Monday, March 29, 2010

Las Vegas During Earth Hour 2010

On Saturday night, my family and I drove down to the Venetian. We wanted to get a look at the Strip during Earth Hour, and we thought we'd do some wandering around while we were there. Wandering around any of the Strip hotels provides heaps of free entertainment--especially on Saturday night.

The first thing I noticed was that the "darkened" Strip was still very bright. You could see the hotels clearly, and several of them had their names illuminated. The overall effect was interesting: a subdued Las Vegas that looked very much like any other city full of big buildings. I was surprised to see how much light was present even with the hotels' big lights off.

At 9:30, when the Strip's exterior lights came on, it was a gradual change. "That was pretty anti-climactic," complained my husband and son. But when you compare the picture taken during Earth Hour to the one taken a few minutes after it ended (and notice the Flamingo isn't yet re-lit), you see a marked difference.

After I was done taking pictures, we left the roof of the Venetian's parking garage and wandered around the Grand Canal Shoppes. When my son paused in front of the gelato stand in St. Mark's square, we convinced him that a stop at the grocery store on the way home would net him more ice cream in the long run. We stopped in the Peter Lik gallery and marveled over the incredible photographs. As we wandered past the Grand Canal's expensive storefronts, my husband and I watched the drunks stagger by. (A word of advice: Pace yourselves, people--10:00 p.m. is far too early to be drunk in Las Vegas on a Saturday night.) The women out for the night were stuffed into dresses so short, tight, and tiny that they barely covered the essentials.

We decided to go across the street to watch the Mirage's volcano, but I hadn't considered the Spring Break crowd outside Tao. Throngs of people dressed to the nines were crowded from the bottom of the casino's escalator to the upstairs entryway outside Tao, then outside, where it looked like some kind of elaborate red-velevet-rope system was underway. We backtracked and found another way out to the Strip, but when we checked the time and realized it would be another half an hour before the volcano erupted, we decided to head for home (with an ice cream stop on the way) rather than hang around any longer.

As we were driving home, we got a good look at the fully lit Strip, all the hotels covered in lights. I thought the Strip looked fine without all her pizzazz, but Las Vegas minus her lights is like a showgirl without eyelashes and sequins.
My pictures of the Strip

Friday, March 26, 2010

Las Vegas Goes Dark For Earth Hour

Before Earth Hour, the only time I remember the Strip going dark was after one of its beloved entertainers passed away. I remember when Sammy Davis, Jr., died in 1990. My husband and I drove to a dirt lot west of the Strip and watched the lights go out in honor of the departed Rat Packer.

This Saturday, March 27, between 8:30 and 9:30, the Strip will go dark to make a statement about climate change. Downtown and neighborhood hotels are also dimming their lights. Las Vegas is a city known for its lavish, over-the-top light displays, and this hour without neon signifies that we are concerned about climate change. With all the talk about solar energy in Southern Nevada, who knows--maybe one day all our neon will be powered with renewable energy.

What are you doing this Saturday evening? How about turning off your lights for an hour? And if you get a chance, go see the Strip. Las Vegas doesn't let people see her with her lights off very often.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Nichols: / CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rats in Las Vegas

Many new things have arrived in my hometown over the years. Mosquitoes. Traffic jams. Urban sprawl. Most recently, roof rats.

I was surprised to learn that roof rats have been here since 1990. I remember reading about the rodents' arrival in Spanish Trail, but I can't say I've given the creatures much thought since then. From the information on the Southern Nevada Health District's website, I should have been thinking about rat prevention long ago. My older neighborhood has everything a rat could want: water, yummy food, and plenty of mature landscaping in which to hide.

After my brother-in-law found two rats in our barbeque, we've been on high alert. My dogs go into rat hunting mode as soon as they hit the backyard. My husband and son look for evidence of rats every day. Until a few nights ago, I was unconcerned. Well, I was unconcerned after I had my husband construct a rat barrier on our dryer vent. Rats in the backyard are one thing. Rats in my home are another.

We were outside a few evenings ago, sitting at our patio table, playing Monopoly, when our dogs started barking and attacking one of the shrubs. If you have dogs, you know there's a difference between the bark that says, "Look, there's a person walking by the yard" and the bark announcing, "Holy Chihuahua, there's a rat in this bush!" Mr. Rat knew the difference. He burst from the shrub. He quickly made it to the top of the fence and scurried away from the dogs. "It's a rat! It's a rat!" I yelled. Mr. Rat paused briefly behind another shrub, hopefully to make a note not to hang out in the yard with the vicious dogs and excited humans, then he ran into our neighbor's backyard, the rat's long, thin tail visible as he dropped into the safety of an empty yard.

"We have to get rat traps," my husband informed me.

"Can't we just catch them and keep them as pets? Can we do catch and release?" I asked. I once caught a mouse in my desk at City Hall and kept her for three years before she passed away. I really don't like killing things. Besides, since I have a child, won't I just be buying a rodent at PetSmart sometime soon? Why pay for one when I can just capture one for free? I mean, heck, look at the rat in this picture. He's adorable.

"No." My husband was firm. "They're not native. They carry disease. We need to get rat traps."

So far, we haven't picked up any traps. I'm relying on the Dog Patrol to scare away marauding rats. But I have a sinking feeling that I'll hear snapping traps sometime soon.
Picture courtesy of Jans Canon at flickr:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Spring in Las Vegas

The plum tree is beginning to bloom, and I noticed the birds are back in a big way. Everything around here has the feel of spring to it. I finally got my hummingbird feeder back up, and I've had a few visitors.

A couple of weeks ago, we got surprise visitors. With the weather now warm enough to barbeque, my son and brother-in-law went outside one night to fire up the grill. They opened the lid and found two rats. (Cue the screaming and horror music.) I was glad they didn't have the gas turned on because they were ready to make flaming rats. Now we're keeping the grill cleaned up more diligently. Rats in Las Vegas! Who would have ever imagined.

But enough about that... I'd rather think about the beauty of a Las Vegas spring. It's so much nicer than flaming rodents.
My photo of my neighborhood.

Hoover Dam & A Las Vegas Childhood

"We could be standing on dead bodies" might not normally be a bit of conversation you remember from your childhood. But if you grew up in Las Vegas when I did, it was a staple line for field trips to Hoover Dam. Popular myth said that some dam workers were entombed in the cement of the immense structure, and it made a great story for elementary kids to tell each other. It's not true, by the way. Men did die while building Boulder Dam (it became Hoover later), but they didn't leave the bodies in the concrete.

I was writing about Hoover Dam recently for NileGuide, and I couldn't help but remember what the tours were like before the new visitor center and a post-9/11 world. No fancy escalator, parking garage or ticket counter--you parked on top of the spillways and got your tickets from the glass booth on top of the dam, the now-empty one that faces the road. You stood in a line that snaked back along the sidewalk, and while people waited they leaned over the side of the wall and looked down the dam's 726 foot face. Beyond that, the Colorado River gurgled into Black Canyon. Admittance was something like $5. You went into the structure from one of the elevators in the middle of the dam, the ones screaming Art Deco, and as you dropped down at some astronomical rate, the tour guide explained just how fast you were moving. Poof, you were at the bottom. We got to walk past the generators, outside onto the bottom of the dam to look up, and we were guided through rough-hewn caves weeping Colorado River water. On one trip, we went into a room where we could stand on top of platforms under which river water flowed through pipes, the force of it strong enough that you could feel it under your feet.

The tours aren't the only thing that has changed at Hoover Dam. I remember when Lake Mead overflowed into the spillways and created twin waterfalls on the intake side of the dam, one on the Nevada side, one one the Arizona side. The mist could be seen as you approached, and standing on the side of the spillway for long left you drenched. Now, rocky beach leads up to the spillways.

One thing that never changes is the majesty of Hoover Dam. It's an architectural marvel, a piece of living history, and surprisingly beautiful.
Picture courtesy of Richard Wasserman at