Las Vegas

Luxor Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip
© Mike Leco /

A drive down Las Vegas Boulevard takes you past the pyramid of Luxor casino.

Las Vegas Nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada is a vibrant pulsating city and the largest adult playground in the world. It is a community that was created from the wastelands of the Mojave Desert in Nevada specifically to provide a gambling and entertainment oasis for the titillation seeking residents of post-war Los Angeles. Everything in Las Vegas has been done (or overdone) on a grand and spectacular scale. Along the Las Vegas strip, a black glass pyramid rises over a hundred meters above the desert with a larger than full sized replica of the Sphinx at its entry. Next to it, sits a larger than life castle with garishly colored turrets. Across the street, is a scaled-down skyline of New York City complete with a Brooklyn Bridge and a Statue of Liberty. Beyond that, you can see a half-sized replica of the Eifel Tower, a near full sized replica of the Piazza San Marco from Venice and a large volcano that erupts flames every thirty minutes. In Las Vegas, you often ask yourself, "Is this really a city, or am I visiting some futuristic amusement park on another planet?"

On any given evening in Las Vegas, you will find hundreds of entertainment events such as the renown Las Vegas stage shows, world class sporting events, performances by world famous entertainers plus music, dance and comedy at large and small venues throughout the city. This city never seems to sleep. The frivolity continues long into the night and the serious gamblers continue their pursuit of riches until well after the morning sun has risen on a new day.

The city was created by a reputed gangster

In 1931 gambling was legalized in the barren desert state of Nevada while it remained illegal in the more populous neighboring state of California. As early as 1940, the first hotel casino named El Rancho Vegas was constructed on the outskirts of a sleepy desert community in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada known as Las Vegas. A second hotel casino named the Last Frontier was opened a year later. Both profited from their proximity to the large gambling population living in Los Angeles and other southern California communities. In December of 1946, Bugsy Siegal a reputed New York gangster, then living in Beverly Hills California, and managing various illegal gambling operations on the West Coast, built a lavish new hotel casino named the Flamingo. He dreamed of creating a whole new resort city in the desert dedicated to gambling and entertainment. Unfortunately, Bugsy was shot to death in his Beverly Hills home in 1947; so he never got to see his dream fulfilled; but the legacy of lavish hotel casinos controlled by gangsters persisted in Las Vegas for many decades to come.

Today, this desert gambling oasis is a thriving city with more than one million inhabitants and over 38 million visitors a year. It has fourteen of the fifteen largest hotels in the USA and over 130,000 rooms available to visitors. Gambling and entertainment are still its biggest attractions and its largest industries. Supposedly, all the mafia gangsters have been removed from the Las Vegas gambling scene, only to be replaced by large corporate owners. (Is that an improvement?) In 1999, Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant lawyer whose spirited defense of many reputed gangsters and criminals earned him the unofficial title of "mouthpiece for the mob", was elected mayor of Las Vegas. He seems to be a most appropriate character to lead the government of "Sin City" USA.

Las Vegas Boulevard is "the Strip"

Las Vegas is located in the southwestern corner of Nevada near the borders of California and Arizona. It is 275 miles (450 km) from Los Angeles and less than a four-hours drive on excellent interstate highway. The city is situated in a broad flat desert valley surrounded by barren arid mountains. It receives only about 2 inches (5 cm) of rain per year; yet the city is an oasis of green grass, flowers and palm trees all subsisting on imported water. A vast checkerboard of low suburban homes sprawls across the valley floor for dozens of miles in every direction with new tracts of houses eternally sprouting like fields of cactus in the surrounding desert.

Las Vegas Welcome Sign © Mike Leco /
Las Vegas Boulevard is "the Strip"

All the action is centered on one broad avenue that stretches from the southern fringe of the city northward for a dozen miles until it reaches the heart of old downtown. This is Las Vegas Boulevard, commonly known as "the Strip". McCarran International Airport is located adjacent to the southern end of the Strip, and nearly all of the major casinos are lined up along its sides. A drive down Las Vegas Boulevard takes you past the pyramid of Luxor casino, the skyline of New York casino, the Eifel Tower of Paris casino, the great tent of the Circus casino and the lofty tower of the Stratosphere casino. Eventually, it takes you to downtown Vegas and Fremont Street, home of the historic old gambling parlors like Binyons and the Golden Nugget. Just driving down the strip past all these spectacular casino resorts is a fantastic experience. At night, "the strip" comes alive with miles of colored neon and millions of dancing, pulsating lights.

The cheap hotel rooms are often "off the Strip"

Most of the newest, grandest Las Vegas casino hotels are located along the southern end of the strip near McCarran Airport. Each casino contains thousands of slot machines, hundreds of gaming tables, multiple restaurants, numerous shops, theaters featuring "Las Vegas Shows" plus numerous bars, cocktail lounges and smaller entertainment venues.

Along the northern part of the Strip, a few miles away from McCarran Airport, and also in the downtown area even further north, the casinos are older and a bit less spectacular. That means they usually offer their accommodations, their all-you-can-eat buffets, and their shows at bargain prices to entice you to come and gamble at their facility. There are also a few large casino hotels like Sam's Town and Boulder Station located well away from the strip. Those isolated casinos often offer some super-saver bargains.

Las Vegas Wedding Chapel © Mike Leco /
Nearly all the major casinos have wedding chapels or wedding rooms.

Las Vegas Weddings

Since the early days when Las Vegas was but a sleepy town in the desert, Nevada has had a reputation as a very permissive state that allowed legal gambling, legal prostitution and easy divorce. Many California citizens would drive across the state line to Las Vegas in order to obtain quick-and-easy divorces from their unwanted spouses. Since divorces were often instigated by the desire to marry a new mate, Las Vegas began offering quick-and-easy weddings to go along with the quick-and-easy divorces. Wedding chapels sprouted along the Strip to accommodate this unique industry of legal mate swapping.

Today, many other states offer quick no-fault divorces, so the "Las Vegas divorce" is no longer in great demand. The city has, however, kept its reputation for quick-and-easy marriages. The wedding chapels are still visible along the strip and in the downtown area near the Clark County Court House. Nearly all the major casinos have wedding chapels or wedding rooms. The city marriage office is open 8 AM to midnight every day. 

Las Vegas Entertainment

Since the time of Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas has been renowned not only for its gambling, but also for its free flowing liquor, its fine dining and its extravagant entertainment especially at the Las Vegas Shows. All these original ingredients are still available in even greater variety and quantity in modern-day Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Entertainment © Mike Leco /
On any given evening in Las Vegas, you will find hundreds of entertainment events.

The famous old Las Vegas Shows were typically variety shows featuring headline entertainment, well known bands, scantily-clad dancing girls and ribald humor. You can still find some of those shows on the Strip. The afternoon performances and the early evening performances are usually toned-down family-oriented presentations, while the late night performances are more adult oriented featuing nudity, risque humor and adult themes.

Some of the newer shows are even more extravagant productions than the old-time ones. Cirque du Soliel runs about a half dozen fabulous productions in Las Vegas including: Mystere, Ka, O, and Zumanity. Each production is set in an immense specially-constructed theater with fantastic sets and technological marvels. The prices are fairly expensive, but they are certainly amazing feats of entertainment.

At least two or more Broadway-style productions of musicals or plays are constantly featured in Las Vegas. There are a number of Las Vegas "regulars" playing at Casinos throughout the city, and new famous, world renown entertainers appear for limited engagements nearly every week. In addition to all this, there are free shows and free entertainments available at many of the casinos nearly every day. There is certainly no lack of entertaining diversions in this town.

Las Vegas Dining

Good food in large quanities has been the staple of Las Vegas hospitality since the early days, and the all-you-can-eat buffet was a renown attraction at nearly every casino. They are still popular and almost universally available. The more isolated and the less popular casinos offer their buffets at ridiculously low prices just to attract gamblers to their gaming tables. The newer casinos often feature higher priced buffets with better quality foods. All of them provide unlimited quantities.

For more serious dining, Las Vegas provides hundreds of good restaurants in the casinos and throughout the city. Each of the large casinos offers at least four or six restaurants ranging from inexpensive snack bars and all-you-can-eat buffets to high-class, expensive, five-star restaurants.

This is a gateway to the Southwest

Grand Canyon Tour © Mike Leco /
Grand Canyon National Park, one of the great natural wonders of the world, is only 150 miles east of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is ideally situated for anyone that would like to explore the Southwest of the USA. It is centrally located amongst some of the greatest natural attractions in the USA like the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. McCarran Airport has nearly 500 flights per day arriving from both domestic and international destinations, so access is convenient and often very economical.

The desert landscape surrounding Las Vegas is stark and forbidding but strangely beautiful. Red Rock Canyon, just 20 miles west of the city, looks just like hollywood scenery for a cowboy movie. Boulder Dam and Lake Mead, located just 25 miles east of the city provides the strangely contrasting images of deep blue waters set among stark arid hills and barren rock formations. About 60 miles to the north, the Valley of Fire offers some unique hiking and sightseeing opportunities in a volcanically created environment of strange contorted rocks, lava fields and ancient Native American runes.

Tours depart from Las Vegas to many sights

Grand Canyon National Park, one of the great natural wonders of the world, is only 150 miles east of Las Vegas. The drive to the South Rim Visitors Center is 300 miles by road, while the slightly less spectacular West Rim is only a 150-miles drive from downtown Las Vegas. Death Valley National Park is about 150 driving miles to the west and can easily be seen on a one-day drive from Las Vegas. Zion National Park is about 150 driving miles to the north east, and Bryce Canyon is about 80 miles past it. If you do not wish to drive to any of the attractions, there are many tour options to these great natural wonders via bus, airplane and helicopter.

If you intend to visit Las Vegas for a few days or more, you need only leave the gambling parlors for a single day or even only a half day to see some of this spectacular Southwest scenery. There are numerous tours departing from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Death valley, Zion National Park, Boulder Dam, Lake Mead, the Valley of Fire and other interesting places. The tours can be via airplane, helicopter, bus, van, jeep or even hummer. Normally, the tour operators pick you up at your hotel, take you on a guided tour of the attraction, then return you to your hotel later in the day. This is a very convenient way to see some of the fabulous scenery in a very limited amount of time. Naturally, you can always rent a car and tour these same fabulous sights on your own.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco /
Photo Description: Las Vegas