It is so kitsch that it is ingenious! The “strip” is a 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Blvd. South where many of the world’s largest casinos and hotels are located. Fifteen of the largest twenty five hotels in the world are here. I stayed in the MGM Grand, a gigantic 30-floor, 6852 room hotel with dozens of restaurants, clubs and the largest casino in the city. This was my first ever city in Las Vegas and despite the fact that I was prepared to stay unimpressed, I was amazed by the size of the project. Take MGM Grand, multiply it by 30-something, add luxury shopping outlets and stand-alone entertainment venues and you start understanding how a city in the middle of the dessert can generate a GDP of $92b.
Las Vegas by night
The strip is at its best during the night, when the neon is glowing. It looks like a huge amusement park, dominated by colors and hordes of indifferent, badly dressed people. The occasional interesting characters are mostly professional street weirdos that try hard to stand out from the competition. It takes about one hour to walk from the MGM Grand to the Mirage as the sidewalks are blocked by stairways and pathways to channel the crowds. It feels like a huge shopping mall. As a first timer I was overwhelmed by the spectacle as the real world was matching against movie scenes and book descriptions. It turns out that the match is perfect. It is not surprising as the Las Vegas concept is so simplistic and strong that it very easy to describe.
The casinos are huge, filled with hundreds of slot machines and dozens of tables where people dressed in t-shirts and shorts or in cocktail dress try their luck. I fail to see the point. Having spent quite some time in the Monte Carlo and Divonne, Las Vegas gambling is beyond my understanding. A noisy, mass-market setup that lacks the ambience and style that is necessary when someone is losing or winning big. It really feels strange when you exit your room in the morning to get a cup of coffee to see people sitting at the slot machines or playing their cards against of a 60-year old dealer of Korean descent.
Las Vegas by day
The strip during the day is quite different. When the neon lights go off, all is left is the bad taste. And the heat. During the summer the temperature climbs to 40+°C. Even in the beginning of June, the temperature rose to 36°C, but the extremely dry air – 15% humidity – made walking the strip a possibility. The strip, with its architectural monstrosities, like the grotesque imitations of the Eiffel tower and the Fontana di Trevi may look funny in the night but are definitely sad during daytime.
The Grand Canyon
The Colorado river has exposed two billion years of the earth’s geology and created a spectacular 446km canyon in the heart of Arizona. Its close location to Las Vegas – the south rim is 450km away – created an industry of airborne tours that allow LV visitors to enjoy this geological marvel. I joined a tour that included airplane transportation to the south rim air strip, a helicopter tour above the canyon and a visit the Mather Point, one of the most popular observation points. Hotel-to-hotel it was a less than 7 hours and gave me the chance to see the best aerial and vantage point views, but left me with a feeling of unfulfillment.
I am not saying it was not worth the $545 I paid for, but I realized that it would take probably to 3-4 days that would include trekking, river trips, the chance to see the sunrise and sunset, to appreciate the beauty of this unique place. I had one day only and the air transfer-helicopter-bus combination was definitely the best choice for a one day visit.
The views from the helicopter were breath taking. This was my first ever chopper ride and I had the chance to sit in the front row and fully enjoy the panoramic 180 views. My only complaint is that the light was harsh during the mid day flight, so the colors were a bit washed out. I can only imagine what the Canyon will look out in the golden hour.
The Mather Point is one of the most popular vantage points to appreciate the Grand Canyon glory and it did not disappoint me. The views of the Not only that, but I had the rare chance to see from a really close distance two of the amazing California Condors. A critically endangered specie that became extinct in the wild by 1987 and reintroduced to northern Arizona and Utah, the California Condor is the largest Northern America land bird with an impressive wingspan of 3m.