Talk about a change of scenery! We left the campground near Zion, in the tiny town of Virgin and drove through many more small towns; down through mountain passes until way in the distance we began to see the skyscrapers of Vegas. After the one lane roads we’ve experienced for the last few weeks, this was kind of a shock to the system. We were greeted by four fighter jets flying overhead, opening the window to take a photo brought in the roar of their engines.
We are camping at the KOA campground of Vegas – this is situated in an enormous parking lot type of location in the grounds of Circus, Circus, next to the tall Stratosphere. At night, we could just about see the three highest thrill rides in the world: Big Shot, Insanity and X Scream at the very top of the Stratosphere tower. We’re still surrounded by mountains but it’s not quite the same!
After a quick lunch and the realization that we’d crossed the border into Nevada (state number 35!) and gained an hour – we always forget the time thing – we headed out of the city to take in the wonder of the Hoover Dam and the new bridge they’re building.
The kids were extremely active, having been cooped up in the car for a few hours so we decided to forego the tour and take our own, less formal, tour! The views over the dam are incredible – so much water and the structure is enormous and of course, extremely thick. It’s hard to believe its able to hold back this much water, at its highest level, it can hold up to two years back up of Colorado River flow – crazy!
We checked out the bronze winged angels, each weighing 40 tonnes and towering to a height of 40ft. We crossed over from Nevada and walked into Arizona, our 3rd state in one day, pretty funny.
On the way out, we stopped at the Lake Mead overlook and learned quite a bit by reading their signs. After the Hoover Dam was completed, the lake was formed, which actually encompasses all the water areas coming up to the dam, about 200 miles. The lake filled the empty beds left by the Colorado and Virgin Rivers – love that we’re following up on geography already learned about in previous places.
Lake Mead is a National Recreation Area and now comes under the National Park Service umbrella. I stopped in at the Visitor Center to pick up Junior Ranger books (and more patches), which we could do during the weekend and mail in for a certificate and badge. I’m glad that some of the NPS sites offer that option, particularly for families who are not in the area long enough. I guess working through these books, completing the puzzles and learning through the fun activities, would be considered ‘unschooling’ – seems such an incorrect term, given how much learning actually goes on during our outings.
After a quick pit stop for groceries (umble, grumble, gurgle, roar – no-one (in our family at least) ever wants to shop – trust me, my kiddums!), we attempted to beat rush-hour traffic back into Vegas – baby – had to add it, at least once right?!
After dinner, we took a drive down Las Vegas Boulevard, more commonly known as, ‘The Strip’. It was insanely busy but, on the plus side, lots of cars meant lots of opportunities to stop and gaze out the window, snapping pictures wildly as the lights flashed around us and the noise roared. From the back, the kids kept saying, “Look at that, look out my side, wow, did you see that screen, look at the size of that building, there’s the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, did you see that M&M, the big lion, the rollercoaster coming out of the roof, the pyramid, the castle….”, you get the idea – we were ‘wow’ed’!
A little history: Las Vegas, which means “the meadows” in Spanish, gained its name in the 1800s when this green valley and desert spring waters offered respite for weary travelers traversing the Old Spanish Trail on their way to California.
The city’s official history began on May 15, 1905, when 110 acres of land adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks was auctioned in what would become the downtown area. Las Vegas became incorporated as a city in 1911, with a population of 3,000.
A pivotal year for Las Vegas was 1931, when Nevada legalized casino gambling, liberized the state divorce law by reducing residency requirements to six weeks, and construction started on the Boulder Canyon Project, now known as the Hoover Dam.
These changes greatly impacted downtown’s Fremont Street, where it evolved from a dusty whistle stop into a haven for fun seekers.
It was also during the middle of the 20th century that Las Vegas continued its triumphant march toward becoming the gambling, or ‘gaming’ capital of the world. During this time, the use of neon emerged, transforming Fremont Street into ‘Glitter Gulch’.
1n 1959, the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign was created by resident Betty Willis. It was also during this era where Las Vegas became known for its ‘colorful’ characters like Bugsy Siegel and Howard Hughes. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the face of the Las Vegas gambling industry was forever changed by one man, Steve Wynn, who ushered in the era of the mega resort.
Some of the hotel casinos we saw: Stratosphere; Circus, Circus; Sahara; Riviera; Encore; Wynn; Palazzo; Treasure Island; Venetian; Casino Royale; The Mirage; Harrah’s; Imperial Palace; Flamingo; Caesar’s Palace; Bellagio; Bally’s; Paris; New York, New York; MGM Grand; Excalibur; Luxor; Mandalay Bay; Tropicana.
The Vegas airport is practically on The Strip so driving out beyond the famous ‘Welcome’ sign (Becca was excited to spot a wedding party having their pictures taken there), the planes flew right above our heads and we were able to watch a couple land.
Our intention had been to park up and wander around a bit, see the fountains at the Bellagio, catch the show outside Treasure Island, feel the energy but it was all rather overwhelming and the long day was catching up with us. We went past The Orleans (packed parking lot, hard to believe how many people are here in the city) for a quick stop for parts at the Home Depot. We drove back to Circus, Circus around 9:30pm with a plan to return to The Strip tomorrow afternoon in the daylight, when, perhaps, the crowds would be a little thinned out.
Dave spent the rest of the evening fixing the heating element in the hot water heater, which I, inadvertently (do you ever do these things ‘advertently’?!) fried earlier in the day. He had indicated that the electrics were plugged in so I recycled the fridge to electric and flicked the water heater switch – mistake! He hadn’t hooked up the water yet so it heated nothing but itself, oops!
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)