*My pictures from Las Vegas are up over on my smugmug page.
Sometimes my work sends me to some pretty cool places which is what I love about the job, enjoying travel as I do, and for the most part travel in the US is not something I'd likely do much of on my own. My very first assignment with my company was to Wyoming, where I was able to squeeze in enough time to see the Devil's Tower, Yellowstone Park, Mt. Rushmore, and Deadwood. That was cool. Or the time I went to Florida and got to do all of the awesome NASA stuff. There's loads of others. It's been a fun year. But there's a backside to the cool travel, which is all of the not so great places they've sent me to. Virginia a few times, Maryland (Which was cool the first time because I got to check out DC but once is enough) and I spent a night in Philly a few weeks ago. Philly is actually a cool city though, and had I been able to treat it as a new place and take lots of pictures, I'd have had a good travelogue about it. But I lived there for a while (blogged about that once way back) and I've spent lots of time there anyway over the years, so it was hard to really get into it. Had a cheesesteak on South Street and ice cream in the Old Town.
Anyway, this isn't about Philly. The latest place I got sent to for work is one of those places I NEVER would have chosen to go to on my own, and while it's a place I'm glad enough to tick off my checklist, still, ugh. Las Vegas. For three nights. I know right? Can you imagine a worse place? You might think I'm being sarcastic, but mostly I'm not. I don't like to gamble (except for in the stock market) because I always lose (that's true in the stocks too, unfortunately) and I don't find it to be a fun way to pass the time. I don't like all that fake fun and I resent the way they try to overwhelm you with bright blinky blinky lights, loud noises, big outrageous buildings, and the doodley-doodley-doo sound of a kajillion slot machines begging me to lose twenty dollars, just one little twenty dollar bill, on a little obsessive compulsive fun. I resent having to see the pathetic old sallow people staring slackjawed at a slot machine with a cigarette falling off their pale lips and six or seven tumblers that once held whiskey or vodka. Often, they haven't shaved or cleaned themselves in like a week and it doesn't look like the unshaven laziness of a holiday, it looks like the unshaven look of a man who hates his crappy job and his stupid life.
But ok I'm done complaining now because despite the ridiculousness of Las Vegas, I did in fact manage to enjoy myself. Mostly by getting out of the city. I took a morning trip down to the Hoover Dam and I have to say, it's dam cool. Yuk yuk I totally just made that joke up. But in reality, I wasn't prepared to be quite as wowed by it as I was. Of all the places I've traveled and of all of the man-made wonders I've gotten to see, other than the particle accelerator at CERN in Switzerland, it's the most incredible feat of engineering I've ever seen.
I won't waste your time with descriptions of it that are better written on wikipedia, but suffice it to say it was a massive undertaking to divert the Colorado River and build what is actually a system of capturing energy using enough concrete to cover Pennsylvania with a four foot layer, and standing there looking at it really brings home what that must have taken, and how cool it is that people can do things like that. It also made me think about possible engineering feats of the future as I talked about a few posts back, and it gave me hope that if we ever put our minds to it, we can still accomplish great things for humanity. I mean, not to get too dramatic, but the immensity of Hoover Dam readily inspires such philosophical musings. Here's an upper canyon shot.
And here's a shot of the topside as the Colorado river gets dammed. You can also see here from the waterline how low the water is this year.
The helicopter ride was super fun. It was really windy out and we were getting buffeted all over. I love helicopters... this was my second time in one. My first time was a 45 minute ride in a Blackhawk from Baghdad to Balad, Iraq and then back for work, which was much more fun and exciting than this one, so you know, it was easy to remain calm and enjoy a few Photo ops here.
The rest of my time in Vegas was spent on the strip. One evening I walked from the Luxor hotel where I was staying (the one shaped like a Pyramid) all the way up to Fremont Street, where the main strip of Vegas was in the old days. I discovered quite a few things along the way. For instance, Prostitution is legal in Vegas. Didn't know that; I thought that was only at that Ranch out in the desert somewhere. But in fact, they have Girl Delivery trucks that bring ladies of the night right to your hotel room. Think about that for a minute. Girl Delivery Trucks.
Talk about Human Trafficking. Icky. I also discovered that most of the Vegas strip is constantly under construction. They're always tearing down old casinos and building newer, more insane ones. A cab driver told me that they do that because that's the best way to get people to come back. Regular Vegas goers get bored of the same old places, so they constantly have to be getting rid of the out-of-fashion casinos and re-sucking in the crowds with new attractions. It's amazing to me. It's like you know, upgrading your laptop, because your old one is from like 2003 and hopelessly slow and out of date. But in this case it's a city upgrading entire blocks of casinos. Wasteful, shocking, depressing, and impressive all at once.
I stopped in at The Bellagio on Miss Luongo's suggestion to see the Dale Chihuly sculptured glass ceiling, and I gotta say, it's pretty damn cool. Very impressive and beautiful. Here's three different views of it.
I have to say though that my favorite part of the Vegas strip was in fact the oldest part, Fremont Street. It's where all the old legendary cool stuff happened in the early days of the city, but really I could care less about that. The problem with the main strip of Vegas is that it's a maze of insanity. Ridiculously oversized buildings that they make you walk through at every opportunity. Countless escalators and moving walkways for the terminally lazy escort you from casino to casino, letting you outside for a glimpse of the streets only grudgingly. And it can be difficult to find the exits of those places, because really they don't want you not stopping for a quick slot machine loss. Doodley-doodley-doo, doodley-doodley-doo, doodley-doodley-doo, doodley-doodley-FREAKIN' DOO!!! So what's nice about Fremont street is that when you finally make it there, it actually takes on the feeling you often get in the old part of a European city. All quaint and small and relaxed. Relatively speaking, of course. They apparently did some revitalization there a few years back, and made it a covered street, although in pure Vegas style; the cover is a huge arched video screen stretching for like four or five city blocks long which plays loud stuff periodically, such as a Queen montage that assaulted my senses while I was there.
Plus you know, tons of other noise and blinky blinky lights, but compared to the monstrosity of the main strip casinos, it was quite tolerable. And it was a pedestrian only street which was very nice because at last you could just sort of meander in a straight line amidst a crowd of fun seekers with out having to think too much about how to get to the next point on the strip. And my favorite part were of course the religious proselytizers. They're always good for a shot or three. This guy seems a bit like he's involved in a lost cause, huh?
So if you're the religious type, you might think that this guy is being brave, a real witness for the lord, right? I mean, he was arrested for sharing God's word! (Even though it's obvious that he's not telling the whole story. People don't tend to get arrested for simply sharing God's word. My guess is he was doing something invasive while sharing God's word, such as blowing up an abortion clinic to kill an abortionist or some such. Just a guess.) Well, if you still think that after reading the back of his sign, we need to have words.
And here's another great one. And you can see the video screen cover over the street here that I was talking about.
So now I can say that I've been to Vegas, and I never ever need to go back. Whew.