Vegas Week: Ending With a Bang

We were in transit today back to Massachusetts, and I’m dead tired. But here’s a bit about our final full day in Sin City.

We headed back over to the Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art for their Ansel Adams: America attraction. This was a wonderful collection of Adams’ work, and in fact I decided a few sentences into the audio guide’s description of the first piece to just shut it off and let the photographs speak for themselves. This isn’t the sort of thing one thinks of when one thinks of Las Vegas, but it was an attraction we had really looked forward to and got a lot out of.

We then checked out some of the remaining casinos we hadn’t really spent time in. First up was the ginormous Caesar’s Palace, which we couldn’t not see. We were struck first by how huge the place is, and secondly how unexpectedly tasteful it was. I mean, you wouldn’t confuse it with an actual educational tour of ancient Rome or anything, but it wasn’t nearly as “Vegasy” as I imagined it would be.

Next up was the Flamingo, a more old-school Vegas casino. The main attraction here was the wildlife habitat, where many birds (including, of course, flamingos, but no longer including penguins) are housed.

Our final casino stop was the Venetian, which Becky had really wanted to check out. It didn’t disappoint. Jumping ahead a few centuries from Caesar’s, the Venetian offered a canal that could be traversed by gondola, opera singers, harlequins, a miniature “Bridge of Sighs”, and security guards dressed like Carabinieri.

This was our last stop on the Strip, and we didn’t spend a dime on gambling. We were all gambled out at that point.

However, the main attraction for the day was what started it out, a visit to the Atomic Testing Museum.

This place, documenting and displaying the history of Nevada as the main site for developing and testing atomic weapons, was incredibly interesting, and not always in the intended manner. While striving to maintain a purely educational, historical, and neutral tone, there were definite (and not subtle or subtextual) themes of “Man taming the unruly Mother Nature”, “We must appreciate and have these weapons so that we never have to use them”, and “We had no choice but to develop, perfect, and increase our nuclear arsenal.” There was very little that raised any questions about the testing of atomic weapons, and when those questions were raised they were dismissed with “Well, of course, some people got hurt; we were dealing with dangerous materials, but their sacrifices helped to make it safer and increase our understanding” and “the people who protest atomic weapons are protesting against the very things that make them free to protest.”

What’s more, the display itself significantly downplayed the fact that atomic weapons have been used in war, by the United States, and the costs thereof. Fortunately a temporary display of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Exhibition provided a much needed sobering coda to all the gee-whiz of the museum itself. This exhibition provided an unflinching view of the effects of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s very little about this display on the museum’s web site, but you can read about it here. Once this display leaves next week, it will be replaced by something called “Atoms for Peace,” and I suspect that the absolutely vital warning this exhibit sends will be completely lost.

The other disappointing thing about the Atomic Testing Museum is that although it’s chock-full of incredible ephemera from the early days of the Atomic Age, no photographs are allowed and there are no postcards available of the actual museum, nor is there any kind of guidebook that can be purchased. It’s a very bizarre way to run an allegedly educational resource. (In fact, after exiting the Hiroshima-Nagasaki display and going into the museum gift store, it was very difficult for even me to get excited about purchasing little tchotchkes celebrating the wacky world of atomic testing.)

For the remainder of the day we hung out with the Tanaka-Parks, ate some fine dinner, played some games, and started making plans for our next visit. Becky and I were really delighted with all that Las Vegas had to offer, and were amazed at the number and variety of experiences we were able to have in such a short amount of time.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to Anne, Stewart, and Sydney, for putting us up, putting up with us, ferrying us around, treating us, and basically making it hard to get back on that plane. We had a great time and can highly recommend Las Vegas as a vacation spot that has plenty to offer that you already know about and much more that you might not.

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