All Eyes On Vegas Once More


Publication is resuming from a new vantage point at the upper edge of the Valley…

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A few weeks ago I announced here that I would be leaving Oregon and moving full-time to Sin City. A lot has happened since that article was published, most of it great…and some a bit sad.

It’s rare that I share personal details at Vegas Unfiltered…that is, unless they’re related to the topic at hand. But I’m pleased to say that my crew of rescue kitties and I survived the two-day drive.

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We settled into our new home (a gorgeous four-level structure with a roof-top deck) and are adjusting quite nicely. All have done remarkably well…except for a big orange tabby named “Sunny”.

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Sunny enjoys watching the sunrise with his dad on our overnight drive to Vegas…

Sunny has had a really tough life. I found him dying in a snow storm four years ago in rural Salem Oregon. He had been run over and left for dead. I took him to a vet, he survived surgeries and an extensive recovery period. Despite having the feline version of HIV called FIV (yes, it’s a real thing), Sunny grew to be healthy, happy and loved.

Sadly, only two days after unloading my moving truck, Sunny was at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center. His new oncologist and I were discussing options to treat his nasal lymphoma, a non-curable cancer.

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As I write this, Sunny is in the next room being comforted by his gal-pal Tasha. My buddy underwent his first chemotherapy treatment last Thursday and is still hanging in there. Life for him will go only as long as the fates (and wonders of science) can allow.

My pal will enjoy being with us only. as long as his quality of life warrants it…then we’ll sadly say goodbye. Tasha will take it the hardest. She showed up a few months after I found Sunny and they’ve become inseparable.

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            George Blick will be in the Vegas Unfiltered spotlight very soon…

In the meantime, yours truly is ready to get back to publishing new profiles and experiences. Next up will be a profile of multi-hyphenate performer George Blick. Soon after will be a luxury Grand Canyon tour with Serenity Helicopters, a true VIP service. I’ll also be publishing my next piece through BestOfVegas.com. More on that one later.

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Thank you for sticking with me during this time of transition. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait….these Vegas sunrises are certainly inspiring enough! Our Vegas Unfiltered adventure together is just beginning!

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Photos: Sammasseur, Serenity Helicopters, George Blick

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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.

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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”.

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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?”

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                                           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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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             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.

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             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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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                                      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.

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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

Sky Villas Part 2: The Versailles


“Themes may be a bygone era in Vegas as a whole, but they live on atop Westgate” – Greg C.

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Wordless sighs…that’s a typical reaction to the trio of Sky Villas that sit atop the Westgate Las Vegas tower. Resting like a crown atop the existing 29 floors, they are brimming with opulence and European style. Ornate, sprawling, and bordering on gaudy, the TuscanyVersailles and Verona Sky Suites are the epitome of Las Vegas excess.

Photographer Greg C. returned for the second day of shooting at Westgate (part one is here) in 2016Having been up there myself, I can assure you that very few things can prepare you for the extravagance…but a fancy-schmancy elevator embellished with artwork, mirrors, and a padded throne…er, bench, certainly helps.

“This suite was called the “Conrad” until recently……IMO the switch to “Versailles” was a good one– the old name was at odds with the classy “Verona” and “Tuscany”…. Conrad sounded a bit too “Joe 6-pack” to my ears…. wonder how they ever picked it.” – Greg C.

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Stepping through the rotunda and into the Versailles Suite, one might expect a choir of angels to be singing overhead. This three-bedroom accommodation spreads out over 12,600 square feet.

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High-rollers with concern for personal safety (and privacy) can bring their own “goons” to man the elevator rotunda’s security station. Bodyguards aren’t included in the villa’s rental rates, which start at $6,000.00 per night…and a three-night minimum.

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Impressive columns, hand-carved furniture, domed ceilings and plenty of genuine gold accents over a peaches-and-cream palette make it easy for you to pretend that you’re in a French castle.

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“Versailles does have plenty of decadent appeals. I could easily picture Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette living here if they got yanked into the 21st century. I almost expected to see servants in powdered wigs and pantaloons walking around in the suite…..those wall-sized paintings (and ceilings) really emphasize the theme.” – Greg C.

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After a workout in the private exercise facility, guests can relax at an intimate dipping pool situated within the grand courtyard.

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The two-story Versailles Suite has three bedrooms that can be accessed by a spiral staircase that rises 30 feet….or a dedicated elevator that is hidden behind an inconspicuous door.

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Luxury abounds in the multiple bedrooms, with mural-covered walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.

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This particular bedroom not only has the modern touch of a flat screen television at the foot of the bed, but also a terrace that opens onto this magnificent view.

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“That open balcony – talk about the ultimate place to watch a sunset. You have a panoramic view of the Strip and mountains up there…a better view than many places, as Westgate is set back away from the Strip and allows you to really catch in the sights.” – Greg C.

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“The upper-level balcony is well-concealed. You have to move back the drapes at one end of the windows to reveal the catches where the window swings out to allow access to the open deck. You can look down on the private pool area.” –  Greg C.

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What happens in Vegas might stay here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be witnessed by somebody with a well-positioned telescope.

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Guests won’t have to go far to relax in a marble whirlpool bath, which also comes with a view.

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It may seem strange to use the word “small” in reference to the Versailles Suite, but it is the smallest sky villa at Westgate. The massive three-bedroom Verona Suite tops out at 15,400 square feet and will be featured in the final segment of this series.

If you happen to be a high roller in WOW Rewards Program and have scored access to any of the Westgate Villas or Specialty Suites, send me your photos and you might see them here. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting at the penny slots…playing small and dreaming of living large.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Photos: Greg C.

 

Hidden Vegas: Aladdin’s Desert Passage


Looking skyward for the next entry in my series…

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Finding remnants from the bygone days of Vegas is always a treat. I’ve been scouring the mezzanines, peering under tarps and poking a camera through keyholes to add to my Hidden Vegas series. In the previous installment, I even flew overhead to photograph massive construction projects that are hidden from the average tourist’s point of view.

Recently I looked to the skies once more…from the inside of Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood. And there I found remains of the formerly Arabian-themed Desert Passage Shops.

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I started coming to Las Vegas in 2005, and had only been through the Aladdin Resort once or twice. At that time, the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain was in deep trouble, with closures taking place around the country.

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The announcement that Aladdin would be re-branded as Planet Hollywood Hotel Casino seemed very foolhardy. Sure, the movement to de-theme Strip resorts was in full swing, and Middle-eastern-flavored places like Aladdin and Sahara had fallen out of fashion in a post-9/11 world. But Planet Hollywood??? That decision seemed as out-of-touch as renaming it after dying restaurant chains like Chi-Chi’s or Kenny Roger’s Roasters.

Shows how much I knew, as Planet Hollywood Hotel is now a hip, popular middle-tier destination, with stars like Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani on the marquee. Somehow their biggest draw was Britney Spears, proving that there’s still plenty of dried-up cheese on the Planet Hollywood menu.

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The existing hotel is the second Aladdin to be built on this part of the Strip. The original opened in 1966 and was imploded in 1998. A new Aladdin was rebuilt from the ground up and opened its doors in 2000. Seven years later it officially became Planet Hollywood Resort.

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The Arabian motif was gradually stripped from both the hotel and adjoining Desert Passage Shops, which received a new frontage and glossy modern exterior. Inside, the corridors got a top-to-bottom makeover. Most of the ceiling was painted into a matte-gray finish, discouraging shoppers from gazing upward at the former faux skies.

However, not everything was taken away. There are two distinct areas within the mall where the original decor survives. One surrounds the V Theater complex and fountain show.

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The other is nestled under the indoor rainstorm.

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Perhaps it’s telling that the domes, citadels and faux village structures that comprise the Desert Passage remnants exist where other attractions demand your attention…and offer a convenient distraction. You’ll find be hard-pressed to find any mention of them on the glitzy, contemporary Miracle Mile website.

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The Arabian architecture of Desert Passage is clearly…and hilariously…out-of-sync with the rest of the Mile.

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Until very recently, the south-facing exterior of the mall along Harmon Avenue still carried the Aladdin facade. The removal of Krave nightclub and eventual opening of Buffalo Wild Wings and another Nacho Daddy finally jump-started the finishing of that section.

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It’s uncertain if the remaining Arabic interior will eventually get stripped out and de-themed. But for the time being, it’s another chapter in my book of Vegas curiosities.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been revised with updated information.

Images: Sammasseur with additional stills from Miracle Mile Shops via Facebork, wishuwerehere.com and Greg C.

Hidden Vegas: Man-made Wonders from the Sky


I do a fly-over of the Valley to reveal more unusual structures….

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I’ve had a great time bringing you our series of “Hidden Vegas” oddities…things that are sometimes right under your nose. Like the abandoned Rocket Ship Ride at Circus Circus. A cleverly-hidden unfinished St. Regis Tower at Venetian. The massive phallic erection inside Shops at Crystals. Today’s entries aren’t on the Strip, but if you’ve flown into the city a few times, you’ve no doubt seen one or more.

First up is Ascaya, a failed luxury housing project. This massive abandoned development in the Henderson area is etched into the side of the McCullough mountain range. It’s easy to spot from the sky, southeast of the Strip and not far (when viewing from a plane seat, that is) from the M Resort.

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The Ascaya project was intended to provide 331 lots for high-end mansions. It was shut down and barricaded in 2009, after more than $200 million was spent on blasting into the mountainside to construct housing pads and connecting roadways.

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My buddy, photographer Greg C. offered these memories:

I recall shooting some pics up there in the foothills near that development back in 2009. I biked up there a number of times from the Anthem housing area where my parents used to live. Got a rude shock one day when an accidental blasting charge went off in open air as they were working in another zone near that area.

I was actually facing in that direction and could see the distortion of the shock wave hit me about a half-mile away. The shock wave shattered windows in nearby completed homes. I have been to eleven hotel implosions and this shock wave exceeded anything I ever felt at those…..

I dug up one pic from 2009 showing my bike out there in the foothills behind that area…..you can see the Strip in the distance… Used to go up there all the time…..

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“You can also see where some of the work was going on cutting into the hills.” Greg C.

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“You can see the Ascaya terraces here from behind. The city is beyond the ridge”. 

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“The homes on the little hill knob were the ones that took blast damage in 2005. (photo from 2011)

According to VegasInc, the site was re-opened in August of 2014 to sell off parcels of land in phases. The article also described plans for a clubhouse to lure prospective builders, with an intended summer 2015 start date. I can see no evidence of it in my aerial photos taken in July 2016 .

The official Ascaya website had you believing that everything in the project is going according to plans of its creator, Hong Kong billionaire Henry Cheng. Panoramic motion photography sweeps over the gigantic corpse layout and invites you to envision the gorgeous community that awaits. Good luck with that…even the site itself appears to be dead these days, although a dedicated Facebook page is (somewhat) alive.

Only time will tell if the Ascaya Luxury Community ever lives up to the promises of its designers. Until then, much like the Fontainebleau behemoth on the north Strip, Ascaya will be a shrine…and a testament….to over-reaching ambition.

Once your eyes have finished taking in the Ascaya debacle, allow them to drift in a southeasterly direction. There you should be able to spot another massive project, albeit a very successful one.

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The Nevada Solar One plant lies in the Eldorado Valley, south of the region between Las Vegas and Boulder City. If you’ve ever taken a day trip to Laughlin, you’re sure to have seen this massive solar power plant. After all, it covers 400 acres of prime sun-fed Nevada desert.

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Nevada Solar One took sixteen months to construct and went online in June of 2007. Unlike the Ascaya project, which literally blew away fifteen million cubic yards of mountain rock, the Solar One plant’s 760 parabolic trough concentrators follow the natural terrain of the desert floor.

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The silent and somewhat aesthetic complex generates about 136 million kilowatt-hours annually. And according to Wikipedia, the amount of carbon emissions it reduces by creating clean energy is the equivalent of removing 20,000 automobiles from the road each year.

A different kind of power plant…hydro-electric…is just a short drive from Nevada Solar One. Of course, I’m talking about Hoover Dam. This man-made wonder continues to generate enormous amounts of electricity for Arizona, California, and Nevada. That’s despite the fact that continually-dropping water levels have dramatically changed the appearance of Lake Mead.

Man-made Lake Mead has shrunken in both depth and width, with shorelines crawling far inward throughout the past several years. The entire Lake Mead Marina had to be relocated in 2008 as water disappeared. It was floated two miles downstream to join Las Vegas Marina. This was a huge effort that moved hundreds of boats, slips, a restaurant, and store at the pace of 1 mph.

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Lake Mead Marina was only one of several dock and marina relocations required due to the drop in depth. Flying overhead, you can clearly see what remains of this dwindling body of water…and where the shoreline once was. It’s a sad, extreme example of the impact of climate change.

Just a little farther north of Lake Mead, you may spot another debacle to rival Ascaya. But at least this one actually was completed before falling apart. Lake Las Vegas Resort is a never-was destination of hotels, residences, golf courses, shops, restaurants and a casino.

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The centerpiece of this resort community is a 320-acre artificial lake that was built atop the Las Vegas Wash. The wash feeds contaminated…and radioactive…run-off from the Vegas valley into Lake Mead (keep that in mind if you’re ever planning a boating or swimming excursion there). Filling of the new lake began in 1990, and over 3,500 acres of land surrounding it were made available for retail and housing development.

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Since then, Lake Las Vegas Resort has had a depressing history of closures, lawsuits, and massive debt. Hotels have been closed, re-opened by other owners and then closed again. Empty storefronts spread out across the retail “Village” area and abandoned golf courses eventually turned from green to brown (they have recently sprung back). The Monte Lago Casino ceased operations twice before being relaunched as a barely-used events center.

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Lake Las Vegas Resort, surrounded by unfinished construction projects.

As with Ascaya, the official Lake Las Vegas website is full of gorgeous photos depicting a successful and glamorous destination. But one look from above will tell you that it’s anything but.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated and expanded.

Photos: Sammasseur (aerial), Greg C.

Hidden Vegas: Into “The Vortex” at Linq Hotel


Another elusive treasure that’s yours to discover…perhaps for only a short time longer…

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If you’re a frequent traveler to Las Vegas, you might think that you know the city pretty well.  It is, after all, one of the most visitor-friendly cities in the world.  And yet, there’s a separate side to Vegas that you may not ever see.  It’s vast, exists on many levels, and some of them are right under your nose (like the never-completed St. Regis Tower at Venetian, hidden behind a canvas facade).

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Vegas photographer Greg C. and I are what he likes to call  “urban explorers.”  We get a certain thrill from finding our way to the balconies, closed-off corridors, rooftops and recesses of Vegas structures. And we’ve decided to share our discoveries with a series we’re calling “Hidden Vegas.”

My fascination with this city’s secrets was ignited back in 2007 when I lost some memory cards in front of the Mirage volcano.  Hours later I was escorted to the casino’s Lost and Found department to claim them. Luckily, that office was deep within the bowels of the Mirage.

The stroll back there seemed to take forever, and I was amazed at the enormous amount of activity that most folks would never lay their eyes on.  It was like stumbling upon a forgotten city…dazzling and unforgettable.

The Strip isn’t the only place where you can go treasure hunting. Downtown Las Vegas is a veritable goldmine for the urban explorer. There are catacombs inside just about every hotel on Fremont Street, especially at places like Binions and the now-destroyed Las Vegas Club, where closed-off hotel rooms and shuttered restaurants are just begging to be rediscovered.

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While we don’t encourage doing anything illegal, it’s hard to resist the urge to peer behind a rarely-open door, especially when you have a camera or phone with you. My  buddy Scott Roeben, that cool dude at VitalVegas, has become fond of regularly posting his own “security breaches”. Perhaps it’s the reporter in us, ever-present, that hopes to catch a glimpse of the newest venue rising up behind construction barricades. Even so, if you explore, do so wisely and at your own risk.

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I’m 2015, while searching for a less-crowded restroom at the premiere of Mat Franco – Magic Reinvented Nightly, I headed to the fifth floor of Linq Hotel, which was once a collection of Imperial Palace restaurants. These days it has been named the “Bloq Room” and was a temporary home to Divas Las Vegas as their theater was undergoing renovations.

On the far side of Bloq Room, a pair of open doors beckoned me towards a not-quite-finished escalator that led towards a vast outdoor space. And beyond that was…(cue the drum roll)…THE VORTEX!!!!

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The Vortex might seem eerily familiar to Star Trek fans. Perhaps that’s due to its resemblance to the God-like artificial intelligence known as V’Ger from the 1979 theatrical movie STAR TREK: The Motion Picture.

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                The Enterprise encounters “V’Ger” in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)…

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You have no doubt noticed this incredible light show, which beckons visitors away from the Strip and into the pedestrian mall that now shares the Linq name with the former Quad Hotel. The colorful swirl of lights is an eye-catcher from the ground, but standing underneath it is absolutely surreal.  The dizzying, ever-changing digital tornado could easily give you a feeling of vertigo, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness. Epileptics, don’t even think about prowling around up here.

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But what exactly is this space and why isn’t it being utilized? Ask the show performers and employees at Linq, and the most common response is “I heard it’s going to be a nightclub”.  So why isn’t it yet? Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace became Omnia in less time that Vortexhas been sitting here, virtually forgotten.

Press releases stated that the renovation of Linq Theater was the final step in Linq Hotel‘s conversion.  But I wasn’t so sure of that, as my explorations also came across the former third-floor bar/food court/sportsbook, walled off and awaiting renovations.

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I do know that the Vortex Deck has been used for special events, as a Fourth of July fireworks viewing party was held there that summer for Linq VIP customers. And, we spotted a small stage during our exploration that appeared to have been recently used.

According to the Vortex information page on Caesars Entertainment website, this massive space and light show can be yours…for a price. The entire deck is available for parties, catered events, concerts, weddings etc.  Prices aren’t mentioned anywhere, but we guess it would cost a pretty penny to have such a sprawling venue – with an incredible view – all to yourselves.

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For us that evening, the space, the solitude, the silence…and the view…were absolutely free. And totally priceless. But with the  recent announcement of both a zip line and the bizzare Kind Heaven project, the future of this spot seems uncertain.

So, the next time you’re in Sin City, consider putting on your hiking shoes and setting out to find your own “Hidden Vegas”. But be sure to share those photos!

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated and expanded.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C.

Hidden Vegas: Structures Hiding In Plain Sight


Look closer…not everything is as obvious as it appears…

Welcome to “Hidden Vegas”, teasing your brain with questions like “How did I miss that?”. I’ll take a close look at structures that are more than meets the eye…and others which have been repurposed into something fresh and new.

StRegisSideBySide

Let’s start off with the St. Regis Tower. As seen above, the unfinished structure between Venetian and Palazzo resorts was once planned to be a condominium tower. An economic collapse and financial trouble for Sands Corporation froze the $600 million project in 2008. Thus, it joined a list of rusting eye sores that suddenly littered the Strip and surrounding areas.

Sands Corporation forked over a million dollars for a custom tarp, meant to cleverly disguise the skeleton while the powers-that-be decided what to do with it (the market for Strip residences isn’t what it was when the first blueprints for St. Regis were being drawn).

Whether it ends up being dismantled, completed for a timeshare operation or used as an additional tower for Venetian/Palazzo is anyone’s guess. But for now, St. Regis continues to exist as a genuine mirage – a building that isn’t really there…in a land of make-believe.

Now, if only someone could toss an invisibility cloak over the unfinished Fontainebleau. At least that monstrosity now has a new name (The Drew), new owners (Witkoff\Marriott) and a projected  opening date of 2020. Call me “skeptical”.

Aladdin - 1997

Planet Hollywood began life as a chain of celebrity-fueled restaurants. Then it became a casino resort that was once the Aladdin Hotel. And the Aladdin Hotel was once known as…the Aladdin Hotel.

Don’t be confused. The original Aladdin began life as the English-themed Tally-Ho. It opened in 1963, but was rechristened a year later as King’s Crown…which promptly failed. A few years and several million dollars later, the Aladdin Hotel Casino opened up on the same spot.

AladdinTheaterSideBySide

During the summer of 1976, Neil Diamond became the first performer at the new Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, constructed on what was once a golf course. The huge venue, boasting a glass ceiling, was the only thing standing when the Aladdin was leveled in 1998.

A new Aladdin went up around the free-standing building, this time integrating it into the casino design….and forever hiding the exterior view from the naked eye (unless you’re on a rooftop, like Greg C. was for this recent photo).

Aladdintheater

This past February 2018, the AXIS Powered By Monster Theater (we aren’t making that up) which replaced “Art” with a tart (Britney Spears, natch) was once again renamed as Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood.

That gorgeous open ceiling was covered by a non-transparent dome years ago. It’s current seating capacity is greatly downsized from the original 7,500 monster (see what we did?) to 4,600 for residency shows. Even so, Zappos remains one of the largest venues on the Strip, and the largest of its kind in the United States.

Anyone who has walked the full length of MGM Grand Resort will vouch for its enormous footprint. The sprawling property is even larger when including Signature at MGM Grand. That three-tower annex sits on land that was once home to MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park. The main building, though, has a secret that few current visitors are aware of: the west wing once stood alone as the Marina Hotel.

marina - 1975

Marina Hotel opened in 1975, had 714 guest rooms and its own casino. It was closed in 1990 to become part of the new location for MGM Grand, the original name for the current Bally’s (did you follow that?). Instead of leveling Marina, it was cleverly integrated into the new, Oz-themed structure, which opened right before Christmas in 1993.

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MGM Grand’s “West Wing” rooms are smaller and less expensive than those in the newer portions of the resort. However, they’re sleek, stylish, and still a favorite for solo travelers…and those who enjoy easy access to the Strip.

The Shops at Crystals might be touted as a world-class shopping destination, but for some of us it’s more like a mausoleum or an echo chamber. Highly regarded premium designers have locations here, so if you have thousands for impulse purchases, Crystals is your place.

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                (Photo by Scott Roeben, VitalVegas.com)

For the rest of us, one thing alone makes the lengthy walk into the Simon Corporation mall worthwhile: gawking and chuckling at that giant wooden penis. A perfect example of “What were they thinking?” , the  multi-story shaft and scrotum are home to Mastros Ocean Club aka “Treehouse”. I’ll just leave this here:

Our final entry sits at the opposite end of the Strip, directly in the shadow of the aforementioned Fontainebleau Resort carcass. It’s an industrial-looking tower next to Circus Circus.

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The family-friendly Circus Circus resort boasts Adventuredome, a glass-enclosed amusement park that opened its doors (and attractions) in 1993. Before that, thrill-seekers had to go outside to get their pulses racing. And they probably bypassed the sedate-looking merry-go-round for a shot at the Rocket Ship Ride.

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This earth-bound cousin to Stratosphere‘s sky-high “Big Shot” attraction took travelers up a 210-foot tower, which undoubtedly offered a terrific view of the Riviera Hotelacross the street.

Circus Bungy tower

In 1992, the tower was repurposed as a bungee-jumping attraction, utilizing an elevator that, according to bungee.com, is the tallest single-stage lift in the world.  A reflecting pool was added to allow jumpers to witness their own descent.

These days, the pool has been filled in and seemingly forgotten. The rocket itself sits earthbound, too, as shown in this photo by Greg C. It was taken on January 2015…from the base of Stratosphere’s “Big Shot” ride.

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated and expanded.

Photos: Greg C., UNLV Digital Library, bungee.com, Flickr.com, Scott Roeben via VitalVegas