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Destination Guide

Touring the Strip, and Beyond

Las Vegas rarely gets the credit it deserves. As a city of over one million inhabitants, it seems to hold onto its reputation as Sin City, which in turn causes some of the external parts of this 24 hour town to be overlooked. Certainly the casinos, neon and nightlife are what bring visitors here, but there really is a life outside of the slot machines and showrooms. A car is a necessity to explorers of the Las Vegas area, as there is limited public transportation. If you don't have your own car, all the major rental companies have offices here in Las Vegas, plus smaller places that specialize in fun cars-- jeeps, convertibles, etc. There are also escorted tours available of the city and the outlying areas, and information about such excursions is available at hotel concierge desks or tour information booths. If you hold the keys to a car, try one of the tours below.

Tour #1?Bright Lights and Luck
Still not quite convinced you can do without the lights and excitement? Well, lets take the Bright Lights & Luck Tour for starters. Las Vegas? tourist area is basically broken down into two sections, sometimes the names of which are wrongfully interchanged. The Las Vegas Strip is another name for Las Vegas Boulevard. Running north and south, this is the famous street with the big, theme hotels and is the area generally seen on television and screen. A good starting point for this first leg of the tour is the far south part of the Strip. Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino is the first major hotel and makes it an easy marker for the tour. As you begin your drive north on Las Vegas Blvd, the towering hotels will suddenly envelop you. Just north of the starting point is the Luxor Hotel & Casino, made obvious by the pyramid tower and Sphinx statue. Directly north of that is the first major cross street, Tropicana Avenue. On this corner alone stand four world-famous casinos: the Excalibur, New York New York, Tropicana Hotel and the MGM Grand Hotel. All of these buildings are famous throughout the world, and make for great souvenir photo shots. Continuing north, you will pass the newest reconstruction of a casino, the new Aladdin Hotel, scheduled to open with 2000 rooms in Spring, 2000. During the next two miles, you will pass more of the worlds most-famous hotels: Monte Carlo, Paris Las Vegas, Desert Inn, Caesars Palace, Flamingo Hilton, Venetian, Imperial Palace, Ballys, The Mirage, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Riviera, Stardust, Treasure Island, and many of the lesser-known hotels. Finally, prior to reaching the next major intersection, Sahara Ave, you will see the newly remodeled Sahara Hotel & Casino.

The next part of the tour is to Downtown Las Vegas, approximately five more driving minutes from the Sahara Hotel. Continue driving north on Las Vegas Blvd approximately three miles, until reaching Fremont Street. Several years ago this street was accessible by cars, but now it is all part of the Fremont Street Experience. To see this part of Downtown, you will need to park your car and walk a bit, but there are several private garages here; its possible to valet park the car at any of the hotels for no charge. Remember Las Vegas truly shines at night, so try to do this tour after dark. It is awe-inspiring.

#2?Nature Lovers Tour
If nature is what warms your heart, this tour will add even more to your visit to Las Vegas. Although located in a desert, Southern Nevada also has nearby mountains and areas of scenic beauty. This tour is appropriately known as the Nature Lovers Tour. Mt. Charleston serves as an escape for many locals during the summer months. Temperatures pleasantly come in at some 30 degrees Fahrenheit less than in the city during the summer, and fall below freezing regularly during winter. The drive to Mt. Charleston is short, approximately 40 minutes from Strip Hotels, and is accessible year round. Take US-95 north to the 157 Exit, also known as Kyle Canyon Rd. The drive will start off with desert landscaping, but as the elevation increases, the greenery comes out, as well. During spring this area is dotted with wildflowers. There are two lodges on Mt. Charleston, which locals refer to lovingly as the Old Lodge, and the New Lodge. The New Lodge, formally called the Mt. Charleston Hotel, is lower down the mountain so you will see it first. Approximately 10 minutes further up the hill is the Old Lodge, or the Mt. Charleston Lodge. Both offer scenic views, restrooms, and a place to relax and enjoy a nice meal. There are many campgrounds and picnic areas up in the Toiyabe National Forest area, so make a day of it and bring a lunch and a blanket. The trees whisper in the wind, the air is fresh, and there are no buffet crowds pushing and shoving. One little-known feature at the Mt. Charleston Hotel is a nine hole, par 35 golf course. Horseback riding is also a fun way to spend the afternoon, and can be set up by reservations though Mt. Charleston Riding Stables. One word of advice, fill up your fuel tanks before going up the mountain as no gas services are available once leaving the highway. The roads are curved and sometimes steep, so plan to spend a few hours driving through the scenic area. There are a number of homes located in this area, so please remember to respect private property.

#3?Scenic Loop Tour
This scenic day trip will take you to Red Rock Canyon, an area of blood-red sandstone, popular with hikers, campers, and sightseers. To get here, take Charleston Blvd west, approximately 16 miles from Downtown Las Vegas. The drive here is peaceful and uncrowded, and usually a few burros will cross your path on the roads, so keep your eyes open, and your brake foot ready. Bicyclers are also common here, so, again, exercise caution. There are plenty of rest areas and picnic sites, so it is another good place to catch your breath and enjoy nature and give up the slots for a few hours. There is a $5 entrance fee to the park, and no fuel or dining services are available. Do not feed any of the animals you may see, as it is against the law and stiff penalties apply to all violators. Besides burros, desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, wild horses, and snakes can be found here, so if a hiking adventure is something of interest, use common sense and be prepared. Temperatures change here quickly, and many hikers have gotten stranded on the cliffs. The car trip is a perfectly suitable way to see the red sandstone, for the less adventurous, or those traveling with small children. Take a side trip to Spring Mountain Ranch; directions are available at the entrance gate to Red Rock. This lovely park area is home to plays, picnic areas, concerts, and a ranch house. Call ahead for entertainment schedules, and spend the whole day out here.

Tour #4?Primm Valley
The Nevada-California border has grown from a "Welcome to Nevada" sign to a full-fledged little town, officially known as Primm Valley. Naturally, there are hotels & casinos here, but what seems to now brings visitors are three non-gaming attractions. First, the Primm Valley Golf Club. Next, visit the extremely popular amusement attractions at Buffalo Bills and Primadona Resort. The Desperado roller coaster is visible from a distance and the screams of the brave riders can be heard from equally far away. The Adventure Canyon Log Flume is also situated here. Finally, shopping at its best at the Fashion Outlet of Las Vegas. The ride to Primm Valley takes approximately 35 minutes from the south end of Las Vegas Blvd. To get here take the I-15 Freeway South. There are gas stations and assorted restaurants, as well as lodging available.

Tour #5?Lake Mead
There is water in the desert, and Lake Mead is the worlds largest man-made waterway. This tour encompasses two of Nevadas greatest wonders, Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Boating, water-skiing, fishing, swimming, sunning and relaxation are all waiting for you here at the lake. There are several docks and coves, so check in at the Visitors Center for specific directions to each area. The weather is a real factor for people unfamiliar with the Nevada climate. In summer it easily passes the 110-degree mark, and it is very dry, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. There are restaurants at each of the dock facilities, as well as rest rooms and small stores for snacks, bait, and boat rental. Kids also love throwing popcorn to the carp, an entertaining experience for people of all ages. No fuel is available once passing through Boulder City. At night, try the Lake Mead Cruise for dinner and dancing, as well as some beautiful scenery. Hoover Dam is another of Nevadas proudest possessions. Guided dam tours are available, and run generally a few hours. There are several snack bars and restaurants, as well as restroom facilities. There is always a great deal of car and pedestrian traffic here, so be prepared for a leisurely drive. The recently renovated parking area has improved visiting conditions tremendously, but it is inevitable that people still cross in front of cars without looking. There is no fuel availability on the Dam, and the nearest location for gas purchase is in Boulder City. To get to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam take US-93 south approximately 45 minutes from Downtown, following the easily marked signs.

Tour #6?Nevade Wine Country
Most visitors to Las Vegas are surprised to learn that less than an hour away from the bright city lights hides a small local winery. The Pahrump Valley Vineyards is located in nearby Nye County, a little over an hour from Las Vegas. A free wine tasting tour is available here, and before heading back to town, try a meal at the Pahrump Valley Vineyard Restaurant. The town of Pahrump really doesn't have a lot to offer tourists other than a few small casinos, and of course, prostitution is legal in Nye County, and there are several brothels in this area. To get to Pahrump, take I-15 South to the Blue Diamond Rd and follow the road west approximately 70 miles. It is a good idea to fill up the car with gas before proceeding to Pahrump, though there are services and other restaurants and fast food eateries in the town itself. The Vineyard is located on Winery Road and there are well-marked signs, though this town is small enough that getting lost is not a problem here.

#7?Aliens Among Us
One of the most famous and interesting tourist sites near Las Vegas is the town of Rachel, Nevada. The area is controversial due to the close proximity of the secretive Nevada Test Sites Area 51. Rumors have surrounded this small town for years about alien space ships and UFO sightings, so enthusiasts flock here to stake out the desert sky looking for proof of life on other planets. The most famous spot in Rachel is the Little A?Le?In, which is simply a small bar & restaurant with motel and campsite. There isn't much else out here, but extraterrestrial life sightings might make it worth the trip. To get to Rachel, take I-15 North to Exit 64, going West on US-93. Continue on to SR-375 (State Route) west until arriving in Rachel. Total driving time is approximately three hours and twenty minutes, and is 300 miles roundtrip.

Lori Orchow Haney