I know you might have heard I was doing a California road trip but our journey actually begins in Las Vegas (Sin City tempted us with cheaper air fare). It’s not the most obvious of destinations to begin in search of the off-beat and unique, but certainly not impossible– and I like a challenge. We plunged into the neon lights of Las Vegas Boulevard at night, wandered in awe through the heaving casinos and took in the sparkling sights, exhausting our senses in a single road. I can imagine a good chunk of Las Vegas’ visitors never actually leave the strip, but I wanted to see the old Vegas; the vintage Vegas I’d seen in the movies, and I knew I wasn’t going to find it anywhere near the gargantuan HD televisions or gleaming gambling temples of the strip– at least not on “the strip” as we know it today…
The Neon Museum is a not your average museum– more like a dusty boneyard filled with tangling giant neon signs, retired from the casinos that were reduced to dust as bigger and brighter casinos took over the Vegas skyline. Some of the most famous hotels that formed the original Vegas strip may have disappeared over time but their flashing neon hearts live on in this off-beat museum.
The museum team has some pretty fascinating information and Vegas secrets to share. Did you hear the one about the Stardust Hotel? In 1952, cocktail hour at this legendary hotel, demolished in 2007, was offered with a side of atomic bomb testing. Tourists gathered on the roof to watch atomic blasts taking place at the Nevada test site with martinis in hand. The futurist font on the original Stardust sign, which is now on display at the Neon Museum, became known as the “Atomic” font.
You can book your visit in the morning or evening. Several signs have been restored to light up for the night tours, but you’ll have to book in advance to ensure your nab a place.
Next we headed out into Downtown Vegas, passing some rather interesting local amenities. on our way…
But before we get to our next stop, I need to interrupt your scheduled nostalgic programming to share with you a most fabulous find. It was pure luck that we happened to turn down the small street that is home to the Beef Jerky Store. It is hands down the most fun I had in shop in Las Vegas.
You don’t have to be a huge fan of beef to enjoy yourself in this store however…
Although they probably do have every flavour and brand of Beef Jerky that exists…
Anyone interested in food will find this shop pretty fascinating, and I’d bet (we are in Vegas after all) that even the most experienced foodies will find several foods they’ve never seen before or even knew existed…
Anyone have a clue what football seed is?
Chocolate-covered blueberries! We decided that this was the perfect place to stock up on car snacks for the road trip ahead.
Now to the reason we came downtown– vintage Vegas…
We’re on Fremont Street, the original Vegas “strip”, where the first hotel in Las Vegas was built. If you’ve watched any movie or television shows from the 1970s set in Vegas, this street might look more familiar…
The old Vegas is still very much alive (and flashing), you just have to tear yourself away from the modern glitz and entertainment of Las Vegas Boulevard and make a short trip to what is now considered as “downtown” to find it. Today it’s covered with a roof (also neon, naturally), a feature that makes everything brighter at night, possibly in an effort to compete with the new Vegas. It’s certainly a welcome refuge from the harsh heat of the day.
But of course, Fremont street does what it has to do to survive. For example, the El Portal was one Las Vegas’ first ever cinema, a luxurious theatre with chandeliers and lofty beams. Infamous mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a regular, but today it’s a rather kitschy Western souvenir shop.
Ducking into the side streets of Fremont and you’ll find what looks almost like an outdoor ghost mall of sorts, forgotten by tourists, frozen in time somewhere in the 1970s and 80s.
Behind Fremont Street, there’s also a “mob museum” just past the old Main Street train station (no longer in use), but we had to give it a miss because the road to California awaits us!
On our way out of Vegas, after about an hour on the road, we turned down a dirt path to a ghost town called Rhyolite, a deserted mining town where nothing but the skeletons of a few buildings survived from the once bustling main street.
It’s the end of the line for this Pacific Union train car, discarded in the desert.
Next, we (perhaps foolishly) head into Death Valley as the merciless August sun beats down on the tarmac ahead. Over those mountains, through the WIFI free zone, hopefully you’ll have some news from me.
See you on the other side.
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