Honeymoon in Vegas! Megan had never been, and we had been so busy with work and things since the wedding that we wanted some time to get away and enjoy being married and awesome. Vegas was the place to do it. We had a blast! It was a wonderful honeymoon.
We love travelling together, mostly because Megan is awesome and makes everything amazing. Now we are no Rockefeller's, so we travel on a budget. We travel cheap because we need to, but it is also fun to get an amazing deal. One of the great things about Las Vegas, is that if you are careful, you can go there, and stay there super cheap!
We flew in on Monday morning and got our rental car. We drove to the historic El Cortez hotel where we were staying in beautiful downtown. This hotel is one block from the Fremont Street Experience. (More on that later.) The hotel has been recently renovated in 2006 but It was obvious that it was built in 1931. The rooms are small and the bathrooms smaller. But they were clean and furnished well. The casino was small and casino-like, but we don’t gamble so we didn’t care a whit. The charm of this place was in its location, and that wasn’t even that it was a block from the Fremont Experience, even though that was pretty neat.
The hotel is in the center of downtown Las Vegas, which was awesome for reasons I would not have guessed. It was filled with art and it was totally beautiful. This was a Vegas I had never seen. Art...everywhere. Right outside of our window was a beautiful mural with goldfish and Vegas iconic images. We later discovered that this building was an art collective called Emergency Arts which had taken up in an old emergency medical clinic, and it was fantastic. It was a fresh little glowing oasis in the middle of the neon colored flashing bulb of Las Vegas. We heard a bit of the story of this new, wonderful Las Vegas later from a local, and I will tell that story as it fits into the tale of this trip.
One of the things that struck us, was the cultural bloom growing out a city with no real culture of its own. Vegas is flashy, and brash, and loud, and somehow… temporary. Temporary in the way that almost none of what you see when you go there is built for the people that live there. It is sort of a great big theme park, and suddenly in the center, there is a perfect little growing, thriving community struggling up through the cracks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vegas, and I love showing people around the touristy parts of the town. But this was the first thing I had seen there that looked like community, and roots. It felt like someone’s home.
Stepping outside of our hotel onto Fremont Street, we saw more amazing murals in every direction, but our first stop was The Market. This is the wonderful little grocery store directly across the street from the hotel that has a coffee shop and deli as well as great grocery items and produce and other awesome stuff. We bought sandwich meat and coffee and bread and some veggies and that was enough for most of our meals while we were in town. $26 for two days worth of meals for 2? Heck yeah!
Then we wanted to explore a bit. So we headed down Fremont away from the new casinos and we started getting into old downtown. Now we were getting to that strange part of town that was between defunct slums and new trendy little shops and restaurants and closed casinos and long-dead hotels, and desert all around, surrounded on every side by breath-taking mountains. It was a little surreal. Something old, something new, something ancient, something...desert. There was a feeling of other-worldliness about the whole thing. We loved it.
There were dozens of old motor hotels, long since closed, but reminiscent of old Vegas glory. There were new, very hip establishments as well. A lovely little chicken and Chinese place called Chow that had an amazing mural of a swimming bulldog. It was right next to a fan-freaking-tastic book store called The Writer’s Block. At first, this place looks like the hipstery-est, most pretentious place you can imagine. And it kind-of is, but as we walked around we noticed the carefully curated collection of books, the hand-made mechanical toys, the board games, the works of art, the anatomical models, and the huge collection of artificial birds, all or which were adoptable. There was also as space in the back that was designated as the writer’s block. We saw numerous people going back while we were there, some with instruments, some not. But this store also hand-makes books and paper-craft topographical maps onsite. It was wonderful. It was really charming and refreshing.
Then there was the container park. It is a somewhat upscale shopping center built out of re-purposed shipping containers. It is a three-story shopping malls with lovely little boutiques and a pretty phenomenal toy/novelty store, and some cool restaurants and a totally awesome tree house playground thing complete with a thirty foot tall tower and giant Lego and giant foam building blocks. There was also a concert stage area with an AstroTurf area in front with more building block and chalk to draw on the adjacent brick wall. It was a great little place, and we went back a few time during our visit.
After that we were off to explore Fremont Street a bit. That place is insane and a little sad and exciting and bizarre all at the same time. One of the first things you see on Fremont when coming in from the south east is the Denny’s. You might think it odd that I’d mention Denny’s on a town filled with gigantic buildings covered with flashing lights, but this one kind of sticks out. And it has a full bar. And a wedding chapel. Vegas, baby.
The other thing that you notice very quickly is the huge overhead canopy of light that covers the entire street. They do light shows hourly at night. This, in combination with the buskers and the flashing lights of the casinos and the live concerts that were scattered throughout the area, this place a sensory overload, and fascinating. Don’t stop and look too closely, because you will start to see the tarnished sadness and desperation that seems to creep in around the edges of everything that is old Vegas, but in some weird way, that is also part of the charm. There is a perverse satisfaction ins this somehow. You are definitely reminded constantly that this is not your world, and you are a tourist in this place, and that is exciting and comforting as two sides of the same coin.
At this point we had been walking for 10 miles or so and we were definitely feeling a bit tired. We did remember that the 30 foot tall mechanical scale model of a praying mantis that has light up eyes and flame-blasting antenna at the container park puts on a show every night at sundown. I’m just going to let that sentence sit there. It means exactly what it says. There is a 30 foot tall mechanical mantis that shoots flame against the backdrop of a lit geodesic dome in time to 90’s rock hits. It is radical. We hoofed it back to the container park in order to catch it, but when we got there we realized there was no reason to rush. The show lasted well into the evening.
After the jogging and the long day we were bushed. It was close to bedtime anyway, and past bedtime in Texas, so we headed back to the hotel for some sleep. The bed was comfy, and the room was quiet so we slept great and woke up early. Being two hours ahead of our normal time meant that we were up and at ‘em by around 6 a.m. Fortunately, this doesn’t slow you down much in Vegas. Things are still happening.
We be-bopped around the neighborhood for a while, finding more awesome things. Notably, the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, which is an arts magnet High School in an amazing historic Art-Deco building. It is a cool building with a really interesting history. It was also really cool to see, and it sticks out in the desert landscape and government buildings. The entire neighborhood is a really neat collection of all of these little homes built in the 1930s and 40s, and it's like a tiny architectural time capsule in the middle of downtown.
After that we headed out to meet Megan’s friend Roo for lunch. Roo moved to Las Vegas from DFW a while back, and it was great for Megan to get to catch up with her and for me to meet her. We ate at a Chinese place in the Vegas China town, and the food was amazing. I had Chinese food. It was also fascinating to get some insight on Las Vegas from a local. She talked about the downtown project which you can read about in depth here if you want to know more. It’s [pretty interesting. She also talked about living in Vegas and the challenges and the great stuff as well. It was interesting to get the insight from a local and to see that Vegas is singularly a place designed for tourists, and as a consequence, there is no culture. And young people are starting to realize that if they wanted the city they lived in to be better, they would have to make it better. It was interesting.
But eventually she had to get back to work and we had to go enjoy more hanging out in a new city. We explored China town a little, and they had some neat import stores and a grocery store where we got some awesome coconut almond bread based on Roo’s suggestion. The we hit the strip, baby!
I’ve written about Las Vegas before, but I like Vegas for reasons that are hard to describe. It is amazing and fascinating and flashy and HUGE and filled with interesting people and gorgeous in some ways. But it is also dirty, and trashy and filled with sad people and failures and there is so much that is tragic about Las Vegas, but that is a little comforting about it all. Walking around the Las Vegas strip you see people winning and people who have lost it all and everywhere in-between and the whole town is just on the edge of shady. Even the nice parts of town that we passed through had some aspect of shadiness about them.
But there are people just making it. Living a life in the huge trash theme park with little patches of art and culture. And that is just what I am doing. But my form of making doesn’t involve standing on a street corner in a poorly homemade Spider-man costume hoping for tips. I am doing okay by comparison. But it is also a place where I feel like I fit in in a strange way. I’m not a perfect person and I have learned so much about what I don’t know that I have no arrogance about how I live my life or other people live theirs. And Las Vegas is a city with that attitude in spades.
In Vegas, you get a lot of happy philosophy from people you would not blame for being jaded and apathetic. Like the lot attendant at the rental car place who told us, “I’m having a good day, not an easy day, but it’s a good day. People mix up hard days with bad days, but when you get older you realize a hard day can be a good day.” That type of attitude is something I can relate to and that I understand. And that type of feeling is one that is pervasive in Las Vegas. People figuring it out, and being okay with it. But one of the other comforting things is that you can leave and go home. Maybe that says something about Las Vegas, or maybe that says something about home. That is probably a whole different blog post.
Anyway, long story longer, we walked up and down the strip for around 10 miles total and oohed and ahhed and had a blast. We were just taking in the sights which is always fun to do with someone who has never seen Las Vegas. Megan was appropriately wowed with the grandeur. Some of the highlights were walking through a corporate conference at Mandalay Bay, getting theme character pictures taken at Excalibur, Megan losing her mind about the Chihuly glass in the Bellagio, and seeing the characters walking around the canals at the Venetian among other things. We had a blast. But there had been much walking and it was time for bed. We went back to the hotel and saw the giant mantis flaming away before hitting the bed.
The next day was the excursion day. We got up early and drove out toward Hoover Dam. We stopped at the Lake Mead National Recreational Area on the way. It was lovely and the visitor center was really neat. Then on to Hoover Dam. We stopped at the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and walked out to be terrified and get a great view of the dam. Well, I was terrified, Megan was fine. But regardless the view was great. Then we went down and walked across the top of the dam. That thing is huge and awesome.
Then back to the other side of Las Vegas to visit the nation’s newest national monument at the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. It was just designated a national monument in December of 2014 and it doesn’t even have a visitor center or anything. But it was fascinating. Just across the street from suburbs of Las Vegas, it is a desert with low bluffs and fossil fragments everywhere! Megan was in nerd heaven. It was adorable.
After that we moved on to Red Rocks Canyon. It is a beautiful and fascinating place. We were so taken with it. It is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. The scale is amazing. Being in the desert, things there look big, and then you get half a mile closer and realize that they are HUGE and still far away. There are red and white limestone formations all around shooting up out of the desert, stark against the sky. It is beautiful. We could have spent an entire day there, and we’ll go back at some point and do just that.
We headed back to town and walked around the strip a little bit more before we were pooped. We headed back and went to sleep. The next day was time to leave. We headed to the car rental place and dropped off the car and caught the shuttle to the airport. We had some time before the flight so we spent a while engaged in one of our favorite travel activities; exploring the airport. We like airports, and the Las Vegas is a great one. It has shopping areas with designer shops and slot machines and Vegas people and it is quite interesting. So we had fun.
Then we flew back and our honeymoon was over. Well, at least the Vegas trip was. It was a grand adventure. We will have many more. I couldn’t hope for a better adventure pal than my beautiful wife Megan and I can’t wait for the rest of our adventures. Everyday is a new one.