The Essential Guide to: Las Vegas, Nevada

From the neon glow of the Strip hotels and their outrageous decoration to the natural beauty of the Red Rock canyons and Mt. Charleston, Las Vegas provides a diverse vacation environment. Golf courses speckle the city; local tour companies travel to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. The casinos themselves have grown far beyond their original role - flop houses for gamblers - to become attractions in their own right. Today, the casinos are mammoth - many with over 3,000 rooms - and enclose restaurants, theme parks, night clubs, and retail centers.

The appeal of Las Vegas only grows. The city is experiencing a phenomenal increase in residents, and the number of tourists is on the rise. While some cities have been trapped by their identity, Las Vegas continues to grow and change.

Las Vegas History

Although Las Vegas today seems devoid of any human activity prior to 1950, its roots are deeper than appearances suggest. The first settlement of the area occurred in 1829 when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera discovered an oasis that shortened the trade route from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. This settlement, possibly named from the Spanish word for "meadow", grew into what we now know as the entertainment capital of the world. The next group of settlers - as incongruous as it may seem - were Mormon settlers looking to colonize the valley. In 1854, the settlers moved down from Salt Lake City, but were quickly overwhelmed by the rigors of desert life and left two years later.

The city began to grow when railroads decided to make the small settlement a stopping point. In 1904, work began on the first railroad grade into the city, and new prosperity followed close behind. Hotels and restaurant, boarding houses, shops and saloons all developed to meet the needs of railroad workers. By 1905, the railroad was completed, and on May 15 of that year, the city was incorporated.

The Great Depression brought the next influx of people and energy. In 1931, construction began on the Hoover Dam, and thousands of unemployed men came looking for work. The same year, the Nevada state legislature legalized gambling to raise revenue for public schools and cut down on bribery, creating the Las Vegas we know today. Immediately, hotels sprung up and gambling dollars flooded the town. The Strip began in 1941 when Thomas Hull built the El Rancho hotel, a 100 room motel with a Western-theme casino, off the highway from Las Angeles. After World War II, the resort hotels began to sprout up and brought A-list performers to the city. Competition on the Strip invited greater excess, more flash, and bigger hotels.

Recently, the city has developed a more family-friendly identity, emphasizing its appeal as a complete entertainment destination, not just a gambling resort. The Vegas showgirls have faded to the background in favor of theme parks family-oriented diversions. The effort seems to be working. Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Hotel occupancy rates top 90%, and the pace of hotel construction has only increased. The convention business is booming. And, of course, the casinos never stop dealing.

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