Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Las Vegas’ Wacky and Wonderful Museums

Our city has some of the best eccentric and off-beat museums 

Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort

I do a lot of writing about Las Vegas, most of it over on the 10Best Las Vegas page, but most of it is about the obvious things people are looking for when they visit the city: hotels, restaurants, casinos. Recently I had the chance to write about our museums, which is one of my favorite topics. 

I covered the most popular museums, which includes what I like to think of as the Big 3: The Neon Museum, The Mob Museum, and the National Atomic Testing Museum. If you visit these three museums, you’ll get a pretty good look at the history of the city – and all three are home to unusual collections. While you should definitely visit them, there are also plenty of other historic sites, nature viewing areas, and museums you should check out, especially if you’re a local.

If you’re visiting the Atomic Testing Museum, you should also check out the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, which is on the grounds of UNLV. Admission is free and it showcases all kinds of art. Exhibits rotate regularly.

If you’re checking out the Neon Museum or the Mob Museum, you’re in the right part of town for museum-going. The Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort, which is next to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, is the site of the oldest non-native structure in the state of Nevada. As the name implies, the location was where early Mormon pioneers built a settlement in 1855. In addition to the restored buildings on the grounds, the visitor center also has exhibits and a wealth of information about early Las Vegas. 

Portions of this building date to 1855

Not far from the Cultural Corridor, the Springs Preserve sits on the place that gave Las Vegas its name. It’s home to both the Nevada State Museum and the Origen Museum, but the entire site is fun to explore and holds all kinds of history in its archaeological sites. There are hiking trails, outside play areas for kids, and a botanical garden.

You can easily make an entire day out of museum-going and historical sight-seeing if you plan a trip to Hoover Dam with stops at the Clark County Museum, the Nevada State Railroad Museum, and the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum in the Boulder City Hotel. Alternatively, if you’d rather take in some nature in the eastern part of the valley, you could visit the Clark County Wetlands or the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. Out in Boulder City, you could also swing by Hemenway Park, home to a herd of Bighorn Sheep.

Clark County Museum's Ghost Town

Hemenway Park, Boulder City

Of course, since we’re in Las Vegas, you could explore history of a whole different kind at the Erotic Heritage Museum or the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pinball Hall of Fame, also known as the Pinball Museum, which is home to the world’s largest pinball collection (according to their website). This is totally a hands-on experience – visitors can play all of the games.  

There are even more museums than this – like the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum and museum-like experiences like the Bodies Exhibit and the Titanic Exhibit – but I think I’ve made my point: if you think Las Vegas doesn’t have great museums, think again.


What are some of your favorite Southern Nevada Museums?

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All photos by Terrisa Meeks


Thursday, October 07, 2021

Hearts Alive Village: Providing Critical Assistance for Animals and Their Humans

The end of pandemic benefits has increased the need for assistance of all kinds, including help for pet owners to keep and care for their four-legged best friends.

Hearts Alive helps all kinds of critters
Photo courtesy of Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas

About a month ago, the federal government ended the additional unemployment benefits provided during the earlier phases of the pandemic. In July, the eviction moratorium was ended. Many people are now left without sufficient income, and the unfortunate result is that many people will have difficulty feeding and caring for their pets. Heartbreakingly, some people will decide they have no choice but to surrender their pets to a shelter.

In Las Vegas, the Hearts Alive Village is one of the rescues trying to help people keep their pets. This non-profit offers several resources for struggling pet owners, including a program to help veterans and their pets with training, financial aid for vet bills, boarding and other resources. They also offer a foster and adoption program, re-homing help, a pet pantry, low-cost vet clinics, and a retail location with new and gently used pet items like toys and beds. They recently announced the addition of a horse sanctuary this fall – an urgent need, considering the number of horse owners in Southern Nevada.

Hearts Alive is opening a horse sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas

Back in July, their location near Rainbow and Charleston was burglarized. Although none of the animals were hurt, the group had to deal with the theft of money and equipment – never an easy thing to deal with, and at a non-profit, any loss is particularly difficult.

Hearts Alive helps fill the need for animal assistance in Las Vegas. While the city’s official shelter, The Animal Foundation, does its best to keep up with pet-related needs, it’s consistently dealing with an average of 30,000 animals coming in each year. It’s one of the highest volume single-site animal shelters in America. According to the RJ, Las Vegas has as many animals brought into its shelter as Los Angeles County, which has six shelters. That means groups like Hearts Alive are critical to providing resources for animals in Southern Nevada.

If you’ve been keeping up with the local news, you know that rent increases are driving people out of their homes, compounding the financial difficulties people are facing from the end of pandemic aid. The Nevada SPCA says that moving is one of the biggest reasons people surrender their pets. Many rentals don’t allow pets, or if they do, they require large deposits or higher rent. These cruel policies force too many people to choose between having a place to live or keeping their pet family members – and approximately 72% of renters have pets. Put that together with stats from December of 2020, when the ASPCA estimated that 19.2 million pets were living in homes that weren’t current on rent, and you have a recipe for a terrible situation. 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I dearly love animals of all kinds. That’s why the current situation is so concerning to me. My pets have always been members of my family. I can’t imagine how people who are already going through catastrophic losses of homes and financial security must feel when faced with surrendering their best friends, or foregoing medical treatment for them, or being unable to feed them. 

I’m urging everyone who can to make a donation to Hearts Alive or another animal rescue. They’re doing all they can to help with a situation that will only grow, and they need our help.

How can you resist this face?
Photo courtesy of Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas

Stephanie Isaacson’s Murder Solved After 32 Years

In July of this year, new DNA technology solved the Stephanie Isaacson cold case from 1989. While the killer has now been identified, no arrest could be made since the suspect committed suicide in 1995.

Those of you following the case on this blog know I’ve been writing about it for over a decade. 

Stephanie Isaacson
When the news broke that Stephanie’s case had been solved, media outlets everywhere covered it because of the technology used to identify her killer. Not only was the technology ground-breaking, the sample size of the DNA was the smallest ever used to identify a suspect. While all of that is good news, the fact that the suspect was no longer alive left many people feeling cheated out of true justice.   

Since news outlets have covered Stephanie’s story extensively, let me offer links to a couple of the most thorough stories:

For a summary of the facts around the case, from the Washington Post: “A 14-year-old girl’s murder went unsolved for 32 years. A lab broke the case using just 15 human cells”

For a deep dive into the case and how it affected the family, from the Review Journal: “Inside the Metropolitan Police Department’s record-breaking cold case”

I wrote an essay over on Medium about the years that I followed the case and how hard it’s been to get over being angry that no suspect will be brought to trial.

The technology used to solve the case is ground-breaking, and I’m sure we’ll hear more about it it in the future. I just hope that future identifications can be made sooner rather than later so suspects can be apprehended and families can have some justice. 

Many of the comments I’ve read center around the concept of closure in Stephanie’s case. Closure in this instance, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality.” Can true closure happen when no justice is served? 

My other posts on Stephanie were published in 2007 and 2016.

Thank you to all of the people who have kept Stephanie’s memory alive.

______________

Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Memories of the Mt. Charleston Lodge

When I found out on September 17 that the Mt. Charleston Lodge had burned down, I almost cried. Judging from the reaction on social media, I was not alone. Two weeks later, it's still hard to think about the fact it's gone. 
Entrance to the Mt. Charleston Lodge, 2019

Some of my earliest memories are at the Mt. Charleston Lodge. I clearly remember looking at the snow outside of a window in the dining room, where my parents and I were having a meal. I was in grade school, maybe even kindergarten.

Over the years, I spent many a happy afternoon there enjoying a drink, a burger, and the view.

I was even married there, with a ceremony on the outside patio and the Dummkopfs playing inside (the band wasn’t our choice, but it was certainly memorable).

The owners have vowed to rebuild the Lodge and I sincerely hope that happens. The Lodge we all knew actually replaced the first lodge, which burned down in 1961.

My hubby and I were last at the Lodge in 2019. I recently spent some time looking at those pictures. I, of course, had no way to know these would be my last pictures of the Lodge as we knew it. Here are several photos for those who would like to remember this piece of Southern Nevada history.

Patio area at the Lodge with the cabins in the background

This fireplace warmed up generations of visitors

Who needs TV with a view like this? 

The cozy interior at the Mt. Charleston Lodge

Pretty sure this is the same archway we decorated for my wedding

The incredible view from the patio. The snow-covered peak is Mt. Charleston.


What are your memories of the Mt. Charleston Lodge?
_________________________

All photos by Terrisa Meeks


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