Valley of Fire


Today, I went to Valley of Fire. I’ll tell you what it was like.balancing rock

There were lots of red rocks. Some of them were great for climbing. Some of the rocks had holes that you could go into. I climbed into a few holes and it was very fun.

If you are hungry, you could go to a picnic table to eat or bring a blanket to sit on.

There are cool things to look at like a rock balancing on a few other rocks. It is called Balancing Rock. There is also a rock that has petroglyphs on it. It
was very high up. You climb a lot of stairs to get to it.

I hope that you eventually go to Valley of Fire and see all of the outstanding things there!

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New Contributor: spacegirlkid

As you might have noticed, I haven’t been able to add entries to this site as very much lately. So it’s good news that I have a new contributor: spacegirlkid, who lives in Las Vegas and is in first grade. She’ll be sharing her thoughts on all sorts of things in and around town.

I’ll be helping her type what she writes, but all of her content is hers and hers alone. Enjoy!

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Book Review: Dinner: The Playbook

Jenny Rosenstrach. Dinner: The Playbook. New York, Ballantine Books, 2014. 240 pages.

This is an easy-to-read, quite sensible guide to how to get your family’s eating back on track. It is also very ambitious. Author Jenny Rosenstrach wants you to plan your meals ahead for a whole month, and–this might be the hardest part–stick to the plan.

It is not as outrageous as it sounds–Rosenstrach makes the point that, doing it this way, your family will get used to trying new (and better) foods and you’ll be able to break the usual monotony. Still, it’s a big commitment, and frankly I haven’t made it–yet. I hope to some day, but in the meantime, I’m selecting recipes from the book and trying them out on the kids.

And guess what? They usually tolerate them, and sometimes like them. Rosenstrach makes it a point to get the kids involved in cooking, which I’ve always thought was important. It’s reassuring to see that someone whose job it is to figure out how to get families to eat better has the same approach.

The book starts with an introduction (I’ve noticed that many do) which lays out the author’s credentials and explains exactly just what she’s asking you to do. After that, Rosenstrach breaks down just exactly how you can get started on putting together a meal plan–and stick to it. She has helpful hints about what to prep and when, and how to best shop for food.

Then Rosenstrach gives us a few dozen recipes ranging from pasta with butternut squash and smoked paprika to creamy Greek chicken noodle soup. These are the “go-to weeknight meals,” which will form the backbone of your meal plan. They’re generally easy and somewhat quick to prepare. Following that are a few pages of “quick sides’ to supplement the mains. Then comes something I find interesting: “Keep the spark alive dinners,” which Rosenstrach says are there to remind us that “dinner is not just about eating.” These might take longer, but getting your kids involved will make for a more memorable and maybe even tastier meal.

As I said, I haven’t taken the plunge and committed to the meal plan, but I’m still getting a lot of use out of Dinner: The Playbook. I’ve been mixing in recipes from “go-to weeknight meals,” and it’s going reasonably well. Maybe someday I’ll actually adopt a meal plan, but even if I don’t, I feel like I’ve gotten inspiration and many good ideas (and meals) from this book.

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Review: Westin Lake Las Vegas

bridgeI’m often asked what the best family-friendly hotels are in Las Vegas. I usually suggest something without a casino, since those tend to be quieter. But it’s not common to find a hotel in Las Vegas that actually caters to families with children (though you wouldn’t know it, judging by the number of strollers you’ll see in casinos even after “bedtime”).

So I was interested when I found out that the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa was actually promoting itself as a family destination. I was approached with an offer to check out what the Westin has to offer (full disclosure: my room and cabana were comped, but I paid for our meals and incidentals), and I agreed. So late Friday afternoon, the family headed down the Lake Mead Parkway to Lake Las Vegas, for a one-night, two-day staycation at the Lake.

The last time I was at the Westin LLV, it was the Hyatt Regency. Since then, it’s been a Loews and now a Westin. I’ve got to say the property looks great. The vaguely North African theme works well architecturally, and the room was clean and spacious, which is about all you can ask. It included an ironing board and coffee maker, but not an in-room safe (at least none that I could find).

The centerpiece of the Westin LLV, if you’re not attending a group function there (or maybe even if you are) is the pool complex. There are two pools, one of which has a pretty IMG_6570neat waterslide, and a private beach, with kayak and paddleboard rentals. If you have kids, you’ll probably be spending quite a bit of time out here.

The fun really starts around 6:30 at night with a beach party. Your kids can splash around in the lake, and there is food available for purchase. A cheesesteak cost $7, and, seeing as it was made fresh on the grill in front of me, I can’t complain about that price. We shared one of those, some chicken skewers, Caesar salad, and mac and cheese, for a total of $20–not bad at all if you’re on a budget. The kids were fascinated by the fish swimming around in the lake. The fish seemed expert at getting close, but not close enough to touch, to the kids.

IMG_6523There’s also a firepit where you can roast marshmallows (they sell smores kits too), which I think all kids like.

To heighten the festive mood, there’s a DJ playing music (not too loud, which is good) and periodic beach party games, like hula hooping and a balloon toss. The party breaks up before the screening of a kid-friendly movie–this weekend it was Cars on Friday and Ratatouille on  Saturday, to give you a sense of what to expect. We didn’t stay for the movie because the kids were already knocked out, so I can’t say much about it.

IMG_6573Saturday morning, we headed down to the pool complex. We had a cabana, which was a convenient place to stash dry clothes and get out of the sun. Prima was entranced by the water slide from the start. It’s a fun ride that sends you splashing down into the lower (kids) pool, and the line never got prohibitively long. The kids pool itself was about 3 feet deep, so people were wading rather than swimming, for the most part.

We also “rented” a pair of kayaks. If you’re staying at the hotel, kayah rental is free, though you must leave a picture ID with them. There is also an outfitter called “Outdoor to the Core” that rents paddleboats and the like, but the kayak was enough for us. Paddling into the lake and down to the bridge was quite the excursion, which the kids enjoyed. We also did some exploring, paddling into various nooks and coves along the way. It’s definitely a fun way to get out on the water, though if you’re looking for relaxation you’ll probably want to just lie down on a chair by the pool. Of course, if you’ve got small kids, you already know that nothing about your vacation is going to be relaxing, and kayaking really was fun.

Coming back, we spent some more time at the pool before getting changed and driving home. As you can tell, this was a very un-Vegas-like staycation, with no gambling, no shows, and, though the hotel has two restaurants, no fancy dining. I can see a few types of people enjoying a stay at the Westin LLV: Vegas residents who want a nearby staycation; people who “hate Vegas” who nevertheless have to travel to Vegas for work/family; and people who like Vegas, but want to stay for a day or two at a place that their kids will really enjoy. We all had a great time, especially on the water slide, and judging from how busy the hotel was (with a lot of California tags in the parking lot), we weren’t the only ones.

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Review: Lake Mead Cruises

Desert PrincessWith the super-hot time of summer upon us, what better time to look at a fun activity on Lake Mead?

Lake Mead Cruises offers several different cruises on its Desert Princess, a three-level paddlewheeler that holds up to 275 guests. We decided to take the “Midday Sightseeing Cruise,” mostly because we wanted something to do with the kids, and didn’t think they’d enjoy the champagne brunch or dinner cruises.

There are two sightseeing cruises daily, leaving at noon and 2pm (note: in the winter, the 2pm cruise is only offered 3 days a week, and there are no cruises in December and January). I put some thought into which one would suit us best; I thought that having a nice lunch in Boulder City would settle everyone nicely for the fun, so we opted for the 2pm cruise. We had said nice lunch at the Little City Grille (I’m a fan of the slaw burger) and headed over to The Landing, where we would board the Desert Princess.Desert Princess

Give yourself plenty of time to get there; after you hit the Lake Mead National Recreation Area checkpoint, you’ve still got some driving to do. Note: you must pay $10 per car to enter the area, and that $10 covers you for the week.

When you get to the landing, you’ll have to park far away (relatively, as these things go in Vegas). It’s a dirt lot, and fun to explore for kids, because it is the shoreline of Lake Mead. All sorts of fun things can be found.

As you get to the walkway to the landing, you’ll find one of them: a school of carp that swims around the walkway, waiting for cruisers just like you to throw some food in. Luckily or not, the concession area at the landing sells popcorn, which the carp seem to enjoy, though I’m not sure how good it is for them. There are also plentiful ducks to be found, if you’d like to feed something that can fly.

Boarding is prompt; you line up and get shuffled efficiently on board; you are quasi-pressured into getting your picture taken before boarding, but you don’t have to pose or buy them.

Desert PrincessOnce you get on board, there is plenty of room to roam. You might want to start out on the top, outdoor deck, where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the lake. There’s a recorded narration that plays. It starts out by talking about geography and then goes into history, but I couldn’t recall anything that was said 30 seconds after it was said, so don’t expect this to make too much of an impression. Your kids will probably want to explore the boat. You will go up stairs and down stairs and inside the first floor lounge and out of the first floor lounge and inside the second floor lounge and out of the second floor lounge and back down to the first floor lounge, then up to the third floor deck, then back down…you get the point.

There is some food for sale, even if you’re not taking a meal cruise, and the staff seems OK with small amount of outside snacks coming aboard, particularly if it keep your kids quiet, I’m guessing. The boat cruises out to Hoover Dam, which you see for about 5 minutes, then comes back. The time kind of flies, especially if you’re chasing your kids around and occasionally losing them (if you have to chase after two or more simultaneously, which happens).

All in all, this is a fun trip for kids. It’s a really nice ride out on the lake, and the kind of thing that breaks the day up nicely but isn’t an all-day excursion. You could leave the Strip after an early lunch, do the cruise, and be back by 5-ish. Highly recommended.

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Bass Pro Shop Summer Camp

9_5356149_1Bass Pro Shops (the official name on the logo is plural, so I’m keeping it plural) is the enormous hunting/fishing/camping/outdoor retail mega-emporium that is directly adjacent to the Silverton Casino, Hotel, and Lodge. In fact, they are connected, and you can seamlessly walk from one into the other.

You might be thinking, “why would I want to bring my kids to shop for hunting/fishing/camping/outdoor gear while I’m in Vegas?” I’m guessing if you’re not particularly into any of that stuff, this question will be particularly acute.

You’d want to visit Bass Pro Shops because, even if you’re not buying, it’s an incredibly fun thing to do. Yes, just what every merchant wants to hear, I’m sure, but bear me out.

As adults, we get used to commodifying pleasure: if you’re going to have fun, you’ll pay for it somehow, whether it’s buying movie tickets, investing in a shiny new gadget, or purchasing media. Not so for kids. When your kids are small, just about anything can be fun.  Personally, I can take my kids to the local supermarket for 45 minutes and have a ball just looking at all the quirky stuff they have on sale. When it’s summer in Vegas, spending time in any air-conditioned space is priority number one. So cruising a retail store really isn’t that strange–at least for me.
9_8688646_16Bass Pro Shops, though, isn’t just any store. It’s got what feels like acres of audaciously cool
stuff. Your kids will thrill to their introduction to action taxidermy, as they are delighted and sometimes frightened by the realistically mounted animals throughout the store. If you’ve got your own bow, they can practice their archery. And, even if they can’t swim, you board any or all of the dozens of boats they have for sail. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and the Nevada Revised Statutes).

So what I’m saying is that you could easily spend an hour here, just wandering around. There’s also a target shooting game that I can see being a big attraction for some kids.

But wait, there’s more! This summer (through July 13), Bass is running “Family Summer Camp,” a series of events every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

There are some events that run from noon to 5, and others that run from noon to 2. From noon to 2, your kids can do a crafts project, like “Create Your Own Rainbow Thermometer.” From noon to 5, you can do things like hit the BB shooting range, where your kids get to practice shooting at a target. There’s an upstairs shooting game, too, so they can have some fun trying that out as well.

The best things, I found, were the workshops. In these, an instructor leads the kids through the basics of one outdoor activity, teaching them safety tips and other useful information; when they are done, the kids get little pins. So far, we’ve attended the swimming and hunting and shooting workshops. The hunting one was more conversation and safety than technique, although we all learned a little about the various kinds of hunting.

You might not be into the outdoors, but at the very minimum this is something fun to do inside. We spent about two hours there last weekend, and will be going back soon.


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Coming back

After quite a while (almost a year) of being busy with other projects, I’m ready to post here again. I have a few posts planned–in the past few weeks, we’ve done some fun stuff that I’d like other people to learn about.

The purpose of this blog is to help people with kids who either live in Las Vegas or who find themselves having to travel to Las Vegas with their young kids. While Las Vegas probably isn’t the first place you think of taking your kids, there are quite a few fun things to do with them here, if you have to be here with them. I see the ideal out-of-town reader as someone who is bringing their kids to Las Vegas for a family-type event (wedding, reunion, etc) and wants to find out about what they can do with their kids while they are here. As an alternative to sitting in your hotel room or just hanging around the pool (if you can find a pool that isn’t a day club), you can take a few side trips away from the Strip/Downtown–places like the CSN Planetarium or the Clark County Wetlands Park.

Basically, as the about page says, this site aims to help you insulate your kid(s) from Las Vegas, and, just as importantly, insulate Las Vegas from your kids. Because, after all, people who come here to debauch and gamble don’t necessarily want to do it in front of your young kids. In all likelihood, though, you’ll be among kindred spirits when you visit the places suggested here.

In any event, I’m looking forward to sharing some fun stuff this summer. Hope you have a safe and good time out here in Las Vegas!

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Star Trek Family Fun in Las Vegas

Has it been a year already? Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek convention, held at the Rio, starts again tomorrow.

There’s a lot of fun to be had here: the staff and the guest stars are very family friendly; one of the highlights of my first con was a conversation that Gary Lockwood (AKA Gary Mitchell from TOS: Where No Man Has Gone Before) had with my then two-year-old.

This year, there are more than 100 guests, ranging from William Shatner and several other stars of the original series to Karl Urban, Alice Eve, and many others connected with this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

And for all of you Janeway fans, Kate Mulgrew will grace the stage twice. It seems like most of the main casts of Voyager, DS9, and TNG will be there as well. This is the 20th anniversary of DS9, so there will be some special programming for them,

I’ve found that my kids really got a kick out of the con, mostly because of all of the people dressed up in costume. It’s really fun to watch them interact with the cosplayers, who also seem to get a kick out of it. On Saturday, the Costume Parade and an attempt to set another world record for people in Star Trek costumes take place, so if you only go for one day, that might be a good one.

In general, it’s a friendly and laid-back place to take your kids, particularly if they also like the show(s). One caveat: sometimes the stars get a little…not kid-friendly with their language while they’re on stage, so you might want to think twice about having your very little ones in the front row during some of the more spirited panels.

For more information about the con, you can go here or just show up at the Rio this weekend.

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Hotel Review: Grand Sierra Resort (Reno)

Last month, I was asked to do some work up at Reno, with the accommodations at the Grand Sierra Resort taken care of as part of the deal. So I figured what better way to celebrate January than to take the family up to Reno for some “real” winter weather, with snow on the ground. That might seem pretty counter-intuitive, but when you live in Las Vegas, the chance to walk around in snow is a novelty, not an annoyance.

I’ll share some details about the room and the resort, with the full disclosure that I didn’t pay for the room. On the other hand, I wasn’t asked to write a review and was under no obligation to do so, so there’s no quid pro quo here.

We were given a base-level Summit room, which is well worth the upgrade if you haven’t booked one. The decor was modern and the room clean. Regular amenities of a coffee maker and room safe, and a flatscreen TV. Pretty much what you’d expect to find in a good hotel room these days. It was more spacious than other rooms we’ve stayed in lately, too.

One note for people traveling with kids: don’t book the Concierge level, which is floors 25-27. We were given a room there, and when we tried to use the Concierge lounge, we were told kids weren’t allowed inside. I didn’t particularly mind since I didn’t pay for the room, but if I had paid extra to have access to the lounge and the continental breakfast, I would have been miffed. Originally I didn’t understand why they didn’t want kids in the lounge (no explanation given), but looking on the website I see that it turns into a bar at night, so that certainly makes sense.

Probably the best thing about the GSR for families in Fun Quest, which is located deep in the catacombs of the Lower Level. [Parenthetical here: GSR opened as the MGM Grand Reno back in back in 1978, and it’s very similar to the original MGM Grand Las Vegas, which is now Bally’s. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you visit. On the Lower Level, you can even see the original MGM lions on the elevator doors if you look hard enough.] It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but don’t give up hope: it’s well worth it. tumble Town

Anyway, Fun Quest is a blast. Since Prima and Secunda are still toddlers, they were confined mostly to the Tumble Town area, which is your basic kids play gym, meaning there are blocks, a bunch of things to crawl on, and more things to crawl on. We spent a grand total of three hours or so here, and the kids didn’t get bored at all–in fact they wanted to stay. You, on the other hand, might want to tag team it with your co-parent or bring a book.

There’s lots more to Fun Quest than Tumble Town–some cool slides, laser tag, and a whole arcade full of classic games like the basketball hoop game that was a plot point in Bookies and Dance Dance Revolution. And there’s probably lots more even cooler stuff for older kids that I didn’t notice, being pretty much confined to Tumble Town. But I saw a lot of teenagers and pre-teens hanging out here and at the Round Table Pizza down the hall, so I guess this is pretty popular.

Back to the hotel…one of the best things about GSR is that they let dogs stay. We don’t have any dogs ourselves, but the kids love saying hi to dogs they meet, and once or twice it took us fifteen minutes to get from the elevator to the side door because there were so many dogs to play with. It gives the place a not-casino vibe, which is a good thing.

Of course, you’re in a casino, and that’s half the fun. One morning, Prima and I were up early, so to get her out of the room (so that Mrs. Viva could get some extra sleep) we went for a walk downstairs and caught the parade of partiers staggering back in around 6 in the morning. Weeks later, Prima still does a good impression of one drunk but harmless guy who was weaving his way around the lobby and stopped to talk. Good times.

So if you’re staying in Reno, I’d definitely suggest the GSR. Noticed a lot of skiers there, so I assume it’s got good proximity to the ski spots. It’s right off the freeway–as in you drive straight from the exit right into the parking lot. Fun vibe that’s about halfway between a classic casino and a ski lodge. I’d pay for a room there next time.

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Review: CSN Planetarium

If you ask most cab drivers where to see stars in Las Vegas, they’ll tell you to get tickets to a show or hit a nightclub. With all of that light pollution, the city isn’t known for its observatories. But there is at least one place for budding astronomers to visit while they’re in town: the CSN Planetarium.

CSN is the College of Southern Nevada, the area’s two-year college system. The Planetarium is located at the Cheyenne Campus, which is several miles north of Downtown.  It’s a quick drive from the 15–just head north until you hit Cheyenne, go east and then, after about a mile, the campus is on your left.CSN Planetarium entrance

Finding the Planetarium is a bit of a quest–there is absolutely no exterior signage. Having never been there before, I used Google Maps to locate it, but couldn’t find anything that looked like an entrance. Finally a security guard gave me directions.

The Planetarium isn’t connected to a world-famous observatory like the one at Griffith Park, and if you’re expecting that kind of facility, you’ll be disappointed. But if you come to the Planetarium for what it is–a science venue in a community college–you can have a wonderful time learning about the skies with your kids. The Planetarium is basically two rooms and a hallway in the building that houses the Education, Social Science, and Science departments. But for someone with a shred of imagination, it’s a link to the stars. Most kids have imagination, so play along, and you’ll have fun.

Get there a little early–as you’ll be reminded several times, the shows start promptly on time, and there is no late entry. Once you’re inside, you can leave, but you can’t come back in. So if anyone needs to go to the bathroom, do it before the show.

You buy your tickets in the small gift shop, which had plenty of neat science and astronomy related posters and toys available for sale. Some of the stuff seemed like it was scavenged; for example, there were a few NASA postcards of random shuttle missions: one featured the mission insignia of STS-4; another had the crew of STS-7; yet another had the crew of STS-41-B. It gives you the feeling that you’re meeting science on the frontier, where resources are scarce but enthusiasm runs high. It’s $6 for adults and $4 for kids.

The Planetarium itself is small. I might be spoiled from having been to the one at Griffith Park, which has seating all around in reclining chairs, so that you’re practically laying on your back as you watch the stars move above you, but at 30 feet, the dome isn’t the biggest, and the seating is in regular theater-style chairs. Again, this isn’t a knock on the Planetarium–we had a fantastic time and, given the resources, it’s phenomenal that CSN has something like this open to the public. I just don’t want to raise expectations that this is the kind of thing you’d see at a major observatory/science center.

This was a two-person mission for Prima and me. I’d say that, at 4 and some change, she’s at about the bottom age range where kids can actually get something out of this. Much younger, and I’d also say that there’s the risk of the kid being freaked out by the show.

There are three shows on Friday (6, 7, and 8 PM) and four on Saturday (3:30, 6, 7, and 8 PM). We went to the Saturday early show, and got a “double-header” of “Season of Light” and “Stargazing.”

Here’s the trailer for “Season of Light”

The show was about a half-hour long, give or take, and started by talking about the science of the solstice before moving into several religious holidays around this period, including Chanukah, Christmas, Saturnalia, and traditional Native American and Celtic rites.

The producers walk a delicate line between being respectful of all the traditions and advocating for any particular one of them though, as can be expected, they spend most time talking about Christmas and considering various astronomical phenomena that might have been associated with the birth of Jesus. All in all, it’s a good show.

Then there’s the much shorter “Winter Stargazing” show, which provides a good introduction to stars visible in the hours after sundown during the winter months. at the end of this, you’ll be able to find Polaris, and, using Orion and Sirius, find all the stars of the Winter Circle. Fun stuff.

We found one of the most remarkable things after the show was over. Right outside the doors, there’s a display with a tire. Big deal, you might say. Only it turns out it’s one of the main landing gear tires that Discovery used on STS-121. It’s indescribably cool to be able to touch (well, there were no signs that said don’t touch it) something that’s been in space and played such a critical role in getting our astronauts safely home. Prima and I went home and watched launch and landing footage of STS-121. Here’s a bonus clip of ascent footage from inside the cockpit.

There are other small exhibits in display cases around the planetarium and, if you go up to the second floor and walk a bit, models of the space shuttle and ISS and an Astronaut Wall of Fame with signed portraits from a few dozen astronauts, mostly from the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo era, though there are several shuttle astronauts as well. You can have some fun talking about the accomplishments of some of these astronauts with your kids–well, at least I did.

All in all, this is about an hour of activity, give or take, depending on how much time you spend afterwards looking at the exhibits. You’ll want to check the schedule before heading up, because it changes. I know Prima and I are looking forward to seeing the next show in January, and when she’s a little older we’ll hopefully catch the late show and do some real stargazing afterwards.

The CSN Planetarium is an unexpected gem of a find in North Las Vegas–lots of fun for any kids interested in space (and parents, too).

Now, as far as finding it…here’s the best way. Using this map, I can save you the hassle I had. Head east on Cheyenne after you exit the 15, make a left on Community College Drive, then the first right. Park in that lot, and walk right up to the “L” building. You won’t see any signs, but trust me, the planetarium’s waiting for you inside.

If you live in town, this is your best chance to see planetarium shows on a regular basis in the area’s only planetarium. If you’re from out of town, it’s not a bad place to take the kids for part of an evening if you want to get away from the Strip. Combined with a leisurely off-Strip dinner before or after the show, it could make for a nice evening. You can get all of the details and check which shows are current right here.

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