Area 51 and the Alien Head


Guest writer Tasja Dubenko takes us on a modern-day treasure hunt into the forbidden desert….

A year ago, my friend Crysti succumbed to a new-found obsession called geocaching. To many it’s known as the world’s largest scavenger hunt. A few months ago she turned me on to the idea of trying her new addiction. At first I was apprehensive of such a “frivolous hobby”, but with the right company it could be an enjoyable past-time.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

For those who aren’t familiar with geocaching, it’s basically treasure hunting for adults. You follow the coordinates on your smartphone’s geocaching app and look for hidden containers. Those vessels can hold anything from undesirable trinkets to something worthwhile…or even “trackables”.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

Trackables are objects or coins with a code on them. The code can tell you (through the app) where they have been previously placed by other geocachers. Sometimes you will find trackables that have traveled all over the world.

My first find was a swift but exhilarating experience. Crysti found hers instantly but I took a good ten minutes or so of searching. When I found it, placed in a birdhouse behind some trees, there an instant reward. I popped the bottom loose and watched a scroll of paper with some miscellaneous items fall out.

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After about a month of accompanying Crysti on her adventures, she turned to me and said, “What would you think about flying down to Las Vegas, renting a car and driving the Extraterrestrial Highway to the Alien Head to geocache?”

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

                                           Photo by geocacher JBase…

There are 2,000 geocaches along the E.T. Highway and fifty-one are in the shape of an alien head in the middle of the desert. At first when she asked I thought to myself how crazy that sounded. I was convinced as a novice that there was no way I could accomplish such a task.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

However, the impulsive and adventurous side of me whispered the words, “Let’s do it!”. Within the very next moment we had already booked our flight and hotel and had reserved a car. Fast forward a couple months later, we had only two hours of sleep each night for three out of our six-day Vegas trip.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

When the big day arrived, we woke up at 2 am and grabbed our backpack (that had been packed the night before) and drove our car two and a half hours into the desert. We had wanted to watch the sun rise over the mountains and grab a few caches in the dark before reaching the Alien Head.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

The plan was to complete the three-four hour hike before 10 am…when the heat would reach an unbearable temperature. Crysti is worry-free and a thorough planner whereas I prepare for obstacles, potential dangers and am a more “go with the flow” type of person. Despite these differences, we make an excellent team leaving no potential situations unconsidered.

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I’d had my reservations about the trip but what happened next I couldn’t prepare for. By the time we had driven an hour and a half into the desert, we were far from the nearest gas station or town. The view was absolutely incredible. We had just enough light from the moon to see the outline of the mountains and grab a few quick caches under its brilliance.

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                    Our first geocache of the trip on the E.T. highway…

After ten or so caches, we could stand on one side of the mountain range to watch the moon slowly begin to peak behind the mountain top while turning 180 degrees towards another mountain range and watch the sun begin to rise. At that moment I looked at my friend in awe and said, “You can’t buy experiences like this. You have to go live it.”

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

             The moon slowing beginning to hide behind the mountains…

It was truly remarkable to witness the ending of night and beginning of day simultaneously in the heart of nature. Another hour or so later, we finally reached our destination at the Alien Head in the most desolate area I had ever dreamed of experiencing.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

             We got to watch the sun rise in the desert. What an experience…

There was nothing but the land and the highway we drove on, which stretched miles far away from our hiking spot. Our pictures did us a disservice attempting to capture the raw beauty of nature at its finest. With that being said, it was an experience not for the novice hiker or geocacher.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

The hike took us roughly three hours (which is above average) in 112-degree weather. We came fully prepared with our fifty-pound backpack stocked with water, sunblock and some rocks with alien heads we had painted onto them to place at a few of the cache spots.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

The desert was mysteriously quiet. Aside from the sound of your own footsteps or a lizard running across your path, the only sound you could hear was your own blood pumping and circulating throughout your body. It was a place where I had pushed my physical and mental limits while obtaining clarity I had never previously experienced.

However, there was something else about this barren area that seemed to hold a silent secret or contain an eerie vibe about it. I had heard before that this particular area has a reputation for multiple UFO sightings and having unusual events occur. During the first thirty minutes or so of our hike, it had been complete silence between us as we were fixated on our goal.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

Suddenly, I stopped walking and turned to her and asked, “Do you hear that?”. She stopped to listen. “I don’t hear anything,” she replied. “I swear I heard a man yelling at us,” I stated.

I turned 360 degrees, taking in everything around me. “Obviously there is no one here,” I concluded. I had sworn I heard distinctive but inaudible yelling, yet nothing was within miles of us as far as the eye could see.

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We pressed on for another forty-five minutes and I forgot about the event until Crysti abruptly stopped. “Do you hear that?” she asked. I closely listened and heard nothing. “No, I don’t hear anything.” “That’s so weird, because I swear I heard someone yelling at us now too,” she remarked.

This unusual event had struck an unsettling feeling for both of us for many reasons. Clearly, we were the only ones out there. Not another soul was around for miles and if there was, we would have noticed long before they would’ve been able to approach us. At first I had thought maybe we were experiencing some sort of “delusion” from being out in the desert.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

However, the other thing that struck me as odd was that we previously drank plenty of water before our hike as well as during. So dehydration wasn’t a concern, nor was the duration since we hadn’t been out there long before it happened the first time.

We did not have any more experiences like that, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something beyond my comprehension lurking in the back of my mind. The longer we hiked, the more thankful I became that Crysti had downloaded a map on her phone to use offline since we anticipated losing service. Everything began to look the same the longer we pressed on.

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                    A little unsettling to find in the middle of the desert…

I couldn’t help but wonder if some unimaginable or sci-fi things actually took place around this area. Just as the thought crossed my mind, something caught my eye. It was some sort of skeleton. I have been a vet technician for seven years and it didn’t resemble any dog or cat skeleton. It quite possibly could have belonged to a deer, but there was something peculiar about it. There was only half of the pelvis and seven vertebrae attached.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

                                      The things you find in the desert…

The rest of the skeleton was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, we hadn’t seen anything living except the lizards. But earlier in the day while driving I had seen two separate cows along the highway. Both were deceased with a perfect split down their sagittal planes.

The cows were perfectly hollow with no bodily organs or parts. It was simply the skeleton and skin. The fur had been sliced open with such precision that I couldn’t help wondering what had caused their deaths. As I gazed at the skeleton in front of me now, I wondered the same.

Area 51 Alien Head Geocaching

At the end of our journey we met our goal of all fifty-one geocaches. And we’d accomplished it while walking ten miles under a blazing sun in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It was unlike any experience I had ever had.

As we left in our car it was all I could do to look in the rear view mirror for a last glance at the untamed ground we had just covered.

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I turned to my dear friend as a smile crept upon my face and exclaimed breathlessly, “I can’t believe we just did that”.

Photos: Tasja Dubenko except where otherwise indicated

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Creepy Chills Lie Behind the Rose-colored Glass of “Lucky Dragon Hotel”


A surreal, eerie experience awaits those who check into the ill-fated casino resort…

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Two short years ago, the Lucky Dragon Casino Hotel was a beacon of hope for the troubled north end of Las Vegas Boulevard. With stalled projects like Fontainebleau and Echelon Place (the future Resorts World) as constant reminders and the SLS Las Vegas already stalling, this Asian-themed boutique hotel could very well have been a much-needed jump start.

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Things looked even more promising when an early-December 2016 opening date got tossed out the window. To the surprise of just about everyone, Lucky Dragon‘s doors opened on November 19th, creating an avalanche of media hype, great PR…and once again, hope for this section of the Strip.

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The 203-room casino hotel offered three restaurants, a tea-garden lounge and quick-bite outlet as well as gambling that was designed to appeal to tourists from the Far East. Despite initial problems in getting the project financed and completed, Lucky Dragon was constructed around many Asian concepts of good fortune. Decor, lack of “unlucky” numeral four and feng shui were integral to Lucky Dragon’s design.

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By February of the following year, it was clear that luck had already begun to bleed away from the fledgling property. Media announcements hyped “improvements” to dining and gaming options. Dragon’s Alley food court was shut down to accommodate changes in the floor plan. High-end gaming was added to attract more cash flow.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                      Dragon’s Alley was an early victim of “improvements”…

Sadly, a month later Lucky Dragon‘s staff underwent a massive cut, with everyone from top managers to waiters being let go. As legal and financial troubles began to mount, live entertainment was added that summer as a new draw. Nevertheless, interest in the short-lived sensation had fallen away to essentially nothing.

By the time I finally got around to visiting the property last October, it was eerie, silent and virtually empty. Interestingly, the date was October 1st, 2017, the evening of the Las Vegas Massacre at Mandalay Bay‘s events center. So you can imagine that the entire night is burned into my memory…and this was a creepy way to start it off.

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As you can see from these photos, the casino and restaurants were nearly devoid of guests. What had gone wrong? Was it the unusual location in a sketchy neighborhood? Could the theme just be too targeted towards a specific demographic? Perhaps the place just sucked.

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Walking around the casino building was such a downer that I quickly departed without even taking the skybridge over to the hotel tower (they’re two separate buildings, which could also be a factor in its failure).

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By January of this year, the entire casino and restaurant operations were shut down, leaving the hotel and lobby lounge as the only survivors. How it has continued to function in its current state is anyone’s guess. Despite this, I’ve been itching to stay at the Dragon ever since…just out of morbid curiosity. After all, it could be quite a thrill, especially after just watching a full season of American Horror Story – Hotel.

Although this writer tends to fluctuate randomly between adventure (skydiving over the Vegas desert) and playing safe (no SAW Escape Room Experience for me, thank you) the idea of spending the night in a nearly-abandoned hotel sounded intriguing. So when an offer came up on Agoda.com for $24 a night with no resort fees, I swooped in like a vampire after a nubile virgin.

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                   A view of the parking garage from the unattended valet area…

I arrived into town on the morning of June 14th, weary from lack of sleep and needing a nap before a function that evening. Phoning ahead to see what the soonest check-in time could be, the agent told me to come over now. There would be no additional fees for early arrival. Nice!

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I headed straight over from the airport, found a parking spot in their convenient (and free) parking garage and made my way into the east structure. This is where things began to get ominous, as you can see from the photos.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The former casino was dark, dreary and completely silent. Makeshift signs directed guests towards the opposite building via an enclosed skybridge. Access to restrooms and other areas was blocked off, not that anyone would want to explore, would they? (heh heh)…

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       Reverse angle of the skybridge and casino (in the distance) from the hotel corridor…

At this point I’d encountered no one….not a single living soul. The silence was off-putting and in sharp contrast to the bright colors and modern decor that awaited me when I entered the lobby. A short walk past the concierge’s desk (which was actually manned) and I was facing the agent with whom I’d spoken on the phone.

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It was clear from the lack of patrons why a room was available at this hour. Aside from the back of a head near the reception desk (pictured above), I hadn’t passed a single guest.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Without a casino or any restaurants, the resort was likely to be slow…but completely dead? I’d never seen a Vegas hotel this devoid of activity and foot traffic. Even the Imperial Palace at its skeevy worst had always been packed with bargain travelers. So where was everyone?

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Behind me was the deserted Cha Garden, a lounge and bar that specializes in specialty teas. The western wall is a series of glass doors that open up to a splashing pool, waterfall and garden. The decor is modern, soothing and of course, very feng shui. A small breakfast and coffee are served here each morning, included with the resort fee.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

And speaking of that resort fee, the agent attempted to charge it to my credit card, despite the “resort-fee inclusive” offer I booked under. She claimed that there was no such offer to her knowledge but my printout proved otherwise. And then came a lengthy wait as the clerk took my paperwork to an unseen manager in the back.

Upon her return, I was advised that the manager had been unable to reach Agoda and that they’d make a decision later as to whether I’d be assessed the resort fee ($28 plus tax). Or so they thought it was up to them. I’m not a cheapskate, but a deal’s a deal.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I was finally assigned room 318 (despite being the only guest, the check-in process took nearly fifteen minutes) and headed back to the elevator. The hotel’s third floor was bright, clean and cheerful. So was the king-bed accommodations. Linens and furniture were in great shape, the carpeting looked fresh and the walls were decorated in soft, soothing colors.

In-room amenities were sparse but sufficient. TV, ironing board (iron by request), dual closets, clock radio and a digital safe are standard, as were a writing desk and easy chair. Two tiny bottles of water were stocked next to an ice bucket. There was no in-room coffeemaker, but your daily java is available for free in the lobby during morning hours.

The bathroom was simple but spotless and sleek. I especially liked the inclusion of a pair of insignia-branded robes. There were no toiletries provided except for a small tube of basic shampoo and two bars of soap. The walk-in shower was large and had a stationary head at a generous level, often a problem for people of my height or higher.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Aside from the unnerving quiet, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the constant pink glow that flooded my quarters via the rose-colored glass. It gave a nauseating sensation of being captive inside a strange glass cage…a suffocating, queasy feeling that was compounded by the less-than-attractive view. So the curtains were drawn closed and remained that way for the duration of my visit.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

After a nap and shower it was time to attend a function at a nearby resort. Once again, not a sound to be heard or a soul to say hello while strolling through the premises. At least this time the lighting had been turned up inside the vacant casino. That evening when I returned, the common areas were still silent…except for two somewhat rough-looking guys who seemed to have wandered in just to peek around.

With nobody to monitor things of this nature, the entire casino tower and hotel corridors are basically a free-for-all. It might have been reassuring to encounter at least some type of security presence. So I definitely don’t recommend staying at Lucky Dragon if you’re a solo female…or anyone who’s easily spooked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

When suffling downstairs the next morning for some caffeine, there were actually other guests doing the same. I’d literally been here for over nine hours without seeing another patron. There was only a handful of guests, but all seemed pleasant, mannered and reserved…a bit surprising given the ludicrously-cheap rates.

The same agent was manning the reservation desk again. She advised me that management had been unable to reach the third-party booking site but wasn’t going to charge me the disputed resort fee. I let her know that I’d be showering and departing very soon, so the young lady kindly processed my check-out.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                               Taxi for one, please…

Without any crowds to speak of, it’s an easy in-out process at Lucky Dragon, which was a big plus to me. There are no long taxi lines, Uber/LYFT hordes or buses to maneuver around. The Sahara Avenue location just off the interstate makes it easy to get to and from the airport.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

There are plenty of reasons to stay at Lucky Dragon along with many downsides. I’ve already booked two future stays here but am almost certain it will be completely closed before year number two is up.

Attempts to make additional reservations on their website result in error messages, no matter what date combinations I entered. Also, a few third-party sites now offer this troubling type of message:

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                            Lastminutetravel.com

The north end of Las Vegas Boulevard may or may not be undergoing a renaissance, depending on whom you ask, but it’s unlikely that Lucky Dragon Hotel Casino will be part of its rebirth. Despite all the excitement this little place once brought to the city, its future looks anything but rosy.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

If you’re curious, adventurous, unafraid and would like to try a stay at Lucky Dragon, give them a call at 702.889.8018. Or you might have more success than I did booking at their website. The address is 300 West Sahara Avenue, adjacent to the Golden Steer Steakhouse.

Lucky Dragon Hotel is currently the best lodging bargain in Las Vegas. It’s new, extremely comfortable and very, very strange. Give it a try! Just don’t wait too long…the flaming breath inside this weird, unlucky little dragon will most likely be extinguished very soon.

And one more failed north-Strip resort will sit amongst the others in the dark.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Photos: Sammasseur, exterior shots by Greg C., American Horror Story: Hotel still from FX 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shark Sightings Stun Tourists On Las Vegas Boulevard


Palms’ reinvention lights up Strip via Flo Advertising mobile LED billboards…

When you visit the city as often as I do, you tend to become…shall we say…jaded by most of the sights and sounds around you. You can only gawk at the Bellagio fountains, the Luxor pyramid or New York NY‘s twisting Big Apple Roller Coaster so many times before you start to walk right by with perhaps a casual glance.

So whenever something new and exciting catches my gaze, it’s a memorable Sin City experience. That’s what happened last month when heading over to Planet Hollywood Casino after taking in the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden‘s spring display (always pretty…and pretty much the same as the last time).

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

While approaching the crosswalk between Cosmopolitan and Miracle Mile Shops, I was stunned by what appeared to be a giant set of teeth about to devour a man’s hand. Cue the theme from “JAWS”.

It took a moment to absorb what I was seeing…then realize that I was witnessing FLO Advertising in action. You may have caught my previous piece on FLO and how their mobile digital billboards were drawing the morbidly-curious and adventurous types to the Official SAW Escape Room Experience.

FLO Advertising SAW Escape Experience

Taking in the stunned reactions from pedestrians at the busy intersection of four major hotels was, I’ve gotta say, pretty gratifying. It’s one thing to write about a cool concept but something altogether visceral to witness it in action.

That’s what makes FLO’s approach so effective…and why Stations Casinos has entrusted FLO Advertising to publicize their reinvention of Palms Casino. Here are the specs:

FLO’s mobile digital billboards are 23% larger than the conventional mobile digital billboards you’ve been seeing on the Strip. Their electronic signage is staggering 10,000 NITS brightness which is 25% brighter than the competition. Their state of the art technology is instantly update-able and flexible, allowing for unlimited creativity and immediate response to marketing demands.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

At this point you’ve gotta be wondering what any of this has to do with sharks. Well, the predator in question is the main attraction at a new Palms lounge called Unknown Bar. Right in the heart of the casino’s reimagined gaming floor, Unknown Bar‘s unusual shark sculpture is called The Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded).

This eighteen-year-old work has never been publicly exhibited before, but now it’s the centerpiece of creator Damien Hirst‘s outlandish lounge concept. Yes, the British artist who made the sculpture from a real tiger shark (and lots of formaldehyde) also designed the bar space as well.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

Hirst has been known to raise eyebrows (and ruffle the feathers of animal-rights advocates) with his use of real creatures as art. But stirring up controversy is intentional in the new Palms ‘tude. Check it out:

This daring video reflects that gutsy approach. It depicts vandalism and arson of the Palms as a reason to celebrate. Not the kind of advertising campaign you’d typically expect to see in today’s turbulent society. But hey, points for originality!

As cool and eye-catching as the video is, it’s one thing to view it on your smartphone or PC and something far different to catch it super-lifesize and super-bright while walking the heart of the Strip. Take my word for it…FLO technology is stunning with the naked eye.

The “From Dust To Gold” renovation is covering just about every nook and cranny of Palms. Top-floor funspots like Apex Social Club and The View will compete for your attention with ground-level Rojo Lounge and 24-hour Tonic.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

On the dining front, beloved Cafe 6 at Palms Place has given way to Laguna Pool House and Kitchen, expanding the venue beyond gourmet burgers to full breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The poolside location is gorgeous and tempting, but keep your shirt on…the elevated menu makes it clear that this isn’t a swimsuit-appropriate eatery.

Both the buffet and 24-hour diner have been given top to bottom renovations and new names, too. Out with the world’s largest Hooters, in with Scotch 80 Prime, a fine-dining destination with a focus on rare whiskeys from Scotland.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

Along with new dining and entertainment outlets, the common areas, guestrooms, infamous Sky Villas and even the parking garages are getting major overhauls. It’s all in an effort to bring Cosmopolitan-style coolness to the off-Strip legend while offering Stations-style value to tourists and locals alike.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

With all of this newness in the works, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Palms Casino Resort has teamed up with FLO Advertising to spread the word. Boasting the biggest and brightest mobile billboards in the city, FLO assures that visitors will take notice.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

So the next time you’re fishing for a little off-Strip excitement, hop on a bus, taxi or LYFT to check out the changes at Palms. And keep your eyes open for that shark. But don’t worry about getting chomped…he’s only going with the FLO.

FLO Advertising Palms Casino

Information about FLO Advertising Mobile Digital Billboards is available on their website. Click here to learn more or request a quote. 

Photos: Sammasseur, Palms Casino Resort via Facebook   

Videos: Palms Casino Resort, FLO Advertising

 

Mr. Olympia Fitness Expo Will Leave You Breathless


Two-day event at the Las Vegas Convention Center is a jackpot of thrills…

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Earlier this week I introduced you to the annual Mr. Olympia events in Las Vegas, and today I’ll be exploring the most fun a fit guy or gal can have in Sin City. By that I mean the Olympia Fitness Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center. So bring an empty gym bag and get ready to fill it with swag.

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Friday and Saturday from 10 am through 5 pm is where you’ll find the world’s biggest collection of fitness fans. The Olympia Fitness Expo draws thousands from around the globe. For a $30 admission price (or $50 for a two-day pass), visitors can completely envelop themselves in every aspect of physical fitness culture.

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Dozens of booths and exhibitors line two levels of the Convention Center floor and it’s anything but a static business presentation. Both sides of the space have areas for physical competitions such as power lifting, martial arts, Tae Kwan Do, kickboxing, wrestling, karate, Olympic weightlifting and wheelchair championships.

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On the stage are contests for Men’s and Bikini Modeling, judging and awards for Men’s and Women’s Physique and the very “Vegas-y” pole competition. But the masses gravitate towards the vendor exhibits, where true paydirt awaits.

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Upon entry, attendees are given an enormous shopping bag which quickly becomes filled with giveaways. We’re talking protein powders, energy drinks, pre-workout mixes and pills, skin products, snack bars, weight-loss stimulants, shakers, t-shirts and more.

Those who purchase VIP packages get to enter an hour before the general public and are able to snag the best goodies on both days (I even got a zippered hoodie and five workout shirts). Better freebies go to those who take on physical challenges like chin-ups, arm curl contests, high jumps…and giant bowling?

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The photo below is just a sampling of what I collected while making my rounds and meeting the vendors. Most merchants require an email or Facebook registration to collect a sample bag and those lines are usually the longest…because they give away the best stuff.

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For those who find it hard to stay on their fitness plan when visiting Vegas, consider planning a trip around the Olympia weekend this year. It takes place every September, is a lot more fun than you’d think, and you’ll come home a winner. Just remember to bring an extra suitcase for all those freebies.

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                            Myself looking small next to the big boys…

Olympia Fitness Expo 2018 will be held September 14th and 15th at the Las Vegas Convention Center. No strollers are allowed at the venue. For a schedule of events and tickets, click here

Photos: Sammasseur

From Mormon to Male Revue: One Man’s Evolution, Vegas-style


Chippendales performer Ryan Worley’s solitary road to redemption…

Sin City’s adult production shows have been around for decades. In other cities, sexy performers might be viewed with a certain disdain, but here they are regarded with a unique reverence.

The showgirls of Jubilee! and Folies Bergere will always be iconic. The men of Aussie Heat are genuine bonafide trained dancers of impressive skill. The ladies of SEXXY and FANTASY work hard for the money. And then there are the Chippendales…a macho, muscular troupe whose name is synonymous with classy male entertainment.

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       Ryan and fellow Chipp James Davis don purple to support LGBTQ youth…

In a recent article I called the men of ChippendalesShirtless Angels of Charity“. They do indeed spend plenty of time contributing wonderful work for the Las Vegas community. But first and foremost, they’re a hunky bunch of guys who grind out sets in the gym before bumping and grinding onstage.

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Twenty-seven year old Ryan Worley never imagined that one day he’d be taking off his clothes for a paying audience. Raised within the strict guidelines and culture of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Worley was as far from Chippendales stock as one could imagine.

Yet we don’t always know what’s around the corner or lies over the horizon. And Ryan’s life so far has been anything but predictable.

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                         Ryan (far left) in a family photo with his siblings…

I was born in California on August 6th, 1990 and am the second oldest of four kids. We were raised in the Mormon religion and devoted to the church. After high school I was dating a girl who was not a Mormon…and being with her made me not want to serve my two-year mission.

Not volunteering for missionary work is very frowned upon within the culture. People will go as far as to shunning you for it…and that was the case for me.

Instead, I went to college at Brigham Young University in Idaho. This is a Mormon school and they have three campuses (Provo, Utah is the largest and most popular). I completed three semesters there and eventually transferred to Utah Valley University.

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While attending Utah Valley University, Ryan lived with a friend whose father was a Mormon Bishop. It was clear that, despite avoiding missionary service and not being very active any longer, his exposure to the Latter Day Saints Movement was deeply entrenched in every aspect of his life.

At the age of twenty, Worley was attracted to a fellow employee at the pizza parlor where he moonlighted. This young Mormon lady was active in the church and got Ryan to attend again. Their relationship would set the stage for some major obstacles ahead.

We dated for two years…and weren’t “the best Mormons”. As you may know, there are strict rules against sex before marriage. When we decided to wed, she wanted to have our ceremony in the Temple. I personally didn’t care, but it was important to her.

In order to do have a proper Mormon service, we followed the ritual to get “clean”. We met with our church’s leader, confessed our pre-marital sex, followed the required steps and waited the appropriate amount of time.

And once we got married, the sex just stopped.

Physical rejection from his new spouse was devastating to this virile young man, especially after all he’d done to make things “right” within their culture. But Ryan wasn’t about to give up on the relationship, so he sought out ways to set things back on course.

She had no desire to be intimate with me. I took it personally, as any man in that situation would. I brought it up several times but she didn’t see it as an issue. We spent three years trying to solve the problem. Marriage is very sacred to me and divorce runs through my family…I wanted to be the one to break the curse.

We went to the doctor because I assumed it was hormonal. All of her blood levels came back normal. I tried other things like reading the book The Five Love Languages. (a self-help manual that’s been on the NY Times best-seller list since 2009). I made sure that everything was perfect for her in every way.

Someone once told me when we first married that the number one cause of divorce is unmet expectations. That sentence resonated inside me. I made sure that all her expectations were met. I bought her a house, we had cars and I worked sixty hours a week at two jobs. It was so hard, but it gave her the time she wanted.

I’d done everything I could and felt the issue didn’t come from my end. She wanted to do counseling but everything a counselor would have us do would seem like homework and it wouldn’t feel genuine. Something like sex needs to be intimate…not forced.

That is when I got into fitness. If I looked good then she would want to be with me again, right? That isn’t what happened, but I did find my love for the fitness industry.

The gym became my sanctuary and a place where I could let go.

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Throwing himself into the lifestyle of intense fitness was very therapeutic. While building his body, Ryan acquired a new level of self-esteem which was critical in this period of rejection. The change to his physique was astounding. Still, it wasn’t enough to win back desire from his young bride.

Three years of being rejected took its toll…I felt so ugly and unwanted. She began to feel more like a sister or a roommate than my actual wife. I told her that I wanted a divorce and she didn’t put up much of a fight. We sold our house and she went back to southern California…I moved north to the Salt Lake City area.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ryan dove head-first into the fitness industry, serving as a Fitness Nutrition Specialist for a company called Complete Nutrition. While adjusting to a newly-single life in his small apartment, he was helping others get their own lives back on track. Knowing how to design customized meal plans for clients was invaluable when Worley planned to enter his first bodybuilding competition.

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Spending hours at home on his stationary bike, Ryan discovered the documentary The Perfect Physique on Netflix (readers may recall that I covered the red-carpet premiere of this film at Palms Casino during the 2015 Mr. Olympia).

Ever since I got into fitness I’d wanted to do modeling and end up on a cover of a magazine. TJ Hoban, who is a well-known fitness model, was talking in the film about the difficulties he’d faced, like when he had a serious onstage accident during a Chippendales performance back in the 90’s.

I’d heard about Chippendales before but didn’t know exactly what it was or what it entailed. What I did know was that if my idol TJ Hoban was part of it, then it must be something great.

I went online and immediately filled out an application, submitted a few pictures and told a little about myself…but I never actually expected to hear back from them.

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                                        Actor/model/fitness star TJ Hoban…

Even though his own performance experience was limited to a small Mormon singing/dancing group, Ryan was bursting with excitement…and hope. After applying, he joked with his Complete Nutrition employer that if Chippendales hired him he’d need to give notice.

Two weeks later, an email arrived from the show’s General Manager for an invitation-only audition:

I needed to rent a car for the drive from Utah to Vegas because my own was so crappy. Nobody knew about the audition. When I arrived early in the day, it was straight to the gym to pump up and look my best.

I was one of about fifteen guys there…and they all looked incredible. Kristen Makhathini (the show’s General Manager at the time) led the audition and had us take our shirts off for head shots.

We got on stage and began learning choreography. This was all very new to me. After about ten minutes, they split us into groups and mine was first. We ran through the routine a couple of times, then Kristen said “Alright guys, we are going to start cutting people so if you hear your name we don’t need you anymore and thank you for coming out”. The next sentence made my stomach drop: “Everyone in the first group except for Ryan can go home. Thank you”.

These other guys had flown in from all over the world and it was over for them in less than twenty minutes! My heart was beating out of my chest! They narrowed us down to four of us and said we’d know in a week. There were two spots, one for touring and another for the Vegas show. The tour manager came up to me and asked if I was able to get a passport. “I think I want to steal you for the tour” she said.

My mind went crazy…why did she just say “steal”? Did that mean I got the Vegas spot? That evening I watched the show for the first time, drove back to Utah overnight and never told anyone about it.

When the call came that he’d be a part of the Vegas production, it was time to shock his boss with the news of what he’d done…and to give that resignation notice they’d kidded about.

Along with this sudden change in his life’s course was the realization that he’d be stirring up controversy with his conservative friends and family.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

When I asked him what kind of reactions he received after telling people about Chippendales, Ryan sighed and took a moment to collect his thoughts. He was reluctant to slam the culture he’d been a part of for so long, but felt that he’d somehow broken free of someone else’s control and was ready to speak out about it.

My family has had a rough time with my new career but I knew they probably would. They don’t fully understand it or know what it is.

I’m no longer a member of the Mormon church but my friends and loved ones are and I want to respect that. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the truth is that they teach you to be close-minded. I remember how my siblings and I were treated after our parents divorced. We sat in the back of the church, alone, like outcasts among our own people.

Mormons have their own stance on issues and you have to accept them as yours. When I grew up, I found myself asking “Are these values mine because I’m naturally a good person or were they were taught to me by the church?. Even now I’m not sure, but my mom did bring me up to be a respectful man.

Worley went on to discuss things about the Mormon culture that still concern him. Matters like their unequal treatment of minorities and the LGBTQ community. He feels that’s why a lot of Americans are now leaving the church…and why it currently targets impressionable third-world countries.

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But now that he’s found a new “family” with his Chippendales brothers and their socially-positive work, Ryan Worley is ready to move forward and continue making things better for himself…and others.

I’ve been a Chippendale for almost a year now and love everything it has to offer. I get to do charity work in the community and appear on numerous TV shows. It feels like my years of struggle are over. This is my big break…I go to work and people cheer for me!

I reached out to TJ Hoban and Kandice King (directer of The Perfect Physique), told them my story and how much that documentary changed my life. They seemed very happy to have helped make my life a little better.

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After interviewing Ryan for this piece, I attended a performance of Chippendales at the Rio. Sitting in front of me, right up against the stage, was a group of his buddies. They’d come to Vegas to see for themselves what their longtime friend was now a part of. And they cheered just as wildly as everyone else in the audience.

Watching Ryan’s friends gather around him in the lounge after the show was a thrill to witness and experience. This young man had finally gained confidence and acceptance from his peers. And he’d done it on his own terms.

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“I’ve always felt like I was meant for big things and want to influence people in a positive way. Maybe my story can do the same for others”.

                                                                                                    Ryan Worley

You can read more about Ryan and his current projects in my column “Hot Guys of Vegas – Eye of the Beholder“.

Chippendales performs nightly at Rio Las Vegas. Click here for showtimes and tickets via our friend at VegasFool.com.

Photos: Sammasseur, Ryan Worley, The Perfect Physique, Chippendales via Facebook

 

 

 

Mr. Olympia: When Muscle Comes To Vegas, Fit Happens


A look back at my coverage of the 2015 Mr. Olympia competition and red carpet premiere of The Perfect Physique…

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As an admitted fitness buff, I always look forward to yearly Mr Olympia competitions…and especially the related events. They’re a massive convergence of like-minded individuals with a culture all their own. And for a few days a year, Las Vegas is one big fitness retreat.

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The extended weekend is packed like an overstuffed gym bag, with thousands of physique, bodybuilding, fitness and modeling enthusiasts competing, teaching, inspiring….and selling lots of products. Each year is bigger and better, and in 2015 I was right smack dab in the heart of it, representing the press for the first time.

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It should be mentioned how tough it is to get official media credentials for Mr. Olympia access and coverage. It’s an arduous and time-consuming procedure (three years of applying until finally getting my first approval).

Being a fledgling site made getting credentials even more difficult, so it was an honor to attend alongside the “big-boy” media outlets of the world. It also didn’t hurt that one of my photos was used in a two-page spread for the December 2013 Mr. Olympia issue of FLEX Magazine (toot toot!).

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But, I digress. After picking up my official press kit and badge at Orleans Casino (the host hotel), it was off to Brendan Theaters inside The Palms. This was for the world premiere of the docu-drama The Perfect Physique.

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                     Matt Christianer, David Morin and director Kandice King…

Once again, I was lucky to be one of only five media outlets to photograph the official red carpet proceedings and the only member of the press to party with the cast and director afterward. It’s doubtful that Ghostbar at The Palms ever hosted such an eye-catching crowd before (present company excluded).

The Perfect Physique is this generation’s answer to Pumping Iron. It explores the lives of fitness/physique competitors, misconceptions of being “shallow” and what drives these athletes to dedicate every moment of their existence to their bodies.

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                                         Actor and fitness model TJ Hoban…

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                     Fitness stars Matthew Christianer and Heather Schneider…

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                                      Fitness star Toth Atilla (left) and a friend…

It’s also dedicated to fitness superstar Greg Plitt, who was tragically killed in an unrelated photo shoot after filming was completed.

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                                                  Greg Plitt 1977-2014

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The movie is emotional, raw, revealing, unexpectedly uplifting and often quite funny. It’s directed by prodigy Kandice King, who produced her first film at 18 years of age. The Perfect Physique was screened in major metro areas with the cast and director via a modified roadshow theatrical release. It is now available for streaming on Netflix., and I was honored to have a quote from this article posted on the DVD/blu-ray boxes.

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The following morning was the launch of official Mr. Olympia proceedings, with a press conference featuring all qualifying competitors for the main event on Saturday night. Much like the theatrical match-ups before boxing and pro wrestling matches, the Olympia press conference is a lot of bravado, self-praise and rah-rah to get the audience pumped up. It’s always free to the public, and the Orleans Theater was packed to the max.

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My favorite part of the weekend is always the Fitness Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center. Held Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm, it’s an all-out festival of fitness stars, products, demonstrations and competitions. It really has to be seen to be believed.

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For those who don’t follow Mr. Olympia, Seattle native Phillip Heath was going for his fifth consecutive win. His nemesis Kai Greene did not enter, and depending on the source you believe, was either banned from competing or refused to sign his contract to compete.

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                             Myself with seven-time champion Phil Heath in 2013

At the end of the night, Heath won his fifth trophy and a $400,00.00 prize. As usual, he and his entourage would party the night away at Wynn/Encore’s XS Nightclub. And Heath would return again in 2016 for crown number six.

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I, like always, will be back this year to give you all the details when Phil Heath goes for trophy number eight. Don’t miss out…order your tickets now.

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This year’s Mr. Olympia Competition and Fitness Expo weekend runs September 13th through the 16th. Tickets, schedules and information are available by clicking here

Photos: Sammasseur, publicity still via The Perfect Physique

2018’s Star Trek Convention is a Galaxy of Discovery and Thrills


Bold adventures await those who attend Creation Entertainment’s annual event at Rio Las Vegas…

Not all Sin City conventions are stately affairs with sport coats, lanyards and clipboards. Freewheeling gatherings like the Mr. Olympia Competition and Fitness Expo appeal to thrill-seeking tourists and locals alike, amping up the fun with excitement, merchandise opportunities and celebrity encounters.

One of my favorites is the official Star Trek Convention by Creation Entertainment, held annually at Rio Las Vegas. This star-packed weekend draws thousand of fans from all over the world and is always well worth the …er, trek.

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This year’s takes place from August 1st-5th. Here’s their official announcement:

After the unqualified success of our 2017 show we couldn’t be more excited to announce and open up The Official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018!

This show will continue what makes ST:LV so excellent: Putting fans together with the stars, closer and more personally than anywhere else. With over 130 guests last year, and over 100 already signed on for 2018, we are again set to deliver the unique Creation experience people love. From panels you can’t see anywhere else, like our TNG 30th Anniversary talk with the cast, to demonstrations of the makeup and costuming techniques from the original SFX crews, there is truly something for every fan.

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As any regular attendee will tell you, Star Trek conventions are truly immersive experiences. Devotees prepare all year to create the most impressive and authentic recreations of characters from the movies and shows. It’s almost a competition to see who can “wow” other guests the most. The events are even lovingly spoofed in the hit film Galaxy Quest.

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The Rio Convention Center is packed with facsimiles of sets, ships, transporters, Captains’ chairs and vendor tables. Scheduled events like themed weddings, symphonic performances of the scores from Trek films and series (by the Nevada Pops Orchestra), dance and karaoke parties fill every available hour, sometimes going well into the early mornings.

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       Trek wedding attendee Justin Molnar gives his best “ironic applause”…

But of course the biggest draw is always seeing and meeting the legendary stars who’ve won their places in the hearts of fans. Iconic actors like William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Kate Mulgrew, James Darren, Joe Piscopo and Denise Crosby top the list of over one hundred stars who are scheduled to appear this year.

The largest conference hall will be filled to overflowing with attendees eager to hear amusing anecdotes of their memories on set. They’ll answer audience questions, banter with each other and sometimes run through the crowd for selfies with fans (Enterprise captain Scott Bakula loves to do that when he attends).

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Along with the familiar, 2018’s gathering should be packed to the brim with stimulating debates. Following the completion of newest TV series Star Trek: Discovery‘s first (and very polarizing) season, talk of another theatrical film to be helmed by Quentin Tarantino AND the recent announcement of yet more series on the horizon, Trekkers will have their tricorders overloading with information and fascinating revelations. There’s even a report that Patrick Stewart will return as Captain Picard in a new show. Wowza!

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             Actress Adrienne Barbeau is interviewed by FOX News…

My personal favorite part of every Trek-con I’ve attended is what’s known as the “Exhibitor Hall”. Far from just a flea market, the vendor area is also where the more approachable celebrities gather, along with fellow actors from other genre classics like Battlestar Galactica, Nightmare on Elm Street and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And of course there are oodles of collectibles to gawk…and haggle…over.

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        Actors Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman are attacked by a Sleestak…

This sci-fi/horror geek has gone hog wild schmoozing with beloved actors like Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York), Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) and Land of the Lost stars Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman.

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      Myself with dedicated fan Karen Crumley as Spock’s mother “Amanda”…

Check out the official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018 page for a complete list of events, stars, professional photo opportunities and schedules…and to order your tickets. Events and special package deals sell out quickly, so don’t delay. I’ll see you there August first!

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      Yours truly (right) with “Guinan” from Star Trek: The Next Generation…

The Official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention will be held at the Rio Hotel Casino August 1st through the 5th.

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Photos: Sammasseur