Las Vegas.
Jewel of the Desert.
You either love it or hate it.
But you will never be bored with it.

Friday 1pm: I planned on arriving in Las Vegas in style and with attitude. Instead, I found myself limping into town, deflated as a flat tyre. Which, four hours earlier, had been the case. Stranded in the dusty ghost town of Chloride, well off the main road, getting to Las Vegas seemed an impossible dream. But luckily, not all the locals were ghosts. Fireman Dale appeared from nowhere, removed the two inch nail, conjured up a can of tyre cement, and reinflated the both the tyre and my dreams of getting to Vegas.

Friday 2.30 pm: The view from my room at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino is picture perfect. I have both the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio fountains in sight. Every afternoon and evening, the 1,000 feet long fountains burst into a flurry of activity half hourly. Choreographed to songs like ‘Hey Big Spender’ , ‘Con Te Partiro’ and ‘Singing in the Rain’, the show is spectacular. I could order room service, sit by the huge panel window and be entertained. Why even leave the room?

But leave I must. It’s almost 3pm which means feeding time downstairs at the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat. Built where Bugsy Siegel’s private suite once stood, the Wildlife habitat offers 15 acres of waterfalls, fountains, and birds from around the world. The Chilean flamingos are beautiful, but the African penguins steal the show.

Show over, I wander the gardens on the off chance that Bugsy might be around – rumour has it that the ghost of the ‘gangster with movie star looks’ haunts this area of the Flamingo Hotel. But he’s a no show. So I head back inside to the Tropical Breeze café for some old fashioned diner food – grilled cheese sandwich and fries.

Friday 6pm: Fed and watered, I head out of the hotel onto Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip) in search of ‘The Deuce‘. This always crowded double-decker bus is a great way to get downtown to the Fremont Street Experience. Lady Luck is on my side and I grab the last empty seat on the upper deck. Traffic is bumper to bumper. But I’m in no rush. I sit back and enjoy the view.

Crowds are already gathering as we arrive for the nightly Light and Sound show. It starts with sudden darkness and loud music. I hang onto my handbag and look up. The overhead canopy comes alive with neon artwork.

Walking down Fremont Street, I wave to Vegas Vic, the towering neon cowpoke that has greeted visitors to Las Vegas for over half a century. He hasn’t aged a day. You couldn’t say the same about the casinos. Unlike their rich cousins uptown, they show signs of wear and tear. But true gamblers say the machines here are ‘looser’ and you have more chance of winning. Shame I don’t have time to check that out.

Saturday 9am: I put on my walking shoes. There’s shopping to be done. I head to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. I want to be serenaded by handsome gondoliers in stripped shirts and ribboned hats while wandering through shops like Ann Taylor, Burberry, and Jimmy Choo. Shops I can’t afford even on sale day.

The prices leave me breathless. But fear not. I spy an oxygen bar in the distance. Aptly named Breathe, it provides pure oxygen hits filtered through scented water. Tempting as it was, I decide instead to grab a chai latte and a muffin from the nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café. Time to relax and watch the world go by.

Saturday 1pm: Tired of walking, I catch the monorail and somehow end up at the Las Vegas Convention Center surrounded by cowboys of all shapes and sizes. Apparently the National Rodeo Championships are on. I’d love to say that the Marlboro man was there, but alas no. Still, it was fun looking.

Saturday 4pm: Some major music awards are being hosted at MGM Grand this weekend. I find a prime people watching spot at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill on the floor of the casino. By my second glass of Lindauer (yes, they sell New Zealand wine), everyone is famous. Wasn’t that Eminem? Or was it? Maybe I need a coffee.

Saturday 7pm: I trek from continent to continent on my way back to my hotel room. One minute I am in a Morrocan souk (Desert Passage Mall at the Aladdin) and the next strolling through the Rue de las Paix in Paris. Life really is strange in Las Vegas.

Sunday 8am: In great need of fresh air and a reality check, I book a half day tour with Pink Jeep Tours to Red Rock Canyon. Situated only 20 minutes away from Las Vegas Boulevard, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a favourite with hikers, climbers, and cyclists. It’s easy to see why. Nature beats anything man could ever create. Wish I’d packed hiking boots.

Sunday 2pm: It’s time to find the car and drive away. But one more stop before I go. I need to take something truly Las Vegas home with me. The Rainbow Feather Company has just the thing – a feather boa just like the showgirls have.

(notes from my Nov/Dec 2005 Southwest Road Trip)