Friday, January 29, 2021

Las Vegas Loves Snow

This past Tuesday morning, the city woke up and discovered a thin layer of snow covering the western side of the valley.

Red Rock Canyon Overlook with Snow
View From the Red Rock Canyon Overlook Trail On January 26

On the west side of Las Vegas near Red Rock Canyon, we get snow flurries pretty much every year. The only question is whether or not it sticks in any quantity for any length of time. After a couple of decades, I have become inured to the charms of snow. When I woke up a little before 8 a.m. on Tuesday and saw my neighbors’ roofs covered in snow, my first thought was, “Thank God I don’t have to drive in that,” and then I got back in bed.

The rest of the city lost its mind for the morning, with photos of snow-covered Las Vegas scenes flooding social media.

By the time I decided to drive up to Red Rock, the snow in my neighborhood was pretty much gone, except for a few stubborn clumps.

It was obvious as I headed toward the Red Rock Overlook that I wasn’t the only one who thought a visit to Red Rock was a good idea.

Highway 159 Red Rock Canyon Snow
Highway 159 near the Red Rock Overlook, crowded with people seeking snow

At various points along the sides of Highway 159, people were playing in a skimpy layer of snow covering the desert. I mean, there are still pointy things growing there. It just seemed odd. I saw one man throwing “snowballs” that looked to be about the size of meatballs. Small meatballs. Typically, when I think of snow play, I think of Mt. Charleston, which has like a bazillion inches of snow to play on. (OK, slight exaggeration – but you get the idea. It’s a mountain, where snow belongs.)

Snow on Joshua Trees at Red Rock Overlook Las Vegas
Snow on Joshua Trees

There was a line of cars coming out of Calico Basin. There was a line of cars to get in the Loop (which requires reservations these days, if you haven’t heard). The Overlook was crowded, but I was able to find a parking spot on my second pass around the parking lot.

Melting Snowman at Red Rock Overlook Snow Day Las Vegas
This was once a snowman. Trust me, I was there.

The atmosphere at the Overlook was festive. People were wandering about both on and off trail. One man was flying his drone. Photographers were there in abundance with their big cameras and tripods. Lots of dogs were out, delightedly exploring the mud and patchy snow.

Red Rock Overlook Las Vegas People in Snow
The photographers were out in full force, and with good reason - snowy Red Rock is beautiful

The sun tried breaking through while I was on the Overlook trail, briefly shining on the top of Blue Diamond Hill (right on the area where developers keep trying to build a massive housing project).

Blue Diamond Hill Las Vegas Gypsum Mine
Some people think this is a great place to put a housing development. A whole lot of us disagree.

Heading home, I passed the line of cars waiting to get into the Loop and noted (with only slight alarm) a photographer who decided to squat in the middle of the highway to get what I presume must have been a shot worthy of the risk.

Back at home, the icy tidbits of snow left around the neighborhood were still hanging on. I took note and headed inside, glad again that I live in a place where snow is more of a novelty than a regular occurrence.

Did you see the snow on Tuesday? Judging from the weather forecast, we’ll have some additional mountain snow over the weekend.

All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, October 16, 2020

Hunting for Art in Las Vegas

Looking for a socially distant activity that will get you out of the house? Take a car ride and go hunting for sculptures, murals, and graffiti.

One of my favorite activities is to go hunting for street and public art, which has the added bonus of being something you can do largely from the safety (and air conditioning) of your car. It’s kinda like when I was a kid and we used to drive around to look at houses in fancy neighborhoods like Rancho Circle, only much more culturally enriching.

If you’d like to take a drive and look for some art, here are some suggestions.

Fremont Street

In Downtown Las Vegas, you see everything from gang tags to massive murals from the Life is Beautiful Festival

This mural by D*Face was created for the first Life is Beautiful Festival in 2013 and is one of Downtown's most well-known murals

Drive east down Fremont Street from Las Vegas Boulevard and you’ll find amazing murals on Fremont as well as along intersecting streets (roughly within the footprint of LIB). As you get past Fergusons Downtown at 11th Street, things start to taper off in the artwork department. You’ll recognize Fergusons Downton by the s-shaped semi truck sculpture in the courtyard, “Big Rig Jig.”

"Big Rig Jig" in 2017, not long after it arrived in Las Vegas. The complex is much spiffier now. 

Main Street 

Over on Main Street, you’ll find vintage shops and trendy new places along the recently renovated street (which is now one-way only – traffic flows north). On the streets intersecting Main are where you’ll find wonderful murals adorning the sides of the buildings. 

About a block west of Main Street, you’ll find Graffiti Alley, which runs parallel to Main. It’s full of ever-changing artwork, tags, and messages (as are many alleys in this area). In general, the further away from Main Street you go, the artwork is more graffiti than murals. 

I have to offer a warning: Fremont and Main Street are downtown, and you may encounter mentally distressed individuals, people under the influence, and those who could simply be called “colorful.” Be respectful and aware of your surroundings. I saw one Google review that said of Graffiti Alley, “Not what I expected and the area was pretty chock full of vagrants and homeless people,” but I honestly have never had any issues. 

If exploring alleys in Downtown Las Vegas sounds too sketchy for you, don’t worry – we have plenty of other artwork around the valley.

Utility Box Art

Did you know Las Vegas has an official program to promote art on utility boxes? The program started in 2005 and has prettied up utility boxes throughout town. Personally, I’m a big fan of the lizard and snake over on Lone Mountain, but you can find these gems by Desert Breeze Park, along Maryland Parkway, and in several other locations. Check the program's website for a list of the neighborhoods featuring artful utility boxes.

Median Art

We’ve also got fancy medians that feature sculptures of Joshua Trees, coyotes, scorpions, and other desert flora and fauna. I’m not sure why our medians also feature saguaro cactus sculptures since they’re native to the Sonoran Desert, not the Mojave, but inclusivity, I guess? No cacti left behind?

In addition to the desert-themed beautification on medians all over town, Clark County took it a step further with their “Centered” project. Ten artists were selected to create original sculptures, like the large metal heads on Eastern at the 215 and the octopus on Pecos-McLeod, south of Desert Inn. The project’s website lists all the artwork. 

I’d also recommend Alta from Rampart to Valley View for home-grown, local murals. Every time I drive it, I see a few new pieces. I think it’s an up-and-comer for street art.

You can find all kinds of art along the Strip, especially at Aria and CityCenter, but you have to get out of the car and proceed on foot to see anything. While that’s a little too much potential ‘rona exposure for me, if you’re masked up and low-risk, you’ll find plenty to enjoy, like Maya Lin’s sculpture of the Colorado River, which is over the front desk at Aria. Lin also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.

Have you been out hunting for art in Las Vegas? What are some of your favorite finds?

All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, October 09, 2020

The Las Vegas Farm: Eggs, Baked Goods & Rescued Critters

A visit to The Las Vegas Farm is a family-friendly, outdoor activity that benefits rescued animals and gives you the chance to buy fresh produce, eggs, and yummy baked goods.

If you’ve never been to The Las Vegas Farm, which is a stone’s throw from Gilcrease Orchard in northwest Las Vegas, then you’re missing out. Open only on weekends from 9 to 4, The Farm offers a farmers market (no charge to enter) and visitors can walk through the animal sanctuary ($8 for adults) to see and feed the animals.

The homemade dill pickles I bought there a couple of weekends ago were the best I’ve ever had, and my son was delighted with the apple pie and muffin he got. (I got one slice of the apple pie and can verify it was delicious. I got zero of the muffin, so I’ll have to take his word on that one.) We spent probably the better part of an hour visiting the cows, goats, horses, pigs, and other critters. Animals who don’t mind socializing with the humans are usually looking for those with food to offer, which visitors can buy for a nominal cost (I think it was $1 for a bag). 

They also currently have a large supply of pumpkins, suitable for all your Halloween needs. (Adorable kitties not included, FYI.)

Beginning October 10 and running through the end of the month, The Farm will host their annual Harvest Festival ($8 for adults, $4 for kids), which is currently slated to include rides and a maze. I think the festival might result in some larger crowds, a consideration that may matter to some visitors. It’s a big event for this true mom-and-pop operation, and my fingers are crossed it will be successful for them. As with almost every business in Las Vegas, the ‘rona has hurt them. Part of their business came from hosting events, and we all know how that’s going.

All visitors are required to wear a mask and wash their hands upon entry. Everyone I saw was obeying social distancing. I know I’m far from the only person being extra careful since I have a high-risk person in my home, and I felt fine about being there. 

If you’re looking for outside things to do, I suggest putting The Farm on your list. 

Barn Buddies is the non-profit group that manages the animal rescue, and they are always in need of donations and volunteers. Check their website for more information.

All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, September 25, 2020

Fire in the Desert

The Dome Fire in the Mojave National Preserve destroyed about a quarter of one of the world’s largest Joshua Tree forests.


It’s a place I know well.

During a year when fire is tearing through so much of the western United States, destroying entire towns and killing people, the Dome Fire in the MNP last month probably didn’t spend much time on most people’s news radar.

For those of us with a personal connection to this part of the Mojave, the news of the fire has been heartbreaking in a very specific way. Desert rats understand that the desert is not adapted to fire. We know that the invasive grass species that have permeated our deserts act like tinder, allowing fire to spread and grow into conflagrations that can permanently alter the landscape. Native plants are destroyed and invasive species can easily take over.

This is such a large topic that I’ve spent the last month reading articles about fire in the desert, delving into academic studies and news articles, including accounts of the Hackberry Fire of 2005, which took out over 70,000 acres in the MNP. I’m mildly obsessed at this point, especially knowing that many non-desert dwellers consider the desert to be full of nothing but dirt and rocks, a terrible misconception that leads the uninformed to think of the desert as empty.

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve ca 2006

One of the first articles I wrote as a travel writer was about the Mojave National Preserve. I can still remember the excitement of leaving the pavement and turning onto a dirt road I hadn’t previously explored, Joshua trees everywhere, the wide-open desert stretching out in every direction. I15 was a far-off ribbon of movement in an otherwise vast wilderness. 

In 2008, my family spent Thanksgiving vacation wandering around the Mojave, through the MNP, Afton Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Park. Winter is the best time to visit the desert. In the MNP, we found an abandoned mine, windmills, old corrals, and miles of desert filled with Joshua trees, cacti, lava fields, sand dunes, and desert shrubs.

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve

Deserts are fragile, contrary to their dirt-and-rocks image, and are full of life. As one article I recently read pointed out, even the soil is alive in the desert

The desert is an easily misunderstood place. It’s harsh and dry and prone to extreme temperatures. Both the plants and the animals can be prickly and unfriendly. Fire may not seem like a big deal in such a place, but I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. 

All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, September 18, 2020

What You’ll Find at the Red Rock Canyon Campground

If you’re thinking of doing some desert camping, Red Rock’s only campground is open from September through May.

Head west on Charleston Boulevard and not far past the gun range and the “Red Rock Canyon” sign (and the ever-advancing edge of Summerlin), you’ll find Moenkopi Road on your left. Follow the road and you’ll wind up at the Red Rock Canyon Campground, the only developed campground in the area.

Tent camping area at Red Rock Canyon Campground

The campground covers a substantial area and includes group sites, individual sites, and RV spaces. As of the date of this post, COVID-19 restrictions limit the size of group campsites to 20 people and half the outhouses are closed. 

RV camping area at Red Rock Canyon Campground

The day the hubby and I drove out to scope out the campground it was about 95F, still a bit on the warm side for desert camping, at least for me. 

While many spaces have shade structures, there are no trees of any kind. Personally, I’d recommend waiting until it’s a bit cooler before you pitch a tent here. Due to the campground’s proximity to Las Vegas, I understand it tends to fill up quickly.

The road from the RV area back to the tent camping sites

If you’re camping at Red Rock, I’d bet you’re planning to get out and do some hiking along the Scenic Loop, so be forewarned: starting in November this year, reservations will be required to reduce crowding (which has become quite pronounced in recent years). According to the press release from the BLM, the reservation system for timed entry will be in effect through the end of May.

While the Red Rock Campground is the only campground near Red Rock Canyon NCA, developed campgrounds are also located at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Mt. Charleston, and Valley of Fire State Park. Be sure to check ahead to find out what restrictions may be in place.

Are you planning to go camping soon, or did you get out during the summer? Leave a comment about your favorite camping near Las Vegas. 

All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, August 14, 2020

Flashback Friday: San Diego Zoo & SeaWorld in 1974

I went looking for old pictures of Las Vegas but instead found photos from a family trip to San Diego, California, in 1974.

Lately it’s been tough to decide what to write about since my work is mostly focused on traveling, restaurants, and other things that involve going out and being around people – which is problematic (to put it lightly) these days. So I decided to dive into my treasure trove of family photos in search of any pictures of old Vegas that I hadn’t already shared.

Naturally, I found zero photos of the Strip, or Downtown, or really much of anything beyond family road trips, backyard gatherings, and holidays. It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when people didn’t always have a camera on them. If you did, you had a limited number of shots on your roll of film. Also, knowing my parents, they wouldn’t have been caught dead walking around taking pictures like a tourist.

In August of 1974 my parents took me to San Diego for a vacation, which was a serious upgrade from our normal summer road trip to Texas. As I recall, my dad knew a guy who comped the room and most of our meals. (My dad always “knew a guy,” in true Vegas fashion.)

We went to SeaWorld, which at that time was a fraction of its present-day size. I think I remember my dad saying the arena for the “Shamu” show was new, but I haven’t been able to confirm if that’s true or not. (This was, of course, long before there was a public awareness about all the issues with orcas in captivity.) Notice the grassy hills in the background and the complete lack of development around the arena – so much so that a hang glider landed as part of the show. 

We also went to the San Diego Zoo on our trip, and in looking at the photos I was struck by the appearance of the old exhibits, which look alarmingly cramped and bare. I found a photo of the polar bears in their sad cement enclosure and immediately remembered photos I’d taken in 1997, at the zoo’s new polar bear exhibit. By that time, enclosures were being transformed into more animal-friendly areas – a definite improvement. 

One thing that hasn’t changed? The beach. One of my favorite memories of that trip was walking on the beach for the first time. 

Well, I should qualify that statement: the view looking out toward the ocean is the same. Looking the other direction is another story.

What are some of your favorite family photo finds? Have you spent any time working on old photo collections while you’ve been at home?


All photos from the collection of Terrisa Meeks. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Las Vegas in the Time of Coronavrius

Normally the Las Vegas Strip would be full of visitors on a Saturday afternoon in March, but nothing about what's happened recently is normal.

With things changing so rapidly, I wanted to get out to see what the deserted Strip looks like before we're all grounded even further. Under non-pandemic conditions, I would have parked somewhere and walked along the Strip for the best pictures, but today I shot everything from a vehicle. My son, who was my driver, was quite adamant about me staying in the car. 

The drive there was sobering. We took Spring Mountain Road through Chinatown, which was largely deserted. We took a right on The Boulevard and were stunned at the sight of abandoned sidewalks and empty roads. "I've had bad dreams that looked like this," my son said.

It was eerie and weird and unsettling to see the Strip so deserted. The largest crowd we saw was at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, where about 20 people were gathered to take photos.

I've always liked taking pictures of abandoned  places. I just never expected the Strip would be one of those places, even temporarily.

If you, too, were wondering what a deserted Las Vegas Strip looks like, here are some photos for you.

Fashion Show Mall
Looking west, up Spring Mountain Road from The Strip

One of the entrances to Caesars Palace, blocked off due to the coronavirus shutdown

The Caesars Palace Fountains are dry


Park MGM

In addition to a lack of people, you'll also find road construction in front of the Luxor and on the northern end of the Strip

Northbound on Las Vegas Boulevard at Harmon

A most unusual sight: a bicyclist not about to be run over while riding on the Strip
All photos by Terrisa Meeks