Friday, 3 October 2014

Las Vegas

Flamingos in the garden of the Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas

Four hours of driving and about 180 miles took us from the snowy wintry scene of Brian Head ski resort to the desert and the oasis of Las Vegas. The change of altitude did help, Brian Head is about 10,000ft, Las Vegas is at 2,000ft, so after scraping snow off the car in the morning, we arrived with the air-con on full and changed en-route into shorts and tee shirts into temperatures of mid 80 F (30 C).

'Paris' in Vegas. That's a half scale model of the Eiffel Tower, left of it is a bit of the Louvre and right of the balloon you can just see the Arc Du Triomphe
The I-15 freeway south got busier as we drew near, the two lanes grew to three lanes and then four lanes and then we were in a traffic jam, the first one we’ve seen for a long time. Doris our Sat Nav did her best to guide us through the busy wide streets, five lanes on Flamingo Road full of slow moving cars, choose the second lane from the left as usually the right lane ends as right turn only, but no, in this case it’s the two right lanes that are right turn only and too many cars to move over! Oh well, Doris will sort it out, so we took a slightly more scenic route to the hotel.

The start of the fountain show outside the Bellagio, with 'Paris' as the backdrop
Inside Caesars Palace
Las Vegas is definitely an experience, it’s a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it! It’s loud, brash and ‘in your face’, Jackie and I really quite liked it, but Pauline found it a real problem. Crass is how she described it and I can understand that, but I think you have to suspend reality and let it flow all over you. There are, of course, casinos everywhere and, although you can walk into hotels freely to look around and see what they have, usually you are led through a casino where the sound of money falling into a tray, lights flashing and other things to make you think people are winning loads of money are all around, no sign of the outside so you have no idea of the time of day and, so we’ve heard, pumped fresh air to stop you feeling tired. It’s quite interesting stopping at the blackjack and roulette tables and watch people play, seeing the chips (each probably worth a lot of money) move over the tables, even though we have little idea of the rules.

The 'volcano' erupting
Once you realise that’s how it is it’s fine, there is absolutely no pressure to play and they are quite happy to let you watch and will explain how it all works. It’s really not frightening at all, but that in itself is frightening! How easy it would be to get drawn in and how difficult it would be to stop! Fortunately Jackie and I do not have an interest in gambling, but it is fun to watch others.

Red Rock climbing area
Away from the casinos there is a huge amount of stuff to see and each of the hotels, mainly on The Strip compete to provide the best show and display, usually for free. The Bellagio, on the corner of The Strip and Flamingo Road (where our hotel The Tuscany was) has a large lake out front and puts on a fountain display to music at regular intervals, opposite is ‘Paris’ featuring a half size model of the Eiffel Tower, a section of the Louvre and the Arc du Triomphe, down the road is Venice, complete with the Rialto bridge (but this one has a moving walkway – only in America!),  
This is the crag we climbed on and you can just see some climbers
You might just be able to see Vegas in the distance
Piazza san Marco (St Marks Square) with a copy of the Campanile and Doges Palace and, of course canals complete with gondolas. Caesars Palace has a Roman theme with a copy of the Trevi fountain and streets that give the appearance of being outside: the ceiling is bright blue sky with clouds, the floor is high gloss and cobbled giving the appearance of rain on an outside street. It is so cunningly designed that you can suspend belief and when we stopped at a restaurant we were asked whether we’d like a table outside in the street or inside. It’s all inside, how could we even consider the question! Once an hour a mechanical show takes place of the downfall of Atlantis, lights, fire, water and loud music and shouting, all very realistic! Down the road by ‘Venice’ is a volcano that erupts every half hour (except 7:30pm for some reason) which, after dark is quite amazing.

A panorama of Red Rocks Conservation Area
The Hoover Dam
The whole place is surreal and all this entertainment is for free. Most hotels, ours included, put on a cabaret show for free, there will be a bar with dance floor and a band playing and, in our hotel a relatively inexpensive restaurant (mains about $14 = £8.50). It’s possible to get reasonably priced hotel rooms (or hotel room was $58 per night, the room was huge with a king size bed, sofa, armchair, dining table and chairs, writing desk, big TV, kitchenette and huge bathroom), reasonably priced food and a full programme of entertainment for not very much money. We sat by the pool under clear blue sky, palm trees and the noise of birds singing at our hotel one afternoon reading and drinking and really felt on holiday somewhere very tropical. We had to remind ourselves that this is the middle of the desert and is completely unnatural, sustained only at high cost.

Looking over the dam at the Colorado River, with a view of the by-pass bridge completed in 2010. The road over the dam now only carries sightseers, it's closed to through traffic
Of course, it is possible to spend loads of money, The Bellagio we heard costs $190 per night, plus tips to the doorman, the porter etc and, if you have a gambling head well, the expenditure could be limitless and that, of course, is how it exists.

We arrived with Pauline on Monday afternoon, checked in and went for a walk into the evening, taking in all the sights and had a great time. That was Pauline’s last night as, early on Tuesday morning we drove her the 10 minutes round the corner to Las Vegas International airport for her flight back home, then we went almost straight out to Red Rock Conservation  Area, about 30 minutes outside Vegas to go rock climbing. 
Lake Mead. The white line is the full mark, pretty low isn't it!
Roger had lent us a climbing guide so we were able to find a crag within our climbing range and headed off past the tourists taking pictures in the parking bay and head off through the rocks to the crag, visible from the road. The 20 minute walk through mid 80 F temperatures took us to the crag that was in full sun and had another two, very friendly couples already climbing there. It was fairly hot, so we figured we wouldn’t be there long, but kitted up on the sloping ledge and Jackie led off on a grade 5.7 bolted route that was pretty vertical. 
The Hoover Dam
Good holds on the red sandstone that always sounded hollow, but the guy next to us told us that they seem to be solid enough, which was quite surprising! My turn to lead and it was vertical and exposed, with holds that were adequate most of the time, but as height increased so did exposure and that worry that the next bit didn’t contain those nice holds and the foot holds were sloping and small and, in some cases barely enough to get your big toe on. Just get up to the next bolt, clip in, hang on the rope to relax for a moment and then push on! We did another couple of routes, the last one Jackie led and, when she was 25 or 30 feet up, having moved above her last clip, she glanced down at me and said ‘watch me on this’, words I have not heard her say before. Her legs were trembling a bit as she carefully moved up, finally reaching a bigger looking hold and clipping the next bolt. Mmm, I’ll not be leading this then I thought and I heard her say to the others ‘this route is a lot harder than the other two!’ I went up on the top rope, which is always a lot easier as you know you’re not going anywhere if you fall and I then understood what the fuss was about, nothing positive to hold with hands and the tiniest of round holds for the feet! Well done I say! 5.7? More like a 5.9! Was I glad that rope was there!

That's me on the centre of the dam, left hand in Arizona, the rest in Nevada
On Wednesday morning we decided to drive out to the Hoover Dam, that massive engineering achievement built between 1931 and 1936 to dam the Colorado River downstream of the Grand Canyon and create Lake Mead, a massive reservoir and hydro-electric power plant. It took just under an hour to drive there from Vegas and we managed to avoid the money making bits of it by driving over the dam which is the junction of Nevada and Arizona, park on the Arizona side for free and then walk back across the dam. Park on the Nevada side and its $10, plus $10 each to enter the visitor centre! Great views and a great trip out, but Lake Mead is at an all-time low level, which looked about half full. Back in 1989 it was so full that the two spillways either side of the dam were in use, these take the excess water along channels into two huge holes into the mountainsides. Today the level was a long way below and they looked like they hadn’t seen water for years.

Teddy in our very big bed!
On the way we sent a text to Phil, the son of my business partner and the one who took over from me as MD at my old company after I resigned in 2012. He has been on his honeymoon in Hawaii with his new wife Dawn since their wedding on 19th September and flew into Las Vegas on 1st October for a couple of days, before heading back home on Friday. 

Phil, Dawn and Jackie at the 'Trevi Fountain'
With their full permission to contact them on their honeymoon, we got a text back to say they had arrived in Vegas at 8:00am and would we like to meet up for a coffee. What a pity we were already out and halfway to the Hoover Dam, but we met up mid-afternoon, showed them round the bits we knew and then went and had an expensive (for us) meal with them at a fancy Italian restaurant in ‘Venice’. Great to see them and great to catch up with events at the old company, even if some of them were quite surprising!

Phil, Dawn, Jackie and Brian
Today is Thursday, we’ve now left Vegas and have headed back up to Zion NP, staying for the next two nights at Mount Carmel in a motel room. We did a couple of short hikes in Zion Canyon this afternoon and will be going back again early tomorrow to walk up the Angel Landing, which is a popular and very exciting, exposed walk to a summit with fabulous views apparently. We’re looking forward to it!

We are slightly confused time wise, as we left Utah through Arizona into Nevada to go to Vegas, the time changed on the sat nav at the Arizona/Nevada border, however on the way north, the time changed at the Arizona/Utah border. The clocks on either side of the Dam both showed the same time, so has daylight saving happened somewhere we don’t know about on the 30th Sept? Shame really as we got up early today to walk etc and lost an hour before we even got there, and now we are going to be weaving up and down we are never going to know what time it is! You think they’d put notices on the freeway that you are crossing a time zone wouldn’t you? It’s only Doris that seems to know what time it is, so even if we know where we are going, we have to let her tell us!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Teddy! It Is so good to see you. I hope they are treating you well? Xx