Saturday, January 25, 2020

Las Vegas, NV: Spotlight Attraction - The Neon Museum

The Neon Museum outside downtown Las Vegas is a phantasm of light, color, and history!  All of the neon contained in their 2.62-acre "boneyard park" has been preserved from old Vegas casinos, hotels and businesses when they were torn down or remodeled. 

 In their entry sign, the first "N" came from the Golden Nugget, "E" from Caesars Palace, "O" from Binion's Horseshoe, and the last "N" from the Desert Inn.

The Visitor Center is housed inside a restored lobby shell from the now defunct La Concha Motel.

Each of the displays has been important to Vegas not only artistically, but historically.  Museum officials urge visitors to use their phone app to see the signs in their original habitats and to learn more about the story of each.  It was a blast!

Access to this collection used to be "by appointment only," a terrible marketing strategy if I ever heard one.  Annual attendance hovered around 12-20,000 at that time.  When they switched to regular admission in 2012, it jumped to around 60,000 per year.

The Neon Museum was hosting a special "Lost Vegas: Tim Burton" Exhibition when we visited.  This has pushed attendance significantly, with over 100,000 coming in the first six weeks!  This led us to question why there was an ending date to the exhibition.  Like it has somewhere else it needs to be?  Or even could be?

  Original art and poetry by Burton, the famous film director/producer/artist/writer animator perhaps best known for the movie Beetlejuice, has been installed throughout the regular displays.  Burton called Vegas "my own internal Burning Man," referring to the festival of artistic culture and self-expression that happens in California each year.

Burton, by his own admission, was a loner, a weirdo, a dreamer, and the things he saw during the many times his family came to Vegas during his childhood shaped much of his work.  

As an adult, he later even filmed the actual demolition of the Landmark Hotel for his movie Mars Attacks! and one piece of artwork was a model of the hotel alongside actual footage of it collapsing, over and over.

Some of Burton's visions you walk alongside ...

 ... and some you actually enter!

But all of it was pretty weird.  Burton's exhibition ends February 15, so get there soon if you want to see it.  Here is a great LA Times article about it!

The main collection has lots of restored signs from places like the Stardust, Silver Slipper, Sahara, Aladdin Casino and many others, as well as more than 200 unrestored signs.

It's hard to describe the scale of everything we saw, for even a single letter from a sign could be as tall as a regular building.  All these interlocking H's formed the corner bullnose of the Horseshoe Casino's facade on Fremont Street, which was the happening place to be before the Strip took over.  At the time, it was the world's largest use of neon, with more than 8 miles of tubing. 

Not all of the displays are neon; some are merely cool and historical, like the huge fiberglass skull from Treasure Island and this guy shooting pool, made entirely from steel.

Another exhibition currently playing called "Brilliant" uses sight and sound in an enclosed yard to take visitors back to old Las Vegas in the 1950's.  Visitors to this show stand in the middle and walk around looking at everything as the 20-25 minute show goes on.

Historic photos and film from 50's Vegas are projected onto this wall and other parts of the display, while classic music from Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Liberace, Dean Martin and other classic Vegas artists is played.

What's crazy is that NONE of these signs are live or active.  They are lit up solely from lights been shone ONTO them via an amazing computerized light show designed by an artist!

There were lots of humorous touches; for instance, this guy was "wearing" huge, square glasses while an Elton John song was playing.

Though this show is an extra ticket and more $$, we thought it was amazing and worth it!

Even though neon is quickly being replaced by LED lights, there are plenty of examples of BOTH kinds of light in evidence on nearby Fremont Street!


We walked to the Container Park for cocktails and nibbles beforehand.  It's a quirky, open-air shopping center south of Fremont, made entirely from individual 250-sq. ft. steel shipping containers.  The letters spelling Container Park are hollow; you can walk behind them and look out.

This shipping container was used as an art gallery.  The light and shadows throughout the park are pretty cool.  It was fairly deserted when we were there (a Wednesday night), but it is probably a happening spot on weekends.

Behind the gigantic 55' tall praying mantis shooting fire from his antennas (built on top of a dump truck), that "Catalyst Dome" shows immersive 3D movies with a super-wide-range of topics.  You can see a show about Dinosaurs in the same sitting as one about Led Zeppelin.  Because, Vegas.  The praying mantis was originally built as a mobile art piece for the aforementioned Burning Man Festival.

  Even the three-story elevator shaft is made from shipping containers, as is a treehouse with three slides in the kids' playground area.

The side of this shipping container was cut into an intricate pattern.  Considering these are solid steel walls, that must have been quite a task.  An Exacto knife wouldn't exactly do it!

An outdoor stage and lounge area is placed in front of train tracks that house a boxcar and a caboose with monkeys on it, currently a tattoo parlor.  Because, again, Vegas.

We're in Vegas frequently because Philip has been working on a development project in the City of North Las Vegas since 2011, but we rarely visit the downtown Fremont area, so this was a delightful change from the Strip, and definitely the right location if you want to visit the Neon Museum and the world-renowned Mob Museum, the national museum of organized crime.  There is lots to see and do along Fremont Street and it definitely warrants at least one visit!

When RV'ing in Vegas, we like to stay at the Oasis Las Vegas RV Park, on the south side of the strip about 3 miles past Mandalay Bay.  It's a beautiful park, very clean, lots of sites so they are rarely full.  In fact, we'll be back in this campground in about a month, on our way to a week at Valley of Fire State Park!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

AZ Staycation Destinations: Montezuma Castle and Cave Creek Regional Park

With Philip's knee replacement surgery behind us and Elsie (our shiny new RV) just itching for her first real adventure, we visited a couple of "staycation" destinations right here in Arizona.


Between Christmas and New Years', we parked Elsie a mere 30 miles from home in the beautiful surroundings of Cave Creek Regional Park.  The beauty of the desert never gets old!

This park has 11 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking.  We were joined by hikers Pepe, Otis, Dolly, Cheyenne and Sprinkles ... oh, and their humans too!

There is also on-location horseback riding, with plenty of greenhorns visiting from Ohio and South Carolina for the Fiesta Bowl this week.

A few of the campsites have their own horse corrals, although with the evident proximity of multiple coyotes howling all around our campsite at night, I don't think I'd leave my horse there unattended like some hapless sitting snack ....

An unusual custom RV was spotted in the campground.  I jokingly asked where our Amazon Prime delivery was, and the owners were not amused.  I imagine they've heard that one before ....

Hot air balloons take off from the deserts surrounding the campground nearly every day, a beautiful sight with morning coffee or an evening cocktail.

And of course, the most magnificent part of any Arizona camping adventure are the breathtaking sunsets, here crested by a tiny crescent moon and its planet escort up high in the sky.

We determined the new RV to be spacious enough for even the largest (and furriest) dinner guest!

We've been camping with Ryan and Erin and their daughter Kate since 2013, and this was our first trip with Connie and Les.  Friends around the campfire does a heart good!

Kate helped Philip put our new electric ice cream maker (a Christmas white-elephant-exchange acquisition) into play with our first round of homemade strawberry ice cream ...yummmm!



Montezuma Castle National Monument is in Camp Verde, about midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Montezuma Castle was thoughtlessly and incorrectly named by clueless American settlers who didn't bother to consult Siri, and instead just assumed this dwelling was Aztec in origin.

It was built between 1100 and 1300 AD by Southern Sinaguan Native American farmers.  Back in the day (through the 1950s), you could "tour" (tromp through all willy-nilly) this site, leading to looting, graffiti and extensive deterioration.  So, now you can only gaze from afar.

The ruins of this 5-story, 20-room dwelling are available for viewing from a short, paved footpath.  Beams from these type of sycamore trees were built into the ceilings of the castle.

Also on site is another less-well-preserved site uncreatively named "Castle A," that had about 45 rooms, presumably without room service.  Here is all that is left of Castle A.


Part of the Montezuma Castle complex but a 10 mile drive away, Montezuma Well is a huge sinkhole that is still spring-fed.

It's pretty crazy that Montezuma Well gets only about 13 inches of rainfall a year, but the Well has over 15 million gallons of water!  It continues to receive new water by percolation through rock and by a vertical wall of rock under the Well that acts as a dam.

Like Montezuma Castle, this area has the remains of inhabitants built into the walls and under rocky coves.

It also has graffiti, but ancient graffiti, from the late 1800's! So, not really graffiti at all anymore.  Now it's an "artifact."

This particular fella, George Rothrock, was an enterprising photographer who took advantage of Montezuma Well's popularity and painted his very own advertisement for all to see on the overhead rocks.  The earliest form of social media, perhaps?

The remains of a pit house was probably built by the Hohokam, probably on a staycation themselves from the Salt River Valley in southern Arizona.  

Shut the front door! Here is where it was located.  100-150 people lived here between 1125 and 1400 and used the nearby water sources to irrigate their crops.

A on-site picture gives a better representation of how it looked and how it was probably very cozy, a forerunner to today's "tiny home" craze.  Probably also a "smoky home."


This small but interesting fort in Camp Verde, just down the road from Montezuma Castle, is the best-preserved Indian Wars-period fort in Arizona.  (Granted, that's a short list, but still.)

Soldiers, scouts, officers, doctors, and their families lived here in forts like this from 1865-1891.

Besides a variety of furnished homes you can walk through, there is also a small museum housed in the former Military Headquarters.  During the holidays, they are decorated in period style, including an actual sock (hopefully clean) for a stocking on the mantel.

The parlor is where the family would gather for activities.  If the family had children, they would have slept in the kitchen. 

Wheelchairs, cameras, and ambulances have sure come a long way!

This mule litter was used to evacuate the sick and wounded.  Looks cozy, no?

Our Arizona staycation came to an end, as we returned home to begin de-Christmassing the sticks-and-bricks house.  We love Elsie and have already practically forgotten the Lucky Charm, though we hope she has found a happy home with a new family by now!

Santa knew just the right gift ... Elsie was made all the more lovely with the perfect neon dash accessory! 

We'll be taking a few more short trips in the next couple months, before spending April/May/June in the Carolinas and Georgia.  Wishing you a fun-filled 2020 with friends and family galore!