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VALUE TRAVEL The other Vegas, perfect for a winter getaway
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Bill Malcolm

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Las Vegas is a great option for a winter getaway.

With temperatures in the 70s, it is not too hot and is also very sunny and dry. There is lots to do besides gambling, seeing the shows and checking out the infamous Strip. Not being a gambler, I set out to see the other Vegas.

Getting there—I took Southwest nonstop from Indy. The flight out passed over Pikes Peak ( Colorado ), Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Lake Mead, Lake Powell and Zion national parks so be sure and get a window seat. You sometimes also fly over the Grand Canyon.

On the way back, I took American. Fares to Vegas are reasonable and there are many options.

Getting from the airport to your hotel: Proceed to Ground Level 0 and take public transit. I took the Westcliff Express to the Strip ( MGM stop ) for $2 and transferred to the Monorail to get to my hotel. You can also take the 108 bus for $2; it goes up Paradise Boulevard, which has lots of hotels ( and is just west of the strip ). Details at . Note the Monorail is separate from the RTC bus system; see . ( Two resorts also have their own trams that connect with other resorts. )

Where to stay: I stayed at the Hilton Grand Vacations on Paradise ( 455 Karen Ave. ) just south of Saraha near the Westgate Hotel. It was a timeshare that doubles as a hotel and is fairly new. You get your own studio complete with microwave, fridge, and utensils. The Marketplace Store in the Lobby has everything you need including a nice selection of salads. I paid $71, plus a $29 resort fee ( including tax ). Almost all the hotels charge resort fees but the rates are so low Las Vegas is still a steal, especially during the week. Note you will pay a resort fee even if you are using points to get a free room.

Where to eat: The EggsWorks has great breakfasts and is owned by a local family. The Lindo Michoacan ( 645 Carnegie St., Henderson ) has gourmet Mexican food plus a great view of the Las Vegas Valley. The resorts all over town also have great buffets, many at a bargain price. Yes they are a big rip off.

What to do: I walked over to and down the Strip, which was a six-mile-or-so ordeal. It is great for people-watching and there is a lot of street theater.

You can also hop on the Deuce or SDX buses and see the strip. A day pass is $8 and buy your ticket before you get on the buses.

There are lots of things to see including the dancing fountains in front of The Bellagio Resort plus lots of shopping and dining. Don't miss Planet Hollywood, New York-New York, Paris and Aria.

The north end of the strip features the Fremont Street Experience and the new Las Vegas Arts District. The view from the top of the Stratosphere is another must for a daytime view of the region.

Elton John was there the weekend I was there, as was Diana Ross. There are several Cirque de Soleil show options as well. Paul Simon gives a farewell concert on May 27.

I skipped them all and went hiking at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area south of town which features plants from the Great Basin, the Sonoran Desert, and the Mojave Desert and petroglyphs in the canyons. More than 300 rock art panels ith nearly 1,700 designs represent native cultures dating from the Archaic to the Historic era ( details at ). The barrel cactus are a treat. Bring sunscreen and water.

The Springs Preserve at 333 S. Valley View is another option. Red Rock Canyon, snow-capped Mt. Charleston, Death Valley National Park and Zion National Park are other ideas within a two-hour radius or so. Grand Canyon National Park and Hoover Dam are also a short drive away. You can even take a shuttle to St. George ( UT ); see .

Nightlife: Visit for nightlife ideas, inlcuding in the Commercial District and the Loop ( aka the Fruit Loop ). You will find Badlands at 953 E Sahara. The Pirahna Nighclub in The Loop is your dance bar. You will find locals at the Garage. They also have a Charlies. See the bar map in VegasGayMagazine for more ideas.

Other things to know: Even though I was about a mile from the Commercial Center area on Sahara Avenue and less than that to Stratosphere, I was advised not to walk there at night.

Las Vegas is not a very pedestrian- or bicycling-friendly city once you are off the Strip, despite the great weather and the fact that it is flat. So be on guard—especially at night.

It is also not a very friendly transit city for the visitor not used to poor signage, including at McCarren Airport, where they virtually hide the public bus stops in order to encourage you to take a taxi or limousine even if your hotel is on the strip a mile or two away.

Here's another fun fact: Marijuana is now legal in Nevada.

Did you know? You can get married everywhere including a new chapel at the McCarren International Airport.

With its bargain lodging rates and great shows, you owe it to yourself to check out Vegas as well as the beautiful surrounding area—especially to escape the chilly winter. And, yes, the casino buffets are a steal as well. As they say, "Viva Las Vegas." You can also visit and for more travel ideas to the infamous Sin City. There is nowhere else like it.

Bill Malcolm resides in Indianapolis. His syndicated travel column has appeared in on line editions of LGBT publications in Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago. He also writes for All Aboard Indiana ( the passenger rail newsletter ) and has a column in the Broad Ripple Gazette. These are all hobbies as journalism is his passion. He receives no compensation of any kind for the places he writes about. Find him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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