Magic Carpet Journals
Fun Activities on and off the Las Vegas, Nevada Strip
Lenora Hayman discovered a variety of Nevada's activities within easy driving distance of Las Vegas - horseback riding, historic mining towns, UFO’s, a winery and zip-lining.
Article & photos by Lenora A. Hayman
I learned, during a 5 night-getaway, that there is more to Las Vegas and Nevada than slot machines!
Our group was fortunate to fly Business Class (Mabuhay) on Philippine Airlines that flies 4 times a week between Vancouver and Las Vegas. Cocktails, wine and liqueurs accompanied 3 main course selections of a Western Chicken Fricassee, a Filipino Rellenong Sugpo stuffed with pork, shrimp and vegetables or a hot deli plate of foccacia with smoked chicken and grilled vegetables.
We stayed near the airport, at the South Point Hotel and Spa, owned by Michael Gaughan. It’s a destination in itself with a 25,000 sq. ft. Costa del Sol spa, outdoor lagoon-style pool, fitness centre, showroom, 64-lane bowling centre, 16 movie theatres, a conference centre where the annual Jerry Lewis telethon is held and the South Point Equestrian Centre, the finest in the country and only one connected to a full-scale resort. In the lobby, near the casino, is a statue of Benny Binion, one of the city’s founding fathers and the man who brought the National Finals Rodeo to Las Vegas. There are 8 restaurants, 3 lounges and 5 bars. At their Baja Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant we shared a jug of marguerites, while eating fish tacos of grilled orange roughy topped with a raw jalapeno chili, tomato and cilantro relish, called pico degallo.
Just 31 kms (19miles) from the ‘Vegas Strip in the Red Rock National Conservation Area is the Cowboy Trail Rides owned by Jim Sage. Cowboys, Matt Replogle and Robbie Franks saddled the well-trained horses for our 2 hr. Canyon Rim ride. I rode Ginger, my quarter-horse, atop the Fossil Ridge overlooking the terra-cotta colours of the Red Rock Canyon. I could see the Spring Mountain Ranch in the distance. This ranch was formerly owned by Howard Hughes. Wild burros were grazing amongst 100 yr. old Joshua trees, whose shape reminded Mormon settlers of the biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands up in prayer. Burning Bush shrubs with red foliage and barrel cacti lined our rocky trail. Ernie Love, a wrangler and singer/songwriter entertained us on his guitar while we ate barbequed chicken, corn and beans in the desert sunshine.
Back at the hotel, I had a bubble bath, to ease the saddle-soreness and headed to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Restaurant at the Flamingo Hotel. The Key West Florida themed restaurant provided a fun evening with a plane, parrots, whales and seals hanging from the ceiling, an erupting volcano whose fumes envelop a gal swinging on a high wire and Jimmy Buffett singing from a giant video screen. After an entrée of fried shrimp breaded with coconut and served with marmalade horseradish we dashed off for our front-row seats at the fast paced Donny and Marie Osmond show in the Flamingo Lounge. Donny began his singing and dancing career at aged 5 and sister Marie began at aged 3. Donny was the 2009 Dance Champion in the “Dancing with the Stars” T.V. show. It was good to hear Marie Osmond re-sing “Paper Roses” her debut record that was number one on the charts when she was 12 years old.
Next morning, we drove to the 180-acre Springs Preserve where the Spanish discovered, at Spring Mound, the source of the original springs of water and called the area, the meadows or Las Vegas. Apparently the Las Vegas Springs first appeared 10,000-12,000 years ago. 5000 years ago, in prehistoric Vegas, the ancestral Patayan, Puebloan and Southern Paiute Native Mojave Americans were present in the Valley of Las Vegas, near the springs. Although only the Southern Paiute were here when the first Europeans arrived, we saw recreations of all their homes. There was also a demonstration of a deadly, flash flood delivering a large amount of water so quickly that the earth could not absorb it fast enough, resulting in cars, homes and humans being washed away and buried in mud. After a stroll through the botanical gardens, we went upstairs to the Springs Café, owned by Wolfgang Puck, for a bowl of his pumpkin curry soup and a view of the Las Vegas Strip in the distance.
We drove 185kms(115miles) north of Las Vegas to Beatty , passing Area 51, the military base whose secrecy has conjured up stories of UFO’s (unidentified flying objects). Unfortunately I did not see any that day, although I kept a wary eye on the clear blue skies overhead.
Beatty, located on top of the Armargosa underground river, is the gateway to Death Valley. Laurel Hickinbottam at the Beatty Museum told us that Beatty was named after Montillus Beatty, owner of Beatty Ranch and the first postmaster in Beatty. When gold was discovered outside Death Valley in Aug.1904, Beatty was the most prosperous camp in the Bullfrog Mining District and now is the only surviving town.
Just 6.4kms (4 miles) from Beatty is the private property of the Goldwell Open Air Museum, near the ghost town of Rhyolite. In 1984 Belgium sculptor, Albert Szukalski, created The Last Supper of ghostly shrouded figures by wrapping “live models in fabric, soaked in wet plaster, posing them and refining the drapery. When the plaster set, the models slipped out, leaving the rigid shroud that surrounded them”. Six other pieces were added by three other Belgian artists.
Founded in 1905, little remains of Rhyolite, except Tom Kelly’s renovated bottle house, made from 30,000 unwashed bottles, remnants of the school, the 3 storied Cook Bank (the most photographed ruin in the State of Nevada) which later became the post office, the Porter Brothers’ Store and the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad Depot. The population of 8000 in 1908 was all gone by 1920!
After checking in at the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino in Beatty, I popped over to Eddie World Death Valley Nut & Candy Co. Nevada’s largest ice-cream and candy store for some honey-dipped pineapple rings.
At the Sourdough Saloon, Georgina Willis and her Beatty Cowboys entertained us, while we dined on chef Paul Pyne’s magnificent rib-eye steaks.
Next morning, heading for Death Valley, our first stop was Scotty’s Castle or Death Valley Ranch, built by rascal Walter Scott with finances from Chicago millionaire Albert Johnson. Scott deceived many with a story of a gold mine under his bed! The imposter died in 1954, and must be laughing in his grave, overlooking the castle.
Cheryl Chipman, an interpretive ranger, accompanied our group into Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. Badwater Basin, 85.5m( 282 ft) below sea-level is the lowest location in North America, Telescope Peak is the highest point in Death Valley, and Furnace Creek had the hottest temperature 56.7C(134F) in the Western hemisphere. Al' Aziziyah, Libya has the world record of 57.78 C (136F).The Devil’s Golf Course is composed of huge, jagged crystallized salt formations created from evaporated salt lakes.
After a thirsty afternoon, we were pleased to go to Gretchen and Bill Loken’s Pahrump Valley Winery. Their 2005 Nevada Ridge Zinfandel with hints of toast and almond flavours, was the first estate red wine bottled in Nevada, since prohibition. I did enjoy dinner in their elegant Symphony restaurant. I had an incredible lobster bisque laced with crème sherry and a grilled lemon and herbed Atlantic salmon glazed with ginger and teriyaki. Another patron at our Saddle West Hotel, Casino & R.V. Resort in Pahrump, said “the slots were looser and he won more there than in ‘Vegas”! Unfortunately I didn't have time to test the truth of his tip.
Boulder City, 40 kms (25miles) East and Panaca, North of Las Vegas are the only 2 cities in Nevada that don’t allow gambling.
After a tour of Hoover Dam 11.2kms(7miles) from Boulder City, we walked across the new Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge,( also known as Hoover Dam Bypass), that just opened on Oct 16, 2010 and spans Black Canyon, linking Nevada and Arizona. It has the longest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and at 270metres (890 ft) above the Colorado River is the 2nd highest in the States, next to the Royal Gorge Bridge in Arkansas River.
Our Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City was initially built in 1933 to house visiting dignitaries supervising the building of Hoover Dam.
What an exhilarating conclusion on our final morning. We zip-lined up to 65 m.p.h. on the 4 Bootleg Canyon Flightlines from the top of the Red Mountain followed, in contrast, by a peaceful, luncheon cruise aboard the Desert Princess, a paddle wheeler on Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam.
If you go: www.TravelNevada.com