Spanish traders gave the name Las Vegas (The Meadows) to a bright patch of green land fed by springs, three miles from today’s city. The precious waters dried up in 1962, but now the city celebrates its birthplace with its newest attraction. Springs Preserve, opened in 2007, is the antidote to all that glitz and glitter, “a 100% nongaming attraction.” This big complex of gardens, trails, nature areas and displays tells the story of the area. Solar panels power many of the attractions. There are buildings made from straw bales, carpet tiles from plastic bottles, and furnishings out of sunflower seed husks. The Springs Café menu promises a “responsible, sustainable, culinary experience!” www.springspreserve.org
The Hoover Dam, 35 miles from Vegas, the engineering and architectural wonder of the 1930s, was more than just a Great Depression job creation scheme. The tremendous curved wall, 660 feet thick at the base, 45 feet at the top, and the height of a 60-story skyscraper, tamed the mighty Colorado. The water retained in Lake Mead irrigated the desert and produced CO2-free hydro-electricity in the land of Big Oil, to power the SW states. Look for elegant Art Deco touches, and a colossal bronze sculpture. Go early and see Lake Mead and Boulder City on your return. Then take the Valley of Fire State Park. (You can’t yet hire an electric car to get there, although soon this area will glitter with solar panels, part of President Obama’s green drive.)
Stay at a top hotel
This is a good year to visit Vegas. There’s a vast choice of hotels (most come with a casino), and with a slump in visitors many are willing to do deals, including the most palatial places on Las Vegas Strip. Ring them direct, or check prices on their websites – midweek is cheaper. I found a room for two in THEhotel (correct), one of the top stays in town, from around £100 a night in August. The Venetian and Bellagio were in the same range. Prices are even cheaper off The Strip. If, like me, you worry about the strain Sin City puts on the planet, try the new Palazzo Las Vegas, opened in 2008, as one of the USA’s greenest hotels. It was built with a lot of recycled material, and boasts a battery of high-tech fixes, including solar power and cunning water and energy saving devices.
Catch a show.
Show goers could fill a week in Vegas with nothing but The Cirque du Soleil .
The company currently has six productions in different theatres –Mystere, O, Zumanity, Kà, The Beatles – Love, and Criss Angel – Believe. The hottest ticket is gravity-defying Kà. It departs from the usual Cirque format with a real plot, the imagery of martial arts movies and extraordinary set changes. Again, look for ticket price cuts (www.cirquedusoleil.com). Best free show is still the 1,000 fountains ballet every 30 minutes on the lake outside the Tuscan-style Bellagio hotel. Then go inside, under the 2000 glass blossoms in the Grand Lobby, to the other free marvel, the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. 140 gardeners tend this ever changing horticultural grand opera.
Drive Alien Way
The Grand Canyon is a long day trip. (www.scenic.com, coach tour with flight over the canyon.) Easiest trip out of town is the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, five miles from the suburbs. Take in Lost Creek Canyon, Icebox Canyon and the Calico Hills – a big slab of red sandstone. But for magical mystery tours, nothing beats Route 375, the Extraterrestrial Highway. Beginning 140 miles from Las Vegas, it runs for 92 miles through the desert. Your only guaranteed close encounter would be with security if you stray too close to Area 51, a secret military facility where crashed aliens were said to be taken. Visit the small town of Rachel, for the latest on UFO sightings – although not a single credible picture of little green men exists.
The odds stack heavily against you leaving Vegas in profit if you play the tables and slot machines. There’s a more satisfying way to blow your cash. In any of the high end spas on the Strip, $100 – $200 will buy you inner well being and outer glow that should last for days. (You might prefer the massage with warmed lavender pillows to the full-on “walk all over you” sort.) So don your chenille robes and settle down for a fruity sugar scrub with crushed grape seeds, a seaweed detox and green tea wrap. The extensive sybaritic choice includes any combination of extra deep hot tubs, waterfall showers, sea salt scrub, salt air grotto and wave room with anti-gravity recliners. Try The Bathhouse in THEHotel, Drift in Palms Place and Spa Mio in M Resort. This is Vegas – men are welcome too.