From Zion we drive down Interstate 15 which takes us off of the protected and cohesive layers of the Colorado Plateau and the strict codes of the Church of Latter Day Saints. We descend steeply into the Virgin River Gorge and into a very low and dry landscape where we admire the flat expansive views with lonely looking mountain ranges on the horizon. The expanses are never quite flat but are curved upward ever so slightly so you can see just how empty the landscape is, a landscape that is actually being stretched apart. The basins are in the process of sinking and the mountain ranges are like the stretch marks, holding ancient stories of the past. This is the Basin and Range, the desert is the Mojave, the driest in the US and the city that resides at the bottom of this sinking basin we are heading towards is Las Vegas.
Also flowing into this Great Basin off of the Colorado Plateau is the Colorado River just finishing its job of carving the mighty Grand Canyon and poised to take its last lazy float down to the Gulf of California like it has for millions of years. But in 1931 that was all changed when a giant hydroelectric dam was built corralling the largest reservoir in the country. This ambitious project took place hundreds of miles from anywhere and anything, thousands of workers were needed and over a hundred died to build it. The result was the down trodden water stop of Las Vegas, sprung up to service the needs of all the lonely, homesick workers. This was the 20th century so most states of the nation had laws against hired love and or leaving all of your hard earned money up to chance, but in the great state of Nevada there was almost nothing and nobody. Laws were voted on for the workers, by the workers. Eventually word got out beyond the scope of the Hoover Dam project and the Nevada State Lines that there was a place where everyday common moral rules did not apply. Large scale gangsters and businessmen came in from LA, Chicago and New York. They happily collected money from those addicted to chance. This quickly sped up the city building momentum and financed bigger and more luxurious hotels, casinos and shows – some of the biggest shows in show biz with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and of course Elvis Presley. Soon a powerful man in the aviation industry, Howard Hughes, came for a visit. Instead of leaving his room in his hotel he bought the hotel and then most of the city. It became internationally known as Sin City, a place of high class adult entertainment and a hot spot for famous musicians, entertainers and show biz. Finally by mid 90s Las Vegas’ destiny of becoming one of the biggest tourist destinations for seeing a live show in the entire world was attained.
I have been visiting this region for almost two decades and I love it here. But when I come I spend very little, to no time in Sin City. I fly in and then head out of the Las Vegas basin as fast as I can and into one of my favorite mountain ranges in the United States which is most commonly known as Red Rocks.
On this visit we began the Vegas experience by camping and climbing in Red Rocks. Red Rocks is made of the same awesome sandstone layers as Zion National Park but around 16 million years ago it broke off from the rest and has been increasingly surrounded by a sea of Mojave desert basin. The result is that Red Rocks is a paradise of some of the greatest climbing in the US. We spent our time on the single pitch rock but there is everything here up to 2,000 foot big wall wilderness ascents, all taking place on rock that was forged almost exclusively for those of us who love to rock climb. There are easy climbs, moderate climbs and extremely difficult climbs. There are climbs that have been done thousands of times and there are spectacular swathes of rock perfection that have never been explored.
After three days at our camp we were ready. The kids just can’t wait any more and I really can’t figure out what they can’t wait for. “Why in the world am I taking my kids to Vegas?” I can’t help but ask myself again.
We move our camp from Red Rocks to a giant Hotel, Casino, spa, resort monstrosity in the south of Vegas. Jacob’s good friend Walker and his mom Janet flew down to play with us for several days. Why were we showing the kids Vegas? Part of this trip is about sharing iconic America that means “Vegas baby”. Las Vegas is as American as Superman and Johnny Cash. It’s where the ultimate American dream can be realized. To party hard like a rock star and return home a super hero. That’s the American Dream….damn it! Wads of cash stuffed in my pocket.
The mission while here was simple: Take many showers, watch movies, eat lots and observe. Here Jacob explains his experience:
“When Walker came it didn’t seem like 8 months since I’d seen him last. He and Janet surprised us not only with Rocket Donuts from Bellingham but with Janet’s homemade Challah, our families’ favorite especially as they came on Shabbat. Together we went bowling at this huge bowling alley inside of the hotel. We also went to see movies in a giant movie theater also inside of the hotel. It was the first movie in a very long time. The food at the buffet wasn’t very good but it was still fun to eat as much as we could. We had a tiny breakfast and a huge dessert. I got so full but still wanted more and I literally couldn’t fit more dessert.
The Casino was overwhelming because there was a ton of people smoking, yelling and gambling. I couldn’t believe that these old people sat at machines for hours and gambled all of their money. I saw the same people at the same machine for more than a day. Some were sitting in corners playing cards and smoking huge cigars, they looked like that was where they lived.
After Walker left we stayed on the strip with Aunt Libs. The hotel was awesome but I am pretty sure if the strip was rated it should have been XXX. There were billboards with more XXX images everywhere. There was an M&M store and we bought tons of multi colored and flavored M&M’s until we realized that a pound of M&M’s was close to $8. It was still fun because we were with Aunt Libby. It’s always a party with Aunt Libby. The hotel we were staying at had a posh pool on the roof that frowned on noise, laughter and smiles. We visited the Bellagio gardens and fountains, the Liberace Museum and explored the craziness of Vegas. After months of camping, Vegas was shocking and a blast but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
The first Hotel Casino Jacob was talking about was called South Point Hotel and Casino. It was a mega complex complete with hotel, casino, bowling alley, super mall, buffets galore, mega swimming pool, spa and horse arena and stables. That is correct, yes, the largest indoor horse arena and equestrian center in the country actually. Not sure why they built it indoors since the weather outside is almost always perfect except of course in the dead of summer. Michelle and Ila went to watch the final round of the International Arabian Breeders World Cup. Ila witnessed Qatar’s beautiful example of horse perfection grace the arena and ultimately crowned champion. What a buzz.
Michelle’s Aunt Libby flew in to play with us after Walker and Janet left putting us up in the Polo Towers right smack in the middle of the Strip. “If it’s good enough for them than it’s good enough for me!” Aunt Libby said with gusto as we were checking in, (by them she meant the mob). Later we met up with Libby (and Michelle’s) Cousin Jon, Vegas entertainer and wine maker extraordinaire. They reminisced telling old colorful stories about their childhood.
I spent most of the time enjoying the view of the strip from the 33rd floor. While I caught up on work Jacob, Libby and Elias went and had regular adventures in this NC 17 City. Speaking of which, Vegas is now being touted as one of the leading family getaways in the country. It all makes sense… No, I’m not talking about the fact that Las Vegas is a great place to teach your daughters that above all else they are a sex symbol and all other aspirations in life should be secondary. I am not talking about the Vegas you go to, to get absurdly drunk and obnoxious anywhere and anytime of day no matter what and that’s totally cool. I am talking about the Vegas where you give away ALL of your money. That’s right. You no longer need to leave the kids with some family member back at home you can bring them with you and stay longer. Do really neat “family” stuff by day and then neatly tuck the kids into bed and head back down to Casino by night.
Friends, family, entertainment, beds and so on, Michelle and I left with very little desire ever to visit again, that said, we had a great time with friends and family and it was a hell of an adventure. We’d been roughing it in the wilderness for some time now and we found an antidote. Now we couldn’t wait to go back into the wild for a big strong cleanse.