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Las Vegas as an RV destination? I hadn’t even considered it until my wife Jan passed along an article mentioning the city’s famed Strip had been designated an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration. That makes it something of a crown jewel among the country’s more than 130 nationally designated roads and scenic byways, with scarcely more than two-dozen roads having received the esteemed All-American designation.
Some have expressed outrage that this gaudy, often gridlocked thoroughfare would be so honored but we’re all for it. That a government agency would recognize the color, excitement, fantasy and ultimately the real cultural significance of the brightest, boldest, most expensive and expressive four miles of American roadway surprises and satisfies us.
So love it or leave it (there was a great flick made about the latter), the Las Vegas Strip is a genuine American treasure. You must see it – again if you haven’t been in recent years – and visiting via RV may be the best way to go. Most area RV parks offer shuttle service to The Strip and when you’ve had enough glitz and glitter there are plenty of touring options and non-gaming attractions.
With spring or fall being the only sensible seasons to visit Southern Nevada, we decided to make the plunge in our Winnebago on Easter weekend a year ago. We got things underway with a drive along the fabled Strip. While purposely engaging in gridlock aboard an RV didn’t seem fun at first, we began to enjoy the long periods of inertia -- which from our altitude afforded a great view of The Strip in its latest incarnation.
On your left now is New York-New York, fronted by a one-third-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty, rising before a massive make-believe skyline of the Big Apple. It looks like a movie set just waiting for the next King Kong sequel.
On the right – we’re in Paris now – is the Arc de Triomphe, the Opera House -- and who could miss the Eiffel Tower rising 50 stories above Paris Las Vegas resort? Oh! Look left! The volcano is erupting! We’d seen the spectacle at the Mirage a number of times but never from the wheel of an RV. And again on your right – that’s the Campanile di San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, direct from Venezia, courtesy of the Venetian Resort. With all of this happening in the first half-mile, I’m sure you can envision the entertainment value in a trip along The Strip. You can walk it too for a leisurely but equally mind-boggling experience – and one that’s more heart healthy as well.
Casino action can be yours almost anywhere but you’ll also find plenty of non-gaming attractions right along The Strip. Kids of all ages can have a ball at Gameworks arcade at Showcase Mall, next to MGM Grand. They have a huge selection of video games plus a movie theater and scads of fast food outlets. Coney Island Emporium at New York New York Resort & Casino is a massive funhouse as well, where you can ride a roller coaster above the Manhattan skyline, beat your kids at laser tag or challenge a friend to some stock car racing at Daytona Speedway. While the kids play, mom and dad can take time out for a romantic gondola ride through the streets of Venice – actually the shopping mall at the Venetian Hotel – but it’s surprisingly similar to the real thing. Madame Tussaud’s at the Venetian is another popular attraction. More than a museum, it’s an interactive experience that puts you up close and personal with famous celebrities who appear remarkably lifelike – skillfully modeled in wax.
Mom in particular will enjoy a visit to the city’s landmark shopping mall, the sprawling multi-level Fashion Show Mall where, in addition to a great selection of shops, there’s an actual fashion show each afternoon, staged on a runway that rises from the floor.
Although it’s a bit distant, located on Valley View Blvd. on the city’s southwest side, we consider The Springs Preserve to be best non-gaming attraction in Las Vegas. This strikingly modern $250 million cultural complex encompasses museums, interactive galleries, demonstration gardens, and teaching labs that focus on the nature and history of the Las Vegas Valley as well as exploring the latest concepts of sustainable development in a desert environment. Time your visit so as to enjoy lunch at the classy, eco-friendly Springs Café by Wolfgang Puck.
While Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip’s real name) may serve as the penultimate example of man’s imaginative hand, Las Vegas is surrounded by natural wonders as well. Weird and wonderful red-rock formations and vast expanses of high desert forested with Joshua trees and roamed by wild burros and bighorn sheep all lie with an hour’s drive of the city. And, albeit man-made, there’s Lake Mead. Backed by Hoover Dam, it’s the largest such body of water in the nation and it affords sightseeing, recreational and camping opportunities quite apart from the Disneyesque trappings of The Strip.
On your way to the big dam, located 45 miles southeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93, we suggest dropping in for some shopping or dining at Lake Las Vegas resort in Henderson. This is a tasteful, upscale 3,600-acre development anchored by visitor-friendly MonteLago Village, a picturesque Mediterranean-inspired retail enclave that’s home as well to some inviting cafes and restaurants.
You can extend your Hoover Dam/Lake Mead outing by following Northshore Road (Highway 147) some 50 miles to the northern end of the lake and Valley of Fire State Park. Marvelous anytime of day, these red rock formations are seen at their best when bathed in late afternoon light. Take a hike among the tumbled boulders and oddly shaped outcrops – keeping an eye out on sheltered surfaces for remnants of petroglyphs etched in the sandstone by Pueblo Indians centuries before any white men set foot in America. Exit the park to the north and continue to I-15 which will lead you back to the city, passing the impressive Las Vegas Motor Speedway, scene of numerous motorsports events including a major NASCAR stock car race each spring.
If you’re pressed for time but still want to get a taste for the city’s natural surroundings, make a quick 15-minute sprint out W. Charleston Blvd. (Highway 159) to Red Rock Canyon – part of the BLM-administered Red Rock National Conservation Area. There’s a super-scenic 13-mile loop drive through the canyon and during our drive we encountered a large herd of wild burros trotting confidently across the road ahead.
by Dave G. Houser