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22 hours in Las Vegas

Complicated routing options on the journey back from a conference, MJ decided to go with an option that would put him on the ground in Las Vegas for 22 hours. 22 hours? That’s enough time for me to join him!

The flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas is quick and cheap. Flying into Las Vegas is always a treat, as flights tend to take you over the strip for a glitzy introduction to all the fun to be had. My Friday night flight landed around the same time as MJ’s (10PM) so we were able to meet in baggage claim to get a cab to our hotel. We typically stay in the fancy, new hotels on the strip in Las Vegas, but since it was only for one night I made the case for staying at Luxor, the giant Pyramid at the south end of the strip. We had a nice room and the slanted walls were not as troubling as I had feared. The rest of the night was spent in Luxor grabbing a late night burger at Backstage Deli, a couple drinks at the nice and quiet High Bar and a giant fruity vodka smoothie in a crazy plastic refillable cup before retiring to our room. Apply water and a few hours of sleep.

With our room on the 12th floor (the pyramid is 15 stories high), stepping just outside our room we had a nice view down into the center of the building, which was pretty cool.

Sleep was fitfully elusive, so I managed to catch the sun rise around 6:30AM and by the time the pools opened at 9AM I was ready to head down before too many people came down. With pools behind the pyramid, at this time of year the pyramid offered some shade in the first hour I was down there, so I was able to swim and relax in the shade before heading back up to the hotel to shower and pack before checking out.

After checking out we made our way down to the Bellagio for their well-rated weekend brunch buffet. The inside of the dining room was nothing to write home about which was surprising, given how lavish the rest of the Bellagio is. But the food was top notch. Spicy tuna hand rolls, cocktail shrimp, waffles, various fruits an desserts and the Las Vegas buffet obligatory giant crab legs made for an enjoyable mid-day meal (and turned out to be my only meal of the day).

The end of the buffet marked MJ and I parting ways for a few hours. He was off to play cards and I hopped in an UberX (just came to Vegas a few weeks ago!) and went to the The National Atomic Testing Museum. I heard about the museum in an episode of Mysteries at the Museum, which has fleshed out my domestic museum-visiting plans for the next century, they go to so many fascinating little museums. The partnership with the Smithsonian gave me high hopes that I wasn’t walking into a tourist trap. My UberX driver whet my appetite further as she mentioned that she had brought her students there before and highly recommended it (my sadness upon learning that a district teacher is driving an UberX on weekends to make some extra cash is a whole different blog post).

The museum was well worth the ride. It took me just under 2 hours to properly enjoy as I walked through the galleries and inspected various exhibits and videos. I almost missed the Ground Zero Theatre, but thankfully had my map so I got to enjoy the mildly shaking benches, wind and sound projected as you “experience” what it’s like to be one of the observers of a nuclear test in the desert of Nevada. I also learned a lot. Upon learning that there were dangerous atmospheric changes resulting from testing in the air and sea, the entire program went underground for decades. As in, literally, nuclear testing done under the ground. There were videos and whole galleries devoted to the development of technology from drills to build the underground testing areas to monitors to track, report and survive the blasts to report data. It may not have been as impressive or iconic as a mushroom cloud, but the underground testing was pretty fascinating.

Most of my photos from Las Vegas yesterday are from the museum, you can see them here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157659303990679

And since a friend of mine asked, there is indeed an Area 51 special exhibit. If I had to guess, this was not done in collaboration with the Smithsonian and instead just capitalizing on the popularity of things like Ancient Aliens. Now, I’m one of those skeptics who is a life time …fan(?) of Coast to Coast (many late nights listening to Art Bell during high school) and I totally intend on going on an Area 51 tour from Vegas some day. I watch the unbelievable alien documentaries and the X-Files is still one of my favorite shows of all time (I have an “I want to believe” necklace”). As a skeptic, I don’t believe much of it, but I kind of wish I did. Maybe I’m just searching for non-conspiracy, real evidence. This exhibit was a rehash of everything I already knew about, it was pretty cheesy and leaned heavily in the direction of tourist trap. There were some solid bits about military testing in the desert and I spent more time in those sections, but all in all I can’t say I’d recommend it unless you’re into that kind of thing. Also, I learned that I have way too much of this stuff in my brain, haha!

I took another UberX back to Luxor, my driver this time was a local who was surprised to learn about the museum and is now considering bringing his STEM-inclined son there, woo! Getting back around 4:30PM I found myself with a couple options: therapeutic shopping or Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. I’m not much of a shopper, but it was oddly tempting, but being me I went with the exhibit. The Titanic story is a compelling one, and I was watching documentaries about the discovery efforts pre-blockbuster. Still, I had avoided this exhibit in the past because there is contention in the scientific world about the value and morality of for-profit (not non-profit), high entertainment value exhibits like this. I was also worried it would be awful. I was finally swayed by really wanting to see the “Big Piece” which I’d recently seen in a documentary. I was pleasantly surprised. The artifacts and whole exhibit were very tastefully done. They did some great work with lighting and climate too, the exhibit getting darker and colder as we went through it to reflect the accident and sinking of the ship. No photography was allowed inside.

It was then time to meet up with MJ and make our way to the airport to conclude our visit.

I had fun, but admittedly things didn’t go perfectly. I also have a lot going on. Arguably this trip was a waste of time and I should really have stayed home to take care of things before all my travel coming up. On the other hand, I wanted to celebrate a promotion at work being confirmed this week (yay!) and with all that “a lot going on” I appreciated the break. I’m back to business today, it’s time to grab some lunch and then pack, pack, pack! My three week trip begins Tuesday morning.


  • Christian Einfeldt

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the info on the Area 51 exhibit. Like you, I want to believe, but don’t. Wikipedia says that there are Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around Sun-like stars, but the nearest, Tau Ceti e, is 11.9 light years away. That is much too far away for even the most advanced civilizations to cross, given what we know about the limits on the speed of anything heavier than photons. Still, the implications are interesting enough that I find it worthwhile to spend an hour or two per year to the topic. Thanks for sharing!

  • Christian Einfeldt

    Correcting my mistake, what I meant to say is that there are 11 billion Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones around Sun-like stars. So much for my web-coding skills. Heh.