Experiencing Las Vegas #Vanlife Style
Las Vegas is definitely not a destination that Ian and I would visit if we were not traveling through the US for a year. Our goal is generally to get away from people, not seek out massive crowds of them.
This October, however, we were passing through Southern Nevada on our way to Utah from Death Valley in California. We had some errands that required a city, and our friends were going to be in town for work while we were there. So, we headed into Las Vegas.
The first thing we did was take care of our errands. My running shoes had turned to cement after I used them for crossing glacial streams while backpacking in the Yukon (check out our blog post about that adventure), and the fabric of Ian’s shoes had three-inch-long holes in them. So we took advantage of the many outlet stores in Vegas (why are there so many!?), and each bought some new running shoes.
With nighttime temperatures dropping below zero in some of the places we have been, we decided it was time to pick up a new fuel filter in case we experienced diesel gelling. We made a stop at the Mercedes-Benz Dealership to pick up a Sprinter fuel filter from their parts department. Let me tell you, it feels pretty hilarious to park our giant dusty campervan next to all those shiny new Benz’s. It only gets more awkward when you go inside the clean white showroom and you haven’t showered in two weeks. But sometimes you can get free coffee, so it’s totally worth it!
After our shopping was done, we got to meet up with our friends who were working on an event on the Strip. Our first experience on the Strip was with them. They had been to Las Vegas many times for work, but for us, the short walk to the Mexican restaurant where we had dinner was totally insane. There were flashing lights everywhere, people taking photos with show girls and Disney characters, and at one point there were actual fire balls shooting into the air. After spending six months almost entirely on our own in wilderness, it was basically the exact opposite of our typical night.
We had planned to just spend the night in the Mirage’s oversized parking lot where we had parked (it costs $15/day). When we got back to the parking lot though we could hear all the noise of the Strip, there were helicopters flying overhead, and we were near an overpass. We decided we would head to the quiet BLM land along Lovell Canyon Road near Red Rock Canyon, where we had camped at the night before.
We had a restful night, and in the morning we decided to go for a six mile run on the paved Lovell Canyon Road. We were about two miles in when we heard gun shots ring out extremely close to us. We looked up the hill to our right and saw the guy with the gun about 100 feet away. We started yelling, thinking that he just didn’t know anyone was around. He must have seen and heard us, and there are signs everywhere saying that there is no shooting allowed in the area. Still he shot twice more across the road into the embankment on the other side. Fortunately we flagged down a very nice couple in a truck who gave us a ride back to our van.
After our eventful morning run through the desert, we decided to finish the last few miles of our run in the city. We ran the other four miles in Exploration Peak Park and the surrounding trails. It’s a wonderful urban park with a large rocky peak in the middle that overlooks the city and the surrounding valley, and it was good to experience a part of the city that wasn’t the Strip. We were wishing we had just done our entire run there!
We decided it was time to “treat ourselves.” Pineapple Park was the solution, a shop featuring the delicious Dole Whip. It’s a creamy but dairy-free, pineapple soft serve that is usually just found in amusement parks. But Las Vegas kind of has an amusement park vibe, so you can find it all over the city. Ian got his as bananas foster and it was heavenly.
Continuing with the tropical theme, we ate a late lunch at Aloha Kitchen. Many Hawaiians have moved to Las Vegas, so there are tons of tasty Hawaiian restaurants. Our food was really tasty, and it was way more affordable than anything you’d find on the Strip. Plus the serving sizes were so large that we also had breakfast for the next day. Our recommendation would be the Adobo Chicken and Rice Omelet.
One the best parts of going to Vegas was that our friends had a spare hotel room they let us stay in during our second night in town. Staying in a hotel with a real shower is such a luxury on it’s own when you’re living in a van, but guess which hotel it was? The Mirage! We felt like we were in an Oceans movie!
We spent a couple of hours walking around and experiencing the Strip that night. One of the fun aspects of the Strip is that they have no open container laws, so you can walk around with a drink. Our first stop was at Fat Tuesdays to pick up some Pina Coladas, although Ian ended up with some horrendous mixture called High Octane Orange!
As we were leaving the shop we witnessed some sort of street fight down the block. One group of guys was beating up another group, and within a minute they were all running away. We have no idea what that was about or if we should do anything, and it resolved so quickly that everyone else who saw it seemed just as clueless as us.
Our first real destination of the night was the Mirage Volcano—the shooting fireballs we had seen the night before. And that was literally all it was. Three times a night hundreds of people gather in front of the Mirage to watch plumes of flame and balls of burning gas timed to music shoot out of a volcano and a reflecting pool for about four minutes.
When the Volcano died down and the fog machine turned off, we continued our stroll down the Strip, people watching, checking out the thousands of neon signs and flashing lights, and ogling the glitzy architecture.
You can go inside all of the casinos and hotels for free. Their goal is to get you inside and then get you completely lost in there so you will spend your money. We checked out Caesar’s Palace where we found a neat gallery of entirely food photos called Modernist Cuisine. We learned the photos were all taken by Nathan Myhrvold for his Modernist Cuisine cookbooks. Ian enjoyed talking about the photography with the woman working in the gallery, while I checked out the cookbooks. Those recipes are definitely not intended to be cooked on a two-burner camp stove inside a campervan!
Also in Caesar’s palace, there were giant head shaped chairs, tacky classical architecture, fountains and reflecting pools, a spiral escalator, and a lingerie shop selling $3,000 panties. So basically your standard kind of place.
Our last stop of the night, before we collapsed from over-stimulation, was the Bellagio. We genuinely enjoyed the beautiful ceiling of hand-blown glass flowers. We also went to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden, which has thousands of flowers inside a glass greenhouse. Featured while we were there was a fall-theme including a giant sleeping fairy and many smaller, creepy fairies and tigers surrounding it. Ian said it was like a very high-budget high school homecoming float.
The following day, we enjoyed our luxurious hotel room and its marble-tiled shower until checkout. (Dear Mirage, please add coffeemakers to your rooms, because venturing into a buzzing casino at 9:00 in the morning to find a Starbucks is not luxurious! Love, Kaylee).
In the afternoon, we went to Ethel M. Chocolates, where I was able to resolve my coffee deficit with a very indulgent chocolate latte. The reason we were going to a chocolate factory was actually to see their free three-acre botanical cactus garden, where there are over 300 species of desert plants. There were so many strangely shaped cactuses. Inside the factory, we got to test some chocolate and see the production line for some sort of caramel candy.
Visiting Las Vegas was way different than most of our travels, and we left the city without losing any money or our lives! It was great to catch up with friends and eat some tasty food. We left saying, “Well, now we’ve seen that!”