Posted by: bkivey | 12 June 2018

Things To Do In Las Vegas Trois

Tuesday was the last day in Vegas and the plane left around 8, so I had a bit more than half a day. Hoover dam is only about 30 miles from town, so that was the first stop. After Denny’s.

Parking at the hotel worked a bit differently than I’m used to. You get a ticket on entering, but you have to pay at a kiosk outside the garage before leaving. At the gate you feed your paid ticket to the machine. On check-in you get two keys, and you check out at the kiosk with one key, and give the other one to the parking machine on exit. I didn’t know that, and tossed the other key in the recycle bin at the kiosk. Mostly because there was a sign saying ‘Recycle Your Keys Here’. It wasn’t a problem, as the machine took my parking ticket and released me.

Sculpture ‘Aftermath’ at juncture between Ballys and Paris.

I used GPS to get to the dam, but the route is well-marked. I-515S to US 93 and then to the dam. US 93 is the primary route between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and used to cross the dam. This created quite a bottleneck, and a bridge opened in 2010 for traffic. You can still drive across the dam. There is a security checkpoint, but I was just waved through. Prior to the dam is a parking lot for the bridge. The transmission tower on the left is non-functional, and I didn’t see any signs describing it. Perhaps an original tower?

The Circle of Information on the way to the bridge. There are a couple of these describing the various aspects of bridge siting and construction.

There was quite a breeze up on the bridge, to the point where small objects and people were in danger of being blown off. The bridge does provide views of the dam previously unobtainable by pedestrians. Note the canted towers.

My first thought was ‘How many phones/cameras are at the bottom of the river?’ On Google Maps the description is ‘Dam taming the Colorado River since 1935’. Is that on the letterhead?

The Visitor Center is on the Nevada side and parking is $10. There are tours, and I wanted to see the powerhouse, but no tours on the day. There is free parking on the Arizona side, and you get to drive across the dam. The two intake towers nearest the dam have clocks with the respective times (Mountain and Pacific) showing. Arizona doesn’t practice Daylight Saving, but the clock on the Nevada side was an hour behind. Some lots on the Arizona side offer cover:

This must be fairly recent:

There is a boom upstream, perhaps to thwart the RAF 617th Squadron, enemy submarines, or just debris control:

Observation point above Lake Mead:

I got to the dam about 1100, and at Noon there was a line of cars at the checkpoint, so you probably want to go earlier rather than later.

There was a solar power station I wanted to see located a bit South of the dam on US 95. US 95 is more road than I expected in the middle of nowhere: two lanes each way with a median and a 75 MPH limit.

The Nevada Solar 1 power station. This is a 64 MW concentrated solar plant, which means parabolic trough reflectors heat a working fluid running through a tube down the middle of the reflector, and then to a turbine to run a generator. I saw a larger version of this type of plant years ago in the California desert.

While I was researching things to do, I came across the National Atomic Testing Museum. I thought that had to be cool. It is.

Located North of the Strip, and directly under the airport flight path, the museum documents American nuclear testing efforts. Admission is $22, and the museum takes about an hour. They don’t hand out dosimeters; I asked.

Atomic Age paraphernalia:

How the tests were set up:

Model of a test drill rig built by one of the drillers:

A model of the test chamber. The pipes leading from the chamber fed radiation from the explosion to instruments. The instrumentation had millionths of a second to record data before everything was vaporized.

Blast-exposed items from atmospheric testing. The nameplate was made by masking the letters, then sitting it in front of the bomb. That’s cryogenic on the cool scale.

There’s a theater in a simulated bunker with a short film on the history of US nuclear testing. The film opens with a simulated countdown for a test. There are effects.

Wooden models of some of the equipment used to dig the horizontal test tunnels built by one of the miners:

If you’ve worked on construction sites you’ve seen, and probably have, job stickers on hard hats. This is the nuclear testing version: the stickers represent test shots. Workers on tests also received ‘certificates’ with often elaborate artwork, and the museum has a book of them to look through.

In the history of warfare, this is one of the most horrifying weapons I’ve seen: a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Not so much from the payload, although that was devastating with a dozen nukes, but the text states that the missile would be flying at Mach 3 at low altitude with an unshielded reactor. Think about that for a moment. The program was terminated with the advent of the less costly, more accurate (and safer?) Polaris ICBM.

What the testing is about. A W61 nuclear bomb. The sign informs that these make up 10% of the current US nuclear inventory.

An older bomb. Because the nuclear core has to be a certain size to fission, I’m thinking the reduction in size may be due to better HE composition and design to compress the core.

There is a display touching on nuclear rocket engines, including NERVA.

A piece of the Berlin Wall. This is tangential, but there you are.

And a girder from the World Trade Center:

There is a movie in another theater describing how nuclear testing is done now, since no actual explosions can take place. I’ve worked with computer simulations professionally, and I thought the film was one of the more interesting things in the museum. An opinion not shared by the six other people who started watching the film with me. Anyway, I liked it.

There is also a library, with librarian, if you want to do a bit of research on what you just saw. I don’t know if you have to pay admission to use the library, but it’s off the lobby, so maybe not.

The first American structure in the Las Vegas basin was still extant, and I’d stopped by the site Monday, but it was closed. It was open today, and admission was $3. Yes, Sin City was founded by the Mormons:

An overview of the fort. Everything is made of adobe. There is a building housing the home displays on the left that was used by the Army Corp of Engineers to test concrete for Hoover dam.

The difference 160 years makes in moving:

Some of the original structure. The interior of the structure was a good 5 degrees cooler than outside. Adobe works.

The style of flag that flew over the fort. A little curious which state got the center star.

I still had some time, so I went over to Old Vegas, the ‘legacy’ resorts like Golden Nugget and the California. These are North of the current Strip, but I wanted to visit the Golden Nugget because it has the largest gold nugget on display in the world.

For reasons unknown, my phone charger wasn’t all the way from the dam, so my phone was dead. I was unhappy about not getting pictures, but a lot more concerned about the loss of GPS. The airport cannot be missed, but I didn’t want to be futzing around looking for the off-site rental return. Well, I was at the Nugget, may as well check it out. I stopped at the hotel bar for lunch, and enquired about an outlet for the phone charger. Why no, we don’t have an outlet. Whatever, babe. I’ll have lunch. Which the ahi tacos were pretty good.

This part of Las Vegas has a different feel than the more frenetic Strip. A bit more relaxed. The Golden Nugget is richly appointed with lots of dark wood and a faint 70’s feel that’s actually kind of comfortable. The nugget is indeed on display, although you have to hunt for it a bit. It’s by the guest elevators.

About 14 inches long and 81 lbs, the nugget is mounted vertically on a rotating display behind (I assume) security glass. The story is that some guy was using a metal detector in his backyard in Australia when he found the tip of the nugget 6 inches below ground. It’s a big hunk of gold.

The Nugget has a pool with a waterslide. This is notable because the waterslide goes through an aquarium with various large saltwater fish and a g___d___ shark. I do not know the species, but it’s 6 or 7 feet long and it’s a shark. I would think gambling debts are not a problem at this casino.

Then it was time to refuel the car, get directions to the airport, and start to head for home. Finding the rental drop off was easy enough, and even during rush hour on a weekday, traffic was navigable, i.e. not Portland. The freeways around town are all 65 MPH, which is nice.

Alaska Airlines left on time, and back to cooler, greener Oregon.




  1. Blair–
    Great Stuff!
    — been getting the notices & skimming the Posts, but will definitely book-mark these Adventures for more leisurely reading.
    –love that obscure reference to the RAF bombing damns!

    • Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. When I saw the boom at the dam I immediately thought of the 617th. ‘The Dambusters’ is a good movie. You’re right, though, not many would take the reference.

  2. Blair-
    again, great stuff!

    Q: Is there such a place as the “neon sign graveyard,” outside of LV somewhere?

    total tangent;
    As an alternative to the movie;
    Over at, they have a 10 part radio-drama of the Dambusters, adapted by the author for Australian Broadcasting. Mid 1950’s. It drags on a bit in the middle, but an interesting piece of radio history.

    • Wayne:

      There is a ‘neon sign graveyard’. It’s the Neon Museum and it’s right next to the Atomic Testing Museum in north Las Vegas. It’s on my list of things to do next trip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: