Road Trip USA – Las Vegas
After a bad night’s sleep, a trek up Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and a 165 mile drive to Vegas, arriving at 8pm, I was more tired than I thought possible. After consuming a rancid ready meal from the nearest 7-Eleven and sorting check-ins at our accommodation, Marina was ready to go out and I was ready for bed.
We were staying at a superb little hostel on Las Vegas Boulevard, Hostel Cat. With a huge courtyard surrounded by six-bed dorms and a common kitchen-cum-lounge area, it had a great vibe to it. Fair warning, however, I’d recommend it to the younger generation…the party in the courtyard often runs into the early hours.
On Sunday morning, I woke up early and wandered down the boulevard in the direction of the Fremont Street Experience, happening upon the famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop used in TV’s Pawn Stars along the way.
Fremont Street is home to casinos (such as the Golden Nugget), neon lights aplenty and the famous Vegas Vic cowboy, used in numerous movies and TV shows prior to the popularisation of the more modern Vegas Strip.
When the Fremont Street Experience was added, a huge barrel vault light canopy was constructed, 90 feet high and four blocks in length. After a recent upgrade, the canopy houses 12 million LED bulbs, giving the light shows a more high-definition look. These shows, of course, only run at night.
Once back at the hostel, we relaxed in the courtyard and sat out a flash flood warning. We had met two Danes and three twenty-somethings from Miami, Alan, Martin, Alex, Billy and JC, the previous evening and the decision was quickly made to head to Stratosphere to rid ourselves of our gambling virginities.
$20 wasted and a rather unexciting visit to the Mandalay Bay “beach” later and we returned to freshen up before leaving for the Strip to see the last couple of water shows at the Bellagio Fountains. 11.30pm brought with it Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” and fifteen minutes later, the slightly grating “Overture & All that Jazz” from the musical Chicago.
The fountains are incredibly majestic and I was unaware how high the 1,200 jets shoot into the sky. At the finale of each performance, the “extreme jets” propel columns of water 460ft/140m upwards; quite a spectacle.
At 1am, we arrived back at the Fremont Street Experience, where we ate horrible pizza and gambled in two of the casinos until 4am. After being $120 up at the blackjack table and subsequently losing it all, including my original $20 bet, I learnt a valuable lesson: if you’re up more than double what you originally placed down, walk away.
The next morning was a late one, but at midday we left the hostel parking lot for the Hoover Dam, situated on the Nevada-Arizona state border. Completed in 1936 and claiming over 100 lives throughout its five-year construction, it stands at over 700ft high and as a result, creates Lake Mead.
We carried on driving for another hour until we arrived at Lake Mohave, the 26,500 acre body of water between the Hoover Dam and the Davis Dam. This is a spot famed for its water sports, including scuba diving and kiteboarding. We were there, however, to cliff jump.
The jumps range in height from 40 to 75 feet, and with enough horizontal propulsion, can be free from the danger that rocks jutting from the cliff face present.
All was going very well, until, during the last photo opportunity of the excursion, Alex dislocated his shoulder upon entry into the water. He had undergone surgery on the area before and had mistakenly kept his arm aloft at the moment of impact, snapping it up and out of its socket.
Alex had a painful hike back to the bay, where I had gone ahead and asked a kind stranger if he wouldn’t mind driving us back to our car. He had readily agreed – just another example of how people in the States go out of their way to help with no hesitation.
When back at our cars, our new friends started their drive to San Diego, where we would be joining them the next afternoon, and we made our way back into the heart of Vegas. Donning our best garb, we drove to the Bellagio and had Marina’s car valet parked.
We caught the last two fountain shows – a revelation for me, as I heard a beautiful piece of music for the first time: Ayshe’s Awakening & Dance, the third movement of Khachaturian’s “Gayaneh Suite No. 1”. A video (not mine) of this particular show can be found by clicking here.
We gambled in The Bellagio for roughly an hour before wandering around Caesar’s Palace, Flamingo and the other highlights of the strip. At 4am, we called it a night and hit the hay.
I had been slightly concerned that the hype for Las Vegas was over-justified, but I needn’t have worried. It is legitimately an amazing place and I would very happily return and do it all over again.
But for the time being, it was time to get some sleep before the five hour drive to San Diego…