Rediscover Las Vegas
The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas was designed by architect Frank Gehry. (Mark Ralston/Getty)
Beyond the bright lights of Sin City, let loose in a bulldozer, eat steak like the Mob and play vintage pinball.
Activities: Bulldozer therapy
The first thing to know about Las Vegas is this: whoever came up with the name Sin City really wasn’t kidding. ‘Arrive with luggage, leave with baggage,’ as the old joke goes. But hangovers and ill-advised wagers aren’t the only reason to come to this parched corner of southern Nevada, a four-hour drive from LA. There’s also the unmistakable sense that you’ve arrived in a place where the laws of reality are simply not being enforced.
This, after all, is a town where an exotic dancer was once put on trial for murdering her boyfriend over buried treasure – six tons of silver bullion, to be precise; it’s a town where tourists used to attend roof-top ‘atomic bomb parties’ to view ten-kiloton blasts, wearing only shorts and sunglasses for protection (the Nevada Test Site is 70 miles away); and it’s a town that counts among its prime attractions a fake volcano that erupts on the hour.
Let’s not forget the more humdrum distractions, such as the pick-up trucks that cruise up and down the central thoroughfare (aka the Strip) towing billboards which read, ‘Strippers! Direct to your room!’ All of which explains why I decide to purge myself of self-destructive tendencies upon arrival – to get the sin out of my system, so to speak. And for this, there is nothing better than the ‘Dig & Destroy’ package at Dig This, a scene of diabolical hedonism on a patch of scrubland next to Interstate-15. Here, a squat New Zealander named Ed Mumm keeps a fleet of construction-grade excavators and bulldozers and, in defiance of all common sense, allows pretty much anyone (for a fee, naturally) to play with them after only a few minutes of training. This is the ‘dig’ part of the experience. The ‘destroy’ part comes later, at a nearby gun range, where automatic weapons are supplied with similar bravado.
‘Don’t worry: it’s impossible to make a mess out here!’ Ed reassures me, once I’ve been breathalysed (an insurance requirement), fitted with a fluorescent vest and handed a Diet Coke (this being America, the cabs of the bulldozers have air conditioning and cup-holders). Before long, I’m tearing up the ground, scooping it up, making hills, driving over them, then covering them back up again. Judging by my fellow diggers, it’s not just men who find this enjoyable. ‘At least half our clients are women,’ confirms Ed. ‘And they tend to be better operators, because they listen to the instructions and they don’t put as much pressure on themselves when they’re digging. They also laugh and scream a lot – which I like.’
He’s right: there are whoops and giggles as the bright yellow machines are driven as if they were life-sized Tonka toys. Meanwhile, beyond the freeway, under a sky hotter than all the ovens of Hell, the insane skyline of Las Vegas Boulevard – where the Eiffel Tower stands between Brooklyn Bridge and a lurching pirate galleon – glitters approvingly. Later, Ed tells me that his company also offers a gentler package, known as Excavate and Exfoliate, in which the gun range is substituted for a spa treatment. Strangely enough, it’s not very popular. (from £150)
Shopping: Your very own poker face
Shopping is another, albeit potentially ruinous, way to stay out of trouble in Las Vegas. And by ruinous, I mean... well, The Wynn hotel has a Ferrari dealership in the lobby. There are more interesting places to spend your money, however, such as the Gambler’s General Store. Getting there requires a car or a taxi – the nondescript warehouse is close to the downtown area – but it’s only a ten-minute drive from the Strip.