Saturday, June 27, 2009

Las Vegas - Gateway to Desert Escapes

My number one ‘back-country’ choice has always been the Valley of Fire – amazing desert canyons with petroglyphs and colors that epitomize the rocky beauty of the desert. See my article on greatestgetaways. And Red Rock Canyon offers panoramic 13-mile scenic drive as well as trails for bikes and hikes.

In my most recent trip to Nevada, however, I’ve a discovered a couple of back-country rivals where you can dump the car and tune-in with a totally different pace.

The first is white-water rafting down the Colorado River, below the Hoover Dam to Willow Beach near Boulder City (the only township in Nevada where gambling is illegal). Black Canyon River Adventures hold the license to manage the limited number of craft allowed to launch at the Dam, and do a crack-up job in maneuvering you through the adventure of riding the gentle rapids. Canyon walls that rise 2,000 feet from the water’s edge. Piping hot mineral spring water. Pretty darn cold river waters – actually a refreshing spray in the high-noon heat. And finding big horn sheep clinging with ease to the vertical rock face.

While most folks often gravitate to Lake Mead for the terrific fishing, I suggest you chill out on a Forever Resorts houseboat on Lake Mohave. Although based at Cottonwood Cove Resort & Marina, your floating home-away-from-home can be towed to any secluded spot with a sandy beach and hiking trails into the desert. The craft are geared to comfort – you gotta love the water slide off the top deck, and if you include add-on options such as a water ski boat, you have a zippy run-about to explore the fissured backwaters and coves, not to mention zipping along on a ski run, or being towed in a skimming donut.

Along the shore, you can expect to see Mountain Sheep and wild burros, evidence of desert creatures that awake in the cool of night – cougar, coyote, lizards and snakes, as well as crystal clear waters full of catfish, gar and even soft-shell turtles.

Cottonwood is only a half-hour boat ride from Willow Beach, so transfers from river raft to houseboat are seamless – and that includes any luggage that travels separately aboard by van. And because Cottonwood will also provide a ride back to the airport, the entire backcountry experience is worry-free of nitty-gritty details.

Win or lose in Las Vegas, combining the neon-city with desert waters delivers one of the most textured, sensory, and refreshing Nevada experiences around.

Monday, June 8, 2009

LAS VEGAS - Always In Motion

I’m always intrigued with Las Vegas and while we all know it’s gambling central of North America, I always look for the unexpected -- something to restore balance after the neon-lit, show-time, slot-machine sensory overload. But since it’s the shows, shops and slots that make this over-the-top city tick, here are some must-dos to create that thirst for ‘balance’:
· Catch a Cirque du Soleil show – there are four to choose from including Mystere to the company’s most sophisticated production O. The first exits just in time for Treasure Island’s swash-buckling, street-side Pirate Show; the latter coincides with the night-time spectacular of Bellagio’s musical fountains.
· The Crazy Horse (MGM-Grand) incorporates clever choreography and light combinations for a titillating show of tame eroticism -- a fun tease without any obscenity.
· Make time for comedic magician Nathan Burton (Flamingo). He has a reputation for pulling Houdini-style publicity stunts and the late afternoon show is a terrific transition from day to evening entertainment.
· Ride the monorail to one end of the strip and start the long trail back via all the landmark hotels which are theatre spectacles unto themselves. The Pyramid and Pharoahs at Luxor, Ellis Island rides, the Eiffel Tower at Paris, The Venetian’s Gondolas. And so it goes … with names such as Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Tom Jones, Donny and Marie, Cher (didn’t she retire?) Come to think of it, aren’t they all getting near the big R? They’re still packing them in, though.
· If you’re a shopper, The Fashion Show is a must-mall (a recent shopping survey noted Las Vegas was the 3rd most popular US city for shopping); if you need a restorative hand, spa out at the Bellagio, Caesars, the Mandalay, or the Venetian as top choices. Wynn has a quality spa, as does Donald Trump’s gleaming gold tower. The Trump, incidentally, doesn’t have a gaming unit anywhere on site which in this town has rather a rogue panache – much like its celebrity owner.

Suffice to say that Las Vegas continues to evolve, grow, and sprawl. Even though current economies have put some expansions on hold, cranes still litter the skyline, traffic is standstill ghastly, and people populate the tables 24x7. Perhaps they’re General Motors executives in disguise – after all, wasn’t it a black jack do-or-die bet that got Fedex airborne? Hmm, it seems more likely that those die-hard players are from government!

Before politics starts to intrude, this blog is done. Catch my next Las Vegas entry for back country options which really are the antithesis of this desert metropolis.