Thursday, December 31, 2009

Las Vegas Welcomes CES 2010

Attention all gadget and technology lovers! From January 7 through 10, the International Consumer Electronics Show will be at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The latest and greatest in every type of technology will be on display. Since it’s an industry-only event, the general public can’t get in to gawk at all the fabulous new stuff, but those who are lucky enough to score passes will be rewarded with exhibits featuring all the new technology they can stand (check the CES website for information on prices and the necessary credentials).

If you’re heading to Las Vegas for CES, check out my NileGuide CES guide for tips on what to do when you’re in town. When I wrote the guide in early December, some excellent hotels still had rooms available at CES rates: the Aria, the Hard Rock, and the Hilton. Those properties are now sold out, but amazingly enough, the Circus-Circus and Alexis Park are still showing rooms available on the CES website. On the CES Facebook Fan Page, I noticed several people looking to share rooms, and I imagine a search of Downtown properties or off-the-Strip hotels might turn up some rooms.

If you’re a CES-bound Las Vegas resident, you’ve got your room covered, but you’ll still want to check their online guide to identify your must-see exhibits since there are 2,700 to choose from. Don’t even think about trying to park at the Convention Center. Get a ride, or park remotely and use the Monorail or CES Shuttle. The last time I tried parking at CES, I wound up walking all the way from Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn. And did I mention you’ll want to wear really comfortable shoes?

I have to admit that I’m a little bit jealous of the technology writers who’ll be covering CES. I love gadgets and technology in all its forms, but my travel writing credentials just don’t cut it for a press pass. Maybe one day they’ll have a travel technology section—heck, I can dream, can’t I?

Image courtesy of Dez Pain at

Las Vegas Tells 2009 Good-Bye

Some years you savor the memories of the previous twelve months, and some years you're just glad for the hope a new year brings. For Las Vegas, 2009 falls in the latter category.

The economy shocked everyone in Las Vegas with its record-breaking drop in 2009. I hesitated to write about my own experiences until I realized I was far, far from being the only one. My wish for 2010 is that I won’t feel compelled to speak out about any collective financial hardships. For all those who were steamrolled by the economic collapse in Southern Nevada, I raise my glass with you to toast the end of 2009. Let’s look forward to better times in the new year.

What does 2010 hold for Las Vegas? Unfortunately, my crystal ball is in for repairs. I hope we’ll see a steady turn-around in the economy—more jobs, a rise in home values (hey, I’m an optimist), and a resurrection of our once-vibrant construction industry.

Tonight, Las Vegas does what she does best: put on a spectacular show. The Strip’s hotels will entertain the crowds with an awesome roof-top display of fireworks, and hundreds of thousands of revelers will celebrate in the street below. I believe New Year’s Eve on the Strip is evidence that while Las Vegas may be down, she’s not out.

Happy New Year, Las Vegas!
Image courtesy of Billy Alexander at

Monday, December 14, 2009

From Las Vegas To Washington: We Need Jobs Now

My weekly hike has been suspended indefinitely since I’m once again hyper-focused on finding more work. Although I have one steady writing assignment, a weekly writing group that I facilitate, and a part-time retail job (all of which I’m incredibly grateful for right now), none of it can compensate for the near total lack of work for my hubby. It’s difficult to make up for a 75%+ drop in household income.

On December 3, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President Kara Kelley was the only Nevadan at President Obama’s White House Job Creation Forum. I guess Las Vegas’ status as the Detroit of the West simply isn’t enough to warrant more attention. Or maybe it’s more of the same attitude that we who live in Las Vegas are expendable, immoral, and unsustainable—despite the 37 million people who travel here each year.

In order to keep from bursting blood vessels or suffering from high blood pressure (especially since we had to give up our health insurance), I’ve had to stop thinking about the current unemployment quagmire that is sinking our city. I’ve instead chosen to focus on the fact that there are jobs out there. Maybe not as many jobs as we need, maybe not very many well-paying jobs, but jobs are out there. It’s like a treasure hunt, only you get to lose your home and live in your car if you can’t find that elusive Job With a Living Wage. In my case, I’m very lucky because I can look for jobs on two fronts: writing assignments and whatever is available in the brick and mortar category—writing is often in cyberspace and on the phone, while administrative jobs usually require you to put on make-up, look pretty, and appear in person at someone else’s office. I’m also working on finding a way to go without sleep, which will make working around the clock so much easier.

Of course, I’m not just applying for administrative and writing jobs. I’m applying for anything for which I’m qualified. That includes dog watching, taking inventory, and stocking grocery store shelves. I’ve discovered that being self-employed is a strike against me, that personality tests really do have right and wrong answers, that just getting a response from a job application is a major achievement, and that scammers and computer hackers are busily preying on job seekers these days.

So here’s my message to Washington and our leaders: We need jobs. Now. Not $8.00 an hour jobs; jobs that we can use to stay in our homes. Construction was one of Las Vegas’ major industries, and the housing and financial crisis blew a hole through it—a hole big enough that my husband could drive his idle Kenworth right through it. Unless something is done quickly, a second wave of foreclosures, loan delinquencies, and bankruptcies will sink even more people—people like my husband and me, who have managed to hang on for the past three years but who now are running out of resources. Do we really need more committees and forums to understand that? Here in Las Vegas, where the unemployment rate is 13%, how much more bickering do we need to have over highway projects and high-speed trains? Can we just form a committee devoted to bickering so the rest of our “leaders” can devote themselves to creating jobs?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to looking for work.
Picture information: My husband’s Kenworth, which worked for about 20 hours last month.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Las Vegas Hiking: Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock

I haven’t been out for a hike in a couple of weeks now, but the last time I went, we headed up to Ice Box Canyon in Red Rock. The weather was sunny and clear, but as soon as we left the sunshine behind us, the temperature dropped noticeably. The rocky trail led us into the narrow canyon and then dropped us into the wash, where we scrambled over the rocks and boulders until we reached the dry waterfall. In the desert, these areas are often dry until rain or snow fill the streams. For now, the only signs of water are dark stains on the rocks and cliffs. The only sour note of the day was the trash we saw—my hiking buddy Angie packed out two bags full of some careless hikers’ lunches, leaving us both to ponder, “What the…?”
Photo information: My pictures of Ice Box Canyon

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hiking in Calico Basin

I got out for a hike last Monday, which made up for not getting out later in the week. My son and I hiked in Calico Basin, but instead of sticking to the boardwalk around the meadow, we took the trail marked for Cannibal Crag, a popular rock-climbing spot. A short distance from the trailhead, the trail takes you close to the rocks. The rocks aren’t as immediately vertical here as they are in other sections of Red Rock, making rock scrambling on the lower rocks much easier. We found one mammoth boulder with chalk and climbing tools embedded in it—it looked like a great place to train. We followed a seasonal stream bed, which I believe connects with Calico Spring, although we didn't spot any running water, just lots of greenery. Red Spring, Calico Spring, and Ash Spring are all in this area. We wound up in a boxy canyon that my son wanted to boulder up and over, but I nixed that idea. The elephant-like rock formation in my pictures was taken not far from that point.
My pictures in Calico Basin: The climbing rock, greenery along the trail, the elephant rock. For more information about outdoor destinations around Las Vegas, visit my NileGuide page.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Red Rock Canyon: Pine Creek

If you like to hike, this is the time of year to explore the desert around Las Vegas. These are the days of temperatures in the 80s, and the little patches of greenery around our springs and creeks (invasive species, I’m sure) are turning pretty colors because it’s fall. Until it turns hot again next summer, you can pretty much count on lots of very nice 60-70 degree weather until spring warms things up. At this time of year, the hiking in Red Rock is fabulous.

Two weeks ago, I went up to Pine Creek with a friend and my son. My friend had never been to Red Rock, despite living in Las Vegas for ten years, and I was happy to show her around. We hiked into the North Fork of Pine Creek, also known as Fern Canyon, the canyon the right side of the pointy mountain, Mescalito, in these pictures. I dropped down into the canyon too soon, before we got to the pools at the base of the cliffs, but we still had fun scrambling over the rocks and watching the rock climbers ascend the sandstone.

Pine Creek offers several hikes—you can do the Fire Ecology Trail, hike to the old Wilson Homestead, or hike up either fork of Pine Creek. There’s even a trail to the peak of Mescalito, but from the trail description I read, it’s quite a test of both physical fitness and trail-finding skills.
My pictures at Pine Creek.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hiking in Red Rock Canyon

With the temperature cooling off here in Las Vegas, it's the perfect time to do some hiking in Red Rock. This afternoon I headed out to Sandstone Quarry with my son and mom-in-law. Since it was only about 80, we didn't have to scurry into the shade every time we stopped. I remembered a cave I'd found a couple of years ago, and a little diligent searching paid off--although I did get some heebie-jeebies being under the slabs of sandstone that had fallen and created the small cave.
My pictures from today's hike.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Living Under Las Vegas

Underneath the lavish casinos of Las Vegas, people are living in the city's flood channels. This shocking revelation first came to light two years ago in local author Matt O’Brien’s book, Beneath the Neon, and I’ve noticed a recent surge in stories on this topic. Las Vegas may be an amazing place for a vacation, but for the people who live here, social services are slim to non-existent (and as my dad would have said, “And Slim just left town.”) That lack of alternatives can lead people to desperate solutions. I can’t think of a more desperate solution to a housing problem than to be driven underground into a flood channel, but in the heat of summer, I imagine it’s certainly preferable to trying to brave the heat—until a flash flood hits. Now that Las Vegas’ unemployment rate is over 13%, I can’t help but wonder if more people will be driven underground, quite literally. If you've seen the recent stories and want to know more, read O’Brien’s book.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boulder City's Art in the Park & The Las Vegas Festival Season

It's that time of year again--the temperatures are steadily inching below 100, Halloween (also known as Nevada Day around here) is approaching, and it's festival season in Las Vegas! While the economy has cooled things off a bit--Summerlin's sidewalk chalk art festival has been cancelled this year, for instance--this is still the season for festivals of all kinds. Now is the time of year to check the RJ's Neon every week. Last weekend, the Super Run Car Show took over Henderson's downtown. This weekend, October 3, visit the granddaddy of all Southern Nevadan art festivals, Boulder City's Art in the Park. Admission is free; park on the outskirts of town and pay the small charge to take a shuttle to Bicentennial Park. Next weekend, the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival takes over Sunset Park. Costumes are welcome. And First Friday, which operates year-round, is celebrating its seventh anniversary this Friday, October 2.
My picture of Art in the Park from a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dinosaurs in Las Vegas

No, I'm not talking about bad lounge shows or aging Mafia bosses. The real thing—a collection of incredibly rare fossils—is on display at the Venetian through the end of this week. The amazing array of fossils will be auctioned off on Saturday, October 3. The T-Rex, nicknamed “Samson,” is one of only three specimens ever found in such a complete state. The exhibit is housed in the space formerly occupied by the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum. Admission is free.

Read the RJ’s article here:

Photo information: My pictures of the exhibit. Top to bottom, clockwise: "Samson," the T-Rex; fish fossil (according to the placard, the largest ever found); wooly mammoth; triceratops.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big Dune at Amargosa

When my hubby first asked me if I wanted to go with him to Big Dune in Amargosa, I hesitated. He loves to zoom over the dunes on a quad, and I'm just not the zooming type. He batted his baby blues and told me that his sister, Sandy, and our brother-in-law, Randy, would be coming (thus giving me someone to hang out with) and that they'd be bringing a Mule. "You can drive the Mule," he cajoled. We really don't have a good history on the whole dune thing. When he talked me into going to the Dumont Dunes with him, I spent the entire day sitting around camp, bored out of my mind, with nothing to do but watch other people zip around on their noisy little machines. I went twice, and both times it was the same dull experience. I agreed to give him yet another chance, so last weekend we spent Saturday in Amargosa.

When we got to Big Dune, I got the basic Mule driving instructions from the men. A Mule is kind of like an off-road golf cart with a tiny little pick-up styled bed. It doesn't go that fast (especially when I'm driving), and it's meant for flatter areas of the dunes (again, especially when I'm driving). Sandy and I were on the same page as far as the Mule went. "Do you want to drive?" I asked her after I'd taken it for a spin around camp. "Nope," she said. We became the refreshment vehicle and camera crew, which suited us just fine. It also made my dune experience actually enjoyable... I guess the third time was a charm, as they say. Here's a video clip of what the zoomier-types were doing as Sandy and I were puttering along.

Amargosa's Big Dune ATV/OHV area is about 90 minutes outside of Las Vegas. On non-holiday weekends, it's not very crowded. It's involved in a bit of a controversy right now since a field of solar panels has been proposed nearby, close to Amargosa Valley.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Las Vegas Rain

Ah, what a rare treat in Las Vegas -- rain! Today we even had hail. In Peccole Ranch, the walking paths double as flood channels. Here are a couple of pictures I just took of the "Peccole River"; within the hour (barring more rain), this temporary stream will be gone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Are You Planning a Trip to Las Vegas?

If you’re looking for a silver lining to the Great Recession, look no further than the fantastic travel deals sprouting up everywhere in Las Vegas. When Las Vegas decided to increase its luxury quotient, the city took some heat for the corresponding rise in room rates and restaurant tabs. Now a savvy traveler can stay in first-class hotels and enjoy fine dining and shows for very reasonable rates.

I knew Las Vegas had some great deals, but I didn’t realize how great until I researched hotels and attractions for a couple of guides I posted on The advertised rates I saw made me wish I was booking a room on the Strip. The last time I stayed at the Mandalay Bay for a stay-cation, I was aghast at the room rates—but that was a few years ago.

If you’re researching a trip to any destination, I suggest visiting NileGuide. Their site combines multiple travel-related searches. Users can simultaneously check several travel sites for flights and rental cars (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.), and then research (and book) hotels, attractions, and shows using reviews gleaned from individuals, local experts, and sources like Frommers. NileGuide users can then create a customized itinerary that breaks down a trip day-by-day, stop by stop. Most of us who love to travel also like to read the reviews of hotels and attractions, and one of the things I like about NileGuide is that it carries reviews from professional travel writers/reviewers along with comments from regular folks.

Since I believe that I’m pretty well-informed about what to do in and around Las Vegas, I had a great time writing a couple of guides. If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Las Vegas, click over to NileGuide and see my recommendations on where to stay and what to do while you’re in town. One guide is a weekend escape without the kids, and one explores the outside adventures around the city.
Photo information: My pictures of the “Sirens of TI” show at the Treasure Island.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The 40th Anniversay of the Classic Movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Okay, I admit it--I have a special fondness for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the classic movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It's the first movie I remember seeing at the theater, and I was hooked from the opening credits until the final scene.

When I started exploring back roads and ghost towns around Las Vegas, I was delighted to find that part of the movie was shot near Las Vegas, in and around Zion National Park. Some of the scenes of Etta's home were filmed in the ghost town of Grafton, Utah. I became determined to find Grafton, and although I had to dig through maps and even get a little lost while searching for it, it was worth the effort. (I also found that Butch, Sundance, and Etta weren't the only actual historical characters mentioned in the movie. I was researching Caliente, Nevada, for an article and discovered that E.H. Harriman, who is mentioned frequently in the movie as the outraged railroad magnate, was involved in a railroad dispute in Caliente in the late 1800s.)

Here are some of my pictures, taken on a visit to Grafton a couple of years ago. Grafton is just outside Springdale and Zion, about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. The turn-off is not well-marked, and private individuals own much of the land in and around the ghost town. You'll see working farms and cattle wandering around if you visit. ~Photo information, from top to bottom: The Grafton Schoolhouse, which is being restored-- watch the movie and you'll see it in the background behind Etta's house; the privately owned home that is allegedly the place where the scenes of Butch (Paul Newman) and Etta (Katharine Ross) riding a bicycle were filmed; and two other buildings around Grafton--in sepia, in honor of the movie.~

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Las Vegas Mob Museum: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Since I grew up in Las Vegas, I learned about the Mob at an early age. After my parents went to see The Godfather, they had an intense discussion back at home about the real people they thought Mario Puzo had based the characters on. My parents came to Las Vegas in the 1950s, and since my dad was a bartender, he knew a large assortment of shady characters.

I remember the day he proudly told me one of his cop friends had informed him that he was listed as a “known associate of organized crime figures.” He was beaming like he had just won a prize. Dad knew movie stars, famous singers, and a lot of cops, but he liked his mobster buddies the best. He was one of the first people I heard say that the town was better when the Mob ran things, long before that sentiment became a Las Vegas cliché. If Dad were still alive, you can bet that he would have loved the idea of The Mob Museum. He’d probably have been planning to be the first person in line when they open. (Currently scheduled for 2011.)

Recent newspaper articles have pointed out that here in Las Vegas, we’re rather proud of our Mob heritage. Our mayor played himself in the movie Casino. We have a street named after Bugsy Siegel. Although our mobsters arrived here from back East, you aren’t likely to see a Mob museum in Chicago or New York because they’re not so crazy about embracing their organized crime histories. Not so in Las Vegas, a place pleased to be known as the city founded by the Mob. (Technically that’s not true, but we’ve also got a reputation for playing with the facts just a little bit.)

I plan on visiting the Mob Museum when it opens. I think the redaction in the museum’s name is funny, probably owing to the years I spent working for Metro. I was never able to find any information on Dad being a “known associate,” but I did find his record for bookmaking in Los Angeles. He told me L.A. was a “wide open” town, not run by one specific family, unlike Kansas City, Detroit, or Tucson. His best friend in L.A. was a lieutenant with the LAPD, but according to Dad, they had an agreement that he would keep his business out of Uncle Willy’s precinct.

When Dad went to work as the bar manager at the Aladdin in the 1970s, I was too young to know that it was a clue about his connections. Not until after he passed away did I discover the Aladdin’s ties to the Mob. I just knew that I liked hanging out with the girls in harem costumes that he frequently assigned to baby-sit me while he went about his business. One of Dad’s friend owned a villa behind the Aladdin. The villas, as they were known, were a string of bungalows east of the hotel, and we got to visit his buddy’s villa and use the pool. And Dad mysteriously wound up driving a brand new Lincoln Mark V, right up until the day when the FBI showed up at our house to talk to him about his villa-owning pal, who also owned the Lincoln. After his friend wound up in a federal prison somewhere, the Lincoln disappeared.

In the late 1970s, Dad worked at a local bar allegedly run by a Chicago mobster. I remember my parents talking about one of the owner’s brothers having to disappear for a while, but I never got the details on whether it was because of law enforcement or a run-in with other mobsters. In the mid-1980s, after Dad no longer worked there, I was working at Metro when a couple of my friends and I stopped in that bar one night. One of my friends was an undercover cop. I made sure to say hello to the bar’s owner. “I’m Walt’s daughter,” I said, and he immediately recognized me. He stopped to chat for a minute and comp our drinks, and after he walked away, my cop friend looked at me incredulously. “You know him?” he asked. I explained that he was one of my Dad’s friends, and we left it at that.

My dad wasn’t circumspect about his “friends,” but my mom kept all her secrets to herself. Maybe that FBI visit did it. I was working on a story a couple of years ago, and I was trying to remember some of the famous mobsters Dad had known. Since Dad had passed away, I asked Mom. “Why don’t you just leave that part out,” she said.

“Mom, those people are dead,” I said.

“I know. I still don’t think you need to mention it,” she insisted. Mom was still alive when the idea for the Mob Museum surfaced, but I don’t remember her giving me an opinion about it. I’m pretty sure that if she were still around, she’d want to be in the front of the line on opening day just as much as Dad.
Photo information: My parents at Hoover Dam, circa 1959

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Tragedy in Death Valley

I cried this morning when I read the RJ’s front page story about Alicia Sanchez and her 6-year-old son, Carlos. According to the article, Alicia and Carlos were stranded in a remote section of Death Valley National Park on Saturday, August 1, after she took a wrong turn and her vehicle got stuck in a hole. On Wednesday, her little boy died. Alicia was rescued in time to save her own life, but according to the article, “she was just barely hanging on.” Speaking as a mother, I imagine that she probably didn’t care at that point if she came home or not. The mental images in my mind of what this poor woman and her little boy went through broke my heart.

The desert is a brutal place in summer. Death Valley got its name because of the deaths of pioneers (members of the ill-fated 49ers) attempting to traverse it—in December. It’s one of the hottest places on earth, and its wilderness is vast and lightly traveled, especially at this time of year. This tragic incident proves that it can still claim a life, and Carlos is the third person to die in Death Valley this year.

Alicia had food and water with her, knew to stay with her vehicle, and even hiked to a higher point in an attempt to get cell phone service. All those actions are just what you should do. Prior to getting stuck, she had changed a flat tire on her Jeep, so I have to think she is a capable woman—heck, she’s a nurse. Had it not been 119 degrees, I think she and her son would have survived their ordeal.

I’ve lived in the desert my entire life. I’ve explored plenty of dirt roads, several of them with just my 11-year-old son in my Jeep with me. I’ve been to Death Valley in summer. I wondered if I would have turned down that rugged, little-used dirt path that Alicia mistakenly took, the one that stranded her and took her son’s life. Authorities are wondering why she took that turn. They aren’t sure if she was following her GPS, if the GPS’ information was incorrect, or if she was simply adventurous. When she recovers, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of questions for her.

The desert is a beautiful, but harsh, environment. I encourage people to explore the Mojave, but I also tell them not to venture out in the middle of summer. Let’s remember that the 49ers were traveling in winter, and they still lost enough of their party to give the park its name. People underestimate what heat can do. Sensible, outdoors-smart people who would never dream of venturing into sub-zero weather often don’t think twice about driving off into a blisteringly hot desert. It’s easy to understand why. If you have plenty of water, a functioning vehicle with air conditioning and four wheel drive, a reasonable amount of survival knowledge, and the skies are clear, what’s to worry about? Plenty, as this case illustrates.

I like a dirt road just as much as the next person, but when you are traveling with no one other than a child, extra caution is warranted. Actually, I never go on any dirt roads in Death Valley without another adult. The last time we drove Titus Canyon Road, we had a two-vehicle party. Death Valley’s expanses are too remote to tackle alone. The park covers 3.3 million acres. It’s bigger than Yellowstone. Your chances of running into a park ranger or another person are very slim in the less-traveled parts of the park, like the Owl Hole Springs Road Alicia was exploring. Park rangers and other explorers are too few to count on, and cell phone reception is iffy throughout the park and non-existent in canyons. If she’d had another adult, would that have made a difference in this case? Possibly, but I doubt it. Had another adult been with her, she might have gotten the Jeep unstuck, or one adult might have hiked out (at night) to get help. Since she was approximately 30 miles from a paved road, however, that would have been a risky tactic.

I’ve read that one mistake in the wilderness often leads to another mistake, and another, compounding the situation until tragedy strikes. Venturing deeply into the desert in 120 degree heat without another adult is certainly not the best idea, if not a mistake. Continuing on after using your spare tire is definitely a mistake. If you’ve used your spare, turn around and go back unless you’re carrying another spare. Let’s just say she hadn’t gotten stuck in the road. What if she’d gotten another flat tire?

Let’s talk about GPS systems. Personally, I’d rather have a detail map any day. I took a good look at the detail map of Owl Hole Springs Road and felt sick to my stomach. I felt positive that if Alicia had been looking at the same map I was holding, she never would have taken that wrong turn. The sharp right turn is easy to spot on a map. On a GPS, I don’t know what information you get. If you want to explore off the beaten path, I encourage you to buy a good detail map, maybe two. You can pick up one at any bookstore. Four-wheel-driving experts also advise scouting ahead on foot when roads look questionable.

The desert is unforgiving. If you are new to the desert, I encourage you to research desert survival, perhaps even take a desert survival class. Obviously, water is number one on the list of essentials. Shade is also a necessity in the desert’s heat, and learning to build a suitable shade structure, conserve your energy, and signal for help can save your life. Always tell someone exactly where you are going and when you will be back, and make sure that person will notify authorities if you don’t return. Had Alicia's relatives not alerted authorities, she would have perished also. Unfortunately, because she left conflicting information about where she was camping and exploring, rescue efforts were hampered.

My heart aches for this brave mother and her little boy. To say she has my deepest sympathies is a huge understatement. "There but for the grace of God go I" definitely flashed through my mind. The Mojave is an awe-inspiring place, and I only wish she had chosen October instead of August to explore it.

Corrections and updates: In my original post, I erroneously reported Alicia's name as Anita. On August 14, 2009, the Las Vegas Review Journal corrected Carlos' age, which they originally reported as 11. He was 6. The Fox News Report cited the GPS prominently in their headline: "...Mom Says GPS Left Them Stranded in Death Valley."
Photo information: My photograph of Titus Canyon Road.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Khoury's Fine Wine & Sprits

If you enjoy a nice glass of vino, you'll want to visit Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits. Khoury's is a locally owned business, which always warms my heart, and their staff is friendly and knowedgable. I visited their Durango location last week for their free wine tasting, and I had a heck of time deciding which of the terrific Brazilian wines I liked best. Their wine cooler, set at a constant 55 degrees, is both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to step into during these hot summer months. If you're not a wine lover, Khoury's also has a large selection of premium spirits, all at very reasonable prices. If you're out and about on Wednesday or Thursday, stop by Khoury's for their free wine tasting--and if it's not a Wednesday or Thursday, stop by anyway! You know you'll enjoy a nice glass of something, and the folks at Khoury's can help you pick just the right thing.

Khoury's has two locations: in Green Valley at 9915 S. Eastern, and in Las Vegas at 7150 S. Durango. These pictures were taken at their Durango location.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Las Vegas Hummingbirds: Unconcerned About Foreclosures

I went through my clippings file today, looking for something positive and uplifting to write about Las Vegas. The best thing I found was an article about a new History Channel reality show, “Pawn Stars,” set at Gold & Silver Pawn down on the Strip. Not exactly what I was looking for. I went over to Google, and found nothing but a collection of doom and gloom. Sigh. Around my house, I don’t need an extra dose of information about everything that is wrong with Las Vegas these days.

When I’m overwhelmed with stories about unemployment, foreclosures, and all the other associated ills of our city, I do my best to look for something positive. On the social networking sites, it’s heartening to see so many Vegas businesses getting creative in their search for customers. Khoury’s Fine Wines and the Las Vegas Hilton are spreading the word about their events through Twitter (both have events tomorrow). I recently found Duck Creek Studios through Facebook. If necessity is the mother of invention, those of us who are sticking around Las Vegas should get an award for innovation.

Sometimes the best way to find good news about Las Vegas is to avoid the news altogether. I like to sit in my backyard and watch the hummingbirds. They don’t care about any aspect of our current economic meltdown. They just want me to keep their feeder full of food and free of ants. In return, they give me something beautiful and inspiring to watch. I'd say that's a pretty fair trade.
My pictures of the hummingbirds at my feeder.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vegas Job Seekers: Beware!

Combine an unemployment rate of over 12% with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, and what do you get? You get a lot of scammers looking to take advantage of out-of-work people, which strikes me as being not too different from embezzling money from senior citizens.

Back in the olden days, also known as “pre-Internet,” people scoured the newspaper’s want ads on Wednesdays and Sundays. Today, almost all job postings have migrated to online sites like CraigsList. Even those of us who are accustomed to sloughing through CL listings (it’s a common way for freelance writers to look for leads), have noticed an uptick in the number of scams. Does it sound too good to be true? It probably is. Is the ad all in capitals and studded with grammatical errors? Another scam alert. Is the information about the opportunity and/or company vague or non-existent? Proceed with caution. Are you being asked to pay for job leads? Just say no. DO NOT give out your credit card information, or any other personal information.

Even with my cautious approach, however, I’ve still had several dubious responses. For instance, one seemingly normal ad I responded to was a gentleman looking for women to interview naked men. Now, maybe in the years ahead I’ll find that this was a perfectly legitimate opportunity that I let escape. I’m not a prude in any way, and at first it sounded like a odd but actual gig. However, as our conversation progressed, we went from interviews in public places to interviews alone to “Do you have any friends you can bring?”

I decided that signing up with an employment agency would help me weed out the real jobs from the naked interview jobs, but when I didn’t hear back from the first agency I contacted (which really disappointed me because they requested an extensive amount of information that took me quite a while to collect and submit), I thought I would try other agencies. I went to the sites that handle virtual assistants because they have work for both run-of-the-mill administrative work and “creatives,” as freelance writers are often known. I found that the VA field has a whole side industry of certifications and requirements. Some of the sites require that you attend their training sessions on a regular basis, which puzzled me. Training for what? If I meet the requirements to do the job, and I have over 20 years of experience, for what am I attending training? I also found that simply having a regular home office is often not enough for the VA sites. They want you to sign up for virtual fax by e-mail and virtual voice mail, and the sites I looked at charged for those services. These sites specified that having a stand-alone fax and a dedicated phone line were not sufficient. Why a dedicated fax line, high-speed Internet connection, and land line phone were unacceptable was not entirely clear to me, but perhaps I just didn’t read closely enough.

I did find one online job site that looked pretty straight-forward; sign up, upload your resume, and get job leads mailed to you. At least, that’s what I thought it was. I had noticed that in addition to the VA sites pushing their training, some of the job sites were promoting various online colleges, and this one was no exception. When I went through the job app, I de-selected the box for “Send me more information about going back to school!” Within five minutes of sending in my information, my phone was ringing with a telemarketer trying to get me signed up for college courses. I hung up on them. This morning, they called again. The girl gushed, “We see that you asked for additional information about furthering your education and going back to college!”

“That is incorrect,” I said. “I am not interested in going back to college right now. Please don’t call again.” I haven’t checked back with the site to see if there are any job leads, but I sure don’t have any in my in-box. Don’t get me wrong—if the time was right, I’d consider going back to college. However, with a homeschooled child at home, a household income that has been slashed by 75%, and college costs in the stratosphere, this is not the time. Besides, if I wanted to go back to school, I would have called UNLV.

A quick look at CraigsList shows that I’m not alone. On any day, you can read other job seekers’ frustrations over ads that ask for pictures, credit report information, and so on—just look at the “re:” listings. I liked this response from one annoyed person: “If you want to scam people, at least use proper English.” I agree. At the very least.

Update: In addition to telemarketing phone calls, I've also received two e-mails from an anonymous "HR Department" demanding that I supply information about my credit report to complete my application. The e-mails almost look like they are legitimate--they state that an applicant's prior work history and references must be verified, but the only item they're asking more information about is my credit report. Don't be fooled into clicking these links and giving these scammers your information.

On Sunday, July 19, RJ reporter John Przbys wrote about CraigsList scammers in the other (non-employment) sections of the site: "Don't play games with online scam artists." On August 3, RJ columnist Doug Elfman also wrote about CL: "Craigslist: A 21st century den of thieves, deviants, scammers."
Photo courtesy of Carin Araujo at

Monday, July 13, 2009

Driving to the Red Rock Overlook: Still Beautiful at 50 m.p.h.

Whenever my brain becomes overloaded, I like to take a drive up to the Red Rock Overlook. After leaving behind the 215 and the outer reaches of Summerlin, a person can almost feel like she’s left the city behind.

One of the things I miss the most about Old Vegas is the wide-open desert. In those days, it was easy to find lonely roads far from civilization and 45 m.p.h speed limits. My dad used to cruise at 100 m.p.h to Mesquite, where one of his best bartending buddies worked at a little hole-in-the-wall. (Dad also used to let me play the pinball machines inside and hang out on the sidewalk in front of the bar, which I remember had a planter full of ice plants. Today, he’d probably be arrested for child neglect.)

Obviously, things have changed a lot around here. Las Vegas residents who long for the open road must drive a little further… and a little slower. On the way to the overlook, I noticed a Metro officer with a motorist pulled over. On the way back from the overlook, he had another driver. I took note of the speed limit sign and was surprised to see it had been lowered to 50 m.p.h. And you know what? It’s still a beautiful place, even if I can’t hammer the accelerator and get that Old Vegas/open road feeling.

Motorists: Be alert on Route 159, the two-lane highway that connects Vegas to Pahrump via Red Rock Canyon, unless you would like to meet that nice officer face-to-face.
Photo information: My pictures of Red Rock Canyon, taken from the Red Rock Overlook.

Signs of Better Times Ahead

Last week I talked to a friend of mine who lives in Florida. The high-rise condo she bought a few years ago is worth about half of what she paid for it. She has a lovely view of a neighboring, unfinished, abandoned high-rise building. We compared housing values—my home’s value has fallen to just slightly more than what my husband and I paid for it ten years ago. Its value today is $150,000.00 less than its last appraised value in 2007, and over $250,000.00 less than its value at the peak of the housing craziness. “It will just take some time for things to turn around,” I told my friend.

“You really think things are going to turn around?” she asked me. “I’m not so sure about that.” She’s pretty sure the entire country is going to you-know-where in a hand basket.

I don’t think that things will return to the insanity of the housing boom, but I do think better times are ahead. As I told my Florida friend, supply-and-demand will come into play as more and more people start snapping up incredible deals on everything from homes to clothing.

Businesses are starting to slowly take over some of the empty buildings that dot our landscape. Near my home, Walgreens has taken over the old Rite-Aid building, Chipotle Restaurant occupies the former Blockbuster building, and a handful of smaller businesses have their “Coming Soon!” or “Now Open!” banners splashed across the faded names of now-defunct stores. Theoretically, this is the market at work—the old and failed businesses disappear, and the new and innovative step in to take their place.

What do you think? Can you see signs of better times ahead, either here in Las Vegas, or in the city in which you live?
Photo info: My picture of the new Walgreen's at Fort Apache and Sahara.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summit Restoration's Grand Re-Opening

A newcomer to Las Vegas might think that the desert's dry environment protects our homes from mold. Heck, I'm not even a newcomer, and I was surprised to learn that only a few days of untreated water damage can result in mold growth. If my nephews didn't own and operate Summit Restoration, I might still be in the dark about water damage, smoke and fire damage, and (of course) mold damage.

A couple of weeks ago, Summit held an open house after they relocated into a new building at 5032 W. Post Road. They're IICRC certified (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification), and so Summit is pretty persnickety about keeping current on industry practices and standards. Since it's a locally owned and operated business, you can always talk to a person when you call. And, just as a side note, I've never seen such a spotless warehouse.

Extra-Budget Shopping Never Looked So Good

Two weeks ago, the Salvation Army's thrift store at 4196 S. Durango held its grand re-opening. Don't call them a thrift store anymore--their face lift included a catchier name, "Sally's Boutique." They've remodeled, and they've done a fantastic job. The furniture section was full of great finds. In the toy section, my son was thrilled to find a rock tumbler for $3.00. The back wall near the kitchen section was fully stocked with brand-new kitchen implements in unopened, original packaging. I picked up a new potato peeler for $1.00. If you're looking on great deals on clothes and furniture, stop by Sally's Boutique and look around. Proceeds from the store go toward the Salvation Army's programs to help people in need.
Picture by T. H. Meeks

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Peccole Ranch Turf Conversion: Beautiful Common Sense

Las Vegas has been criticized over the years as a water-wasting community, and with good reason. For many years, our community landscaped like we were in Minnesota instead of the Mojave Desert; beautiful, green golf courses and water-hungry residential areas like The Lakes and Peccole Ranch. With the arrival of a prolonged drought, things are starting to look a little different around here.

Peccole Ranch has contracted with Par 3 Landscaping to begin converting turf in some of its common areas. The top two pictures are an area that has been converted to xeriscape. The bottom two pictures (at the end of the post) are an old original section of "greenbelt" just across the street from the new, water-friendly area. Last year during summer, Peccole paid $75,000.00 a month for water--yes, seventy-five thousand dollars, you read that correctly.

Turf conversion makes good sense, both monetarily and environmentally. As you can see, the converted areas are very pretty. The Peccole HOA made a wise decision in the face of increasing water rates and decreasing water availability. They're also taking advantage of the Water District's rebate program, which offers extra incentive to embrace more desert-appropriate landscape. The only drawback I noticed about the converted area was a significant temperature difference between it and the turf-heavy area, but we are in the desert, after all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It’s Mater Time

Fresh tomatoes from the garden are one of the best things about summer. Last year, our garden went south due to neglect, but this year my hubby took over. Here's his first ripe beefsteak tomato, right before we ate it.

If you like to garden, tomatoes are a sure bet, even here in Las Vegas. Just remember to shade your plants from the most intense afternoon sun. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow; it’s not uncommon to get a second crop of them in the fall. The larger varieties tend to split—they’re still tasty, just not so pretty. And be on the lookout for those well-camouflaged tomato worms/caterpillars. We captured one for observation.

You can visit a large Las Vegas vegetable garden at Gilcrease Orchard, at the corner of Tenaya and Whispering Sands Drive, in the northwest portion of the valley. Visitors pay $3.00 to drive in and pick their own vegetables and fruit.