Book Review: The Outsiders’ Guide to Las Vegas

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fivehundyLet’s get this out of the way first: I know Tim Dressen, author of this book, and his wife Michele. I consider them friends. I donated to Tim’s Kickstarter campaign so he could write this book. I am also a huge fan of their Five Hundy By Midnight Podcast. That said, nobody asked me to review this book, and I’m not getting anything for doing so. Quite simply, like everyone else in the world, I like to recommend things that I like.

I also like to support my friends in their artistic endeavors. But if I had read The Outsiders’ Guide to Las Vegas and thought “It’s okay, but…” or “Wow, that sucked,” I’d keep my mouth shut about it. I certainly wouldn’t be reviewing it. So, with that out of the way, here are my thoughts on this guide to Las Vegas: Continue reading

T Minus Two Weeks

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Loungers

It’s lounging around the pool time!

Who’s got a trip to Vegas coming up in the next couple of months? (Raises hand.) Me! I’ll be in my Happy Place in 2 weeks. I cannot wait.

This trip is all about Rest and Relaxation (yes, with capital “Rs”). I’ve shunned my usual busy schedule this time around. I don’t want to do anything that even remotely resembles work. I’m not going specifically to gather content for the blog, I’m going because I’m thoroughly exhausted from my day job and I needed to “get away from it all”. More importantly, I wanted an escape that I didn’t need to do a lot of work to plan. Luckily, Vegas fits the bill nicely!

So here’s the deal: I’m arriving on August 29th and leaving September 4. If your travel dates overlap mine and you’d like to meet up for a drink, let me know. Given the short notice, I’m not planning an “official” Vegas Solo Meetup this time, but if there’s enough interest and overlapping dates, I’ll try to set something up on the fly.

You can let me know if you’re going to be in town in the comments on this blog post or on the SoloFriendly Facebook page or you can Tweet me.

Of course, if you’re in town and you don’t want to meet up, that’s cool, too. I know everyone’s Vegas time is precious. Either way, I’ll be having a good time–provided I don’t get sick again. (Third time’s the charm, right? Pray for me.)

A Drive Through Red Rock Canyon

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Red Rock Canyon Sign

Welcome to Red Rock Canyon

On every trip I’ve taken to Las Vegas since the early 2000s, I’ve been meaning to make it out to Red Rock Canyon. But of course, I never rent a car when I’m in Las Vegas, which makes it a tad more difficult to see the Canyon. There are tours that go out there; I just haven’t gotten around to taking one yet.

If you’re a first time Vegas visitor, this might not make it onto your list of priorities. But if you’re a repeat visitor, then it’s definitely time to spread your wings beyond the Strip. I’ve become a huge fan of getting out into the desert for at least part of a day on every trip. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the constant sensory stimulation you’re subjected to on the Strip and Downtown.

Red Rock Canyon

This is why it’s called “Red Rock Canyon,” as if that weren’t obvious.

On my last trip to Las Vegas, I finally got a chance to visit Red Rock Canyon thanks to a local friend who lives there who offered to take me somewhere off Strip for the day. Delma and I met at a previous Vegas Solo meetup. She’s retired, so was able to do things during the day. (Thank you, Delma!)

Red Rock Canyon

At last, I visited Red Rock Canyon. What took me so long???

We took advantage of the 30-minute drive out to Red Rock, as well as during our tour of the Loop, to catch up on each other’s lives.  It was fun taking photos of each other at the various lookout points. As a solo traveler, I usually have to take selfies or ask a stranger to take my picture if I want evidence that I actually visited a place.

Red Rock Canyon

Naturally, we had to pose for photos in front of this gnarly tree.

At the final parking area where we stopped, there was a man taking photos of his family who looked like he knew what he was doing with a camera, so we asked him to take some pictures of the two of us to commemorate our day.

At Red Rock Canyon

With Delma at Red Rock Canyon

Speaking of photography, it was so nice to do a tour like this with someone else who loves photography as much as I do. One of the reasons I prefer traveling solo is because I can take all the time I want for photography when I’m alone and not worry about whether or not a traveling companion is getting bored. In this case, Delma was practicing her photography, too, so we were on the same page.

Red Rock Canyon

The red of the rocks is sandstone, like at the Valley of Fire.

Red Rock Canyon

In the Canyon, you’ll see these kinds of two-toned rocks.

 

I was a little afraid it was going to rain that day, but it didn’t. And as it turned out, the cloud cover really worked to our advantage for taking photos. The colors changed depending on whether clouds were blocking the sun or not. While the “reds” of Red Rock are vivid and lovely, I have to say, I was even more partial to the distant mountains that weren’t red–especially during the early hours when there were still wisps of clouds lingering near the peaks. They seemed so dramatic, especially when contrasted with the desert landscape in the foreground.

Red Rock Canyon

The clouds made for more interesting photos this day.

Red Rock Canyon

Don’t let anyone say the desert is just brown and boring. It’s beautiful.

Near the entrance to the park, there is a Visitors Center where we stopped to use the restroom and pick up a map of the park. There’s a large window offering a vista of the park that gives you a “sneak peek” of the treat you’re in for in this park. You can also buy souvenirs here if you’re so inclined, but I didn’t.

We asked the friendly woman at the desk who gave us a map where we could see the petroglyphs. She spoke so fast, I didn’t quite catch it all, but I was sure we could figure it out from the “x” she drew on the map. Unfortunately, as were were driving the loop, we must have missed the turn off, because we never did see petroglyphs. (The loop is one-way, so we couldn’t turn around and go back.) We also did not see any wild burros, which I would have loved to photograph. On the bright side, we also didn’t see any rattlesnakes!

Red Rock Canyon

Don’t feed anything here–except yourself if you’re hungry.

How can you get to Red Rock Canyon?

The easiest way is to have access to a vehicle, of course–your own or a rental. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Red Rock Canyon from the Strip via Charleston Blvd. The park is open daily 6am to varying times throughout the year, from 5pm to 8pm. There is an admission fee of $7/car or $3/motorcycle/bicyclist/pedestrian. They also sell annual passes, but I think that would only be worth it for locals.

Once there, you can drive the 13-mile loop or, if you have a bicycle and are particularly ambitious, you could bike it. There are hiking trails at various points along the way, and places where you can pull over and take photos. It’s really a gorgeous landscape every mile of the way. Just when I thought I’d seen the most beautiful area, we’d come across another even more beautiful.

Red Rock Canyon

The Loop provides you with gorgeous vistas one after the other.

Your other option is to take a tour. Since I haven’t done this yet, I can’t recommend any particular company. If you Google “Red Rock Canyon Tours” you’ll see you have plenty of choices.

This would be a good option for anyone who doesn’t like to drive in Vegas (and doesn’t have a local friend), and for those who enjoy learning about what they’re seeing from an expert. I think I might want to do this in the future, so I can learn more about the petroglyphs here.

Check out the Bureau of Land Management’s website for more information about visiting Red Rock Canyon.

Here are some more of my favorite photos from that day. Enjoy!

 

Red Rock Canyon

The drive

Red Rock Canyon

The desert vistas out here are stunning

Red Rock Canyon

The winding road…

Red Rock Canyon

Not all the rocks here are red.

 

A Downtown Favorite: The Container Park

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Downtown Container Park

The Downtown Container Park on a weekday morning

I can’t believe I haven’t written about this place yet! The Downtown Container Park has quickly become one of my favorite places in Downtown Las Vegas. It’s so different from the upper blocks of Fremont Street–very laid-back and mellow. Yet it’s got pretty much everything you’d want to occupy yourself for a couple of hours (except gambling).

Keep in mind that the following details pertain to just two visits I’ve made to the Park: Once in the evening in June 2014 and once during the day in January 2015. Other people visiting at different times or more frequently may have different experiences than I did. Many of you repeat visitors will already have been here yourselves and have formed your own opinions about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Continue reading

Harrahs Revisited: Nostalgia Isn’t Enough

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Harrahs

Harrahs

Harrahs will always have a special place in my heart as the first hotel I ever stayed at in Las Vegas. I stayed there another couple of times after that, but eventually found other properties I preferred. Last summer, when my flight home was cancelled and I was rescheduled on a redeye, I booked a room here for the day so I’d have a place to change and take a nap. (I was sick at the time.) I was only there for less than a day, so it was hard to judge, but I liked the room they gave me and how easy it was to use it as a base for the day, and also the fact that they had an airport shuttle (not free, but cheaper than a cab).

When I was looking at winter escapes this year, I knew I would be on a tight budget, because my May cruise was very expensive and took up more than its fair share of my annual travel budget. As usual, when trying to find an inexpensive trip, Vegas emerged the winner. Harrahs was offering unbelievably cheap hotel rooms (cheaper than the Riviera even!). Since it was winter and not pool season, Harrahs’ lack of a decent pool area wasn’t a strike against it. I decided it was time I revisited the experience of staying at this budget hotel.

Now, I remember why I stopped staying at this property.

Don’t get me wrong, Harrahs has a lot of positive features going for it–cheap prices, small property (so less walking between your room and the Strip), lots of eateries and entertainment on site (I can especially recommend Big Elvis and Mac King), as well as being a monorail hotel located in a very desirable area of the Strip.

But the smoke. Cough, cough. Dear God. Continue reading