Trip Start Apr 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 05, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Friday, May 14, 2010

We arrived at Vegas and were pretty shell-shocked, especially after the breathtaking solemnity and peace of the Grand Canyon.... Here are some pics of our first impressions, there are definitely stories to go along but I'll have to write those up and post them when I have some more time.

Enjoy the pics and look up the Golden Nugget where we stayed - hilarious! We pretty much drove straight to Vegas from Wiliiams, with a couple of unanticipated stops along the way. Approaching the Hoover Dam, we started seeing a lot of signs warning of traffic slowdowns and stopping ahead. We weren't thrilled about this, as we had already run so low on gas that we had put the gas can in and were counting down the miles to the GPS' promise of a gas station just after the Dam (way more hills and far fewer gas stations than we had anticipated in the last hour or so before the Dam).

Hoover Dam - Tougher Than the Border

Turns out there are pretty stringent security checks to cross the Hoover Dam. When we saw the guard peering into windows with a flashlight, we knew we would be pulled over – and we were. The Hoover check was far more thorough than our lax border crossing a few weeks ago – they opened up the back, rifled around, had Matt open up the bed/storage space and the lockbox below. The guards were friendly though and  had some good advice – apparently a lot of people are caught off guard by the numerous hills and sparse gas stations leading to the Dam, and the first gas stop afterwards really gouges you - he advised to put in a gallon or two and then go to the next one up the hill, which would be 20 or 30 cents a gallon cheaper – which we did.

As soon as you cross the Dam, you are welcomed by a sign outlined in sparkling chase lights and neon, announcing, of course, a casino. Even though Vegas itself is still quite a few miles away, the neon glow of the city brightens the night sky – and extinguishes any stars. We rolled up to the valet parking area of our hotel, The Golden Nugget, which leads you into the Self-parking area – which we would definitely be choosing. Having come straight from our bike ride that morning, we were still in dirty shorts and t-shirts, so neither we nor the van quite fir in to our glossy new surroundings, with shiny cars and shiny people bustling about.

 Matt went to deal with getting the car parked – which turned out to be a task in itself since the hotel’s multi-level parking doesn’t see too many vehicles over 6 feet in height – and I set out to check in and get our luggage up to our rooms. In line to check in, an enthusiastic red head, maybe in her early forties, excitedly asked me where I was from (she had never heard of Montreal nor Quebec – but Canada she had heard of) and proceeded to gush about our hotel’s pool, complete with Shark Tank. She told me that she was from elsewhere in Nevada but cam to Vegas for the weekend all the time because it’s sooo amazing.

A Touch of Saskatchewan in Vegas

 I tracked down a bellhop – mandatory if you want to use a baggage cart – who turned out to be from one of the places that I would have least expected to hear in a glitzy hotel in downtown Vegas: Matt the Bellhop was from Saskatchewan. He grew up in a small town in there, and when he was a young teen his parents moved to Vegas, but split up shortly thereafter. He ended up going back to Saskatchewan, finishing high school there, and eventually working on oil rigs in the north until an injury ended that job. So, not sure what else to do, he headed back to Vegas where his dad still lived and ended up working in hotels. I asked him if he liked Vegas and without a pause he replied that he sure didn’t miss winter in Saskatchewan. Talking to a friendly, down-to-earth Canadian prairie boy helped ease the neon shock of Vegas.

Our hotel is named for a giant (as in 27 kilo) chunk of gold found in 1981 in Australia, which is now apparently on display somewhere in the hotel although we never actually got around to seeing it. Although we didn’t see the world’s largest gold nugget, named the 'Hand of Faith’ but the way, there was more than enough fake gold to enjoy. The pride of their hotel is their enormous Shark Tank, which emerges from center the outdoor pool and has a transparent tube water slide that speeds right through the tank. Filled with a variety of different sharks, you can swim right up to the glass and watch them carve easily through the water and eye you menacingly just inches away. Since it was fairly late on the first night, we had a bite to eat at the Carson Café in the hotel – the hotel has about 6 restaurants, all different styles and cuisines – and then we tried our hand at the slots.

On Matt’s Grandpa’s advice, we went for the twenty-five cent slot machines. We occasionally made a few dollars, but mostly the bright, spinning logos just weren’t lining up for us. After two machines and fifteen bucks, we called it a night on gambling and strolled around a bit. The hotel was overwhelming, since to get anywhere you are cleverly funneled through a maze of slot machines and various other video lottery machines. Every square inch of the slot fields bursts with flashing lights, beeping machines and the constant melodies of cheesy pop-disco hits. It’s easy, almost inevitable, to become disoriented in the lights and din.

Glitter Gulch

Once we found our way out of the hotel, we found ourselves in an even more outrageous spectacle: The Fremont Street Experience. That’s the actual name: it’s an Experience, not a street, and it is quite the experience indeed. An entire street, several blocks long, has been turned into a pedestrian-only strip of glittering casino entrances, cheap bars, street vendor booths, and stages for live performances – all under a flickering, pixilated sky: the entire street exists under a 5-block canopy of television screen.

The Fremont Street Experience, or FSE for short, was completed in 1995 and underwent several upgrades since then. The final product cost $17 million and is comprised of 12.5 million LED lamps controlled by a central control room of 10 computers. In addition, the canopy holds 220 speakers that crank out 550,000 watts of sound. Drunken revelers of all ages meandered about, a woman in a cowboy hat belted out a wailing country tune from atop one of the stages, and aggressive neon taunted us with promises of Loose Slots, Dollar Beers, and Good Times. It was sort of like Bourbon Street injected a millions of watts of phosphorescent energy – bigger, louder, and most of all brighter: the television sky gave the whole street the look of artificial broad daylight at midnight.
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