Las Vegas Honeymoon, Part II

Caesar's Palace has a very impressive interior and exterior. This place certainly cost a lot of money to build. Bronze statues outside, perfectly sculpted bushes, and elegant lawns make it an elegant place on the outside. Inside, the place is a work of art. The area where the Forum Shops are located (an indoor mini-mall), the entire ceiling is painted like a 3D blue sky. The clouds look so real that they seem to shift as you walk. In the center court, there is a large fountain with animated statues of Bacchus, Venus, Apollo, and Brutus. They come to life every hour and speak to the crowds gathered. Not only do the statues talk, but they move. Bacchus raises his cup and turns his head, Apollo strums his harp, and Brutus raises his arm. Bacchus, the god of wine and merrymaking, encourages everyone to drink and enjoy the party. The FAO Schwartz toy store in the Forum Shops has a giant toy horse in front of it. There too, the doors open every hour and you see King Kong holding a woman hostage in one scene. The wooden horse moves its head as well. By the store, I got to pose beside a Star Wars Storm Trooper that held me at gunpoint.

On May 28th, we saw Air Supply in concert at the Orleans. That's Colleen's favorite group. It was a small theatre, so every seat was good. They happened to be doing a 3-night stand in Vegas when we arrived, so Colleen had to check it out. The band sounded pretty good. They have a young bass player, drummer, and pianist. All those guys played very well and I found it to be enjoyable though I'm not familiar with their music that much.  The band demonstrated their skill at working the audience. They left the stage to go amongst the people attending. Though cameras weren't allowed at the show, a number of women jumped out
of their seats for a photo opportunity. The band members were very gracious and let numerous ladies pose with them. I was pleased with the show.

We also saw "La Cage" at the Riviera. This is a female impersonator show, with men dressed up like Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Judy Garland, Reba McIntyre, and other famous ladies. It's hosted by Frank Marino, who's dressed up like Joan Rivers, and even has her voice and mannerisms figured out. My favorite was a hairy, overweight Madonna impersonator who also wore those pointy breast cones like Madonna. That was hilarious to see him/her dance to "Like a Prayer" and "Vogue." To really throw a curveball, the last actor came out dressed like Michael Jackson, the only male? impersonated at the show. At the end, the actors signed programs for people in the lobby.

Besides LaCage, we saw another impersonator show, "American Superstars" at the Stratosphere. This place is at the northern end of the "modern" Vegas strip. Its claim to fame is a tall tower that rises high above Las Vegas. I believe it's the tallest structure in Vegas. If it holds one record, it's the fact that it has the highest altitude ride way atop the building. People pay admission to see Vegas from a bird's-eye view. Anyway, back to the show. Here, genders were not altered. We saw impersonators of Will Smith, the Spice Girls, Charlie Daniels, Offspring, and my favorite, The Temptations. That was a
discount show thanks to our airline ATA, that gave us a whole coupon book for a variety of things around Vegas.

At the far north end of Las Vegas Boulevard, is what I'd call "Old Vegas," full of the decadence that Las Vegas has earned a reputation for. Once you go past the Stratosphere going north on Las Vegas Blvd, the scenery becomes a series of cheap motels, pawn shops, liquor stores, car title cash loans, and all-night wedding chapels, including one that proclaims "Best Elvis!" There's at least one chapel on every block, interspersed with the tattoo parlors and pawn shops I already mentioned. At the farthest end in downtown Vegas is Fremont Avenue, the last bastion of Old Vegas, with its glitzy casinos covered in flashing lights. Very cheesy compared to the luxurious resort "towns" that are the new hotels further south on the strip. The nude showgirls, the famous cowboy neon light, and the 4 Queens Casino are among the most prominent places there. One redeeming facet of coming up there is the light show above the street. For a length of about 4 blocks, a grid is suspended over Fremont Avenue. This is the world's largest graphics display. Every half hour, starting at sunset, there's a light show overhead. People come out of the shops, casinos, and strip clubs to see this.

Once the light show begins, the tacky casinos turn off their blinking lights and neon signs. A flight of eagles soars by on the giant overhead screen. Then there's a thunderstorm in a simulated jungle environment. Colorful birds fly by. Different patterns of lights streak in all directions. At the end, a sqaudron of jet fighters fly over with a roar and a virtual fireworks display follows. After all the ooh's and ah's, the casinos light up again and we're back in the same old decadent side of Vegas as before.

Eating was another story. Colleen and I got by on 2 meals a day. We'd start our mornings at the McDonald's across the street from the Mandalay, or another McD's on the strip (near Caesar's Palace). Then we would go off to do our things we planned. Around 2-3 PM Vegas time we'd have dinner. Not just any old dinner, but a buffet. Many Vegas hotels offer all-you-can-eat buffets. Mandalay has a good one. Caesar's was OK, but Rio has the best one. Since the lunch buffet costs less than the dinner, we'd get in near the end of the lunch buffet time of 3 PM. At that time, there were no crowds either, so there was no waiting. It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner for the locals, but just right for us (4 or 5 PM Chicago time). Then we would get loaded and walk out of there with our bellies hanging to the floor. Lots of food choices at the Rio: Mexican, Texas barbecue, Chinese, Italian, seafood, and of course, a separate dessert section with every conceivable cake or pie you could imagine. That was awesome! I wouldn't feel like eating till the next day after one of those mega-meals.

You shouldn't eat before swimming, so we went to Wet-n-Wild early in the morning on a weekday to beat the crowds. This is a water theme park with a variety of water slides and pools to enjoy. We did the two most challenging rides first. One involved a twisting loop from a high elevation, ending in a straight descent into a shallow pool. That one was scary but fun. The real terror was the Royal Flush. This is a ride that sends you spiraling into a dark water tunnel, then spins you until you fall into a 10-foot deep pool at the end. Having not been a swimmer for over 10 years, I got to try out my skill as I took the plunge. Colleen was already doen with her ride, so she watched me splash as I tried to do a dog-paddle, blinded by the rush of water. The lifeguard was actually ready to jump in and help me but I reached the edge of the pool - on the wrong side. So, I swam back across with much splashing. That was it for the challenging "Level 4" rides. Colleen demoted my swimming status from Advanced Beginner to Junior Jellyfish after the incident. We did have a lot of fun on Whitewater Tunnel, which is a ride where you sit on an inflated donut and slide through a series of high-speed loops till you cascade into another pool. I did that one 3 or 4 times and got a real thrill without any more swimming required.

In addition to the shows and sights on the Strip, we explored Red Rock Canyon, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. It's a Nevada state park with a 13-mile closed loop trail you can drive or bike through. Lots of colorful orange desert poppies, cacti, and these yellow desert flowers to see. It is hard to believe that you are so close to civilization in Las Vegas and yet in these mountains it still looks like it did thousands of years ago. There were occasional signs that said: "Please don't feed the burros." There's wild horses and donkeys living in the mountains. There's a $25 fine for feeding them, since they can become nuisances on the roads, plus they do bite... Colleen didn't see any other asses except me.

The red colored mountains are Roger Dean art come to life, similar to the "Symphonic Music of Yes" artwork. As we walked down some trails off the roadway, little lizards skittered from shrub to shrub, rock to rock, at the sound of our footsteps.

We visited Hoover Dam, on the Arizona/Nevada border. That was about 25 miles southeast of Vegas, through some twisted roads in the mountains. There you have wild rams roaming near the roads. We didn't see any of those either. The Hoover Dam is pretty massive. Lots of big fish gather around the dam. Some fishermen came by in a boat but were kicked out by security since that's a federal protected area. There's also an interesting sign when you come in to the Hoover Dam area (picture below)I bought some desert poppy seeds in the tourist shop there. Supposedly, those orange poppies can grow elsewhere besides the desert. I planted the seeds the day after returning home and little sprouts came up a week later, so it looks promising. If I get some flowers and new seeds by fall, I'll be happy. They are very pretty, especially when they are blooming in an otherwise desolate landscape.

Our other nature visit was to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park on our last full day in Vegas. This place is also about 20-25 miles west of Vegas, just south of Red Rock Canyon. More "Burro" warning signs along the way. We hiked a trail to a mountain overlook. Along the way, more of the tiny lizards scampered around as we would approach them. We saw a snake too. The snake was about 15 yards away, slithering between two bushes. We were far enough to be safe. Colleen thinks it was a rattler but it had no markings on it, nor did I see a rattle. It was a plain yellow/tan color. We stopped at a visitor's center later and looked up a desert wildlife book to see if we can identify it. I think we saw a coachwhip snake. Our hike was otherwise uneventful.

Our return to Chicago was OK, but the plane got delayed by an hour because of bad weather in Chicago. The flight had a little turbulence near the Iowa/Illinois area but pleasant overall. Some rowdy passengers acted up early in the flight when they complained about something loudly and threatened someone. When the plane landed, a group of Chicago police officers waited at the gate to haul away the people responsible for the disturbance. How's that for a welcome home?

As for the two of us, we had a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing time. For a week we got to live the good life, away from the day-to-day stress of working, doing housework, and boring stuff in general.

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