IN 1955—50 years after Las Vegas was founded as a 100-acre railroad town and a stopover on the pioneer trails to the West—LIFE Magazine examined the explosive growth.
In a cover story titled, “Gambling Town Pushes Its Luck,” the magazine cast a skeptical view and expressed concern “that the boom it was set for has started to wilt.”
Not to worry.
Although it was hammered during the Great Recession and became known for its skyrocketing foreclosures, Las Vegas has grown to become a sprawling metropolis of almost two million people.
Call it what you will: Sin City, The Gambling Capital of the World, City of Lights, Glitter Gulch, or The Marriage Capital of the World.
It remains a vibrant and extremely popular destination: In 2013, Las Vegas welcomed nearly 40 million visitors and reached a five-year high in two key indicators for the meetings and convention industry.
According to statistics released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas tourism generates $45 billion in economic impact for the local economy per year and supports more than 380,000 local jobs. Las Vegas hosted 39.7 million visitors last year, the second highest visitation total ever.
Looking for things to do when you’re not in meetings at the NTTC Conference & Tank Truck Equipment Show?
The newest attraction is the Mob Museum. Yes, it’s just what you might imagine—a collection of artifacts providing an insider’s look into many of organized crime’s biggest names, including Al Capone, Dion O’Bannion, George Moran, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, Sam Giancana, Joe Bonanno, Frank Rosenthal, Mickey Cohen, Tony Cornero, Tony Spilotro, John Gotti, and Whitey Bulger.
It’s a modern-day museum—highly experiential and interactive. Both sides of this fascinating story are brought to life through one-of-a-kind artifacts, interactive touch screens, and unique ways to interact with law-enforcement and organized-crime tools. For example, visitors can shoot a simulated tommy gun, listen to real FBI surveillance tapes on wiretapping equipment, and take part in FBI weapons training. The Museum also features some of the most iconic artifacts in Mob history, such as the wall from the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
The Museum is also working with the FBI and many famous undercover agents who made a career of fighting the Mob, including Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the Mob, posing as small-time jewel thief Donnie Brasco; and Cuban-born Jack Garcia, who successfully ingrained himself into the Gambino family.
The 41,000-square-foot Mob Museum includes approximately 17,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors in addition to a specialty retail store, special event areas, educational areas, and office space.
Looking for an adrenaline rush? The Red Rock Canyon Exotic Driving Experience gives you the chance to drive three exotic cars on a thrilling, picturesque 30-mile road course in Las Vegas. You’ll get behind the wheel of three supercars, including a Ferrari and Lamborghini, and guide them on open road through the breathtaking Red Rock Canyon, rotating through each supercar at checkpoints.
Then there’s Battlefield Vegas, the #1 Las Vegas attraction, according to Tripadvisor.com. It offers free customer pick-up and drop-off in a genuine US military HMMWV (Humvee).
At the five-acre facility, you’ll see a collection of over 350 machine guns from around the world. From the trenches of World War I all the way to the conflict in Afghanistan, Battlefield Vegas has the weapon systems in its inventory. The property also has a military Huey UH-1C helicopter, M2A1 Halftrack, Army trucks, Humvee’s, and various jeeps and other military vehicles for the experience.
Looking for one of Vegas’ world-famous shows?
Jersey Boys, Tripadvisor.com’s #10 overall attraction in Las Vegas, is the #1-rated show and the “Must-see show of the year!” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The musical phenomenon, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons at Paris Las Vegas, is the only place on the West Coast to see this runaway hit.
Jersey Boys is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide—all before they were 30 years old.
The show features hits such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Oh, What a Night,” and many more.
Other popular shows: MO5AIC is a five-man vocal supernova at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino that will leave you scratching your head wondering where the band is; Celine Dion at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace; Boyz II Men at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino; Le Reve at Wynn Las Vegas; and Purple Reign, THE Prince Tribute Show! at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
The Fountains of Bellagio is one of the most breathtaking attractions on the Strip, celebrated in countless films, television shows, photographs, and articles on Las Vegas. Not only is it stunning, but it’s free.
It features rushing water soaring up to 460 feet in beautifully choreographed synchronization to music. There is plenty of room for pedestrian viewing in front of the Bellagio to watch this spectacular dancing water show that features more than 30 different songs that play on rotation, including Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye),” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” among others. Genres range from classical to popular music and show tunes, so there’s something different every time.
Looking for a tried and true experience?
Hoover Dam, located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on U.S. 93, straddles the mighty Colorado River, which forms the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona. Considered to be the world’s largest dam and an engineering marvel at the time of its construction in the 1930s, Hoover Dam brings much-needed water and power to the Southwest.
The Bureau of Reclamation has offered tours of this National Historic Landmark since 1937. Today, the dam draws nearly a million visitors a year. Tourists are not only intrigued by the dam’s immense size and its huge hydroelectric generators, but also by the elegant Art Deco designs on the dam’s four towers, spillways, and power plant.
The Nevada side plaza features two Modernist-style bronze sculptures called the Winged Figures of the Republic and a polished terrazzo floor. Here you’ll also find a plaque commemorating the 96 workers who died during the dam’s construction.
Damming the Colorado River created Lake Mead, a National Recreation Area managed by the National Park Service. The lake offers boating, fishing, camping, houseboating, waterskiing and swimming. Hikers enjoy the stark beauty of the desert surrounding the lake.
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A spectacular four-lane highway bridge arching across the Colorado River opened in late 2010 and carries traffic between Nevada and Arizona. The older two-lane highway across the dam could no longer handle the 14,000 vehicles that travel here each day. Construction on the 1,900-foot-long structure, named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, began in 2005. An impressive feat of engineering, the supporting twin-rib arch span echoes the elegant curves of the dam itself.
Below the dam, you can launch paddle craft for a trip on the Colorado River or take a guided river tour. Access is limited as the area is a security zone.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area presents awe-inspiring views that aren’t common so close to a major metropolitan city. In contrast to the bright lights and hype of the Strip, Red Rock offers desert beauty, towering red cliffs, and abundant wildlife.
The mountains in the Red Rock area were formed by a number of geological forces, including fractured faults where the earth’s crust collided over millions of years and fossilized sand dunes. Some cliffs reach up an astounding 3000 feet.
The sandstone rocks in the conservation area get their color from iron oxide. Over centuries the iron oxide built up, producing the vibrant, crimson color the canyon illustrates today.
One of the more scenic parts of Red Rock Canyon is the Keystone Thrust Fault. Here, millions of years ago, two of the earth’s plates collided with such force that part of one plate was shoved up and over the other. This created a magnificent contrast between grey limestone and red sandstone.
This amazing conservation area is also home to about 200 different mammals, including burros, rabbits, coyotes, bighorn sheep, red tailed hawks, golden eagles, hummingbirds, and even a few wild horses, bobcats, and mountain lions.
The 13-mile scenic loop drive exposes visitors to the geological history and splendor of the canyon. There are chances for photo opportunities at various locations including Calico Hills’ colorful sandstone, limestone Indian roasting pits, Indian “handprints,” and pictographs at Willow Springs.
Since Red Rock Canyon is so isolated and quiet, many like this recreational area as a temporary getaway from the craziness of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s also a popular location for weddings.
On certain trails, hikers can even witness waterfalls cascading into the canyon.
Is theater your thing?
Check out “Marriage Can Be Murder” at The D Las Vegas Showroom.
It’s an award-winning interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show where the actors are planted among the unsuspecting guests. The longest-running dinner show in Vegas is now downtown at the D Hotel & Casino.
Visit the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
Completed at a cost of nearly $60 million, the fully themed facility was designed with the idea of immersing the visitor into this underwater world in the desert. Since opening on June 20, 2000, Shark Reef Aquarium has inspired nearly a million visitors a year, and tens of thousands of the Las Vegas Valley’s school children have had the opportunity to visit Shark Reef under the school group program.
In March 2003, Shark Reef Aquarium became the first animal care facility in the State of Nevada to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
At Shark Reef, you can see all kinds—sawfish, giant rays, endangered green sea turtles, piranha, jellyfish, and the rare golden crocodile, to name a few. In all, there are over 2000 animals in 1.6 million gallons of water.
You can get a private VIP tour and reach into the touch pool and feed the stingrays and ancient horseshoe crabs a smorgasbord of shrimp, krill, and fish.
It’s a total sensory experience designed to transport visitors to an undersea ocean of fantastic sights, sounds and encounters. Featuring dangerous and unusual aquatic animals from the world’s tropical waters, Shark Reef Aquarium takes visitors on a journey through an ancient temple slowly being claimed by the sea.
Fourteen breathtaking exhibits are devoted to dangerous aquatic predators. The largest exhibit is the 1.3 million gallon shipwreck where visitors experience an almost 360-degree view, teeming with sharks and fish, through an acrylic tunnel. More than 2000 animals are displayed at Shark Reef Aquarium, over 100 different species and featuring 15 species of sharks.
Planning on getting married?
There’s always Chapel of the Flowers, Las Vegas’ leading standalone wedding chapel. It was recently named “Best Destination Venue in the United States” and #2 “Best Destination Venue Worldwide” by the Wedding Industry Experts Awards.
For nearly 60 years, the chapel has provided traditional, intimate, and elegant Las Vegas weddings on the Strip.
It is a full-service wedding venue, with three elegant wedding chapels as well as a beautiful outdoor gazebo and glass garden. Its cobblestone-accented grounds and lush landscaping create a variety of options to capture that picture-perfect moment. The chapel’s professional wedding planners work with couples on a daily basis from one-year out to day-of planning. ♦