For your typical tourist, spending New Years Eve amid the lights and celebration of Las Vegas is a dream come true. For me, traveling to Vegas on December 31st, 2009 had nothing to do with ringing in the New Year in style. It was about giving Vegas—a place that had become synonymous with tragedy to me and my family since my dad’s death there a year earlier—a second chance. If there was beauty and peace in Vegas, I was determined to find it.
I spent the last night of 2009 quietly, the way most locals do. On New Year’s Eve—a night many Vegas natives refer to as “amateur night”—my dear friend, Suzie, and I stayed far from The Strip. We ate at a nice family restaurant and took a stroll through the lively Red Rock Casino (because, according to Suzie, if you’re in Vegas on New Year’s you have to go to a casino). When 2010 arrived, we watched fireworks light up The Strip from a safe distance in a middle school parking lot. Very un-Vegas-like, but to me, the perfect way to end a tumultuous year. Later that night, as we tuned into the local news and saw images of the mass exodus from The Strip, I felt grateful that I wasn’t contributing to its clogged streets. Then again, I didn’t come to Vegas with that in mind.
Luckily for me, Suzie showed me what lies beyond the glitz. On New Year’s Day, we ventured to Hoover Dam. Author Rick Garman explains, “…Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam) soars more than 700 feet from its base and quite literally changed the course of history for the western United States.” Not until I beheld it with my own eyes, did I fully comprehend the significance, not to mention sheer size, of this manufactured achievement. We parked in Arizona, then walked the 1,244 feet across the Dam’s spans and back into Nevada, captivated the entire time by its soaring height and breathtaking views of Lake Mead. Vegas was growing on me—I was ready to see more.
On day two, we hit Red Rock Canyon’s Oak Creek Canyon Trail, and Vegas revealed its true colors. Unlike most sights in Las Vegas, this one was created by nature, not man. Twenty miles west of The Strip, this scenic trail’s colorful layers of pink, ranges of reds, brown cliffs, buttes, and breathtaking rock formations hold one’s attention. Intermixed in the larger-than-life scenery, shades of green made their appearance along the trail—cactus, oak, and other forms of vegetation greeted us as we trucked along. About halfway along the trail, we came to a small creek where we stopped among several large boulders and took in the splendor. It was a perfect day and right then, surrounded by the serenity of nature, I realized that I’d found what I’d been searching for. Taking in the vast desert before me—and the other hikers, bikers, and what looked like genuine cowboys and their massive horses—as we hiked back to the car, I was reminded of what I would have missed had I stuck to my promise never to return. In that instant, I knew Vegas and I had become friends.
While I did eventually venture to The Strip—it’s Vegas, after all, and who doesn’t visit The Strip when in Vegas?—to enjoy a production of Disney’s The Lion King at Mandalay Bay, view the famous Bellagio Fountains, and stroll through Caesar’s Palace and The Forum Shops, by then it had become clear that there is definitely more to Vegas than meets the eye.
At the end of my trip, I opened up Moon Las Vegas and read this line: “It’s surprising what can be found by venturing away from The Strip.” To me, there has never been a truer statement. I’m thankful I gave Sin City a second chance. Vegas, you’re alright.