an arch bridge in the United States that spans the Colorado River between the states of Arizona and Nevada. The bridge is located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area approximately 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, and carries U.S. Route 93 over the Colorado River. Opened in 2010, it was the key component of the Hoover Dam Bypass project, which rerouted US 93 from its previous routing along the top of Hoover Dam and removed several hairpin turns and blind curves from the route.
The Dam was truly impressive. We took the short tour, where they mentioned most of the facts listed above and we got to walk inside the dam.
A view from the Nevada side. A total of 3,250,000 cubic yards (2,480,000 m3) of concrete was used in the dam before concrete pouring ceased on May 29, 1935. In addition, 1,110,000 cubic yards (850,000 m3) were used in the power plant and other works. More than 582 miles (937 km) of cooling pipes were placed within the concrete. Overall, there is enough concrete in the dam to pave a two-lane highway from San Francisco to New York.
A view from the Arizona side. There were 112 deaths associated with the construction of the dam. Included in that total was J. G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned on December 20, 1922, while looking for an ideal spot for the dam. He is generally counted as the first man to die in the construction of Hoover Dam. His son, Patrick W. Tierney, was the last man to die working on the dam’s construction, 13 years to the day later. Ninety-six of the deaths occurred during construction at the site.
Grand projects require grand vision and grand resources.
Back to the madness. As the sun sets, the city comes alive.
“It’s a corny old gag about Las Vegas, the temporal city if there ever was one, trying to camouflage the hours and retard the dawn, when everybody knows that if you’re feeling lucky you’re really feeling time in its rawest form, and if you’re not feeling lucky, they’ve got a clock at the bus station.” ~Michael Herr
Shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, casinos, hotels, buffets, restaurants, clubs. They all want your money.
A typical sight in Vegas. The definition of normal is not the one you are used to.
Being in Vegas is like an surreal experience. everything is meant to bring you pleasure. You get sucked into the flashiness of it, blinded by the neon lights. They tell you that you can do whatever you want there, with no consequences. But eventually, you have to leave and pay the price.
If you stay, you are just another character on the street…
“For me, Vegas is a vacation from being overinhibited, in the highly overinhabited yet uninhabitable city of complete uninhibition.” ~Tammy Bloemzaken
One thing I found out about Vegas, is that it’s not quote the same as the movies and the shiny ads we see. It might seem like a good idea late at night, but it sure takes a different look in the morning.
Yet the city has some in explicable appeal that people are drawn to. I believe it’s not the actual place, rather the idea of it.
It’s not Venice, but it still feels romantic. How easily the senses can be deceived.
“For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.” ~Hunter S. Thompson
Vegas is a constant movie scene. If that meant fountain show every 5 minutes, I didn’t mind it!
Vegas is grand. Everything about it is huge, over-the-top, impressive.
Vegas is food. Lots of food. 24-hour buffets.
Vegas is fake rainstorms in the middle of a shopping mall. Complete with rain, thunder and camera flashes.
Vegas is magic. Each hotel lobby is more beautiful than the next.
Vegas is emptiness. It gives you everything, yet nothing.
Vegas is art. The art to spend money to make money.
Vegas is madness of people, pleasures, concrete and lights. A unique mix like no other, selling itself well.
Vegas is humanized cool kitty. If you stay long enough, you can encounter everything.
Vegas is glamour. Everything is meant to impress. By imitation.
“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Neither the desert nor gambling are open areas; their spaces are finite and concentric, increasing in intensity toward the interior, toward a central point, be it the spirit of gambling or the heart of the desert – a privileged, immemorial space, where things lose their shadow, where money loses its value, and where the extreme rarity of traces of what signals to us there leads men to seek the instantaneity of wealth. ~Jean Baudrillard
Text and Photos: me