Connoisseurs check out fun places to visit in and near Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a true rarity. Situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the area’s excessive summer heat can even seem like it’s sometimes labeled “Sin City” is hell. But, as is often the case, there is more to this city than many would guess.

The once arid desert becomes a year-round booming vacation spot with luxury resorts, and during the decade between 1995 and 2005, it was the fastest-growing city in America, at a staggering rate of 6,000 to 7,000 newcomers arriving monthly to call Las Vegas. home. During this period of rapid growth, for every new hotel room built, 2.5 jobs were created, making Las Vegas number one in job growth during those years.

Las Vegas is not only a Mecca for gamers, its low taxes allowed Las Vegas to become a Mecca for retirement and, until the construction boom ended, a Mecca for job seekers. With the opening of numerous mega resorts between 1995 and 2005, the service industry was constantly recruiting experienced workers.

Las Vegas has many extremes: extreme temperatures and an extreme variety of entertainment attractions, both on and off Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as “the strip.” The region is less known for its scenery, a refreshing antidote to all the Las Vegas glitz are several stunning national parks.

As part of the “Great Circle” of national parks of the southwest is Zion, near St. George, Utah and 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Zion National Park offers spectacular high cliffs and canyon scenery that will take your breath away. The rugged, vividly colored cliffs at Zion rise as visitors trace their way along the canyon floor.

One cannot help but feel a sense of wonder while traveling through the park between 2,000 and 3,000 walls. Cutting a path through the canyon for over 13 million years is the Virgin River. The mountains here date from the Jurassic period.

Another majestic example of sculpture made by nature is the Grand Canyon. This 277-mile gorge is the most spectacular canyon in the world. From the edge above, the view in all directions is incomparable, full of natural beauty. The Grand Canyon is a day’s drive from Las Vegas.

Scenic canyon air and helicopter tours are offered from Las Vegas. Traversing the vast, mile-deep Grand Canyon is the 1,500-mile-long Colorado River. The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River is one of the world’s greatest engineering achievements. Completed in 1936, the Hoover Dam stands as the tallest concrete dam in North America, standing 726 feet tall.

The dam has one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world and supplies power to several states, including Nevada, California and Arizona. Tours run daily and for a modest admission ticket, you can visit the underground caverns of the dam and learn about the dam’s fascinating history.

Lake Mead ranks as one of the largest reservoirs in the world and Las Vegas is the gateway to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which includes Lake’s Mead and Mohave. It was formed by the dam of the Colorado River. The lake stretches over 600 miles of shoreline. Lake Mead is known for its fishing and water sports, plus boating, all within 30 miles of Las Vegas.

On the Boulder Highway between Lake Mead and the Las Vegas strip is Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino. Inside, the atrium at Mystic Falls Park offers an artificial setting that captivates all ages. Four times a day a free special effects show is presented, taking a trip back to the plains and mountains of the western United States. The 24-hour trail runs along a trail that offers glimpses of “wildlife” throughout the park, so keep an eye out for them.

The park has benches to relax in and downtown you can settle for a drink or two in the Ram’s Head Lounge. Around the perimeter of the park are a variety of gift emporiums and restaurants.

Dominating the city’s skyline is the Stratosphere Tower, towering 1,149 feet above the Las Vegas Valley. The stratosphere is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and reaches farther into the sky than the Eiffel Tower, which is just 300 meters high, and is only a head lower than the Empire State Building, which is 1,200 meters high.

The Stratosphere is the best location in the city to view the Las Vegas strip, either from the indoor or outdoor observation deck. The “Top of the World” restaurant rotates, allowing the evening diner an impressive display of the city lights.

The rare white tigers and lions were rescued by the illusionist Siegfried and Roy. Through their dedication to the cats of the wild, they have brought these exotic animals back from being more than just a myth. The Tiger Habitat at the Mirage Hotel and Casino is open to the public 24 hours a day. There is no charge to view the glass enclosure where white cats are seen playing, swimming and dozing.

You may never make it to Rio for carnival, but this is no reason not to get a feel for Rio’s colorful costumes, mystery, and excitement. Throughout the year, the other Rio is the Rio Hotel and Casino and the venue is Masquerade Village. This is where a charming “village” with shops, restaurants and even a world-renowned winery has been built.

This is where you can be part of the entertainment, with an interactive presentation of “The Masquerade Show in the Sky.” A small entrance not only allows you to keep an eye on the theatrical production, but you become a piece of it, disguised and mounted on one of the five carnival floats. Other carnival shows arise from stages that rise from the basement, these include a trapeze act and the shows are free.

Downtown and away from the Strip is another free attraction, the Fremont Street Experience. The Experience is a special canopy built over a four-block-long pedestrian mall. After dark, there is an elaborate sound and light display that is featured hourly on the upper canopy. There is nothing like it in the world and definitely bring your camera to shoot this usual light show.

The Fremont Experience Mall, attracting about 25,000 visitors a night, is the place to wander and contemplate. Many nights there will be live entertainment such as the acrobats of the Moscow Circus or themed performances such as “Back to the 50s”.

In fact, no other place entertains like Las Vegas. There is so much to see and do and so much diversity with its unique environmental location and dynamic and exciting exhibits, Las Vegas is where people want to come and have fun.

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