25 random things about Las Vegas

For those who attend Interop this month and think they have some free time, here are 25 quintessentially Vegas things to consider while visiting the city of lights.

1. Pee on the Berlin Wall, sort of. So it's not on the scale of New York City or Paris, but this attraction is one Vegas casino's tribute to a bit of German history. A section of the famous Berlin Wall ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") has been reassembled in the men's room at Main Street Station Casino Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. A row of urinals are mounted on the wall. 2. Las Vegas is home to a pigeon sanctuary where birds captured in buildings where they are not wanted can live out their days in the comfort of a chain-link cage. The founder of Nevada Pigeon Control, Nephi Oliva, estimates there are 500,000 pigeons in Las Vegas and wants to get rid of them humanely rather than killing them. So his business captures them and houses them in his sanctuary where they are cared for. He's hoping the City of Las Vegas will hire his company to control the pigeons, much as a dog catcher controls stray dogs. That would cost the city US$8.2 million per year, according to the public utility rates on his firm's Web site.

[ The Network World Las Vegas Interop 2009 Planning Guide | Interop soldiers on in the face of a bad economy, swine flu ]

3. There are 55 golf courses in and around Las Vegas where you can get out for a couple of hours and enjoy lush green grass in the middle of the desert. Don't forget the sunscreen.

4. Stay out of trouble that might land you in Nevada State Prison in Carson City, which takes in prisoners who commit crimes anywhere in the state.  Built in 1870, it was supposed to be closed next year because it's unsafe. It just got a two-year reprieve, so it will be welcoming felons for the near-term. After it's closed by Nevada, you might want to stay out of Alaska, which is considering leasing the prison to house its miscreants.

5. Just before Interop starts, the SpiceWorld conference for IT professionals in small and medsize businesses will provide  a day of training on topics from inventorying networks to running a help desk. The event, held at the Luxor Hotel (the big black pyramid) is affiliated with Interop to the extent that SpiceWorld attendees get free Interop expo passes and a 40% discount off Interop conference passes.

6. Drive 30 miles outside the city to see the Hoover Dam, the largest concrete structure in the world when it was completed in 1936, and which is responsible for powering all the bulbs that light up the Vegas strip. It's also what holds back the Colorado River at Black Canyon, creating Lake Mead, which is responsible for the local water supply. Check out Lake Mead while you can because its water level is plummeting in the midst of a years-long drought.

7. Be ready to duck. Recently an MQ-1B Predator unmanned aircraft missed the runways at Creech Air Force Base northwest of Las Vegas. It crashed harmlessly in the middle of the desert miles from the city, but you never know.

8. You might want to rebook your room somewhere less expensive, especially if you booked it a while ago. Room rates have dropped 21.5% from last year, another effect of the bleak economy. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says that in January and February of this year the total number of visitors to the city was down 10% from the same period the year before, and convention attendance was off 28%. There were 17% fewer conventions held in those two months than in the same months of 2008.

9. If you are gambling, you should receive an extra warm welcome at casinos on the strip where the year started off with two months of revenues down 19% from the previous year, according to the convention and visitors authority.

10. Those who want to study up for doing their taxes can slip away to the Flamingo Las Vegas for the Super Seminar  sponsored by the California Society of Enrolled Agents. These tax planners and tax-return preparers are a cut above the rest because they are licensed by the Internal Revenue Service to represent taxpayers at IRS hearings.

11. While there are no implosions of buildings by wrecking crews -- a staple of Las Vegas's ever-changing skyline -- scheduled during the week of Interop, those interested in urban renewal can view historical footage of some of these events here.

12. Go on the Insanity Ride, which lives up to its name. It's a 900 feet above the strip on top of the Stratosphere Las Vegas tower. It whirls riders around at 40 mph and suspends them on a mechanical arm so they are dangling over the edge of the tower. $16.95.

13. Helicopter rides over the strip at night reveal the layout of the city set in a pitch-dark desert as well as the gaudy spectacle of lights that defines the legendary strip. Some of the helicopter outfits have champagne toasts before the flight.

14. Don't miss a photo op with the dancers from the famous Crazy Girls revue at the Riviera Hotel. Well, it's not exactly with the girls themselves, but rather with a cast-from-life statue of the dancers as viewed from behind -- sort of a buns of bronze depiction.

15. Check out Fountainbleu Las Vegas, one of the impressive buildings still under construction on Las Vegas Boulevard. It might be incomplete for a while because the banks funding the $3.1 billion hotel and casino are holding up the next $800 million in funding. The banks say the hotel is in default; the hotel says the banks are trying to duck out of the deal. Either way, 3,815-room hotel remains 70% complete.

16. Spare moment? Volunteer at the Liberace Museum, which needs greeters, tour guides and escorts aboard the Liberace shuttle bus between the strip and the museum on East Tropicana Ave. As a thank you, volunteers get a free lunch and a 25% discount at the museum store where they sell sequined bow ties and chiffon keyboard scarves.

17. Pay homage to a Las Vegas legend and one of the founders of the city's thriving gaming industry, Bugsy Siegel. Visit the garden of the Flamingo Hotel, which Siegel founded, and view the bronze plaque laid in his memory. Bugsy died in Beverly Hills, where he was gunned down presumably by underworld rivals.

18. For those on a budget, there's plenty of buffets where you can get that one substantial meal per day to power you through a packed Interop schedule. A brief survey of the options found a low-end price of $7.99 for dinner at Palace Station and a high end of $85 for the Sterling Brunch at Bally's, where they recommend making a reservation.

19. Get married at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, where for a mere $799 you can get The Famous Deuling Elvis Package, which includes use of the chapel, two Elvis impersonators singing as the gold-lame-clad young Elvis and the older sequined-jumpsuit Elvis, a dozen roses, a rose boutonniere, 18 photos, a DVD of the ceremony, a certificate holder and a copy of Elvis and Priscilla Presley's marriage certificate. Officiant, marriage license and taxes not included.

20. Consider relocating to Vegas where housing prices have plummeted and the foreclosure rate is the highest in the country. One out of every 22 homes is in foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, which markets foreclosed properties online.

21. Check out the Atomic Testing Museum that houses memorabilia about the detonation of nuclear weapons in Nevada during and following World War II. The exhibits include Ground Zero Theater, "a multisensory experience explaining the history of atomic testing." Bring your Geiger counter.

22. Head down Bootleg Canyon on a series of zip lines that guide riders above the red rock canyon at speeds up to 40 mph. A shuttle service from Bally's and Excalibur takes adventurers to the canyon, located in Boulder City south of Las Vegas. You have to weigh more than 70 pounds and less than 250.

23. Learn how to play poker -- just slip away from Interop at 2 p.m. and you can take free poker lessons in Mandalay Bay. The lessons are offered Monday through Thursday and you have to make reservations ahead of time.

24. Engage in a little professional development at the Gaming Technology Summit running from May 19-21. The conference, which is unaffiliated with Interop, features sessions on topics including Tribal Casino and Tribal Nation IT Management, The Hotel Room of the Future, and Mobile Technologies and Gaming.

25. Visit Madame Tussauds and see wax or silicon likenesses everybody you've ever dreamed of meeting whether they're dead or alive. They're having a special 10th anniversary deal in which admission is $10 rather than the usual $25.

This story, "25 random things about Las Vegas" was originally published by Network World.

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