Wednesday, April 29, 2015

JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa ~ The Rampart Casino!












     A Luxury Resort Casino Overlooking The Las Vegas Valley!
     The JW Marriott Rampart Casino Resort is located at 221 N Rampart Blvd about one bloc south of the Summerlin Parkway.  This location is in the Summerlin neighborhood of Las Vegas, near Red Rock Canyon.  The JW Marriott overlooks the lights of the city from the mountain's edge.  The Rampart Casino is an elegant resort that has a classic Las Vegas western architectural design.  The atmosphere offers comfortable relaxed elegance.
     The JW Marriott is a full scale resort.  This casino resort has a convention center and meeting rooms.  Business travelers that seek elegant peace and quiet can find it at this resort.  The resort hosts several restaurants, a pool and spa facility too.

     Many of the local Summerlin residents frequent the JW Marriott Resort.  This destination actually promotes itself as being local's friendly.  The players reward comp system at this casino offers great value.  The Rampart Casino rewards system creates a high level of customer loyalty that few other casinos in the valley can match.
     Many people cannot imagine that luxury and value can be mentioned in the same sentence, but in this case it can.  When considering the pleasant atmosphere, the elegance and the high level of customer satisfaction that this resort offers, one would expect to hear that the prices would be at a premium cost.  To my surprise, the prices for room packages at the JW Marriott are quite reasonable.  In fact the pricing is a real bargain in this modern age.

    The main attraction of booking a stay at the JW Marriott Resort happens to be the game of golf.  Every major Las Vegas golf course is located in the Summerlin neighborhood.  There are a couple of championship golf courses nearby that host professional tournaments each year.  One of the golf courses carves its way through rough mountainside canyon terrain and just landing the ball on the green is a real challenge.
     Summerlin is an upscale neighborhood.  Plenty of fine shopping areas, wine bars and restaurants are located within one mile of this resort.  Tivoli Village and Downtown Summerlin have turned into popular shopping destinations in recent years.
     Scenic Red Rock Canyon is close by and there are plenty of outdoor activities to do in this area.  Hiking and rock climbing are the primary activities, but during spring many folk go to Red Rock to see the desert flower blooms.  Wild burros and their newborn foals also head down into the canyon this time of year.  One might say that Red Rock Canyon is a photographer's paradise.

     The Rampart Buffet
     I chose to dine at The Rampart Buffet on a holiday weekend, because the waiting line at a buffet on the Las Vegas Strip is about a mile long on a busy night.  Dining off the beaten path is not a bad idea in Las Vegas on a holiday night.  Experienced Las Vegas visitors know this as being a fact!
     The dining experience at The Rampart Buffet was beyond my expectations and the short waiting line had a lot to do with why I was so pleased.  The food offerings were quality oriented and well prepared.  
     The dining room was comfortable and well maintained.  The reason that I mention this is because on a busy holiday night, it is all too easy for a buffet to look like some kind of a food war zone, where the staff cannot keep up with the pace.  This was not the case at The Rampart Buffet.  I was very impressed with how organized the staff was on that busy evening.  It was easy to see why so many regular customers chose this nice buffet setting for their family holiday dinner.
     The Rampart Buffet has multiple carving stations that offer an impressive selection of premium items like Pineapple Glazed Whole Ham Leg, Prime Rib, Roast Chicken and Roast Turkey.  Even Peking Duck is offered at the carving stations!  The international food offerings at this buffet are meant to please the tastes of visitors from around the globe.
     This buffet offers everything from classic international entrées to trendy modern creations.  Halal and Kosher food items are offered too.  The desserts are hand crafted by a talented pastry shop crew.  The Rampart Buffet literally offers something nice for any visitor from anywhere.  This is by far one of the nicest buffets in the valley!  

     After dining, I decided to take advantage of the Rampart Casino player's reward system.  While playing an Alien movie theme video slot machine, I ended up hitting the Alien Egg Bonus.  I actually won enough money to cover all costs that evening and I also earned enough player points to get a free prize spin at a Rampart Casino Players Reward kiosk.  The free spin resulted in winning even more redeemable players points, a half price buffet voucher, a free baseball cap and a free pumpkin pie.  That's life Off The Strip at the Rampart Casino in Las Vegas!  
     I highly recommend the Rampart Buffet at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa.  This customer friendly casino offers both comfortable elegance and value!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Spring Wildflower Bloom at Kyle Canyon, Mt Charleston!














     Kyle Canyon
     Mt Charleston is only about a 45 minute drive from downtown Las Vegas.  Mt Charleston is a busy ski resort in the winter.  During spring and summer, the mountain turns into a hiking and camping paradise.
     Mt Charleston is over 11,000 feet above sea level.  Starting at about 5,000 feet up, the temperature starts to drop.  When it is over 100ºF in the Las Vegas valley, it is about 20º cooler on the mountain.  Since the humidity here in the high Mojave Desert is usually less than 10%, a 20º difference in temperature really feels nice!
     Springtime in the high desert is wildflower season.  It does pay to get off the beaten path this time of year.  Most of the dirt roads in Southern Nevada are freshly grated after the snow season water run off ends, so even a passenger car can handle the main dirt roads.  To take the rougher dirt trails, driving a high ground clearance 4x4 is the only choice.

    Kyle Canyon runs from the base of the mountain to the small town of Mt Charleston way up at the top.  There are many dirt side roads to explore.  I chose to take a scenic drive on the dirt roads that run straight up through the canyon at about the 4,500 foot elevation.
     There were plenty of wildflowers blooming and the summer heat had not turned the foliage brown as of yet.  Few cactus flowers are seen in Kyle Canyon, because cactus do not grow in areas that have winter temperatures that drop below freezing.  Even so, there were plenty of interesting Joshua Tree blooms and Purple Sage blooms.  Wildflowers of every color dotted the landscape.

     Because it was late in the day, light and shadow made Kyle Canyon even more interesting from a photographer's perspective.  Many ravines and mountain features that are not visible early in the day were easily seen during the sunset hours.
     Only a very small portion of Nevada is tame and civilized.  Most of Nevada is wide open spaces where few faces can be seen.  Venturing into the great outdoors is a good way to take a deep breath, relax and get things in perspective.  The spring season weather is cool and mild, so this is a good time to check out the scenery and wildflowers.

     Las Vegas visitors will find that 4x4 SUV rentals are easy to find in the city.  Even though the weather is cool, always pack a two day supply of water and non perishable food when venturing off road, in case of a breakdown.  Bringing a good camera is a must!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Suncoast Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas!











     Suncoast Casino Resort, Las Vegas!
     Some Las Vegas casino resorts are known as local's casinos.  Casinos that are located away from the Las Vegas Strip are usually given this designation.  Local's casinos primarily cater to the local population, but tourists that are not attracted to the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip find comfort at these destinations.
     The pace of the Off The Strip casinos is easier going.  Mile long waiting lines are not often seen in these resorts.  The employees remember the names of regular customers and guests are greeted by their first name.  The experience is more personable than being in a high volume resort on The Strip that has a room capacity of a small city.
     The architectural design of Off The Strip casino resorts focuses on customer comfort.  The floor plan of local's casinos is like those back in the golden age of Las Vegas before the gigantic mega resorts came to be.  Customers can easily navigate their way inside of a local's casino.

     Comfort is not the only key to success for a local's casino.  Value is also a theme.  Many visitors of Las Vegas demand value for their dollar.  For many folks, paying the price to experience a modern cutting edge casino resort is not as important as getting real solid value for each dollar spent.  Value is a also prime concern of the local population.  Visitors and locals both like to get the most for their money.  Glitz and glamor are not always a prime concern.
     Local casinos offer prices on merchandise, food and services that are a good bargain.  The bargain becomes even better when a customer signs up for a player reward card program.  Casino resort rewards programs offer great bargains.  Dining discounts are one of the sweetest deals in a casino player's reward system.
      Las Vegas locals are adept at assessing value.  They know where the best bargains are in the Las Vegas Valley.  The locals know which casinos offer the best player rewards point systems.  Win or lose, the player reward points do add up.  At some local's casinos the points add up faster than average.  

      One of the favorites of Las Vegas locals are the Coast Casino Resorts.  Coast Casinos are part of Boyd Gaming.  Boyd Gaming has many properties in the Las Vegas Valley.  The historic Fremont Casino, the California Casino and the Main Street Station Casino in downtown Las Vegas are some of Boyd Gaming's landmark resorts.  The Gold Coast Casino on Flamingo is close to the Las Vegas Strip.  This Boyd Gaming property appeals to those who want to be near the strip, but not in the thick of things.

     The Suncoast Hotel & Casino is located at 9090 Alta Drive at the intersection of Rampart.  This location is in the Summerlin neighborhood on the mountainside west of downtown Las Vegas.  The Suncoast Casino overlooks the Las Vegas Valley.  This casino is easy to get to from all points in the valley, because the Summerlin Parkway is only a couple blocks away.
     Summerlin is an upscale modern community in Las Vegas.  There are several classy modern shopping areas and great places to dine in Summerlin.  Many championship golf courses are located in this area.
     Locals and visitors like the relaxed pace of the Suncoast Casino.  There are good dining bargains in this resort.  The St. Tropez Buffet at the Suncoast Casino offers nice quality food that is value priced.  The value is even better if a customer has a player rewards card, because discount pricing is applied!

     Breakfast At The St. Tropez Buffet! 
     The St. Tropez Buffet is comfortable and it has a nice atmosphere.  The service is friendly and attentive.  The food quality at the St. Tropez Buffet is higher than any local's casino that I have seen so far.  The cooks at this buffet produced some great looking food and they keep there stations spotless.  I was impressed by the St. Tropez Buffet kitchen staff's high level of performance and professionalism during my visit.
     I just happened to  in one of those "I want something different for breakfast" kind of moods when I dined at the St. Tropez Buffet.  All one has to do is use a little bit of imagination when selecting food items at a buffet to create a plate of food that is outside of the norm.
     Pizza for breakfast?  Sure, why not!  Smoked salmon onions and capers on french fries?  Even better!  Pickled herring in sour cream over sliced tomatoes definitely satisfies many cravings.  A plate of ham with tomato salsa, eggs, marinated mushrooms and CB Hash?  Sure!  Mini waffles with strawberries and teeny little marshmallows?  That really hits the spot!  Fresh fruit, a kiwi tart and a donut hole with red, white and blue sprinkles?  That is a sweet combination.  As every buffet warrior knows, Carrot Cake is the bomb for breakfast!  The layered chocolate cafe torte was a nice grand finale!
     Eating breakfast in Las Vegas does not mean that a person has to follow strict breakfast dining rules that are carved in stone.  A person can eat whatever their heart desires!  The St. Tropez Buffet offers great breakfast food and lunch food for those who live a timeless lifestyle.  I liked the wide variety of food choices at this buffet!    
     The St. Tropez Buffet at the Suncoast Casino offers plenty of high quality food that is easy to recognize.  Relaxed comfort and good dining value are part of the experience.  Breakfast at The St. Tropez Buffet is a good choice for golfers that have a mid morning Tee-Time!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Spring Wildflower Bloom at the Desert National Wildlife Range, Nevada!



























     The Spring Wildflower Bloom at the Desert National Wildlife Range, Nevada! 
     Spring is desert wildflower season.  From March through May desert wildflower blooms nearly everywhere in Southern Nevada.
     One of the best places to see desert wildflower blooms if at the Desert National Wildlife Range.  There are two main roads that run through this vast wilderness area.  Alamo Road runs along the northwestern border of the the wildlife preserve all the way to the south end of the Great Basin Desert near Pahranagat. 
     Alamo Road is a fairly well maintained dirt road that is smooth enough for an average SUV to traverse.  Like all desert dirt roads, conditions can change without warning.  A rainstorm or flash flood can make the road impassible.  It is always best to check the board at the visitors center or ask the rangers whether there are any road closures before starting off on a long distance off-road venture, like driving the entire length of Alamo Road.    
     All along Alamo Road there are plenty of wildflower blooms to see.  Multiple full blooms on cactus usually can be found in shallow mountainside storm washes.  A good season of winter rain causes cactus to be plump full of stored water.  Plum cactus usually have the most unopened buds and flowers.  One can tell how long the desert wildflower season will be just by judging how plump the cactus is.  

     On the day I took a drive on Alamo Road the weather was nice and the summer heat had not yet set in.  That year was one of the best desert wildflower blooming seasons in decades.  The desert was literally painted with bright colors. 
     Hidden Forest Road is a side road that leads up the mountainside from Alamo Road.  At about the 4,000 foot elevation the landscape changes.  The entire mountainside is covered with blooming orange color Mallow Globe flowers.  The view is one of the most spectacular in the southwest.  A southwestern outdoors internet magazine actually featured the the Hidden Forest Road Mallow Globe bloom photos that I shot that afternoon.  A lot of desert wildflower enthusiasts left some really nice comments on those photos, which can be seen toward the end of the slide show at the top of this article.     

     The Desert National Wildlife Range is only a few miles north of Las Vegas on Highway 95, just past the Paiute Reservation and the Snow Mountain Smoke Shop.  The dirt road access into the wildlife range is called Corn Creek Road.  The road signage in the wildlife reserve is well marked.  Maps and information can be found at the visitors center.  
     The Desert National Wildlife Range is the largest wildlife preserve in the lower 48 states.  This is a vast open range expanse and it can take a couple days for help to arrive if there is unforeseen trouble.  
     Be sure to bring a map, because this wildlife preserve is a large place and distances can be deceiving.  Always bring at least a two day supply of water and non-perishable food, in case the vehicle breaks down.  High ground clearance vehicles are recommended, especially for side roads that run up the mountains.  

     By all means, be sure to bring a good camera with a telephoto lens, so a wildlife photo opportunity is not missed!  The Desert National Wildlife Range is an official Bighorn Sheep habitat.  These wild animals do not usually do not hang around long enough to offer a second chance photo opportunity.  Bighorn Sheep can usually be spotted on cliffs and crags that overlook the lower elevations.      

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stratosphere! ~ Las Vegas!


















     The Stratosphere Hotel Casino Resort!
     The Stratosphere Casino Resort is located where Main Street merges with the Las Vegas Strip just north of Sahara.  A visitor to town simply needs no directions to find this destination, because the Stratosphere is the tallest observation tower in America.  The 1,149 foot tall observation tower can literally be seen from anywhere in the Las Vegas Valley.
    The Stratosphere Hotel Casino Resort opened in the mid 1990's.  The Stratosphere has nearly always been marketed as a casual fun resort that appeals to working class visitors and conventioneers.  
     This casino resort is at the north end of the Vegas Strip and it is close to the downtown Fremont Street entertainment district.  The Las Vegas Arts District is next door and the Las Vegas Convention Center is only a few blocks away.  The old classic Vegas style motels and wedding chapels in Skin City are within walking distance and there are plenty of multi cultural restaurants in this area.

    The main attraction and star of the show is the Stratosphere Tower.  A trip to the top only takes a few seconds in the high speed elevator.  There are a few decks at the top of the tower.  One deck offers a glassed-in observation deck with a 360º view of the city.
   On the second deck there is a fine dining restaurant that obviously offers a great view of the Las Vegas Valley from every table.  There also is a very nice cocktail lounge called Air Bar with live entertainment on this deck.  Air Bar is the highest lounge in Las Vegas.
     For those who need something to steady the nerves before proceeding to the open air top deck that touches the clouds, I highly suggest getting primed before doing so.  The Expresso Martini at Air Bar really has a way of providing the willpower to get on one of the thrill rides on the top deck!    

     Insanity!
     Stepping out of the elevator onto the top deck on the Stratosphere Tower feels like stepping onto the wing of an airliner a thousand feet above ground.  The first reaction is to grab onto something and hang on for dear life.  Those who are scared of heights really do not want to look down at the ground, because the distance is so great that it is easy to become dizzy and faint.
     After the initial shock of standing in the clouds subsides, the awesome view of the city takes over.  Every scenic sight in the entire valley can be viewed from the tower.  The view of the neon lights on the Vegas Strip from the tower at night is fantastic!

     There are several hair raising thrill rides on top of the Stratosphere Tower.  In my opinion, the Insanity thrill ride is the best by far!  I have ridden the Insanity thrill ride at the top of the tower in the past.  The Insanity thrill ride is the ultimate white knuckled adrenaline rush!
     If you happen to have a weak stomach, then do not eat anything before going on the Insanity ride, just for the sake of the innocent bystanders that are looking up from 1,149 feet below!
     Insanity is a circus style ride the arches out way over the edge of the top of the tower.  The seats are at the ends of long mechanical arms that spin fast enough to create just enough centrifugal force to keep passengers glued in their seats.  As the ride spins faster, the angle of the arms reaches a horizontal position and riders are forced to look straight down at the ground over 1,000 feet below.

     The feeling of riding on Insanity is nothing less than phenomenal, especially at night!  Everything starts spinning, then that queazy feeling starts.  Then the buttocks actually starts to feel like a magnet trying desperately to attach itself to the seat.  Sheer panic sets in quickly at this point and the hands end up being frozen in position with white knuckle, while trying to grip the rail even tighter.
     Then the panic gives way to absolute insanity!  All one can do is scream and laugh and scream even harder while continuing to laugh like a nutcase that completely lost their mind!
     When the Insanity ride is over, stepping back onto the solid tower is the best feeling ever!  The thrill ride is so insanely intense, that all fear of heights is forgotten.  Looking straight down from the tower is easy after riding Insanity, because nothing is scarier than this amazing high altitude thrill ride!

     The Sky Jump!
     The newest thrilling experience on the Stratosphere Tower is the Sky Jump.  Sky Jump is a tethered free fall jump from the top of the tower to ground level.  For those who always wanted to jump off the Empire State Building, this is even better, because the Stratosphere is even taller!
    The cable tether line allows harnessed jumpers to dive off the top of the tower and fall over 900 feet at 32 feet per second!  It is a long way down and one simply cannot help but to pray that nothing fails or it will be bug splat city!  Fortunately the tethered line slows jumpers down to a safe touch down landing speed about 30 feet from the ground.  Jumping from over 100 stories up is an adrenaline rush that simply cannot be beat!

     Roxy's Diner
     What does red vinyl booths, chrome furnishings, a soda fountain counter, classic prefab stainless steel diner design and a 1950's rock & roll theme add up to?  Roxy's Diner!
     The 1950's diner decor is not all that is offered at Roxy's Diner.  Roxy's has a singing waitstaff that  performs 1950's style rock & roll music!  Several shows are performed daily and the talented singing waitstaff does get the customers involved in the action.  If you are into 50's music, then Roxy's Diner is the place to be!
     The menu at Roxy's features all of the popular food that was served at diners in the 1950's plus much more.  Diners and burger stands were a way of life 60 years ago and this still is a popular lifestyle in today's day and age.  Roxy's Diner has the perfect atmosphere for enjoying the classic all American meal that consists of a burger, fries and a shake!  To many folks, this is fine dining at its best!

     I had some time to kill late in the afternoon in Las Vegas recently.  The temperature was over 100º that day, so I ducked into the Stratosphere to cool off.  I sat down at a table in Roxy's Diner and started reading the menu.
     Burgers, fries, salads, sandwiches, fish and every old 1950's style food item that one could imagine was offered on the menu.  I really wanted to do a burger at Roxy's, but I had eaten my quota of burgers in recent weeks.  The hot food on the menu just did not strike a note, after finding shelter indoors from the hot "oven like" temperatures of the Mojave Desert summer heat.
     I then thumbed through the menu to the last page.  Everybody knows what the last page of an old fashioned diner menu is.  Pies, desserts, floats, malts and shakes!

     On a hot day, having a root beer float or a shake is a nice way to cool off and relax in an air conditioned diner.  Diners always have casual and relaxed atmosphere that is conducive for sipping on a float or a shake.
    The pictures of the old fashioned shakes on the menu looked good, but I became fixated on one dessert photo on the menu.  I was trying to deny myself the temptation that the photo presented.  I looked through the entire menu one more time, trying to forget that I ever saw that tempting dessert photo on the last page.  I then gave up hope and gave in to temptation.  The photo of the Roxy's Diner Banana Split won over my decision making process!

      It has been many years since I have grazed on a good banana split.  The menu photo of Roxy's banana split looked like a picture perfect nice quality banana split from the 1950's and 1960's.  Roxy's banana split was not one of those awful fast food soft-serve ice cream shop banana splits that are nothing like the real deal.  Roxy's banana split was made the old fashioned way with every required classic topping.
     The toppings of pineapple sauce, chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce were top quality.  The hand crafted quality French vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream scoops were top notch.
     The banana was split lengthwise like it is is supposed to be.   Fresh made whipped cream to boot!  Chopped walnuts and of course the signature finishing touch of maraschino cherries gave the Roxy's banana split the official stamp of 100% authenticity!

     A great banana split in a 1950's diner atmosphere was not all that was going on during my visit to Roxy's Diner.  I was sat at a table near the big screen television that was the size of a wall.  Guess what was movie was playing?  Thats right!  Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret in Viva Las Vegas!
     I was served my banana split right at the start of the car race scene towards the end of the movie.  Perfect timing!  What is great about the car race scene, is that the race winds from Hoover Dam all the way through old Las Vegas.  The race scene is like watching a time capsule of the golden age of Las Vegas history.
     Before I knew it, I was watching the race scene and mindlessly munching down on the banana split!  The movie was great!  I kept commenting to myself that this is one great banana split, while gawking at the movie!  I must have looked like quite a sight to passers by, but thats okay, because this is Vegas!

     If you have been seeking a great 1950's classic American diner experience, then Roxy's Diner at the Stratosphere is the place to go in Las Vegas!  There is no better atmosphere in Las Vegas for enjoying an old fashioned classic banana split!