It's a Sure Bet...Right?

Thursday, May 16, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

40th Anniversary in Las Vegas:  May 9-15, 2013

Health concerns among various relatives have focused our travels for the first part of this year on family visits.  While we have certainly enjoyed spending more time with our loved ones, our 40th wedding anniversary propelled us to venture out on a little leisure journey.  With just a week to celebrate, we opted for a flight to Las Vegas.  But this was not your typical trip to Vegas, and things did not turn out as we expected.

Chances are, you can always count on Cirque du Soleil shows to be excellent. 

Having previously been thoroughly mesmerized by seven different shows brilliantly produced by the French Canadian entertainment company that describes itself as "a dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment," we were eager to attend two or three of the eight permanent Cirque shows in Vegas.  On the day we arrived, we made our way to one of the numerous Tix4Tonight outlets on the Strip, where same-day tickets for Vegas shows are available at a "discount."  Unlike the 40-50% savings at a TKTS booth in New York, our tickets in the middle price range were discounted a whopping 13% off the regular $143 rate.  (Only later did we learn that we were lucky to walk away with our actual tickets.  In Vegas, most shows require you to visit their box office to obtain a ticket after you purchase your voucher at Tix4Tonight.)

KÀ Stage, MGM Grand  (Photo by Maitri)
As soon as we entered the KÀ theater at the MGM Grand, we knew this was not going to be a typical Cirque experience.  Unlike the signature intimate Cirque setting where no seat is very far from the stage, KÀ would be performed in a gargantuan hall where even the front row seats were 15 yards from the stage.  Add another 30 yards to reach our seats in the "cheaper" section, and the performers needn't have wasted time and effort on elaborate costumes and makeup.  When performers were near the back of the 40 yard stage area or when the stage was raised to a level five stories high, even opera glasses would not have sufficed.  One needed binoculars.

The lack of applause from the audience during the performance—even during the final bows—told us we were not the only ones disappointed with the production.  Some people walked out, while others, including us, fell asleep intermittently in between checking our watches to gauge how much longer the agony would last.  When we finally escaped, armed with the heretofore inconceivable awareness that not every Cirque du Soleil show was fabulous, we were loathe to gamble another $250 on the troupe.  We'll see them again in the future, but not on this trip.  

Chances are, it's not the heat...it's the humidity.

Yes, we were aware that the weather forecast called for temps in the high 90s and low 100s while we would be in Vegas, but we're from the South, home of the well-known truth old wives' tale that one doesn't feel the effects of heat nearly so much when there's little relative humidity.  No worries, we thought.  It'll probably feel like the 80s at home.

Wrong!  As we were hiking into a canyon in the Mojave Desert in search of a letterbox one dry day,  the temperature climbed well into the triple digits.  That's when we realized.  It's the heat!

Chances are, Vegas is all about gambling and live entertainment.

Since we had already lost a $250 bet on Cirque du Soleil our first night and we don't appreciate the entertainment value in watching our cash sucked into the vortex of slots and table games, we were not eager to frequent any of the many casinos on the Vegas Strip.  Nor did we find any shows compelling except for Cirque, and we just weren't ready to pony up that kind of money again with that lingering bad taste in our mouths.

Surprisingly, we found a great alternative activity for the day we planned to spend in the city before venturing out into some more natural areas.  We were happy to discover that there was a considerable collection of letterboxes concealed right there in the city.  So on our anniversary, we walked up and down the Strip, seeking hidden urban treasures.  Fittingly, we even found one at the wedding chapel of one of the major casino hotels.   So we created our own little vow renewal on the spot to kick off our next 40 years together.  Then it was back to business and on to the next letterbox.

Chances are, there's not too much opportunity for hiking around Vegas.

After a day and a half on the Strip and in the city, it was time for us to vacate the urban confines for some wide open spaces.  After all, as the air approach to the city reminds you, Las Vegas is a fabricated oasis in the middle of a desert. Surrounding the city are plentiful places for exploring nature.

Valley of Fire State Park
Following I-15 a few miles east of the city led us to Valley of Fire State Park, a spectacular area characterized by massive red sandstone formations which began as great shifting sand dunes during the days of dinosaurs.  This granular heritage is evident in the park's trails, which are quite challenging due to their sandy surfaces, much like slogging through the powdery Gulf beaches.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Just a few miles west of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon, an area popular with hikers and rock climbers.  We enjoyed the scenic loop drive through the red rock formations and sandstone peaks, but didn't venture onto any trails because of the heat.

Mount Charleston
Northwest of Red Rock Canyon, we found relief from the relentless Mojave heat.  An evergreen island in the desert, Mount Charleston rises almost 12,000 feet.  As we drove upward on Kyle Canyon Road, the temperature fell.  By the time we reached the visitor center at 8,400 feet, the air was 30 degrees cooler than the city, having dropped to a very comfortable 73°.  We took advantage of these moderate conditions and checked out two of the Mount Charleston trails.

Chances are, Las Vegas is all about glitz and glam.

You could easily get this impression if your visit is confined to the Las Vegas Strip, which is actually outside the city limits stretched across the unincorporated communities of Paradise, Winchester and Enterprise.  Venture into the city proper, however, and a completely different picture emerges.  This is old Las Vegas, where the action was in the mid-20th century.  Today it's a bit run-down and downright seedy.  Definitely no glitz or glamor here.

East Fremont Street, the past
Mirage Casino and Hotel, one of today's mega hotels on the Vegas Strip


Chances are, there's not a dam place to visit to the south of Vegas.

Actually, there is.  We drove down to Boulder City one day to check out the new bridge spanning the Black Canyon of the Colorado River.  When the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s, it provided not only water management and power generation but also a bridge across the canyon in the form of a road across the top of the dam.  As the volume of traffic surged beyond the dam capacity and concerns emerged from September 11 about the security of this critical resource, an alternative span was conceived.

Hoover Dam and the canyon bypass
Opened to traffic in 2010, the Hoover Dam Bypass, a steel and concrete arch bridge, now carries all traffic across the canyon.  After undergoing a security check, visitors to the dam can still drive across it to reach parking areas.

Chances are, this is all we're reporting about our Las Vegas trip.

We tried something a little new on this trip.  Using an iPhone app called Trip Color, we blogged our activities on the go each day.  Though we haven't decided whether this is something we may continue, it was an interesting experiment.  You can check out the results on our Trip Color web pages.