Mark and I left for Las Vegas six days prior to the Scrabble Players Championship to visit with his friends Kerry and Brian who have a house there. We wanted to visit and see the sights in advance of the tournament. We certainly did a lot of sightseeing, and I enjoyed taking Mark to some places I had seen before and to the West Rim and Skywalk of the Grand Canyon, which were firsts for me as well.
We had arrived in Las Vegas during a scorching heatwave, with daily temperatures over 110°F. It would get even hotter than that; over July 14-16 it was at least 115° with Sunday hitting a peak of 118°. I however never saw a thermometer that displayed that temperature and can vouch that the hottest temperature that I have ever undisputedly been in–with a thermometer reading to back it up–was 116°. It was still wickedly hot even at 10 p.m. where we saw thermometers register 110°. Needless to say, Mark and I kept ourselves covered in sunscreen as we had no desire to get burned (and it would be bad) on our first days here.
I was happy to have daiquiri ice ice cream again to cool me down after a day out in the sun. Mark and I went grocery shopping on our first day in Las Vegas (July 10) and did not find it, but Kerry went to Vons supermarket and bought me two 414 mℓ cartons.
Las Vegas is close to all three of the destinations in the subject line and we started our adventures by visiting Hoover Dam on Tuesday, July 11. I had been to the dam twice before in the late nineties, and this time I wanted to see the frightfully low water level of Lake Mead. The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge was not built when I was last there, yet when we drove over it neither Mark nor I (from either side of the car) could see Hoover Dam. This was probably the intent of the architect, to dissuade motorists from driving too slowly and stalling traffic.
Sadly we could not walk across the dam (although we did drive over it, both ways) because our trip was cut short on account of a shooting incident. We never heard gunfire, probably because we were ensconced underneath millions of tonnes of concrete during our tour. That probably was the safest place to be when in the vicinity of an active shooter. As we looked out from a glassed-in observation deck we saw ambulances and police cars and traffic across the dam ground to a halt. Eventually we learned what had happened from a witness. We saw the shooting victim, who was a dam or parks employee, taken from a gurney and loaded into an ambulance. He was conscious and appeared to have suffered a shot to his leg, which was bandaged, but not visibly bloody. Mark and I could not help but imagine that we could very well have been walking across the dam only a few minutes earlier and heard the gunfire. The witness said that the shooter had been apprehended and was being held in a vehicle in front of us.
The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Lake Mead had receded so much that it left several islands either now connected to the mainland or to each other. When we drove to an observation point, we discovered that Pyramid Island was not an island anymore, and that the central Boulder and Rock Islands were all connected as one.
The dark colour was all that one used to be able to see above the waterline
With one of the most beautiful wonders of the world at our doorstep, a trip to the Grand Canyon was a must. I was turned off by the expense and at first did not want to go, but quickly had a change of heart when I realized that I shouldn’t balk and deny Mark a visit to the canyon because I had already been there three other times. My visits included two trips to the South Rim and one to the North, but not to the West, which was where we were headed on Wednesday, July 12. We had a long drive from Las Vegas, driving through Joshua Tree forests and past grazing cattle. We even saw a few cattle corpses at the side of the road.
We stopped at a lookout point on the way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon
We parked, bought our tickets which included the Skywalk, and waited for a shuttle. We did the Skywalk first. Thankfully the outdoor lineup was covered, otherwise it would have been unbearable to stand around in that blazing sun. When we were finally led inside the Skywalk pavilion we found ourselves at the end of a long snaky line. It didn’t seem too long a wait. We had to go through a metal detector because you couldn’t bring cameras or phones outside, I imagine both to prevent visitors from posing for risky (and disrespectful) selfies as well as to gouge these same visitors for the exorbitant photos taken by the team of Skywalk paparazzi. We put light slippers over our shoes before we were allowed out onto the glass platform. Mark and I posed for some pictures (just for fun with no obligation to pay for them) but I balked at posing in positions which the photographer suggested that I would never do in real life (like thumbs-ups or dabbing).
The Colorado River was visible, as well as a narrow island in the middle of it. Thankfully we didn’t feel rushed and were able to walk the U of the Skywalk and then could walk back if we wanted to. We saw the canyon from different perspectives along various points along the Skywalk and even enjoyed looking through the glass floor towards the canyon wall.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
We walked around outside the Skywalk at Eagle Point where we could get close to the rim but were prevented from getting too close to the edge by the chain barrier. As you can see it was easy enough to step over if we wanted to.
We hopped on the next shuttle to Guano Point and while walking along the trail we took more photos. There wasn’t any kind of barrier separating the public from a deadly plunge but there was at least one guard walking around to make sure visitors didn’t do anything idiotic:
We drove with Kerry to the Luxor hotel to pick up Howard on Thursday, July 13 to see some scenic areas close to city limits. Our first trip was to Lake Las Vegas and Calico Ridge, where we saw some beautiful new homes. It all seemed like a resort with an endless series of signs pointing motorists to the mysterious property office, but eventually we found it. We didn’t go in, however. Then we drove across the city to visit Red Rock Canyon. We saw the tiny secluded town of Blue Diamond on the way there.
With Kerry and Howard at Red Rock Canyon
With Howard and Mark at Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon
After our day trip Howard invited us to use the Luxor pool so we got our things together and drove down. Unlike in the past, hotels now charge for parking, with some exceptions, like the Westgate. We did not need to show our nonexistent hotel keys to the pool attendant, although Howard did, and we were waved through with him. Mark and Howard swam and I just suntanned. I was surprised that smoking was allowed on the deck. Although it was annoying to lie near it I never saw any butts littering the place. Turns out that the pool rules (which we read as we left, posted outside before you come in) forbid smoking, yet no one working there did anything about the group that was puffing next to us. I never complained because I thought it was allowed (this is Las Vegas after all). I found it hard to believe that everyone in that group smoked. Who that young (late twenties) smokes nowadays?
We left Kerry and Brian’s place on Friday morning and drove to the Westgate. Mark dropped me off as he returned the rental car. I was at the back of a very long check-in line, way beyond the reaches of the velvet ropes. The estimated wait was an hour and a half! Sheesh–of all the times I had been in Las Vegas before, I never had to wait that long to check in. Hotel staff were handing out small bottles of water, and I gratefully took one. Fortunately I was standing behind Division 1 player Scott Appel and we chatted the entire forty minutes it took to get to the front of the line. I saw many Scrabble players in the lobby and in the line who said hi.
Through an arrangement with NASPA players were able to buy discounted Barry Manilow concert tickets for Saturday night. The 80-year-old singer is in concert at the Westgate and the room keys (a scan of which is below) commemorate his appearance here:
With such a long lineup to check in, you could conclude that the lineups to the elevators would be just as long, and it was no thrill to stand at the end of the line, way back from the bank of elevators, waiting to go up to my room. Mark and I spent the next couple days looking for alternate routes up and down to avoid the long elevator queues. The elevator madness only lasted about three days until the football (soccer) youth teams checked out. And when they did, so did their suffocating ringing clatter in and around the lobby area. I was happy to see so many rambuctious kids all leave.
Once I got to our room I unpacked, and set up the coffee maker. It was a surprise to me when we booked the room to discover that a coffee maker was not part of the amenities, and I phoned the hotel to find out for sure. Good thing I did. I brought Mark’s small five-cup coffee maker and Tim Horton’s original roast ground coffee. There was a Starbucks on site, and they always had a long lineup each morning of customers who didn’t mind (or maybe they did) forking over $7.50 a pop for a medium size cup of coffee. I would have my daily two cups and not pay $15 a day for them. We are here for six nights, after all.
The view from our hotel window, looking west towards Las Vegas Boulevard
The new Sphere
I registered for the Scrabble Players Championship and, unlike past registrations, didn’t receive a bag of tiles or a pen when I checked in. I did get another rack. I saw Howard Pistol and John Karris and sat with them. Mark showed up about half an hour later. That evening the three of them were attending the America’s Got Talent Presents Superstars Live show at the Luxor Hotel, and I accompanied them on the monorail ride down the Strip to the MGM Grand stop. We ate at the MGM food court then wended our way out of the hotel to the Strip. Where the Strip and Tropicana intersect all the pedestrian crossings are overpasses, so it was a bit of a hassle to go up and down escalators and stairs to cross the road with all the crowds. This wasn’t new to me, as I remembered these overpasses from all my past times here–and recommended to Mark that they weren’t rollerblade-friendly. Once in the Luxor we made our way to the stage area and Mark and I looked around the casino a bit before he went in to see the show. I took the monorail back.
The WiFi in our room was awful as I could rarely connect, and over the course of our six-night stay we did most of our computer work while down in the playing room after hours. I tried calling the hotel’s front desk for help yet was kept on hold an eternity, with none other than Barry Manilow himself telling me to stay on hold in multiple “patience is a virtue” messages and other counterfeit joviality. All I could think of was that Barry’s speaking voice sure sounded old (he is eighty, after all).
A large group of Scrabble players got together on Saturday night (July 15) to see the Manilow concert. We were all seated on the left floors. Barry took the stage at 7:10 and over the next ninety minutes he sang about twenty songs. I was actually counting the number until he started doing a medley of some of his hits, and, not knowing how I would count partial song performances, gave up the tally. His voice sounded old and weak, yet his movements were fast and well choreographed. He had three backing singers and a pair of keyboardists who flanked the sides of the stage. Barry went to both sides of the stage to greet the audience and at the very end of the show, a smaller version of the Grand Canyon Skywalk U descended and he walked out onto it, taking him above the entire floors seating area. We could really see him up close then. He had numerous costume changes and interspersed the songs with stories from his childhood and early performing career. One rare treat was to hear a five-year-old Barry and his grandfather on a recording the elder Manilow persuaded the grandson to make in a walk-in recording studio.
During the evenings after dinner Mark and I took walks or monorail trips down to the Strip. Sometimes we walked down and took the monorail back, or vice versa. When walking outdoors at night a bottle of drinking water was a must, yet even though we had chilled our bottles in the hotel fridge they became hot water bottles within minutes. Unfortunately only warm water came out of the bathroom faucets in the hotels, so while we were always able to escape into cool air-conditioned comfort, we couldn’t get a free drink of cold water.
I was happy to see the Bellagio fountain show with Mark, yet we didn’t expect all the spray that descended on us after it was over. It was a welcome cool-down sensation. We walked through Caesar’s Palace one night and the lineup to check in was just as long as the Westgate line I endured, yet this time it was 9 p.m. Where did this sudden rush of hotel guests come from? I loved seeing the Forum Shops again. We watched the volcano erupt outside The Mirage. The Cosmopolitan had a glittery interior with shiny flecks embedded in the floor. It was like walking a silver road as you wended your way through the casino or waited in line. We followed the gondolas along the canals in the Venetian, and crossed the bridges spanning them. The Wynn and Encore hotels had the most luxurious high-end shops, yet each time we walked there–late at night–all the stores had closed (no surprise there). The Fashion Show Mall wasn’t open after 8 p.m. when we went on Wednesday, not even to walk through, as some malls allow you to do even when all the stores are closed. One noticeable change about Las Vegas in 2023 over 2001 is the increase in the homeless population. I suppose a mall with open doors and closed shops would be too inviting for homeless people to enter. We saw people sleeping in the streets and swearing up and down the Strip. One guy seemed rather scary when he raged into a homophobic tirade right next to us. I was always aware of my side pockets and the crowds, incredibly thick at times even in summer evening temperatures over 110°, made me nervous of pickpockets. Neither Mark nor I gambled even a penny (and we saw penny slots!) and I wanted to keep credit card purchases to a minimum, so I paid for all my meals and groceries in cash, so was hyper-vigilant about the cash I had in my pockets (often Mark’s, as well).
Mark took this photo in the airport while I was waiting at our gate