Insiders Peek at Fun Places to Visit in and Near Las Vegas

Insiders Peek at Fun Places to Visit in and Near Las Vegas

Insiders Peek at Fun Places to Visit in and Near Las Vegas
By Kathy Manney

Las Vegas is a true oddity. Situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the area's excessive summer heat can even seem this sometimes tagged "Sin City" is Hell itself. But, as often happens, there is more to this city than many would suppose.

The once barren desert buzzes as a booming year round vacation spot with luxury resorts, and during the decade between 1995 and 2005, it was the fastest growing city in America, at a staggering rate of 6,000 to 7,000 newcomers pouring in monthly to call Las Vegas home. During this rapid growth period, for every new hotel room built, 2.5 jobs were created, making Las Vegas number one in job growth during those years.

Not only is Las Vegas a gambler's Mecca, its low taxes allowed Las Vegas to grow into a retirement Mecca and until the building boom ended, a Mecca for the job seeker. With the opening of numerous mega resorts during 1995 to 2005, the service industry was consistently recruiting experienced workers.

Las Vegas has many extremes: extreme temperatures and extreme range of entertainment attractions, both on and off Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as "the strip." The region is less known for its scenery, a refreshing antidote to all the Las Vegas glitz are several awe inspiring national parks.

As part of the Southwest's "Grand Circle" of national parks there is Zion, near St. George, Utah and 150-miles northeast of Las Vegas. Zion National Park offers spectacular high cliffs and canyon landscape to take your breath away. The sheer vividly colored cliffs in Zion towers above as visitors trace the road along the floor of the canyon.

One cannot help but feel a sense of wonder while traveling into the park between 2,000 and 3,000 walls. Cutting a path through the canyon for more than 13-million-years is the Virgin River. Here the mountains date to Jurassic time.

Another majestic example of nature made sculpture is the Grand Canyon. This 277-mile mile gorge is the most spectacular canyon in the world. From the rim above, the vista in every direction is unparallel, filled with natural beauty. The Grand Canyon is a day's drive from Las Vegas.

Scenic air plane and helicopter tours to the canyon are available leaving from Las Vegas. Cutting through the immense one mile deep Grand Canyon is the 1,500 mile long Colorado River. Hoover Dam on the Colorado River is one of the world's greatest engineering accomplishments. Completed in 1936, Hoover Dam stands as the highest concrete dam in North America, at 726 feet high.

The dam has one of the world's largest hydro electrical power plants and supplies the power to a number of states, among them Nevada, California and Arizona. Tours run every day and for a modest admission ticket, you can visit the subterranean caverns of the dam and learn about the dam's fascinating history.

Lake Mead ranks as one of the world's greatest reservoirs and Las Vegas is the gateway to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which includes Lake's Mead and Mohave. It was formed by the damming of the Colorado River. The lake stretches with more than 600 miles of shoreline. Lake Mead is known for its fishing and water sports plus house boating, all within 30 miles of Las Vegas.

On the Boulder Highway between Lake Mead and the Las Vegas strip is Sam's Town Hotel and Casino. Inside, the Mystic Falls Park atrium offers a manmade setting that captivates all ages. Four times daily a free special effects show is presented, giving a trip back to the plains and mountains of the western United States. The 24-hour footpath travels a course offering glimpses of "wildlife" throughout the park, so keep a watchful eye out for them.

The park has benches for relaxing and in the center you can settle for a drink or two in the Ram's Head lounge. Around the perimeter of the park there is an array of gift emporiums, and restaurants.

Dominating the city's skyline is the Stratosphere Tower, rising 1,149 feet over the Las Vegas valley. The Stratosphere is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and reaches further into the sky than the Eiffel Tower - a mere 985 feet high - and stands only a head shorter than the Empire State Building, 1,250 feet Tall.

The Stratosphere is the best location in the city to view the Las Vegas strip, from either the indoor or the outdoor observation deck. The "Top of the World" restaurant revolves, allowing the evening diner a breath taking demonstration of the city lights below.

Rare white tigers and lions were brought back from extinction by illusionist, Siegfried and Roy. Through their dedication to cats of the wild, they have returned these exotic animals from being more than a myth. The Tiger Habitat at the Mirage Hotel and Casino is open to the public 24 hours. There is no charge to view the glass enclosure where the white cats are seen playing, swimming and drowsing.

Perhaps you'll never get to Rio for carnival time, but this is no reason not to encounter the feel of Rio's colorful costumes, mystery and excitement. Year round, the other Rio is the Rio Hotel and Casino and the place is the Masquerade Village. This is where a charming "village" has been built with shops, restaurants and even extends a world-renowned wine cellar.

It is here, where you can become part of the entertainment, with an interactive presentation of "The Masquerade Show in the Sky." A small admission, not only allows you a lookout on the theatrical production, you become a slice of it, costumed and riding in one of five carnival floats. Other carnival entertainment pops up from stages rising from the basement, these include a trapeze act and the shows are free.

Downtown and away from the strip is another free attraction, the Fremont Street Experience. The Experience is a special canopy built over a four-block long pedestrian mall. After dark, there is an hourly elaborate light and sound display presented on the overhead canopy. There is nothing else like it in the world and definitely bring your camera you to record this usual light demonstration.

The Fremont Experience mall attracts an estimated 25,000 visitors a night, it is the place to stroll and gaze. Many evenings there will be live entertainment such as the acrobats from the Moscow Circus or theme presentations like "Back to the '50's."

Indeed, no other place entertains like Las Vegas. There is so much to see and do and such diversity with its unique environmental location and dynamic, exciting exhibits, Las Vegas is the place where people want to come to have fun.

Kathy Manney is the nationally recognized author of autobiographical, lifestyle and travel articles and the travel columnist for "The Vegas Voice," a monthly regional senior lifestyle newspaper.

Kathy is open to freelance work in the fields of non-fiction writing and editing.

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