Las Vegas, part I

(The volcano at The Mirage.)

As opposed to the last two detours, I arrived at my destination by plane. Upon disembarking from which, passengers are greeted by the one thing Vegas is most known for: a terminal full of slot machines (not "very exotic" dancers, unfortunately). The "frantic slot machine bonging" greets you just after the pilot welcomes you to Las Vegas.

Everything is as shiny and loud – both in visual and audible aspects – as you expect the whole city to be. There are flashy casino show adverts everywhere, and the carpet chaotically shimmeys its obnoxious, shiny, multi-colored pattern at you.

In contrast, everything is neatly laid out, organized, and labeled.

Regardless of your surroundings mimicking constant camera flash, you know exactly where to go and how to get there. It doesn't take ages to get from the terminal to the baggage check to the exit, either – where your desired mode of transportation, be it taxi, limo, or shuttle, abundantly awaits.

A bus shuttles you to another part of McCarran airport, some miles away, where you go to pick up your rental car. You show the clerk your reserved category, they show you where in the adjacent parking area such cars are located, and you pick your own and go, the keys waiting in each pre-inspected car.

Such is the idea of the entire city. In each of the famous casino-resorts along the Strip, every single parking garage and attraction within (shows, casinos, clubs, rides, etc.) is uninhibitedly open to all, hotel guests and non-guests alike.

Furthermore, parking in any garage is completely free of charge; you can even drive from hotel to hotel if you don't feel like walking the seven-kilometer length of South Las Vegas Boulevard called the Strip.

(That's why I wasn't surprised to see any overweight people during my stay. If you want booze, gambling, and strippers, you have to walk a couple miles to get to it.)

But I digress. There is more to Vegas than $200-per-night resorts, abundant gambling, and prostitutes, even though people that want that are more than catered for.

For instance, there is the Hoover Dam, located 30 miles East of the Strip, on the Nevada-Arizona border. It was built in the first half of the thirties to stop the Colorado River from regularly flooding Southern California.

This particular site was chosen since it offered terrain best suited for building a dam. Once the dam was built, the strong current was subsequently used to bring electricity to all of Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California.

Las Vegas owes its fame to the Hoover Dam: before the dam was built, Las Vegas was a town consisting of a train station and the houses of the people that worked there.

Only after the dam was finished did more attention begin to be directed to the town. Major re-development of Vegas – i.e. the construction of the first big and famous casinos – happened in the following decade.

The dam is over 220 meters tall – almost as tall as the Titanic was long. It took 5 years and over 5,000 workers to build, it's composed of 2,480,000 cubic meters of concrete, and generates 4.2 billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. A consortium of six companies – conveniently named "Six Companies" – took charge of the project.

The Hoover Dam is quite a sight to behold. Look over the edge and you will marvel at what an engineering feat it still is now, not to mention eighty years ago. You can still drive across it, though last year, the state route that once went across the dam was diverted across the new bridge built right beside it.

Just make sure to leave the nail clippers at home, since to enter the dam in this post-9/11 world, you have to go through on-site airport security beforehand.

Twenty miles to the West of the Strip lies Red Rock Canyon, a former quarry and now a national park in the desert, with over a million visitors each year.

It's essentially a mini-Grand Canyon; you are free to climb all over its red rocks, making Indian War Cries while pretending to shoot arrows at people, if you so desire.

Locals use it as a park, coming there to hike, jog, and rock-climb, and petrol-heads go there to drive along the scenic and well-kept thirteen-mile road that runs through the canyon itself.

It's a natural habitat to a variety of desert animals, including wild burros, desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas, so watch out where you sit to pose for a picture.

The park even has its own toll booth and visitors center with a panoramic view of the entire canyon. Visit Red Rock Canyon and you will see for yourself why life depicted in old western movies is so desolate.

When you reach the aformentioned toll booth, you are informed that the $7 entrance fee you pay lasts the entire day, such that when you pay once, you can return an infinite number of times for free, until the park closes. If you plan on coming back often, you can instead buy a $30 pass that lasts for an entire year.

During my time there, I experienced the typical Las Vegas rain spell: no less than three whole raindrops fell onto the windshield of the car.

Did I mention that, on average, it rains less than thirty days a year in Nevada?

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