Road Trip Journal Entry #5: Leaving Las Vegas 2
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

During September of 2000, DCSki’s Editor loaded his car up and headed west, with no fixed agenda - just a yearning for some adventure and fun.

Journal Entry #5: Leaving Las Vegas

After spending too much time in the sun mountain biking in Moab, I headed to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Over the course of several days, I got married (twice), gambled away my retirement account, and was hit over the head by a mobster and left for dead in the desert.

Just kidding.

What really happened: I visited the Statue of Liberty on the way to the Eiffel Tower, stayed in a hotel with over 5,000 rooms, and accidentally won $20.

This latter event was a mistake on my part; in a video blackjack machine, I intended to hit the “bet one” button (to bet $1) but instead hit the “max bet” button (betting $10). I did this twice in a row without realizing it. Thankfully, I won both times, then realized my mistake, and cashed out.

Outside of a few quarters in a slot machine or two, that was the extent of my gambling.

It only looks this blurry  if you've had a few drinks (or forgotten your tripod.)
Vegas at night. It only looks this blurry if you’ve had a few drinks (or forgotten your tripod.) Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Las Vegas is about more than just gambling, although gambling - now referred to as the less-threatening-sounding “gaming” - lies at the city’s core. Over the past decade, Las Vegas has reinvented itself and is now run by corporations instead of mobsters. Grandiose hotels have been blasted away to make room for even more grandiose hotels. The skyline is in a state of constant flux, as new hotel/casinos rise out of the desert ground.

Las Vegas is a recess ground for adults.

Flamboyance is the norm. Millions of watts of flashing lights glitter in an ever-changing array of colors. Thousands of gallons of water splash through man-made fountains, cheating the dryness of the Nevada desert. And everywhere you look, at every hour of the day and every day of the week, a sea of people flows through the streets of Las Vegas, with the hopes of hitting the next jackpot or at least finding a good buffet.

And there are plenty of good buffets in Las Vegas. Even the inexpensive ones - around $6.99 for dinner - offer dozens of entrees including prime rib and shrimp. It’s hard not to eat well in Las Vegas.

I checked into the MGM Grand, a hotel so large it practically needs its own zip code. In fact, with over 5,000 rooms, it’s the largest hotel in the world. It also has its own amusement park, for those keeping score.

Nothing should surprise you in Las Vegas.
A bit of Paris. Nothing should surprise you in Las Vegas. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

The MGM Grand itself has a couple dozen restaurants, plenty of shops, and - not surprisingly - plenty of casino action. MGM Grand is also home to EFX, an expensive production currently headlined by Tommy Tune. The show, with its own dedicated multi-million dollar theater, includes hundreds of special effects from explosions to lasers to giant dragons that appear from nowhere. If you’re in Vegas, definitely check this out.

Right next door to MGM Grand is the New York-New York casino, complete with its own New York skyline, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and a 300-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge. A roller coaster winds around through the skyline.

A free monorail connects the MGM Grand with Bally’s, further down the Las Vegas Strip. Similar people movers connect other casinos, such as Luxor, Excalibur, and the new Mandalay Bay. The construction of Mandalay Bay was the highlight of a recent Discovery Channel special.

Each major casino offers it own distinctive character and bag of tricks. The Bellagio has a simulated ocean in front of it; I’m told there is a spectacular fountain and light display but, unfortunately, it was so windy during my visit that the fountains were turned off.

Mandalay Bay has its own aquarium, and you can watch live lions at both MGM Grand and the Mirage. A man-made volcano erupts regularly at the Mirage. Not to be outdone, a staged battle takes place in a 65-foot-deep lagoon at Treasure Island between pirates.

Each night, there are dozens of shows throughout Las Vegas, some G-rated, some not. Comedian Rita Rudner was headlining at MGM Grand during my stay. And, as you might guess, there are plenty of Elvis impersonators roaming around the City That Never Sleeps.

To get some great night shots in Vegas, bring a tripod and set your camera to a  low shutter speed.
Hanging out on the strip. To get some great night shots in Vegas, bring a tripod and set your camera to a low shutter speed. Photos by M. Scott Smith.

So, there’s plenty to do and see at Las Vegas, even if you skip the gambling.

After a couple days in Vegas, I was rested up and ready to begin the long journey home.

I charted a route through southwestern Utah, hitting national parks including Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef. Each offers spectacular scenery. Unfortunately, both Zion and Bryce also offer huge crowds - the two parks are relatively small and attract an enormous number of visitors each year, leading to some challenges for the National Park Service.

Even on a weekday after the busy summer travel season, a traffic jam greeted me at the entrance to Zion National Park. There were about three lanes at the entrance station and each was backed up with a couple dozen cars. Zion has closed one of the main roads through the Park; you must ride a free shuttle, which makes regular stops throughout the Park. The parking lot at the main visitor center had hundreds of cars, with shuttles coming every 15 or so minutes.

Not willing to deal with crowds, I quickly left Zion and headed to Bryce, which is suffering similar problems. Bryce also instituted a shuttle system this past year to help alleviate some of the crowding problems. As I arrived at Bryce, the sky darkened and it began to snow. (Earlier, over a foot of snow had fallen in parts of Colorado and Wyoming, shutting down some major highways. Good timing on my part: when I was there a week earlier, there were record-breaking warm temperatures.)

The snow at Bryce didn’t accumulate, but temperatures dropped well below freezing. Having been in Las Vegas earlier that morning, I was in shorts. I quickly grabbed a campsite and put up my tent possibly faster than I ever have. With temperatures in the teens that night, I was thankful for a warm sleeping bag.

The next day, I spent some time at Capitol Reef National Park, which includes some rather narrow canyons that you can hike or drive through. Just don’t try it if there’s a chance of a flash flood.

Braving a bumpy road in Capitol Reef National Park.
Four-wheel drive would be nice. Braving a bumpy road in Capitol Reef National Park. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
Having been on the road two and a half weeks, it was time to head home. A couple days later I was in Salina, Kansas. From there, I made a direct shot home - 23 hours of straight driving that I’m in no hurry to repeat.

With over 5,000 miles under my belt, I was glad to finish my trip - but also glad that I had taken it. It gave me an opportunity to see some new sights, try some new things, and recharge. Those are pretty good ingredients for a vacation.

Tips for visiting Las Vegas:

Tips for visiting remote sections of Utah:

  • Fill up on gas whenever you have a chance. You never know where the next gas station will be.
  • Try to pick an uncrowded time to visit Zion. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an uncrowded time. Weekends in mid-summer are probably not the best choice.

    Other Journal Entries:

    Entry #1: The Long Road West

    Entry #2: Stairway to Heaven

    Entry #3: Biking in Breckenridge

    Entry #4: The Moab Mecca

    Entry #5: Leaving Las Vegas

  • About M. Scott Smith

    M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

    Author thumbnail

    Reader Comments

    October 6, 2000
    Last time I was in Vegas was March 91. The bldg boom they are still experiencing was well under way then too. They were calling it the fastest growing city in USA and I can tell from your account that many more giant hotels have been built since then. I stayed across the street from the Mirage and heard the mock explosions of their volcano thru most of the night. It is very much an adult Disneyland. I think there is a ski area at 11,900' Charleston Peak about an hour west of town. I've occasionally wondered about getting a cheap winter gamblers airfare to Vegas and combine it with skiing?? But I've never heard anyone talk about that ski area, so I'm not sure its any good. I think the nearest real skiing, i.e. Mammoth, is a full day's drive away.
    October 10, 2000
    Nice Article. Good tips. For your next trip I don't suppose you would have room for two, would you?

    Ski and Tell

    Snowcat got your tongue?

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