|Downtown Vegas at night|
|Mike on a Hike|
|Dorine, Judy, Mike in Pinetop|
|On our hike|
|A tree-hugger at heart|
|Working on crafts, Pinetop|
|At Walmart in Show Low|
Recently I attended a class in Las Vegas, NV, and then, later in that same week, Dorine and I traveled to Pinetop, AZ for our annual "anniversary" trip with Mike and Judy. I flew out to Vegas on November 30 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving); I stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Paradise Road east of the Wynn (the old Desert Inn) golf course, which is also where my class was being offered. (The class, the Institute for Supply Management's "Administering Contracts: From Award to Completion," taught by a fellow named Robi Bendorf, was really good, if slightly overlong.) This was my first visit to Las Vegas in over eight years, and I was interested to look around and see how things had changed. I had a rental car, so I drove downtown on Sunday night to find a buffet in which to eat and to walk around Fremont Street. I ended up eating at the Golden Nugget buffet, although I might have done better going to Main Street Station.
I strolled through various casinos downtown and found I wasn't even remotely tempted to play blackjack, as I once liked to do. All of the downtown casinos were so dark inside that I could barely see; loud, thumping music blared from all sides; most of the casinos had at least one pit of scantily clad female dealers (the cocktail waitresses, what few of them there were, seemed to be modestly dressed by comparison); the principal thing being offered for sale, other than sex (or at least the prospect of it), seemed to be alcohol; the "Fremont Street Experience" light show was on continuously; and the entire pedestrian-only stretch of Fremont Street (between Main and Las Vegas Blvd.) was filled with street performers, musicians, and costumed superheroes and cartoon characters. I can honestly say that if downtown Vegas had, in 1995, been the freak show and sensory overload that it is today, I would never have been induced to sit down at a blackjack table, or probably even to make a return trip to Vegas. I can't even begin to fathom the ostensible marketing angle behind all these changes; the casinos must be targeting younger people -- I get that -- but is any of this stuff enticing anyone to gamble? If so, it wasn't apparent to me, as most of the people actually sitting at the tables or slot machines seemed to be in their 40s and 50s.
After class on Monday the 1st, I first went to the hotel fitness center, then showered and set out walking toward the Strip to get something to eat; I couldn't believe how far Paradise Road was from Las Vegas Blvd! The desk clerk at the hotel had told me that the dinner buffet at the Wynn was almost $50/person, which caused me to fear that the buffets at other nice hotels in the area (the Mirage, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace) would be equally expensive. Consequently, I ended up at the Outback Steakhouse located inside Casino Royale, where I ate a New York strip, a baked potato, and a salad. From there I walked to the Fashion Show Mall and wandered around there for a while; finally, I walked through Treasure Island (where I'd stayed 2-3 times back in the day), finding it to be just as dark and unappealing as downtown. Then I called it a night and walked back to my hotel. I'm sure I easily walked five miles that night, and this was after I'd already done almost three miles on the treadmill.
On Tuesday evening the 2nd, I went to the hotel gym again and then drove to the Las Vegas LDS Temple. I'm not sure exactly how long it had been since I'd last been there, but I know it was well before the Albuquerque Temple opened in 2000, almost fifteen years ago. I wanted to make the 7:00 pm endowment session, so I rushed out, going north on Las Vegas Blvd. and then east on Bonanza Road to its end. I had a migraine en route, which made it difficult to see where I was going for a while. I was delighted to learn that the 7:00 session was a Spanish-language session, although I had to reassure several people that, indeed, I could manage in Spanish. Afterward, I drove to Sam's Town, located on the old Boulder Highway at Flamingo Road, intending to eat at the buffet; unfortunately, it was already closed when I got there, so I ate at TGI Friday's instead. Sam's Town was the one and only casino where I might have been tempted to play blackjack if I'd had any money in my wallet -- it was well-lit, had a reasonable noise level, and had hand-dealt double-deck games with $5.00 table minimums and 3:2 payouts on blackjacks. I didn't, however, feel like I'd missed anything when I left without playing.
On Wednesday afternoon the 3rd, I had a couple of hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. I once liked the buffet at Mandalay Bay, on the southern end of the Strip, so I headed over there to see how expensive it was. It turned out to have a relatively modest $32.95 price tag (only $3 more than the last time I was there), but...it didn't open until 4:30 pm, and I didn't think I had time to wait. So I left, getting stuck northbound on the Service Road to Hell and not finding a way back to the Strip for several miles. By the time I got to the rental-car return, I was so distracted that at first I forgot to fill up the car with gas; I had to leave again and find a gas station before finally dropping off the car. McCarran Airport was jammed with people, but I found a Pei Wei in which to have dinner, and my flight back to Albuquerque, though delayed, was less than half-full. Las Vegas has definitely lost its shine for me!
On the late afternoon of Friday the 5th, Dorine and I hopped in the car with Mike and Judy and headed out to Arizona. We took a route that my dad used to like -- west on I-40 to Exit 89, then south on NM 117 to Quemado (a winding road that made Judy, and especially Dorine, carsick on this trip), then west on U.S. 60 to Springerville. After stopping in Springerville to eat at a Chinese restaurant, we passed through Eagar and headed west on AZ 260 to Pinetop, checking into the Worldmark resort around 10 pm. It was a nice place, as are all the Worldmark resorts we've stayed in with Mike and Judy (who are Worldmark members). We didn't do much while we were there -- that night, Mike and I watched a Clint Eastwood movie, Blood Work, while the girls watched Maleficent on the other TV. The next day, after I went to the resort's small fitness room and ran, we drove in to Show Low to shop for food at Walmart and to get Blizzards at Dairy Queen. In the afternoon, we went hiking in the woods behind the resort before watching the BYU-Hawaii basketball game on TV. Alas, the two nights passed all too quickly, and before I knew it we were back on the road to go home; strangely, the drive home seemed shorter than the drive down.