Ethel M Botanical Gardens

With Thanksgiving weekend just around the corner, we decided to head back to Ethel M to stock up on a few sweet treats before staying out of the way of holiday shoppers this weekend.  And since we were there, we decided to take in the botanical garden as well.

For the most part, when you think about botanical gardens, you picture flowers and greenery and all the colors of the rainbow.  But remember, Las Vegas is in the desert, so its environment isn’t suited to the same flora as North Carolina or Louisiana.  They make due with the bounty of the desert.  For all its aridness, there’s beauty to behold.

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Since it is the holiday season, the cacti in the garden have been bedecked with Christmas lights, both big and small.  At night, the lights come on and on the weekends, you can visit with Santa Claus and go ice skating.  That’s right, ice skating in the desert.  Hey, Vegas is known for its magic!

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Above is an agave plant.  Not only does it provide agave nectar, which can be used as a replacement for sugar or honey, but it also is used in the manufacturing of tequila.

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These plants are not ones you want to get up close and personal with.  But with their curves and bends, they have an almost Seussian feel to them.

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Speaking of Dr. Seuss, we found Mom’s favorite trees again, the Joshua Tree.

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Still not a huggable tree, but it seemed right at home among the prickly pears and Christmas lights.  Even though the candy factory is very near the airport, you could still gain that sense of peacefulness that comes when you’re surrounded by nature.  A nice slice of the desert in the heart of the city.

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Skyline Helicopter Tours

In North Las Vegas lies the Las Vegas regional airport, which is home to Skyline Helicopter Tours.  Somehow, Mom convinced me that we needed to do this.  And I’ll admit, I’m glad she did.

We drove up to North Las Vegas and checked in for our flight.  We had to fill out a few bits of paperwork and then came the moment all women dread.  We had to be weighed, holding our bags.  They didn’t tell us what came up, but also didn’t seem worried about us getting off the ground.

Even though our tour was scheduled for 1:30, they wanted us there an hour early and, because it was us, we were even earlier.  But that was no problem.  They had us out on the tarmac at about 12:45.  We were individually placed in the helicopter, with Mom behind our pilot Dan and I was on the other side.  We both had a window seat.  I was a bit nervous, but before we knew it, we were airborne.

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Because we were on the VIP tour, we got to fly over both Red Rock NCA (previously discussed in our Scoot City post) and Las Vegas.  It was neat seeing what the city and surrounding areas looked like from the air.  There was construction going on all over the place, with our pilot stating that, on average, 15,000 people move to the city every month.

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Then, we were over Red Rock.

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What seemed majestic from the ground was awe-inspiring from the air.  Then, we were heading for the Strip.  The juxtaposition from the arid desert surrounding the Red Rocks to the city was heavily marked.

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The size of Las Vegas and its surrounding communities is immense.

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But soon the familiar architectural landmarks came into view.

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And we got to see where they’re building the new stadium for when the LA Rams move to Las Vegas.

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While the view of the Strip was amazing, there were some hidden gems that could only be seen from the air to be viewed too.

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But then, it was time to return to the ground.

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The tour we took is normally $169.00 per person, but they do run specials or you can sometimes find them on Groupon (which is what we did).  There is an additional $25 airport fee that you pay when you check in for your tour, as well.  There are other options you can add on (such as taking the doors off or prepurchasing a photo package).  There is also a weight limit of 3 passengers/600 pounds with the doors on.  Still, it was an amazing adventure and something we’ll always remember.

Hoover Dam

Early in the morning, we drove down to the Grand Canyon Tour Company offices on Tropicana Blvd to catch the bus to Hoover Dam.

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We waited at the depot for the tour company’s shuttle buses from the hotels to arrive with the rest of the passengers for the tour.  Since we were staying at an AirBnB, we had to drive in ourselves. The temperatures were just right, though it was a cloudy day.  Our driver, Willie, spent the hour drive to the Dam telling jokes and providing information along the way.  This time of year, the bus wasn’t packed, so everyone had space to get comfortable.  He talked about the history of Boulder City, which we drove through on our way.  It was a cute town that has a great view of Lake Mead.

We stopped at an overview of the lake, created when the Hoover Dam was constructed.

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You can see where the water used to reach (the dark top of the island in the center) and where it is now, which is 8 feet above what it was last year.  But a drought that has been going on for 17 years keeps the water level low.

As we continued on to the Dam, we passed under the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  Named for a former governor of Nevada and a former NFL player who gave up his career to serve in the military and was subsequently killed in Afghanistan, the bridge connects Arizona and Nevada together.

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Once we arrived, we departed the bus and headed for the tour area.

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We had to pass through metal detectors and and have our bags scanned, similar to going through TSA (though our shoes stayed on).  We had purchased the tour that included the generator room, so we first watched a short movie about the construction of the dam, which was probably one of the only government building projects that finished early.  Then, we were escorted to large elevators and taken down into the dam.

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Our first stop showed us a schematic of the dam, showing all the diverting tunnels, the ones that lead to the generators and how the water flows through the dam.  We even got to see one of the tunnels that routes the water.  It was currently in use and you could feel the vibrations through the floor.

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Then, we climbed back into the elevators and headed to the observation deck of the generators on the Nevada side of the dam.  The flooring was laid out to have two Art Deco symbols tiled into them.  One represents the turbines in the generators and one represents the electricity that is used in homes by depicting a wall socket.

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The day we were there, some routine maintenance was going on, with one turbine having the light cap off while that turbine was being worked on.

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They explained that if they needed to remove one of the turbines to do repair elsewhere, they would have to use two of the lifts, since each lift can pick up up to 30,000 pounds and each turbine weighs 58,000 pounds.

Finally, we ended up in the museum.  There were some interesting displays.

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Upon leaving the museum, we walked out to get a close up view of this marvel.

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You can tell the decade in which it was built, based on the amount of Art Deco architectural pieces on the dam.

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Then it was time to get back on the bus.  This led to the only thing we didn’t like.  Since we aren’t staying in a hotel. we had to sit on the big tour bus as it dropped off every single person at their hotels, including a side trip into the part of Las Vegas the tourism department wouldn’t be happy that we had seen.  While the drive to Hoover Dam was an hour, by the time we got back to the depot and to our car, the trip back was 2 1/2 hours.

For the most part, we enjoyed our trip, though by the end, we were done.  Perhaps if they had done like they do in the morning in reverse, as in dropping off people at the depot and using smaller shuttles to take people back to their hotels, it would be better.  Still, making a trip to Hoover Dam should be on your list of things to do off the Strip while in Las Vegas.

Scoot City Tours

This morning, we hopped in Red Rover and headed over to Summerlin, another area of Las Vegas away from the Strip.  There, we met up with Cody of Scoot City Tours.  If we had been staying at one of the hotels downtown, then we would have been picked up by their free shuttle, driven by Cody’s tour guide partner, Frank.

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This is Cody, by the way.

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Mom was excited because she was going to ride with someone different.  “More cautious and less crazy,” she put it.  You go around one 25 mph corner at 45 and you get labeled crazy.  I, however, was riding in my own scooter.  Since we were early, Cody took plenty of time to explain how the scooters worked.  He also made sure we knew what we were doing, though he made sure to stick near our scooters while we were on the tour, too.

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The controls, he explained, were pretty similar to a motorcycles, with no pedals involved.  It took some practice, but eventually, we got the hang of it.  Once Frank and the rest of the group who were in the shuttle arrived, we got on the road for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

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You start out riding the streets of Summerlin on your way to the Red Rocks, which was a bit intimidating.  While the scooters are street legal, they don’t go over 35 mph and some car drivers were in a hurry and didn’t pay as much attention to our caravan of little red 3 wheeled scooters on the road as they should have been.

But Cody and Frank got us to our first stop, the Visitor’s Center at Red Rock NCA, in one piece.  Both men recommended using the bathroom facilities at the Visitor’s Center, as they were the only ones with running water.  Then, we were able to take a few pictures before heading into the red rocks.

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It was a beautiful day, with the temperatures rising in to the lower 70s and the sun shining in partly cloudy skies. The roads in the park were well paved, which made the ride enjoyable.

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Then it was time to drive on to our next stop, at almost 5000 feet elevation.  The road twisted and turned, going up into the mountains, following the terrain.

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Mom was enjoying herself immensely, but decided while we were stopped to get a dose of Vitamin D with a small sun bath in the scooter.

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Once again we drove on.  There were a total of 4 stops in different areas of the park.  Each site held its own natural magic.

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Mom caught me trying to take a picture, doing her best photobomb.

Finally, we headed back into Summerlin.  Cody and Frank were great guides, giving us time to explore while keeping us on task.  They also made sure that everyone who left with the group came back with the group.  Remember how I mentioned Mom was riding with a driver who was more careful than I was?  Well, we ended up leaving them behind multiple times.  But Cody, thank goodness, kept our little late ducklings on the road and eventually they caught up.

We both had a marvelous time.  Cody and Frank provided individual attention while also making everyone in the group feel special.  I would recommend this tour to everyone (though the age limit for those riding is 8 years old at minimum and drivers have to be at least 21).  Each car can hold 2 people (up to 400 pounds total) and run at $250 per scooter, though we found a Groupon.  Still, for something this different and off the beaten path, it is practically a steal.  Its amazing that this tour isn’t more well known.  It was great to get away from the neon and glitz and ride through nature with the wind blowing in our hair and the sun on our face.  A definite respite from the usual Las Vegas entertainment, Scoot City Tours is a fabulous tour to take if you’re in Las Vegas.

The High Roller

Right off Las Vegas Boulevard lies the High Roller, a 550 foot tall Ferris wheel, that is attached to the LINQ casino and hotel.  Opened in 2014, it holds the title of the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, beating out the Singapore Sling, which stands at a humble 541 feet.

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We had prepurchased our tickets through Viator.com, a discount tour site.  Thus, our price per person was $19.99, as compared to the regular price of $25 per person for regular admission during the day.  Night trips (which start after sunset) cost more and if you’re looking to indulge in adult beverages during your half hour trip up and around, then that adds on to the price even more.  The Half Hour Happy Hour car does not allow children.

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The wheel does not stop to allow you on.  While moving at a foot per second, you quickly get on before the doors close on you.  Each car can officially hold up to 40 people, but luckily we’re here at a time that isn’t so busy, so our car held a total of 6 people.

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Before you could say “Yeah, I changed my mind”, the car pulled back out of the station and started its ascent.

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As we started up, I noticed that the Las Vegas Monorail stopped at the LINQ hotel.  Something to do on another day.

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Las Vegas began to spread out before and behind us (as you have a 360 degree view in the car).

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A lot of work went in to making sure the High Roller was very safe, but I’ll admit that my acrophobia might have voiced an opinion or two.  That’s when I went back to snapping pictures.

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Glancing out the back, we noted the lush greenery of the Wynn Golf Course.

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Mom, of course, wasn’t having any issues with the heights.  Show off.

Before long (about 15 minutes in) we reached the pinnacle.

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We could see for miles and miles all around us.  It is amazing just how big Las Vegas is.

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The fountains at the Bellagio.  We were a bit too early to see them dancing.

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I have to admit I was slightly amazed to see anyone in the pool.  It was in the low 70’s, which is winter weather in Florida.  But, I guess when in Vegas…

All in all we had a great time.  There was no sense of claustrophobia, because of the glass walls, and my acrophobia only poked at me when I wasn’t taking pictures and since the view was amazing, I was pretty much taking pictures the entire time.  A great taste of what’s available to us as we continue our month long experiment here in Vegas.

Neon Museum

One thing Las Vegas is known for is the amount of neon signs glittering on the Strip and down Fremont Street.  But what happens to those signs when they break or the business they’re on go out of business?  If they’re lucky, they end up at the Neon Museum.  Also known as the Neon Boneyard, the Neon museum is a non-profit that shows the signs that tap into the history of Las Vegas.

While the museum was established in 1996, the visitor center is housed in the former lobby of the La Concha Motel and didn’t open until 2012.  But the real show was out back.

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The Binion family played a key role in the early years of Las Vegas as a gambling town.

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The neon yucca blossom that used to sit over the Yucca Motel is made up of multiple 4 foot long tubes that were individually twisted and shaped by hand.

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For the movie buffs out there, the Tropicana Mobil Park is where Elizabeth Berkley’s character from “Showgirls” lived and the two girls that get picked up by the main characters in “Swingers’ resided.

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One of two pirate skulls that used to reign over the Treasure Island Resort.  The other didn’t survive.

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Perhaps the oldest sign in Las Vegas, this sign used to sit over a restaurant that used to serve chicken and steak and, if you knew the password, moonshine, during Prohibition.  Once alcohol was legal again, they put up this sign to let everyone know where to go for a good meal and a couple of drinks to relax.

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A name frequently associated with Las Vegas (and the man who convinced Elvis to give Las Vegas a second chance), Liberace was a mainstay in Las Vegas history.  Since the closing of his museum in 2010, his clothing collection has been stored in a house that used to be owned by Michael Jackson.

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The Stardust Casino was the real life counterpart of the Tangier Casino in the movie “Casino”, starring Robert DeNiro.

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Mom really enjoyed our visit.

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The museum is open to the public, but in order to see the signs, you have to purchase a tour.  Tours are offered both day and night.  The day tours price between $15 to $19 per person, night tours price between $22 to $26 and late night tours run from $24 to $28 per person.  It gives a good history of Las Vegas and is relatively easy to get to, sitting at the north end of Las Vegas Blvd.