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Easy on the Vegas, Please
There are great adventures to be had, just outside of Sin City.
On Christmas morning, my wife surprised me with tickets to see one of my all-time favorite singers, Bryan Adams (he was kind of my idol when I was a teenager).
Actually, “surprised” is probably an understatement. I have a fine-tuned Bandsintown account, and am subscribed to several music-venue newsletters, so I’m supposed to be given a heads-up whenever artists I enjoy are passing through. And I hadn’t received a thing lately about Adams. I soon realized why. The concert wasn’t in Colorado. It was in Las Vegas… and it came with plane tickets and a three-night stay at some generous friends’ timeshare.
Yes, my wife is awesome. Husband and wife getaway, baby!
We’ve been to Vegas lots of times (both together and separately), which presented the challenge of deciding what else to do while we were there. We’ve seen just about every show and sight in Sin City that had ever piqued our interest, and since neither of us are drinkers or gamblers, some planning was in store.
But it soon struck me that I already had some outside-of-the-box ideas, and by outside-of-the-box, I mean outside of Vegas. You see, back when I was writing my novel "Restitution,” which some of you know starts out in Vegas before the story spreads out to the Nevada desert, I did quite a bit of regional research on areas surrounding the city. And I learned that there was some pretty cool stuff out there.
So, I pitched to my wife the idea of renting a car and checking a few of them out. She quickly bought in, and jumped online to get a fuller picture of the possibilities.
Well, we just got back from our trip yesterday. The concert was awesome, and so were the excursions. In fact, it was one of the better Vegas weekends we’ve done. So, I figured that for this week’s newsletter, I’d offer some recommendations for those of you who might be inclined to try some un-Vegas type-things the next time you go to Vegas.
Seven Magic Mountains
This free public display created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone is about 30 minutes south of the Vegas strip, along I-15. (Some of you may remember Chief Gary Lumbergh speeding down this route with two companions).
“They’re just big rocks that someone stacked and painted, right?” said my wife when I first showed her pictures of this place.
In basic terms, she was correct. Still, I like to check out visually interesting things, and when we got there, even she had to admit what stood before us was pretty cool.
As the name would suggest, there are seven such stacks, and they each stand at least 30 feet tall. From an artistic perspective, they’re supposed to represent an outlandish human presence in the desert (the same of which could be said about Vegas itself).
The desolate landscape beyond the structures provides a perfect visual contrast, and it’s honestly just a cool place to hang out for 30 minutes or so, and take some fun pictures.
While we were there, a couple other visitors shot video of the display with drones, which I bet resulted in some pretty sweet footage.
(You can check out more of my pictures from Seven Magic Mountains here).
Valley of Fire State Park
This 46,000 acre park, a little over an hour northeast of Vegas, really brings the goods. Much of the area is covered with bright red Aztec sandstone, and gray and white limestone. The rock formations are brilliant, and the many trails (most of them pretty short) provide easy access to some breathtaking views.
You can also get up close and personal with petroglyphs (rock art) left by prehistoric human inhabitants of the area, as well as much younger and more lively bighorn sheep.
We spent about half a day at the park, but could have easily made a full day out of it.
Admission is just $15 for non-Nevada residents, and it’s worth every penny.
Kayaking Through the Black Canyon
A lot of action in “Restitution” takes place inside the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, but I originally considered having those scenes go down closer to the Black Canyon, just barely across the Arizona border. There were a number of factors that swayed me in the direction I ultimately went in, but the photos I found at the time of Emerald Cave, along the Colorado River (which runs through the canyon), made an impression on me.
Kayak tours of the area launch from Willow Beach, which is about an hour southeast of Vegas, inside Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Though we drove ourselves to the marina (there’s a $25 charge to get into the rec-area), multiple tour companies have pick-up sites (for shuttling) at a couple hotels/casinos in Vegas.
We took a half-day guided tour (joining six others), and had an absolute blast. The weather was perfect, the water was calm, the tone was low key, and the sights were beautiful.
Downtown Boulder City
This was an unplanned stop on our way back to Vegas from Willow Beach. It was past lunchtime, and we had built up quite a hunger after three hours of kayaking. So, we figured we’d exit the interstate at the first town we came to, and I’m glad we did.
Boulder City, which is pretty close to the Hoover Dam, is a really nice area with a fun downtown scene. There’s a number of small boutiques, an antique shop, and some charming, well-reviewed restaurants including Cornish Pasty… which serves pasties — a food item that neither my wife nor I knew anything about.
Now that we know (because we each ordered and ate one), we’re big fans.
Of course, we didn’t totally avoid Vegas while vacationing there (that would be weird). Along with the concert (at the Wynn), we also enjoyed a night of laughs at The Comedy Cellar, an old-school Italian dining experience at Battista's Hole in the Wall, and a wonderful seafood dinner with our friends, comedian/impersonator John Di Domenico and his delightful better half, Michele.
But by branching out, and mostly steering clear of the casinos this time, I think we hit the real jack-pot. And hopefully, I’ve planted some vacation ideas for a few of you as well.
Obligatory Dog Shot
He's more comfortable on any given night than I've been in my life.
The story of Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio narration of an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ the “The War of the Worlds” has always intrigued me. As legend goes, a number of listeners (who presumably tuned in late) believed they were listening to an actual Martian invasion.
A few decades later, the original broadcast was released on vinyl. This was news to me until a couple weeks ago when I found this item in a record store and felt compelled to buy it. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it yet (which I realize somewhat taints this week’s “featured vinyl” selection). But I plan to check it out soon, and maybe even do a little write-up about it in a future newsletter.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!