Sunday, August 11, 2013


executive summary by darmansjah

The region’s best: from Navajo culture in Monument Valley to the glamour of Palm Springs.


Best for bright lights

Miles into your trip: 1,028

Drive for 5 hours from the Grand Canyon on 1-40 and US-93

Las Vegas is barely 250 miles from Phantom Ranch – a blink of an eye in US road trip terms. But pluck someone from the isolated reaches of the Grand Canyon and drop them off in the eye of the Vegas storm at 11pm on a Saturday night, and the idea that this is even the same planet, let alone country, would seem far-fetched.  Las Vegas Strip is nothing so much as Times Square – a hallucination of LCD screens, blaring speakers, skyscraping fountains and paid street teams known as ‘porn slappers’ thwacking packs of prostitutes’ calling-cards against their palms in an effort to hand them out to passers-by.

Like Colorado’s mining ghost towns, there’s something spectral about the way this city rises from the haze of the Nevada desert, a mirage of suspended morality and taste. And the architecture of the Strip is just as illusory – a planet-load of simulated landmarks jammed together within yards of each other: the Eiffel Tower bumping heads with the Statue of Liberty, the Bridge of Sighs overlooking classical pillars from the Roman Empire. Event the cavernous casinos themselves-battalions of slot machines, endless rows of felt-topped card and craps tables, high-heeled waitresses dishing out watered-down whiskey to bleary-eyed gamblers – are ephemeral. Once an ageing casino’s time is up, little time is wasted before it’s lined with dynamite and imploded; this is town obsessed only with the eternal ‘now’.

But Las Vegas is building up history whether it likes it or not, and the place to find it is at the Neon Museum. Nor far from Fremont Street, one Vegas’s main drag and home of famous winking cowboy sign Vegas Vic, the museum was set up in 1996 to save the icons of Vegas’s past. Starting out with just eight signs, it is now piled high with gigantic words an letters of every colour and style. A huge grinning skull lies beneath a massive silver slipper, a giant leprechaun rests against a three metre-tall palm tree. The entire sign of the old Stardust casino, each jagged red letter weighing 450 kilos, leans against a wall.

Danielle Kelly is operations manager at the museum. She’s  seen first-hand the emotional connection many visitors have to the old signs. ‘This is a place of projection for people’s memories,’ she explains. ‘Perhaps a particular sign will remind someone of a picture they have of their grandfather standing in front of that casino. These signs are cultural icons embedded with thousands of intimate memories.’

Another place loaded with recollection is the Graceland Wedding Chapel, a small, baby-blue building staffed by no fewer than five Elvises – or Multi Elvii, as they’re referred to here. Vegas weddings have a reputation for being drunken, shotgun-style affairs, much regretted in the morning-but there’s a real charm to these ceremonies. Elvis, aka former opera singer Jeff Stanilaus, resplendent In a black sequined jumpsuit, shimmies down the aisle belting out Love Me Tender, arm in arm with the bride. He has the couple repeat some Elvis-flavoured vows (I’ll always love you tender. I’ll never have a suspicious mind. I’ll always be a hunka-hunka burning love.’) and then it’s over. The couple are politely shepherded out – preparations have to made for the next wedding party, due in 10 minutes. ‘This is the most fun job,’ says receptionist-cum-usher Deb McGroarty as she prepares a lei for the next Blue Hawaii-themed ceremony. ‘Elvis is our boss – how bad can that be?’

Neon Museum tours cost US$15 and must be booked in advance (

For happy couples, weddings at the Graceland Wedding Chapel start at US$199 (
The best burgers in town are to be found at Mandalay Bay – toppings include lobster and truffles (from US$8;

ARIA HOTEL; Most hotels on the strip are of a similar high standard, with staff catering to every whim and the layout always ensuring you walk through the casino. The Aria has views over the Strip, luxurious rooms, a lovely pool and Elvis-themed Cirque du Soleil show in the evening (from US$125;

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