Cactus Joe’s

Cactus Joe's Blue Diamond Nursery Entrance

Cactus Joe’s Blue Diamond Nursery Entrance

So I had a relative visiting recently and we made the rounds of some of my favorite places in and near Las Vegas.  High among those is Cactus Joe’s Blue Diamond Nursery, which as the name implies is near the town of Blue Diamond, right off the highway that goes through Red Rock Canyon.

A few of the cactuses at Cactus Joe's

A few of the cactuses at Cactus Joe’s

There are so many things to love about Cactus Joe’s!  There are over 7 acres of stuff there, including cactuses, pots and garden décor of all kinds.  The folks who work there are very knowledgeable about the plants they carry, and they take good care of their customers.  We were there at midday in the summer, and they came around handing out free bottled water to everyone.  How cool is that?

A few pots...

A few pots…

They also carry lots of cactus varieties that are native to the Mojave desert.  These tend to be smaller than the cactuses that thrive in the Sonora desert.  For example, the giant Saguaro cactus is native to the Sonora desert, but not to the Mojave.  Cactuses native to the Mojave include many varieties of Cholla, as well as Hedgehog, Beavertail, Red Barrel, and Claret Cup, among many others.  Many of these varieties are protected plant species, so you can’t just go out into the desert and gather them (not legally anyway).  Never fear; where applicable, Cactus Joe’s will provide a certificate so you can prove you obtained the native species properly.  They carry Saguaros and many other cactus varieties as well.

Painting and wall décor

Painting and wall décor

It is such a fun place!  They have a gift shop, and many small buildings filled with various intriguing items, from offbeat signs, to rocks and crystals, to handmade sculpture and art work.  The outsides of the buildings are adorned with a variety of paintings and decorative works.  There is also at least one cat hanging around, probably more…  The one we encountered was very friendly and allowed us to pet him as he lazed about on one of the garden benches.

The gift shop

The gift shop

I’d recommend Cactus Joe’s to anyone visiting Las Vegas.  It’s a unique place, ever changing yet always retaining its quirky regional charm.

Here is the link to Cactus Joe’s web site:

http://www.cactusjoeslasvegas.com/

Well until next time,

Good luck to ya!

The Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden

This Way To The Chocolate Factory!

This Way To The Chocolate Factory!

The Ethel M Chocolate Factory is located in Henderson at Two Cactus Garden Drive.  It is a locally-owned and operated chocolate factory, founded by Forrest Mars in 1981 when he retired to Henderson, NV.  The name Ethel M is in honor of his mother Ethel Mars.  This is the Mars family that is famous for chocolate candy like the famous “Mars Bar”.  Mars Inc. is still a family-owned business, belonging to the Mars family.

The Botanical Cactus Garden is a wonderful, four-acre garden of cactuses, succulents and other drought-tolerant ornamentals.  There is also a section devoted to Mojave native plants.  It is the largest such garden in Navada. The picture on the left shows a Saguaro cactus.  Doesn’t it look like it’s pointing the way to the chocolate factory?

Saguaro Cactus Skeletons

Saguaro Cactus Skeletons

The Saguaro cactus is a very popular landscape plant in the Southwest. Saguaro cactus skeletons are also very prized by desert landscapers, and they fetch a good price at local nurseries.  The ones pictured on the right are unusually large and make a very dramatic statement in this section of the garden.

Datura Flower

Datura Flower

There are more than just cactuses and succulents at the Botanical Cactus Garden. It also includes many flowering plants that thrive in our hot and arid desert environment. This is a Datura flower, a very dramatic looking flower that is found across the Southwest and into Mexico. Datura is also known as Jimson Weed. It is also both poisonous and hallucinogenic, and has been used for centuries by shamans and initiates seeking visions. However, be warned:  this is a dangerously toxic plant.  As one person put it, “the initiate, [if he lived], would definitely have visions”. Or in other words — don’t try this at home, kids.

Red Bird of Paradise Flower

Red Bird of Paradise Flower

Another beautiful shrub found in the Southwest is the so-called “Bird of Paradise”.  This desert-loving plant is not to be confused with the tropical flower of the same name.  Both are dramatic but look quite different from one another and of course, thrive in different habitats.  The one shown here is the Red Bird of Paradise, botanical name “Caesalpinia pulcherrima“.  There is also a yellow variety,Caesalpinia gilliesii“, also known as the Yellow or Desert Bird of Paradise.  As the name suggests, this variety is even more tolerant of the desert climate.

Well, there are lots of other beautiful plants at the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden.  So if you are ever in Las Vegas, be sure to visit this little gem.  Especially in the spring, when the cactuses and shrubs are in bloom.  While you’re there you should also take a tour of the chocolate factory!  But we’ll save our chocolate factory tour for another time.

Until next time,

Good luck to ya!

Some links:

Ethel M Chocolates site:
http://www.ethelm.com/default.aspx

Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden page:
http://www.ethelm.com/about_us/cactus_garden.aspx

The Sun Gardens Bird of Paradise page:
http://www.sungardensinc.com/Shrubs/Bird-of-Paradise.html

The Sacred Datura page:
http://www.weepeeple.com/drawer/daturapage.htm

Red Rock Canyon

You knew it was coming, right?  Anyone who lives in Las Vegas knows about Red Rock Canyon, that beautiful pristine area that’s just about 30 minutes away from anywhere in Las Vegas.  Its official full name is the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  But few of us ever call it that!  Red Rock Canyon works just fine!

I went out there recently looking for cactus blossoms.  Only found a few, but as always, the scenery was fabulous.  Here are a few shots:

Red Rock Vista

Red Rock Vista

Joshua Tree Pods

Joshua Tree Pods

Cactus Flower With Bee

Cactus Flower With Bee

Death By Fire

Death By Fire

Flowering Indigo Bush

Flowering Indigo Bush

So as you can see, there is a lot more to be found in and near Las Vegas than just what can be found on the Strip.  Red Rock Canyon is one of the closest areas for admiring nature’s beauty but it is not the only place.

Well until next time,

Good luck to ya!

 

More Big Wheels Coming To Town

Las Vegas certainly has its share of big wheels.  There are, of course, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, both big casino moguls and both very, very wealthy men who are also known to have their differences.  There are big wheels in entertainment, too, some of whom have (or had, who can keep up?) long running contracts to perform here:  Celine Dion, Elton John, Bette Midler, Terry Fator, and many, many more.

Then there are the big whales:  big gamblers who risk millions in the casinos here…  Every now and then we get stories about a big whale who sues the casino because, he claims, they plied him with drinks and drugs and made him lose all that money; or conversely, about a casino who sues a big whale because he welched on payment.  But that’s just part of the deal here in the gambling mecca of the USA.

SkyVue towers under construction

SkyVue towers under construction

But now there’s a different kind of Big Wheel coming to town.  Two, maybe even three, Big Wheels are planned.  Two of them are already under construction.  The picture here is the construction site of the SkyVue wheel, across the Strip from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.  When — or if — it is completed, this wheel will be the third highest observation wheel in the world.  It promises spectacular views of the Strip from the enclosed cars on the wheel.

Another Big Wheel that is planned is the High Roller., which is being built between the Quad and the Flamingo on the Strip.  This one will be the highest in the world, so they say.  It of course will also provide spectacular views of the Strip.  It will also have more and larger cars on the wheel itself, holding up to 40 people each.  According to most sources, this one is the most likely to be finished in the foreseeable future.

Finally there is yet another Big Wheel planned for Las Vegas, across the street from the Atria Hotel (part of City Center).  It will be part of a “London-themed thrill park”.  There is even more skepticism that this one will be built, but apparently the initial plans have been approved by the Clark County Commission.

I don’t know about the financing ins and outs, or whether Las Vegas can really sustain not one, not two, but three giant observation wheels.  But I can hardly wait for at least one of these to be completed!  I’ll wait a few days to make sure any kinks are ironed out before venturing onto whatever Big Wheel gets here first, but after that I’ll be up there with my camera so I can share the views with y’all!

P.S.:  Did I mention that one of my very favorite things about Las Vegas is the constant construction?  Oh, sure, it can be an eyesore; and it certainly kicks up the dust.  But I just love big heavy equipment, and seeing how these big projects look from the very beginning.  Las Vegas is known for building things, and perhaps even more for tearing things down.  Sentimental we’re not.  (RIP Stardust!)  But even for Las Vegas, the Harmon Tower will be a short-lived building.  In spite of its being highly photogenic, it was never occupied, and is slated to be torn down due to structural defects.  Oh well.  Viva Las Vegas!

Commentary about the three planned wheels from VegasChatter.com:

http://www.vegaschatter.com/tag/The%20High%20Roller

http://www.vegaschatter.com/tag/Ferris%20Wheels

http://www.vegaschatter.com/story/2013/3/25/17398/4713/vegas-travel/Ready+For+A+Third+Ferris+Wheel+And+London-Themed+Thrill+Park%3F

More on Steve Wynn vs. Sheldon Adelson:

Discussion of their approaches, financial info (mostly re:  Wynn):

Gossip about their rivalry from 2011:

http://dailycaller.com/2011/10/18/billionaire-casino-rivals-sheldon-adelson-and-steve-wynn-sitting-within-seat-of-each-other-at-cnn-debate/

A more critical — and more political — look at their differences:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/27/1103558/-Steve-Wynn-vs-Sheldon-Adelson-One-Percent-Two-Paths#

Well, until next time,

Good luck to ya!

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (officially it’s the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health) opened here in Las Vegas nearly 3 years ago on May 21, 2010.  The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who, according to this article in the Architect’s Newspaper, and this article in the Architect Magazine, had vowed never to build in Las Vegas.  But Larry Ruvo was persuasive, promising to give Gehry free rein in his design and also noting that it was in a good cause, the study of Alheizmer’s disease.  Ruvo had lost his father, Lou Ruvo, to the disease.  Gehry asked Ruvo to expand the research to include Huntington’s Disease; the two men agreed, and  as a result, we now have in Las Vegas a premier institute of brain research and a striking example of modern architecture.

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Local wags have observed that such a modernistic, curved, almost bizarre structure might not be the place you would want to go if you had a problem with your brain.  But mostly it is a source of pride in the community, not to mention a magnet for photographers, who have found the subject an irresistible one.

It’s really pretty amazing to have this wonderful institution here in Las Vegas.  Las Vegas is not a place that springs to mind when you think of medical care.  While it does have a dental program, UNLV does not offer medical degrees — aspiring medical doctors must go to UNR in Reno.

Atrium View - Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Atrium View – Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

The center is dedicated to the pursuit of more effective treatments for brain diseases and to the provision of state-of-the-art care for patients affected by these diseases and their families.  The main campus is in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Las Vegas center performs research and also provides treatment for various brain disorders including Alheizmer’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and many others.

The Center’s fundraising arm is the Keep Memory Alive foundation, which sponsors the Power of Love event each year here in Las Vegas, a star-studded gala that attracts philanthropists and celebrities like Steve Wynn, Muhammad Ali, George Clooney, Michael Caine, Quincy Jones, and many, many more.

Here are some more links to where you can learn more about the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health:

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/neurological_institute/lou-ruvo-brain-health/default.aspx
http://www.keepmemoryalive.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lou_Ruvo_Center_for_Brain_Health
http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/feb/13/lou-ruvo-center-helps-those-afflicted-diseases-mem/
http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/feb/14/lou-ruvo-centers-world-class-services-are-locals-t/
http://www.lasvegassun.com/blogs/kats-report/2013/apr/11/larry-ruvo-power-persuasion-makes-power-love-phila/
http://www.lasvegassun.com/blogs/kats-report/2013/apr/16/steve-wynns-winning-weekend-raising-13-million-pow/

Until next time,

Good luck to ya!

Farmer’s Markets? In Las Vegas?

FarmersMkt_008smYes, you heard that right.  Even though we are situated in the hot, arid Mojave desert, farmer’s markets have sprung up and are thriving here in Las Vegas.  Like the rest of the country, Vegas has seen an upsurge of interest in fresh, organic, and where possible, locally-grown food.  We now have several weekly farmer’s markets in Las Vegas and Henderson.

Sunday we visited the Fresh52 Farmers’ and Artisan Market, held at the Richmar Plaza on Eastern and Richmar every Sunday from 8:30am – 2:00pm.  This market features 30 or so booths with everything from fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to handcrafted items, prepared foods, roasted coffee, gourmet balsamic vinegar, freshly sprouted wheat grass, and just an amazing variety of things!

Many of the fresh fruits and vegetables are from farms in California.  That’s because our local terrain is really not quite cut out to be farmland.  But there are some local offerings too.  The handmade items are local, and we have people who grow things hydroponically.  Also there are locally grown herbs that are wonderfully aromatic and terrifically tasty.

Strawberries from Success Valley Farms in Oxnard, CA

Strawberries from Success Valley Farms in Oxnard, CA

One of the reasons for arriving early is plump, ripe strawberries.  If you wait and come here in the afternoon, they are usually sold out.  I mean, who doesn’t love strawberries?  For me, they always make me think of the strawberry shortcake my Mom used to make, fresh strawberries trimmed and quartered with homemade shortcake and hand whipped cream that had just a touch of sugar and vanilla added.  Mmmm, good!  We couldn’t resist and bought a whole flat.  We had to give some away to a friend since we were unlikely to use that many in a timely fashion!

Grapefruits from Murray Family Farms, Bakersfield, CA

Grapefruits from Murray Family Farms, Bakersfield, CA

We also procured some lovely citrus fruits, namely, blood oranges and varietal grapefruits.  Actually, according to the young man in the booth, the so-called “Cocktail Grapefruits” shown at left (the small ones) are actually a hybrid of citrus fruits — orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime.  It sounds downright scrumptious, doesn’t it?  We haven’t tried them yet but I’ll give an update when we do.

Besides these items, we got:  some avocadoes, a bunch of asparagus, a pint of fresh pomegranate juice, a bag of sugar snap peas, a big bag of fresh flavored popcorn (non-GMO), and some handcrafted jalapeno and cheese sausages.  We already ate the sausage and it was delicious!

There were so many booths we couldn’t buy from everyone, but we’ll be back again trying out new items next week.

Oh, did I mention the live music?  This young man was serenading us all while we shopped:

Live music at the farmer's market

Live music at the farmer’s market

It’s great to have regular farmer’s markets we locals can frequent here in Las Vegas and Henderson.  Here are some links to various Las Vegas and Henderson farmer’s markets lists and sites:

http://www.fresh52.com/Index.html
http://www.vegas4locals.com/freefarmersmarkets.html
http://nevadagrown.com/farmers-market-list/
http://www.countryfreshfarmersmarket.com/
http://www.lasvegasfarmersmarket.com/
http://downtown3rdfarmersmarket.com/

Until next time,

Good luck to ya!

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Las Vegas is a Great City!

The Mandalay Bay Resort catches some late afternoon rays

The Mandalay Bay Resort catches some late afternoon rays

If you’re anything like I was before I moved here, you have a certain view of Las Vegas, and it may not be that great.  Oh, we all know that Las Vegas has great shows and that the Strip is an experience like none other.  But people who don’t live here also tend to think it must be a den of iniquity what with all the gambling and drinking and general carrying-on.

Well there is of course more than a little truth to the cliche.  Las Vegas publicizes itself as “Sin City” and promotes slogans like “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” (although Prince Harry might have something to say about that…).  While it’s true that we do have more than our share of problem drinkers and problem gamblers, there is more, so much more to be found here!

For one thing, the surrounding desert is beautiful even though it is stark.  Well, it’s a desert!  But deserts have their own beauty.  In spring, the desert blooms — all kinds of wild flowers and cacti bloom and there are profusions of color to be found in the most unexpected places.  Red Rock Canyon is a 30 minute drive (or less, depending on where you live) into a spectacularly wild and scenic area.  There’s the Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead and the Lake Mead Recreational Area, and the Valley of Fire, all wonderful scenic sites.  About an hour’s drive out of town is Mount Charleston, a mountain that is nearly 12,000 feet high and is an alpine environment and a favorite getaway of Las Vegans in the summer months.

For another thing, there are many great shops off the beaten path.  Oh, there are a lot of truly wonderful shops on the Strip, including many of the biggest luxury brands on the planet.  But going around town, off the Strip, there is a wealth of wonderful places to be found.

Also, Las Vegas is on the map when it comes to restaurants.  Sometimes it’s a little place tucked away in a nondescript strip mall; other times it’s a more established venue.  But there are many hidden treasures to be found.

IMG_2291

A large swan is part of the spring decor in the Atrium at the Bellagio.

And culture, we’ve got it!  Well more accurately, we’re getting it!  Now that the Smith Center has opened, there are first-rate performances to be seen, outside of the confines of the huge casinos and mega-resorts.  Not that we haven’t always had great shows.  Some of the biggest names in show business come here to perform; and now some of the biggest names in classical music and jazz do, as well.

So let’s raise a glass to Las Vegas.  It’s a desert mecca.  There are few sights as impressive as driving over the rise at night when you first see the expanse of lights that is Las Vegas in the middle of the desert.  The population of the city stands at nearly 600,000 in 2013, while the population of the metro area (including Henderson) is closer to 2,000,000.  It’s the 31st largest city in the U.S.  But it is not 31st in name recognition:  just ask almost anyone, in any country, if they’ve heard of Las Vegas, and you will get an affirmative answer!  People flock here from all parts of country and all parts of the the globe to see the magic.

Well enough for this time.  We’ll talk more next week.  Until then,

Good luck to ya!