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Las Vegas Guide - The City

Las Vegas is best seen at night as miles of neon tubing glows, gleams, flashes, and snakes along the sides of the Strip and Downtown casinos, lighting up the town. Red imitation volcanoes flow, a pirate ship fires on a British man-of-war, a pyramid stands in the American desert, palm trees have their own spotlights, as do entertainers who perform in the casino theaters.

What to See and Do

This is the fastest-growing city in America -- not only in the number of new residents who move here each year, and hundreds of new houses built on the desert, but each year there's another new and more spectacular hotel.

There's lots of power flowing from Hoover Dam to keep the neon blinking, and there is a not-so-subtle shift taking place in Las Vegas, toward offering more of an all-around family vacation experience, with gambling playing a lesser role in some hotel operations.

Excalibur -- the huge medieval hotel -- started the trend, and there are more hotels combined with theme park type entertainment. Hotels that have been around for awhile include the MGM Grand, Treasure Island, and Luxor. Circus Circus, the original family-oriented casino-hotel, has added the adventure center "Grand Slam Canyon."

Then there are the newest breed of super-spectacular hotels: with Bellagio -- the first -- opened in 1988. Mandalay Bay and The Venetian opened in 1999. The Aladdin opened in August, 2000. The options expanded when The Palms opened, attracting a hip young crowd and lots of sports stars. The boldest new hotel, now with a large expnasion, is Wynn Las Vegas, developed by Steve Wynn who built Bellagio among other leading casino hotels.

Scenic Getaways

In addition to the attractions of Las Vegas, the city is just 140 miles from the middle of Death Valley and only 20 miles from Red Rock Canyon -- a wonderful conservation area that offers an archeological loop drive. The city is 50 miles from Valley of Fire State Park, where 1,500-year-old Indian rock paintings are found amidst great vistas.

North of town, Mt. Charleston offers a cool retreat from the bustle of Las Vegas with recreation sites operated by the Forest Service. It's only 40 miles away.

You can take a canoe or raft trip down the Colorado River, below the Hoover Dam, and through the Colorado's Black Canyon to Lake Mojave. Even Arizona's Grand Canyon is less than a day's drive from Las Vegas.

For more on day trips, go here.

Touring Museums

This is a university town with several good museums, including the Clark County Museum (1830 South Boulder Hwy. in nearby Henderson), the Las Vegas Art Museum (3333 W. Washington), the Las Vegas Natural History Museum (990 Las Vegas Blvd.), and the Nevada State Museum (700 Twin Lakes Drive). The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) has two fine cultural attractions to visit: the Museum of Natural History and the Alta Ham Fine Art Gallery, both at 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. The city's Zoo is located at 1775 North Rancho and is open daily from 9 am to 5 p.m. Commercial museums include the Liberace Museum and the newer attraction next door, the Bethany Celebrity Doll Museum -- think of it as a miniature wax museum. They're both located at Tropicana Blvd. and Spencer Street.

Shark Reef

One of the best family attractions in Las Vegas, Shark Reef -- at the Mandalay Bay Hotel -- is a large and dramatic aquarium featuring dangerous and unusual aquatic animals and fish from the world's tropical waters, Shark Reef takes visitors on a journey through what appears to be an ancient temple that has been slowly claimed by the sea and a sunken galleon ship where sharks lurk in the water.

There are close to 2,000 animals in Shark Reef. The inhabitants include ten different species of sharks, several varieties of tropical fish including angelfish, puffer fish, lion fish, and fox face fish -- some of which are poisonous. Reptiles and invertebrates are also found in the exhibits, including crocodiles, sea turtles, water monitors, eels, rays, and jellyfish.

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