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Vegas — Off the Beaten Path
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Sure, we all know to watch the lovely sways of the Bellagio fountains or see the “eruption” of the Mirage volcano before capping the night at the Fremont Street Experience downtown. But in addition to these well-known tourist spots in Las Vegas, there are hidden gems scattered around the valley. If you’re in Sin City this summer for poker, gambling or other — hopefully legal — activities, don’t miss these other opportunities.

Red Rock Canyon

No, I’m not talking about Red Rock Casino, although that casino gets its name from that park, but Red Rock Canyon, the area’s scenic treasure near Summerlin, about a 30-minute drive from the Strip. In the 19th century, this canyon was a popular water source for settlers and explorers traveling through the region, thanks to the springs that flow from the mountains. Centuries earlier, Native Americans lived and hunted here, and their fire pits and rock etchings can still be found around the canyon. Visitors can take a 13-mile loop road around Red Rock Canyon, stopping at checkpoints to take in the view or hike through parts of the canyon. There are walks to caves, springs, even an old homestead. Just be sure to bring plenty of water, or buy some at the visitor center.

A cheap lounge act

These are becoming increasing harder to find, but look through the Vegas guides while in the city and you’re bound to find some. Harrah’s, for example, has “Big Elvis” — one of dozens of Elvis types, apparently, as I can once recall playing poker with “Old Elvis” during a tournament for media at the World Series of Poker. Harrah’s is also the home of Mac King, a low-rent comedy/magic hybrid act that can often be viewed for the price of a drink, thanks to plentiful discounts available in local coupon books.

Sigma Derby

Most of today’s slots are highly technical video game-like contraptions designed to hook players into continuously feeding money into them. Then you’ve got relics like Sigma Derby, a mechanical horse racing game that practically whisks you back decades to Old Vegas. Between every “race” the odds are posted for various exactas of two horses finishing one-two (it doesn’t matter which is first and which is second, actually, as you are just betting on the horses that will be top two). Some odds will be as low as 2-to-1, while some will approach 100-to-1. You put in your quarters and bet however many credits you want on two horses. After 30 seconds the horses will race out of the gates, with two eventually pulling away from the pack to the finish line. Sigma Derby is a fun way to waste a roll of quarters and is often packed due to its limited seating. The game is an endangered species, however, as only two exist — at MGM Grand and The D — and the manufacturer is no longer in business.

Peppermill

Although much of the north Las Vegas Strip is slowly disappearing — bye bye Riviera, Frontier, and Stardust — a classic restaurant remains in Peppermill. Opened in 1972, the eatery is a feast for the senses, filled with neon lights throughout, and the wide selection of food is both tasty and large in portion. After finishing your meal go relax in the Fireside Lounge that is part of the facility. You can either grab a seat in the circular arrangement of couches around a fire pit or sit at the bar and play video poker that features some of the better odds on the Strip.

Neon Museum

Speaking of neon, some of the old classic signs of those imploded casinos can be found here, in the downtown area between Las Vegas Boulevard and Encanto Drive. From the Silver Slipper to Stardust to Caesars Palace, many of the classic signs of the Strip — dating as far back as the 1930s — are exhibited in the outdoor exhibition space known as the Neon Boneyard. You can also learn about the history of the signage in the visitors’ center housed in the former La Concha Motel lobby.

You can take an hour-long guided tour seven days a week, or choose a self-guided tour. Guided tour times vary based on the season.

Johnny Kampis is author of  Vegas or Bust: A Family Man Takes on the Poker Pros.

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