Las Vegas sets high expectations, at least if you were to watch any of the films that depict this as the ultimate American holiday. From the moment you land at the airport, there are slot machines beckoning you to come and amass your fortune. (I’m not kidding – there are slot machines at the airport gates.) For me, though, the real charms of Las Vegas are not on the ‘strip,’ the main boulevard of the city that is packed with hotels, casinos, strip clubs, bars, restaurants, and a little bit of everything in between. Once you’ve had your fill of glam and glory, here are a few things to do that are away from the strip.
Ok, so you’re going to quickly realise that most everything in Vegas is attached to a casino. Silverton Aquarium is also in this category – but I find this a “refreshing” choice given that this is a city built in the middle of the desert, after all. It’s also free and has been named ‘the best free attraction in Las Vegas,’ so if you are travelling with children it is a safe bet. In classic Vegas style, there is a live mermaid show (don’t worry – it’s not one of those shows) and several times daily there are live feedings, including staff who will explain all of the various creatures on display.
If you want the adrenaline rush without the risk of losing a fortune, how about indoor skydiving? I have to admit I have not tried this, as at the time I found it truly terrifying, but honestly the idea is growing on me. If you aren’t familiar, basically how this works is they’ve setup a tall tube with soft bouncy walls, and at the bottom of this tube is a huge fan. You get blown up into the air! You’ll do so with all the usual accompaniments of an outdoor skydive, such as goggles and a special jumpsuit, but I must mention that you won’t have a parachute. Thankfully if you fall, it isn’t that far.
The name might sound like a Vegas strip show, but in fact this daytrip is a reminder that not everything in Nevada is man-made. The Valley of Fire is about 55 miles outside of Vegas so within easy reach for a daytrip. It is the oldest and largest of Nevada’s state parks and its name is fairly obvious when you arrive: the park is covered in formations of red sandstone. On a sunny day with blue skies, this is absolutely incredible – though I should mention it can be spectacularly hot here, so be sure to bring water and sun cream. While you’re at it, why not pack a lunch and picnic here, enjoying the fresh air?
Want to learn more about the history of Las Vegas and about the earliest settlements of pioneers? Then you’ll want to head to the Springs Preserve. Found between the airport and the strip, the Preserve is a cultural museum which features a number of different attractions all in one. Exhibits explain about early Vegas history and the trade routes that put the city on the map, there is a small art gallery, a collection of the animals that roam the plains of the surrounding desert, and there’s also a beautiful garden! You’ll be surprised in how many colours a cactus bloom.
Lake Mead is America’s largest reservoir and the massive water source hiding behind the Hoover Dam. The dam is only 35 miles from Las Vegas and a huge tourist draw. Why not see the dam from two perspectives – both inside and out? On a hot Nevada day, it can be very refreshing to relax on one of the traditional paddlewheel boats that head out onto the waters. There are a few options: you can just take a standard two hour tour out and around the lake, or opt for a longer brunch or dinner excursion. To and from the dam you’ll also see lots of other sights, such as an extinct volcano and the Arizona Paint Pots (a creation of Mother nature, not man-made as the name implies).
Our last stop in this away-from-the-strip tour lands us at the Neon Boneyard, part of the neon museum. The museum is currently operating on a reservation-only basis, so you must phone at least one week in advance for space. This museum has struggled to get off the ground – it is a actually community effort to salvage some of the old neon sights of Vegas past, which is a joy because it’s such a unique perspective on Vegas history. As you will know even without having been to Vegas, neon is everywhere. One wonders if you can’t see it from outer space on a clear night. Also, Vegas seems to tear down and rebuild perfectly good structures on a regular basis, so I imagine this collection will only grow with time. Let’s give them some support and get a new perspective on the “old” Vegas.
Posted : Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 11:23
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not criss-crossing the world to have his next travel adventures, he is spending time hanging out on his own website, Sharing Travel Experiences.