Shine bright like a diamond

[Las Vegas] has a way of wrapping you tightly in its arms, kissing you gently on the cheek and whispering in your ear; “You’re gonna love it and we’re going to do everything we can to make you smile.” What has been done here is truly astonishing, from our correspondent Tomas Mega, in Las Vegas, Nevada

It is a city conceived in the driest state in America; Nevada. The state is also the most mountainous in the USA; yet the city is encircled and captive to the Mojave Desert. Everyone who lives here might be filthy rich if sand and rock had the export value of oil. It rests within an area of extreme, hauntingly beautiful landscapes; nearby to the northwest is forbidding Death Valley, lying 86 metres below sea level. To the southeast, the west rim of the Grand Canyon is a short drive. Mt. Charleston, at 3,632 metres high, keeps a watchful eye over the desert valley that two million people call home and nearly forty million visit each year. Translated from the Spanish, its name means ‘the plains or meadows.’ It is Las Vegas.

Mormon missionaries first settled the area many now refer to as “Sin City.” Ironic perhaps, but it’s just hype. Compared to other sinful cities, it seems hardly fair. Yes, you can gamble here, but you can gamble just about anywhere, too. Despite popular myth, prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas. Neither can you sit down at a cafe and smoke marijuana legally and publically. Sin City? Perhaps Amsterdam is better suited for that title.

But there is no denying that what has risen from the sands of this American desert is a sort of miracle. You can sum it up by saying, “Give the people what they want, build it, keep reinventing it, and they will come.” Indeed, forty million tourists each year from all over the Earth, spending their hard earned money in your hot, sand and rock filled backyard, is enviable.

The development of today’s Las Vegas wasn’t easy, quick, or without an element of sin. Until 1930, Las Vegas was just a sleepy railroad town. The construction of awe-inspiring Hoover Dam changed things. The 5,000 plus workers, all men, mostly lived in a government planned community known as Boulder City. Alcohol and most other diversions were banned by the government in Boulder City. Nearby Las Vegas saw an opportunity with its saloons and in 1931, legalized gambling. It has been capitalizing on giving the public what they want ever since.

There were bumps and some bad things that happened along the way to today’s Las Vegas. Most notably was the early influence of organised crime. The first major resort hotel in Las Vegas was the Flamingo Hotel, completed in 1947, and built by notorious gangster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel. As often happened during the heyday of organised crime, Siegel was assassinated, but his Flamingo was and remained a huge success. Other resort hotels followed. Today’s Las Vegas began to take shape in the late 1980’s. Bugsy wouldn’t even recognize the place today.

World class entertainment and dining has always been a fixture in luring people here. In the early days, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson, Elvis Presley and other big name performers and comedians were regulars. Elvis even starred in a movie about the place: “Viva Las Vegas!” The Beatles stopped by in 1964. Today, while everything has changed in Las Vegas, nothing has changed. Visitors who want to see a show and eat at a cutting edge restaurant are presented with a dilemma; choice. There is too much of it!

Start with the plethora of dazzling world class hotels that line the Las Vegas Strip. Then there are the really big names to see, like Celine Dion, Elton John, Shania Twain and even Paul McCartney stops by. Popular older bands constantly pack the house as well as newer acts, world famous DJ’s, day and night pool parties, spas, and world class comedians. You can take in one of the many dramatically artistic Cirque du Soleil shows or an evening of culture at our remarkable Art Deco clad Smith Centre for the Performing Arts.

Restaurants? Every celebrity chef wants to be in Las Vegas. Gordon Ramsay has two here, as does Spain’s Julian Serrano. Emeril Lagasse and Michael Mina each have four. Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Joel Robuchon and Hubert Keller are just a few of the others with a presence in Las Vegas. Try Carmines of New York or Mon Ami Gabi, overlooking the Bellagio Fountains. Giada de Laurentis has just opened her restaurant at the boutique Cromwell Hotel on the Strip. And that is just a sample.

Need to burn off some of that food? Take a hike or cycle in majestic Red Rock Canyon or the Valley of Fire. Water sports abound at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Maybe a helicopter ride up and down the Strip or to the Grand Canyon. Stroll down the cafe and restaurant lined ‘The Linq’ followed by a walk down Freemont Street. More adventurous? Try the roller coaster at New York New York or maybe some indoor parachuting. Finish the night with a champagne ride on the High Roller observation wheel, taller than the London Eye and now the tallest observation wheel on earth. After that, a perfect nightcap brandy at the Cosmopolitan’s glittering Chandelier Lounge.

Las Vegas spoils you with choice. While it’s incredible fun to visit, it’s amazing to live here too. I don’t get to the Strip every week, but each time I do there is that rush that you feel itching up and down your spine. This place has a way of wrapping you tightly in its arms, kissing you gently on the cheek and whispering in your ear; “You’re gonna love it and we’re going to do everything we can to make you smile.” What has been done here is truly astonishing. In the middle of the desert, where once there was nothing, Las Vegas shines bright like a diamond.


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