In the interest of full disclosure, during the planning of this western portion of our travels, Las Vegas was really only seen as a break in travel and a curiosity. Neither Eileen nor I are casino enthusiasts. The only time that we hit the casinos at home are to attend a game or a concert. I have always said that if forced to sit in a slot room and consistently hear that annoying din of the machines and bells, I would certainly lose my mind and probably hurt someone.
As we got closer to Las Vegas we were surprised with the size of the area. There is clearly a great deal of new construction both commercial and residential. We made our way through the city to Henderson and Las Vegas RV Park. Las Vegas RV Park is a fairly large park that is predominantly inhabited by long-term RVers who are there for the winter. It is clean and laid out well with several amenities including a pool, hot tub, dog park, small exercise room, cable and internet.
This was one of the places where a back-in site was the only option. Most parks will put aside several pull-through sites for transient campers like us who are there for shorter stays. Most of the long-term sites are back-ins. One of the reasons that transient sites in this park were back-ins was that the section of the park where we were was basically a series of good-sized asphalt sites with full hook-ups; basically, parking lot camping. An experienced and knowledgeable gentleman showed us to our site and assisted us with backing in. Backing in required that I move the sliding hitch back into the correct position. Given that we had not backed in or moved the position of the hitch for quite a while, it appeared to be frozen. I was forced to spray it liberally with WD-40 and whack it hard a few times to loosen it up. In the end it did move into position and we backed in fairly easily with guidance.
After setting up and checking out the park we met our neighbor who was from Canada and spending a month in the area catching up with friends before heading home. As we were standing outside talking one of his travelling partners pulled up in a pick-up. I knew immediately where he had been before arriving in Las Vegas. After meeting him I mentioned that he must have just arrived from Southern California. He said that he had and wondered how I knew that. I mentioned that his windshield and entire grill were covered with the gooey remains of monarch butterflies and mentioned that we had recently experienced their assault while there.
We had heard about the Freemont St. experience from a few people and saw many advertisements for it as well. It was touted as a revitalization and reclamation of the downtown area creating an area where people could come together and enjoy some fun and excitement. Las Vegas is trying hard to rebrand itself as a family destination. We decided to check out the experience for ourselves.
We travelled into the downtown area and found the Freemont St. section. This section was the old downtown featuring the Golden Nugget and a few other older casinos. The city took the Freemont St. corridor and covered it with an overhead structure and connected it to the businesses and hotels along the street. There was a zip line that stretched between two blocks and many outside bars, and kiosks selling all manner of souvenirs and other items. There was also a large collection of strange and troubled people begging or trying to sell items.
It was nearing the Easter season and there were a few vendors busily and skillfully making and selling some well-crafted crosses made of palms. That seemed strangely appropriate given the Sodom and Gomorrah nature of the area. In direct contrast to these vendors creating religious icons were the disheveled panhandlers holding signs saying, “ F#@% You!” There was actually more than one of these people. I quickly learned the scam when I tried to take a picture of one and he became very animated and yelled for me to come over. I guess once they get your attention, they can harass you for money. I did not bite. On the whole there were more people talking to themselves or behaving bizarrely, apparently oblivious to the rest of humanity, than any one stretch of real estate should employ.
As Eileen and I were standing on the curb waiting to cross the street I felt someone touch my back. I quickly turned to find a strangely dressed young women mumbling something unintelligible and looking a little wild. Needless to say, we tried to leave the area as quickly as possible. After leaving we thought back to how many families with reasonably young children we had seen there, and thought about whether we would have felt comfortable having our children observe the menagerie that was Freemont St. Probably not.
We also decided to take a ride to the strip to check out some of the properties especially the newer hotels and casinos. One of our challenges as we visit some larger cities and more heavily travelled areas is trying to find parking that will accommodate our truck. We are usually successful in finding a surface lot somewhere even if it means walking a bit further or possibly parking further out and finding mass transportation of some sort.
As soon as we hit the strip it was apparent that parking period would be a challenge. As we drove at a snail’s pace through bumper-to-bumper traffic in the area, it was clear parking would probably be an insurmountable challenge. The number of people pouring out of hotels and casinos and clogging the sidewalks and outdoor restaurants and bars was staggering. We suddenly did not feel a need to add to the congestion. We drove around viewing the chaos for a while and then made our way to the highway and the peace and reasonable quiet of our RV park.
One of the sites that we actually wanted to see in the Las Vegas area was Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam is about an hour east of Vegas on the Nevada/ Arizona border. On the way to the dam along route 15 you come to the crest of hill where there is a pull off overlooking Lake Meade. It is such a spectacular view that they have built a fairly elaborate parking area with a platform that gets you to an even higher elevation for a better view of the beautiful greenish-blue lake.
The road for the final ascent to the dam area is a very steep, winding road. There is a security checkpoint where guards check your vehicle for weapons or other suspicious items. At first you might think that this is overkill, but you soon realize that this facility is responsible for water access for the entire Southwest region of the country. There are several million people counting on this facility to provide drinking water and water for crops. And with the serious drought conditions of the last several years, access to this water supply is even more important.
As you reach the dam parking is a several storied parking garage. We arrived early enough that we only had to go up four levels before taking the spot of a departing car. Walking down the steps of the parking facility affords a great view of the dam and lake. You can take a tour of the facility but we decided just seeing it was enough for us. We have been careful about spending close to one hundred dollars at every place we visit. That could add up very quickly. We try to prioritize this kind of spending to save a little. Standing on the rim of the dam and experiencing its size and structure makes you marvel at the engineering and sheer effort it must have taken in the 1930s to accomplish the construction. Many people worked tirelessly for years and many died in the process.
Overlooking the dam is the O’Callaghan/Tillman Memorial Bridge that connects Nevada and Arizona along Routes 11/93. The bridge stands some 900 feet above the Colorado River. It is the largest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and the second highest span in the country. There is a pedestrian walkway making it possible for the very brave or extremely crazy individuals to cross on foot. There were many people taking a leisurely stroll from one state to the other on this beautiful day. Needless to say, I was not one of them. I am neither brave or crazy. We did eventually cross the bridge pulling the fifth-wheel on our way to our next destination in Williams, Arizona. That was interesting enough for me.
Our couple of forays into Nevada were interesting. It is a beautiful enough state, but clearly not a place I where I would choose to spend a great deal of time.