To pick up where we left off, from Blue Diamond it was back to the hotel to cash in my few winning sportsbook bets, take a nap, then  head out to one of the best things to do in Vegas—cocktails at the top of The Stratosphere Hotel.  This towering structure at almost 1200 feet is not only one of my favorite places to stay in Vegas, great for the budget traveler, good clean rooms, $5 table games, good restaurants, but the tower itself has many attractions.  One of the best is also the cheapest. WE refer to this hotel as the Motel 6 of Las Vegas. Cheap, functional, clean, no frills. A good stay. While you can buy tickets to go to the 109th floor (scarily high) for the thrill rides (no thanks) you can ride up to the 107th floor lounge for free. While cocktails are approx $12-$13 apiece, at least there you are paying for the atmosphere.  The lounge looks down onto the restaurant a floor below. The restaurant rotates, the lounge does not-so it’s great for people watching.  The best time is to get there about 30-45 min before dusk.  Have a drink, chat with friends and watch the sun set over the mountains to the west, and watch the incredible lights of Las Vegas appear.  We tried a couple of appetizers and were very impressed. There are usually some happy hour specials.

From there we drove downtown to the Golden Nugget.  Dinner was at our favorite steak restaurant, Vic and Anthony’s.  This was our top-dollar meal for this trip and worth every penny.  Have been there a number of times and never disappointed. The wait staff is very attentive and the best, most tender steak I have ever had.  The sides are extra, but the marinated mushrooms were spectacular, even for non-fans.  Dinner there is truly a special experience and is highly recommended.

After dinner, we hit the slots and waited for the Fremont Street Experience, the dazzling overhead light/sound show that takes up several blocks downtown and shows several times a nite. Each show focuses on different bands, from Kiss, to The Doors, to the Rat Pack.  The people watching is primo.  They usually have several live bands, street musicians and performers, vendors, and everything in between. Cheap drinks and good cigars can be had in a number of directions.   Although we didn’t get to it this trip, a very cool biker bar, Hogs and Heifer’s is just a block away. Here the girls dance, uh, sometimes, fall off the bar.  Very entertaining.

The next day, we hit another new favoirite for a late breakfast/early lunch:  Hash House a Go-Go.  I ahd seen them on the Travel Channel and we stopped last year and loved it, so this year we had to take the spouses to enjoy, “Twisted Farm Food” is their sound bite,—and twisted it is.  My favorite—Chicken and Waffles.  Two large pieces of tender golden fried chickennestling on two huge buttermilk waffles with applewood bacon cooked into the waffles.  I can eat, but I couldn’t even get halfway through.  The prices are not cheap, but the portions are unbelievably large.  There can be a wait at either location, west of the strip on Sahara, or on the Strip at the Imperial Palace, but the wait will be worth it.  If you are into  delicious large breakfast/brunch, this place cannot be beat.  I wish I had a franchise. A new location has now opened in the M Resort, on the far south side of Las Vegas.

After we waddled to the car we drove up to Mt Charleston, approx 45 min away.  This refuge from the desert terrain is seen by very few Vegas tourists and they are missing a treat.  The road steadily climbs from the valley to well over 9,000 feet to a mountain lodge where native Americans sell handcrafted jewelry and pottery.  Cactus and desert scrub gives way to bushes and then pine trees.  On this visit we were granted a special sight.  The stands of Aspen trees in the draws and creek beds had changed to their brilliant golden hue.  We took a hike up a stream bed and took many pictures of the beautiful scenery.  There was even a picture of some strange squirrel-type creature hanging from a tree.  The temperatures at that altitude were 20-30 degrees cooler than the valley.  Looking at a number of incredible mountain homes in the area, we stopped by several that were for sale and checked the prices.  Might be a little high for a second home, but gorgeous just the same.  From there we coasted downhill 14 miles, in neutral, back to Hwy 95 and headed back to Vegas.

On the way back from Mt Charleston we stopped at the famous Pawn Shop from TV’s “Pawn Stars”.  It is on the Strip almost to downtown.  There was a line waiting to get in—to a pawn shop—are you kidding me?  They had security at the door, security directing traffic.  After about a 15 min wait we walked in. Although they had a few interesting items (Antique Slot machine anybody?  A $20,000 portrait of Jim Morrison?). They seemed more interested in selling “Pawn Stars” t-shirts and coffee mugs.  They did have some of the items that were seen on episodes of the show, which we love. The civil-war style mortar (that they actually shot a bowling ball out of during one classic episode) and the Top-Secret WW II map of the invasion beaches at Iwo Jima were two of the best that were on display.   We were glad we went, but don’t necessarily have to go back.

The rest of that day was spent playing some blackjack and roulette and getting my tail handed to me at the slot machines.  Still full from our huge breakfast at Hash House, for our last night’s dinner in Vegas we elected to hit Del Taco, a fast-food chain based out of California for a late dinner. Good taco’s , with fresh Cilantro, and cheap prices were just the ticket.

All in all, another great Vegas Vacation with great friends, great food, great fun.  Vegas appears to have rebounded nicely from the previous year or so.  The crowds were up, prices were up,  hotels were booked, restaurants were busy, traffic was awful. We tried the new (hotel Vdara and Aria Casino), the traditional (Vic and Anthony’s, In-n-out Burger, Pasta Mia) mixed in with new favorites, (Stratosphere Lounge, Hash House a Go-Go, Blue Diamond).  I am looking forward to my next trip back to my favorite American Playland–  Viva Las Vegas!

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