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R A D I O ’ S

C O M P A N I O N 2009



Your Guide to Extraordinary Living


Grilling advice (and recipes) from a pro


Rita Deanin Abbey’s community treasure


The season’s best cultural events


Vegas’ leading icon turns 50


An exit interview with Wynn’s right-hand man


The legacy of the ‘Black Biltmore’

An insiders’ guide to Southwestern cool spots Plus: Tips for a great family ‘staycation’




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Why It Can Be a Fabulous Summer It was always going to be a long, hot summer. This year it will also be a simmering, slow burn of tourist numbers, housing sales, revenues and stock prices going down as the temperature goes up. Our task at Desert Companion is not to repeat what you already know about the sluggish economy. We set ourselves the assignment of reflecting the aspirations we share for our region. Our goal is to provide you with inspiration, ideas for recreation and community involvement, and articles that reveal the people and ideas that shape our valley. Do we run the risk of wearing rose-colored glasses? Yes, we do, and that’s OK. We don’t have to look far to discover people helping one another, working together and finding ways to have fun and learn without busting a budget. The list includes Jeremie Whiting, a teenager who’ll spend much of his summer vacation helping Habitat for Humanity. And if your contribution to the community this summer is as simple as spending your vacation money in town, writer Marisa Finetti has a cheat sheet to make the most of it. We do have a story that touches on foreclosure, but it’s not what you think. Historian and TV news veteran Bob Stoldal explains the short but significant existence of the Nevada Biltmore resort, a landmark in our civil rights history. Otherwise, the summer Desert Companion focuses on taking your mind off the economy, with stories on where to travel and how to grill like a pro in your backyard, plus a calendar full of events. This edition also salutes two design icons: the Fabulous Las Vegas sign, which turns 50 this year, and Roger Thomas, who has created landmark spaces that will surely outlast whatever awaits the Las Vegas Strip. Anyone fascinated by the creative process will feel a tinge of envy at the scope of Roger’s design achievements, which have elevated our resorts to “best of” lists worldwide. And that’s another reason we will see the glass as more than half full through this long, hot summer and beyond. This city has given millions of people unforgettable experiences, and many of the people who created those experiences continue to make their homes 2  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

POrtrait Sampsel-preston photography

here. No economy can diminish the manmade wonders along the Strip, or the natural ones that surround us, such as Red Rock, Mt. Charleston and Valley of Fire. We live large and bright in the imagination of anyone who has visited the place we call home. If our history has shown us anything, it’s that Las Vegas will defy any label put on it by those looking to count us out. Enjoy this edition and feel the companionship of a community that relishes the challenge of reinventing itself. Fifty years on, our sign still says we’re fabulous. We are.

Florence M.E. Rogers President & General Manager, Nevada Public Radio

P.S. Congratulations to Nevada Public Radio Community Advisory Board Member and longtime contributor Brent Wright. His company recently joined with hundreds of volunteers to complete an ABC-TV Extreme Makeover for the Cerda family of Las Vegas. The segment is scheduled to air May 10 on KTNV Channel 13.

One day will make a difference.

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One day a month. If every commuter—one day this month—took alternate transportation, we could remove nearly 200 tons of pollution from our air. We could take almost a million car trips off our roads. We could breathe easier, and get there faster. And then one day, we could see miraculous changes in our valley.

Quicker. Cleaner. Greener.

Energy-saving hybrid vehicles. (coming soon)

Save gas and cash.

Two decks of total fun.

Talk to your employer about commuter benefits.

Carpool, walk or ride your bike.


departments 08




 ow a resort’s shift in H business strategy shook the city during the summer of 1949. {BY BOB STOLDAL}

 hy Betty Willis’ welcome W sign remains fabulous after 50 years. {BY PHIL HAGEN}





 he Strip’s interior design T guru, Roger Thomas, talks about his favorite spaces, his longtime boss and his June retirement. {BY FLO ROGERS}

“ 2008 Rising Star Chef” Michael Minor shows our food critic a thing or two about good backyard grilling. {BY JOHN CURTAS}





 he best summertime T activities and events, from the county’s centennial celebration to the 11th annual CineVegas.

L as Vegas goes dark for “Earth Hour”? Hold on a second! {BY PHIL HAGEN}

ON THE COVER Sunset Photo By Sabin Orr

features 27





Rita’s Gift

 ive writers share their intimate knowledge F of these cheap, easy and cool destinations: Flagstaff, Cedar City, Catalina, Lake Tahoe and … Las Vegas. {BY PHIL HAGEN, JAMES P. REZA, JAY JONES, LAMAR MARCHESE AND MARISA FINETTI}


 olunteering helped Jeremie Whiting turn V his young life around. Now he’s leading others to build brighter futures through United Youth. {BY KATE SILVER}


 ationally known artist Rita Deanin Abbey N has created a wealth of works in the giant studio behind her Las Vegas home. Art expert William L. Fox tells what’s in it for us.

4  Desert C ompan i on S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

In every gift, a ray of hope.

Thank you, Harrah’s Entertainment employees, for raising $1 million to benefit the Nevada Cancer Institute

Thanks a Billion !

Your Guide to extraordinary living

Editor Phil Hagen / Vegas Ink Designer CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Lunchbox Design Sales Nevada Public Radio Corporate Support proofreader anne harnagel


Florence M.E. Rogers President / General Manager Melanie Cannon Director of Development Cynthia M. Dobek Director of Business, Finance & Human resources Phil Burger Director of Broadcast Operations dave becker Director of PROGRAMMING DEBI PUCCINELLI Director of COMMUNITY RELATIONS

nevada public radio BOARD OF DIRECTORS Officers

MARK RICCARDI, Esq., Chairman Fisher & Phillips, LLP Elizabeth FRETWELL., Vice-Chairman City of Las Vegas REED RADOSEVICH, Treasurer Northern Trust Bank Florence M.E. Rogers, Secretary Nevada Public Radio


Susan Brennan Nv ENERGY Chris Murray avissa Corporation Elizabeth Fretwell City of Las Vegas Kurtis Wade Johnson PRECISION tune autocare John R. Klai II Klai Juba Architects Cynthia Levasseur, Esq. Snell & Wilmer jan L. jones HARRAH’S ENTERTAINMENT INC. Curtis L . Myles III Las Vegas Monorail William J. “Bill” Noonan, Director Emeritus BOYD gaming corporation peter o’neill united HEALTHcare Jerry Nadal Cirque du Soleil TIM WONG ARCATA ASSOCIATES KIRK V. CLAUSEN wells fargo Patrick N. Chapin, Esq., Director Emeritus Louis Castle, Director Emeritus Mickey Roemer Director Emeritus, roemer gaming Lamar Marchese, President Emeritus

Thanks to you, our community used 20 billion gallons less water last year than in 2002. You’ve removed 125 million square feet of grass and followed watering schedules and restrictions to do your part in surviving the worst drought in our region’s history.


David Cabral, Chairman American Commonwealth Mortgage Mark Daigle Colonial Bank Al Gibes Stephens Media Interactive Carolyn G. Goodman the Meadows School Marilyn Gubler The Las Vegas Archive Susan K. Moore Lieutenant Governor’s Office JENNA MORTON N9NE group Steve Parker UNLV Richard Plaster Signature Homes Gina Polovina Boyd Gaming corporation Chris Roman Entravision Kim Russell Stephanie Smith North Las Vegas Councilwoman Bob Stoldal historian Tim Wong Arcata Associates CANDY SCHNEIDER SMITH CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS Brent Wright Wright Engineers DENNIS COBB PRESIDENT, DCC GROUP Megan Jones Friends for Harry Reid Gerry Sawyer

For our part, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has banked more than 500 billion gallons of water in reserve for our not-so-rainy days. SNWA is also working to access a portion of Nevada’s unused groundwater to supplement our supplies from the drought-stricken Colorado River. Our job is to protect the reliability of your water supply. We couldn’t do it without you.

To submit your organization’s cultural event listings for the Desert Companion September-October edition, go and submit the form by July 15. Send feedback and story ideas to

For more information about water conservation and the SNWA’s efforts to ensure our community’s sustainability, visit

Office: (702) 258-9895 (outside Clark County 1-888-258-9895) Fax: (702) 258-5646 KNPR’s “State of Nevada” call in line: (702) 258-3552 Pledge: (702) 258-0505 (toll free 1-866-895-5677) Websites:, Desert Companion is published four times a year by Nevada Public Radio, 1289 S. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89146. It is distributed free of charge to NVPR members, supporters, underwriters and the community. All photographs, artwork and ad designs printed are the sole property of Nevada Public Radio and may not be duplicated or reproduced without the express written permission of Nevada Public Radio. The views of the Desert Companion contributing writers are not necessarily the views of Nevada Public Radio.

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4/8/09 9:36:04 AM

Dr. Wolfram Samlowski is at the forefront of the cancer fight. As a clinical investigator at Nevada Cancer Institute, Dr. Samlowski is a nationally-renowned expert in melanoma and renal cancer and a pioneer in the field of immunotherapy, which activates the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. This unique combination of research-based care enables Dr. Samlowski to give cancer patients cutting-edge therapies available nowhere else in Nevada. Nevada Cancer Institute offers a full array of support services and proudly maintains the highest patient safety standards, earning the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission. If you or someone you love has cancer, call us today. No one fights cancer alone. Call us today at (702) 822-LIFE or visit us on the web


The Black Biltmore For a few anxious weeks in 1949, the Las Vegas resort cracked the color barrier. Historian Bob Stoldal digs up fresh insights as to how and why it happened.

The Moulin Rouge, the celebrated Las Vegas hotel-casino, took a noteworthy chunk out of the civil-rights barrier in mid-century America. It was perhaps the first hotel in America built for an integrated clientele, and certainly the first in Las Vegas, a city that had earned the nickname “Mississippi of the West.” The Moulin Rouge was celebrated extensively during its mere six months in business—it made the June 20, 1955, cover of Life magazine—and it lives on today, romanticized because of the many articles, books, images and efforts to salvage its architectural remnants in the ensuing decades. But many of the steps in the long, hard climb toward equality were far less glorious. Most are completely forgotten. Such is the case with the Nevada Biltmore, a Las Vegas hotel-casino whose day in the spotlight occurred several years before the Moulin Rouge’s and whose contribution to our history lasted not even half as long. Its story is complicated by behind-the-scenes machinations—some involving prominent citizens whose names adorn our public buildings today—and lingering questions, which is perhaps why the Biltmore’s lessons have been lost beneath 60 years of dust. That, and there’s not much left to remind us of the little resort that stirred up the town during the summer of 1949. All that’s left of the Biltmore is a huge old palm tree in the middle of an otherwise bulldozed lot on the northeast corner of Main and Bonanza.


The Biltmore was built on this corner in 1942 by Bob Brooks. His single-story resort on 17 acres—featuring a hotel, cottages, showroom, casino, restaurant, bar and pool—was Polynesian-themed, a motif he’d brought with him from his famous Seven Seas restaurant and lounge in Hollywood. For nearly three years the investment paid off, thanks to business from the expanding Army Air Field at the north end of town. But by the end of 1944, Brooks saw the Biltmore’s future dimming and sold the resort. It changed owners (one of whom was 8  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S UMMER 2 0 0 9

famed bandleader Horace Heidt) until June 1948, when four well-known members of the white community purchased the resort as the Nevada Biltmore Hotel Corporation. Lou Wiener Jr. was a prominent attorney who, at the time, was handling the will of his late client Bugsy Siegel; B. Mahlon Brown was a former justice of the peace; Jimmy Sills owned a drive-in restaurant; and Carl Amente was the gambler of the group. Together they decided to pursue a local clientele instead of competing for visitors with the hotels on what was becoming known as “The Strip.” But in less than a year, the partners realized their plan was not working. A new approach was needed, and someone came up with the idea to turn the Biltmore—one of Las Vegas’ six major properties—into a resort serving the black community. During the 1940s, that community had grown from 178 to 2,888. Many blacks were recruited to work at the new defense plants here. Some were soldiers stationed at the air base or assigned to guard Boulder Dam. The Biltmore, two blocks from the railroad depot and near “the Negro section” of town, was in a good spot to reap the benefits, with business potentially coming from tourists and local residents. On April 21, 1949, as part of the plan, Wiener filed a new set of articles of incorporation for the aforementioned partnership, which was renamed the TexasNevada Corporation, and the documents listed him and two others as directors, including Cliff Jones, the state’s lieutenant governor. With a capital authorization of $1 million, Wiener stated that the purpose of the corporation was to acquire, operate, lease and or dispose of resorts. The Biltmore was not mentioned, but the next day a man who was not named in the articles, Stanley Hunter, quietly filed applications for liquor and gaming licenses for the resort. Homer Snowden was not listed in those articles, either, but two days later, the prominent Texas oilman introduced himself to citizens of Las Vegas as the president of the Texas-Nevada Corporation and announced that he had purchased the Biltmore with his partners, whom he refused to name. He did tell the Las Vegas Review-Journal that

B i l t m o r e c o u r t e s y U N L V S P ECI A L CO L L ECTIO N S

A rare look inside the Nevada Biltmore’s casino, circa the early 1940s.

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Hunter would operate the hotel-casino. The Review-Journal and the Reno Evening Gazette each wrote articles about Hunter, describing him as a native Nevadan who had been active for years in the state’s hotel business. What neither newspaper reported was that, before the war, Hunter had been escorted out of Nevada. In the late 1930s, because of financial trouble, he was forced to sell the Yucca Club, a gambling saloon on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Then he was arrested after breaking into the home of his estranged wife and threatening her and their son with a gun. The next day police put Hunter on a bus heading for Washington state, where he lived with friends. How or when Hunter became associated with Snowden, Wiener or Jones is unclear, but on May 1, 1949, Hunter took charge of the day-to-day operations of the Nevada Biltmore. Using the existing licenses from the original Wiener partnership, Hunter was able to sell liquor and keep the gaming operations open, pending state and local approval of his applications. Over the next month a series of strange events took place, starting with rumors that the owners of a major Las Vegas hotel-casino were negotiating to sell the property to a group of “colored entertainers.” On June 9 the Nevada Tax Commission voted to delay issuing a gaming license to Hunter and the new Biltmore group “subject to investigation.” The next day the whispered story became public: The possibility that a major Las Vegas re-

sort would be sold to a group of wealthy Southern California black men was mentioned in the mainstream press. A nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, Erskine Johnson, told his readers on June 10: “Jack Benny’s Rochester [Eddie Anderson] is bidding for ownership of the million-dollar Las Vegas Nevada Biltmore Hotel.” In the 1940s, “Rochester,” Benny’s valet and confidante, was a household name in America. By 1949, Anderson was a star in his own right, making film, radio and live appearances. But four days later Hunter announced that he, not Anderson, had purchased the Biltmore. He told the Review-Journal that he’d negotiated the sale over the telephone with Snowden and his attorneys 12 hours prior to the alleged Anderson bid. What kind of ploy Hunter was involved in we’ll never know, but one thing is certain: He never signed any papers. Hunter was fronting for Snowden, who was still the owner of record. Why? Perhaps it had to do with biggest news of the day. In that same front-page article, Hunter proclaimed that “the Nevada Biltmore is open to Negro local and tourist trade now.” He made it clear that the Biltmore was not going to be an integrated hotel. The community was not ready for that, but it might be ready for a resort “operated for colored trade exclusively.” The self-proclaimed new owner also said he was hiring “a complete staff of Negro attendants in the hotel.” The white establishment was shocked; the city fathers were mortified. At that

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A postcard, cocktail napkin and matchbook cover from the Biltmore’s early days.

time, no black person was allowed to rent a room, buy a meal, place a bet or see a show downtown or on the Strip. Even those who came to Las Vegas to headline in the showrooms weren’t allowed to stay in the hotels. The city was strictly “Jim Crow.” The response was immediate. Mayor Ernie Cragin called the city commissioners to his office for a “special meeting” to consider Hunter’s license requests. His first action was to have a letter read into the minutes from B. Mahlon Brown stating that he and his partners had “disposed of their interest in the Nevada Biltmore Hotel operation.” On a motion of Commissioner Reed Whipple, the mayor and the commission unanimously revoked the original licenses. The next item was a motion, again by Whipple, to reject the liquor and gaming applications Hunter had submitted three weeks earlier. With a second from Commissioner Wendell Bunker, supported by the mayor and the other commissioners, Hunter’s applications were denied. No reason was given. “Swank Vegas Resort Hotel Exclusive for Negroes Now; City Revokes Its Licenses” was the headline in the June 16, 1949, Nevada State Journal. The Reno Evening Gazette carried this quote from Hunter: “We acquired the hotel May 1, and it has been dying on its feet, so yesterday I announced it would

be operated for colored trade exclusively. Yesterday afternoon the commission revoked our bar and slot machine licenses. That’s discrimination, and I am going to court to get the licenses back.” Hunter’s charges were not printed in the Review-Journal, whose policy—as editor John Calhan later said in his oral history—was: “We were not interested in promoting racial problems. The newspaper was going to let nature take its own course, as far as the blacks were concerned. We were neither for nor against them.” But five days later, the paper did have a story about the reaction from the “Westside Folks,” who had swiftly rallied against the commission, saying the licenses were denied precisely because the Biltmore was being “converted into a colored operation.” Woodrow Wilson, president of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), demanded answers. He called on Mayor Cragin to attend a public meeting on the evening of June 20 at the Second Baptist Church. One hundred people showed up, but the mayor was not one of them. Cragin was popular among the voters, having been elected twice (perhaps it helped that his insurance firm had just about every gaming club in town as a client). But he did have a previous run-in S UMMER 2 0 0 9 D ESERT C OMPANION  1 1

History with the black community. He had opened the El Portal Theatre on Fremont Street, and despite pleas from the local NAACP chapter, kept the movie house segregated throughout the 1940s. In the Biltmore case, Cragin sent Wilson a letter saying he was sorry that neither he nor any of the city commissioners were able to attend the meeting. He invited the NAACP and its members to an “informal” commission meeting the next day. On the morning of June 22, Wilson and more than 50 supporters showed up. A Review-Journal reporter in attendance said Wilson, who would later become the first black to serve in the Nevada Legislature, made an eloquent

to eliminate all gambling in Las Vegas.” Wilson called the Biltmore’s setback “a really sad situation for the black community. It would have helped to raise the economic status of the community because that would have put blacks in positions of authority, management and the like by having people make the type of money that executives and sub-executives make in the hotel industry.” “But,” he added, “we continued to work.” And this persistence proved to be a pivotal moment for blacks in Las Vegas. For the first time in the community’s history, in June and July 1949, the Biltmore was the only first-class Las Vegas resort where blacks’ money was accepted. From the hotel rooms to the recreation facilities, they were at last being served. Dedra Geran, a black resident, recalled on the City of Las Vegas’ centennial website that during all those years of segregation in Las Vegas, the “white owner” of the Biltmore was “the only person in all of Las Vegas to let blacks swim at his hotel pool.” And although the bar could sell only soft drinks, the Review-Journal reported that “Negro guests were permitted to bring their own liquor bottles for drinks in the dining room.”

In June and July 1949, the Biltmore was the only first-class Las Vegas resort where blacks’ money was accepted. plea to the commission “to preserve civil rights and respect minority rights in the Biltmore matter.” Cragin’s response was that the city commission had no right to refuse a gaming or liquor license to any person on the grounds of race, and he invited Wilson’s committee to attend an official meeting on this issue. Wilson accepted. “A group of approximately 250 to 300 blacks followed me down,” Wilson recalled in a 2004 interview with Las Vegas CityLife. “We marched on City Hall.” Counting advocates and opponents of new liquor and gaming licenses, about 500 people showed up, forcing the commission to move from its regular chambers to a nearby auditorium. The meeting featured numerous appeals from citizens who wanted the city to change its policy of limiting the number of gambling and liquor licenses. They were denied, and so were licenses for the Biltmore and two other hopeful casino operators, including Benny Binion. Commissioner Whipple acted as a protector of the gaming industry, and pointed out that he was not alone: “A large number of substantial citizens have protested extension of gambling and liquor licensing. … If this board was to throw the city wide open, it is reasonable to believe a concerted drive might result 12  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S UMMER 2 0 0 9


Just as the Nevada Biltmore was getting into the swing, its tenuous financial framework began to fall apart. Snowden, who was behind on his payments, went to Southern California in late June to negotiate with Heidt, who held the mortgage. The bandleader wanted his money and was threatening to begin foreclosure proceedings. After several days of discussions with Heidt’s attorney, Snowden called from Los Angeles on July 3 to tell the hotel staff that he had worked out a deal to avoid foreclosure. He didn’t tell them that Heidt’s attorney had said the deal would only work—as the Review-Journal reported 10 days later—if Snowden came through with a “sizable sum of money.” The good news was that support for the all-black enterprise had come from the Central Labor Council of Los Angeles County, which asked Heidt to support

the “colored” plan. The labor group, according to Review-Journal reports from Los Angeles, believed that “Las Vegas is a natural stopover between this city and Salt Lake City, and provisions should be made for colored tourists.” But just five weeks after Hunter’s big announcement, Snowden closed the resort. Heidt’s Los Angeles attorney made a point of telling a Review-Journal reporter that the conversion of the hotel to an allblack resort had “no bearing” on Heidt’s decision to foreclose, but the band leader “wants his money out of the hotel.” In the July 19 Review-Journal, the community read about “the ill-fated operation of the Nevada Biltmore hotel as a colored resort” and how it had been relegated to “white elephant” status. Snowden went back to Dallas, and his front, Hunter, headed for Reno. For the rest of Las Vegas, it was business as usual. The Biltmore would find new owners, new managers and a new name—the Shamrock. It reopened in 1950, but luck did not go with the name. Not long after, pieces of the property were sold, the pool was filled in, and the building became a furniture store


The night Snowden closed the Biltmore, Ella Fitzgerald made her first appearance in Las Vegas, opening at the Thunderbird Hotel on the Strip. Backed by her husband’s group, the Ray Brown Trio, the singer was a hit in Vegas. A Review-Journal reviewer wrote that she was met with “thunderous applause that left no doubt that she is the top ‘pop’ singer of the nation.” Where she and her musicians stayed remains a mystery. However, by this time in Fitzgerald’s career, her manager, Norman Granz, was “using his commercial clout to combat racial injustice,” according to Stuart Nicholson’s 1993 Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz. “Promoters seeking to book his concerts had to sign a contract that expressly forbade any kind of racial discrimination.” This clause in her 1949 contracts included concerts in the South. So it is possible that Ella and her entire entourage broke another Las Vegas color barrier and slept on the Strip that very night. It’s possible. But like many of those bold little steps in our past, the memories are fading and the facts are still buried. DC

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Yeah, we see things differently out here in the country. Drive on out to rural Nevada and you might get a different perspective. Like the way the horizon looks from the seat of an ATV. How watching a cowboy ride for 8 seconds can make you feel so alive. Or how coffee always tastes better when it’s served with a warm piece of homemade pie at a small-town café. You in? Then get out here.

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Times a wastin’. Log on to S UMMER 2 0 0 9 D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n   1 3


essay by Phil Hagen

I ll u s t r a t i o n BY J e r r y M i s k o

The Sign at 50

Las Vegas’ greeting has withstood the test of time by being pretty fabulous itself. Adjectives are fleeting words. They come attached not only to nouns but moments. So when Betty Willis inserted “Fabulous” into her “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign design 50 years ago, it was simply how she felt about the place back then. And no one will tell you that she didn’t nail it. But times change everywhere, always. And then there’s the Las Vegas Strip. The fact that the sign is not only still standing but has managed to maintain much of its meaning—and most of its dignity—is something of a miracle. Betty’s sign went up at the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard in 1959 at the height of the Rat Pack’s reign and pretty much everything else that made mid-century America cool: the automobile, the neon sign, googie architecture, postwar optimism, young Elvis. And the destination that welcomed you was a fabulously hip and sunny fusion of those ideals without the daily grind of truth. Through the years, the Strip has remained a funhouse mirror of American culture, which begins to explain why it’s the most mutable commercial corridor on Earth. Today it’s a baroque amalgam of ideas old and new, from medieval megaresort to lean urban chic. And everybody—everybody who counts— agrees that the place is still fabulous, even though little of it resembles what inspired Betty. 14  D e s e r t C o mp a n i o n SU M M ER 2 0 0 9

The sign still works, and not as a mere relic. (Las Vegas, you may have noticed, doesn’t like to keep souvenirs of itself.) It works by keeping a little distance from the Strip’s continuous southward expansion. Aesthetically, that’s how it functions best—all by itself along a desert highway. And pragmatically, well, there’s no point to a welcome sign if you’ve already arrived. The periodic relocation of Betty’s work has been necessary to maintain space between her adjectival boast and what’s going on in the noun behind it. You, the driver, need a minute to absorb the message and its aura while zooming by, to let the anticipation of Fabulous Las Vegas build in a mental calibration of personal fantasy as it’s about to collide with society’s. Both you and the sign need that buffer. The downside is that not many tourists cruise into Vegas this way anymore. Our American car culture has gone from an art to an addiction, born of the insatiable interstate program, also from the 1950s. Eventually, we decided to bypass roads like Las Vegas Boulevard. Once the ultimate cruising strip, its architecture is no longer scaled for the car, and its signage has become as glitzy as a CEO’s nameplate. Interstate 15 is the main way to get in and out of Vegas these days, so you have make an effort to see the sign, and for better and for worse, flocks of silly tourists do, because it’s one of the

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Culture last photo ops that truly certifies a Vegas vacation for the ages. There’s even a little parking lot now, so high-heeled brides don’t have to sprint across three lanes of traffic to the site. But Betty’s design was not meant to be parked by and gawked at from a gravelly median, and it certainly wasn’t meant to be showcased behind a metal safety fence. The Fabulous Las Vegas sign, at 25 feet tall by 20 feet wide, was built for speed. And in your fondest memory, you come upon it at dusk so that this twinkling little burst of anticipation is set against the remnants of a Western day, and you breeze into the ultimate desert oasis just as it’s powering up for a long night. But when is the last time you saw the sign like that? Funny how it has endured apart from its intended seductive welcoming, how its physical appeal long ago transcended roadside function. One of the most duplicated icons since the Statue of Liberty, it shows up just about everywhere—key chains, snow globes, covers of personalized wedding mint tins. Although some of this is driven by the fact that Betty’s design, which was never copyrighted, is free to steal, it’s mostly because the design itself is truly fabulous. All of the elements work together in an organized chaos that makes the googie style so endearing. The wide white diamond, for example, needs the slim blue rectangle not only for support and geometrical contrast but also to float the starburst slightly and ever so delicately off to the side. And in the center of it all is the word “Fabulous,” which is purposely not the biggest word (that’s reserved for you-know-what), but it is the most stylized. Font gurus have blogged about the origin of this scripted typeface, concluding that it must have been handpainted by the artist, that it is not a member of any font family. Should it be a surprise in the age of the Internet that such originality, such spontaneity, once existed? Maybe. Perhaps this relates to the sign’s true test of design durability—that it was recently replicated to welcome visitors to the city’s “Fabulous Downtown” as well as to the less-thanfabulous “Boulder Strip.” Flattery in the form of imitation may be sincere but—just look around—Las Vegas does that all the time. Not being able to reinvent something that defines the idea of Las Vegas itself? Now that’s saying something. DC 16  D e s e r t C o mp a n i o n SU M M ER 2 0 0 9


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by Flo rogers

P O rtr a i t b y R o b e r t J o h n K L e y

In June, five months after the opening of Encore, Roger Thomas ends his long tenure as executive vice president of design and development for Wynn Resorts. He’s retiring to devote more attention to his new commercial lines of furnishings and interior design elements. Thomas—of the well-known Las Vegas Thomases—wants to fulfill a long-held desire to maintain a studio in Manhattan in addition to his residences here and in San Francisco. In late February, shortly after the World Market Center had honored him as a Design Icon, Thomas spoke about his legacy—so far—and why it’s unlikely he will design another hotel. When design students study your career, what do you want the textbooks to reveal about the resorts you’ve designed? When Las Vegas was being constructed very quickly and things were not thought of as being very durable or enduring, I hope they’d look at what we did to create really substantial bones. What we did was not another pretty room or a flash of amazement but an enduring emotional experience. I keep coming back to that as being most important.

Roger Thomas at home, with his new line of patio furniture.

Roger’s Rewirement

Legendary designer Roger Thomas talks about checking out of the Vegas resort business, his favorite ‘moments’ and the new him. Some of us walk into a Strip resort wanting to feel like a high roller in old Vegas. Some of us head straight to the spa for a pampered escape. Some of us—me included—want a place where we can become our most glamorous selves. Roger Thomas is the man who has crafted all those experiences and more, orchestrating some of the most memorable moments in Las Vegas design history. As Steve Wynn says, “Whether themed and tropical, Italian or even a contemporary interpretation of classic elements, his artistic range as a designer is quite unbelievable.” From the Mirage and Treasure Island to Bellagio to Wynn and Encore, Thomas has created places where you and I star in our own fabulous narrative, moving through interiors where every opulent fabric, tasseled drapery and jeweled lamp whispers, You are worth it!  18  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

So it’s wrong to ask if there is one particular interior to label as your signature? It sounds like you are saying remember the experience. It is remember the experience. I don’t know how enduring my spaces are going to be. If you ask what is the design style of Las Vegas, it’s the “style of the now.” Whenever designers are asked about their favorite space they’ve created, mine is usually the last one, because I’m always on a mission of improvement. I’m particularly proud of the conservatory space next to the casino at Encore. I love being there. What I like best is just standing and being quiet and watching the reactions our guests have, when they are drawn to something away from their intended path, or they are looking up, astounded. When World Market Center honored you as a Design Icon, they used the word “whimsical” to describe your work. Is that a word you would choose? Oh yeah, absolutely. I think one of the most important things to infuse in work

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ICE CREAM FESTIVAL Beat the summer heat and enjoy ice cream, live music, comedy and more family fun for all ages! Have fun exploring the Preserve’s museums and galleries, too. Avoid the lines for this popular event and purchase tickets in advance at the Springs Preserve box office. Sunday, May 31, 10 am-8 pm $7 members, $10 non-members (Please show your Annual Pass I.D. card). Includes admission to all Springs Preserve museums and galleries. To learn more or for a complete schedule of events, go to


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A few of Roger Thomas’ favorite spaces (clockwise from above): the Encore conservatory; the Encore casino with its Rubino chandeliers; and Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn.

is a sense of humor. I am, after all, creating destination resorts, and if you can’t feel carefree and you can’t feel a bit of whimsy, then I haven’t done my job. Given your title, people might be surprised to know the level of detail in your work. What’s an example of your personal touch? I try to custom design as many designs in our hotels as possible. … The red chandeliers in the casino at Encore are a concept of a classic chandelier, but what if they twirled like a woman’s pleated skirt? And we used a particular color of Murano glass, hand-blown in Venice, called Rubino. It’s made by infusing clear glass with 24-karat gold, heating it to a specific temperature, letting it cool and then reheating it—a process that turns it a phenomenal red. That’s the only way to achieve it—and an expensive way to achieve it. We have completed the largest single order ever for Rubino red glass for the Encore casino. There is a quote in Alain de Botton’s book The Architecture of Happiness, that I think speaks directly to what you and Steve Wynn create: “An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspi-

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cions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-colored limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better and for worse, different people in different places—and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” It does. The sunlight that we all gravitate toward is part of the genius of Steve Wynn; he’s a guy who looks at very simple truths. When we go on vacation, we don’t

Some pictures are worth a thousand words.

Conservatory courtesy Wynn Las Vegas, photo by Russell MacMasters; Poker room courtesy Wynn Las Vegas, photo by Barbara Kraft; Bartolotta courtesy Wynn Las Vegas

go to rainy places. Brightness and sunlight, whether in a casino or beach resort, are desirable things. I always hope that our interiors, our whole resort environment, creates a sense of possibility, a sense that “I can be that romantic guy.” Is the design of a place like Wynn Las Vegas ever truly finished? Never. Never. One of the great things Steve Wynn has impressed on us is that if it’s broken we’ll fix it. We say we only build for the opportunity to remodel. If there is an improvement that can be made, we aren’t afraid to make it. What does the word “luxury” mean to you? Luxury is something that isn’t common or found elsewhere. It’s something unique, original … the epitome of something, be it a handbag or a hotel room. It conveys, “I am the best” in this classification—“I am the most hotel-roomness of hotel rooms.” I think luxury is a mythic quality that has a great emotional experience that connects with a great memory. I want that because of the way it made me feel when … A memorable emotional experience is very much a part of any luxury object, experience or destination.

Planning for Wynn and Encore, did you look back at, say, Bellagio, and review what you’d do differently? We were very aware that all of the buildings across from Bellagio greatly influenced the way you experienced our building. In particular, when you are in the restaurant Picasso, the way the spectra-color signs [of other properties] reflect across the lagoon could negatively influence that entire space. That was the birth of a mountain. How do you take that bad experience out? Elaine Wynn said to Steve: “Then you’ll just have to build a mountain!” And he did, in front of Wynn Resort. Then there was the Bellagio conservatory. We thought you should enter the conservatory, rather than enter and go to a conservatory, so at both Wynn and Encore your entrance is conservatorybased. We went on for a year with this discussion, so I could go on a long time. Have there been times when you had to acquiesce and say, “Steve is the boss”? Of course. That’s the beauty of having someone who is the conductor of the orchestra, who has the talents, visions and sensitivities of Steve Wynn. I get first pass at the ideas, but Steve has final say. I’m not a designer who walks in the room with one idea. I’m a designer who

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Interview walks in the room with a great passion and a bucket of great ideas. I don’t have to be married to any one of them. Both of us have to expend an enormous amount of effort on realizing these ideas, and if the investment on both sides isn’t equal, it’s not a good idea to go forward with. Is what you’ve just described Roger Thomas completing an assignment, compared with a reflection of Roger Thomas’ personal style? In other words, the design you see in Encore is not what you see in Roger Thomas’ residence. Oh no. It’s very much my personality in Wynn. Steve asked for something no one had ever seen before, and that was the same assignment for Encore. But in my own homes I’m not designing a destination. I’m designing a retreat, and I use a different set of values. And I have this problem of personal acquisitiveness, where I fall in love with inanimate objects. My partner, Arthur, calls our home in California “The Roger Thomas Memorial Chair Museum.” I often fall in love with chairs; they are such beautiful, complex machines and sculpture. One of the problems in creating my own environments is creating a background for what could be a cacophony of many objects and organizing them into a beautiful exhibition you can live in.

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You’ve been a patron of the arts in Las Vegas for decades. In tough economic times, how difficult will it be to continue progress toward being a mature city? I’m worried about some current developments and greatly heartened by other developments. I think the Smith Center for the Performing Arts will be a formidable, enduring, lasting focus for the culture of Las Vegas. It has phenomenal leadership in Don Snyder and his board. He has done the most extraordinary job in public philanthropy. In a community where art and architecture design is so strategically important to the economic power of the community, it is a dangerous thing to lose an art museum [i.e. the Las Vegas Art Museum]. I hope it’s temporary. The art museum needs its own Don Snyder; the visual arts need that same champion. That champion isn’t me. I thought at one time in my youth it might be, but I learned it isn’t my role. But I hope, whomever it is, that man or woman comes forward soon.

When you are in Las Vegas as a civilian, where will you head? We are all anticipating the opening of CityCenter. I’m on the edge of my seat; some of the greatest architects and designers of our time are involved. None of them has tipped their hand to me; I don’t know what it looks like. I’m a guy who wakes up and goes to Wynn world. I don’t participate in what else is going on, so I get to be as surprised as everyone else.

Even during difficult times there is …

What is next for you? Is a Hotel Roger Thomas a possibility? No. I don’t think, after collaborating with Steve Wynn, there’s anyone else I could collaborate with. I don’t think I would leave this job to go do it with someone else. Right now there are seven different Roger Thomas collection lines. I’m leaving tomorrow to talk to a hardware company about a complete line of knobs and knockers, latches and lifts. Roger Thomas, ironmonger. Is that still a job? I think it is. This is a company that makes them the way they were made 100, 200, 300 years ago. I get to do what I love best: touring factories where they pour bronze, hammer metals and planish— things I’d like to be doing. I know one thing about myself: I cannot be idle. I do nothing really badly. Whether in Marin [California] or New York, I will have a studio. I want to do some painting and fine-art furniture, cabinets and jewelry boxes. I’ll conspire with amazing craftsmen on some one-of-a-kind pieces. You aren’t really retiring then? Who knows? My retirement may be a complete failure and I come crawling back on my knees! Arthur calls it “rewiring,” and I’m going with that. I have been wondering what it would be like to live in Manhattan. My life is telling me I have to do it. I’m famous in the Wynn organization for saying, “I’m leaving right after this project.” I’ve been saying that for decades. I moved back to Las Vegas after college to do a project for the Thomas family, the Valley Bank Plaza at the corner of Fourth and Bridger. I was only going to stay for that and then go back for graduate school. So I’ve always been on my way back to graduate school, and that may be where I’m going now. DC

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S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 D ESERT C OMPANION  2 3

60 {B E S T






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Clockwise from top left: Aaron Brown, Ryan Lizza, Charles Simic, Alexandra Fuller, Michael Chabon, Jane Smiley, Henry Louis Gates, a panel audience, Derek Walcott, Wole Soyinka, Carol C. Harter, Toni Morrison, Katha Pollitt, A.B. Yehoshua, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Center: Joyce Carol Oates.

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Cool, Quick & Cheap Want to escape the Vegas heat but not go too far or spend too much? Here are four recommended getaways from writers who know them well.* *Plus some advice on making the best of going nowhere. S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n   27

By Phil Hagen

Why don’t more Las Vegans escape to Flagstaff? My conclusion, after two decades of seeing blank stares when I mention it as the perfect summer retreat, is that there seems to be a gap in our geographical awareness of our neighbor to the south. If I were to ask these people to draw a map of Arizona, it would probably show the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and patches of cactus. Yet only a few hours past Hoover Dam is a spot well worth knowing. “If you like Mt. Charleston in the summer,” I tell them, “you’ll love Flagstaff.” Both places have an invigorating combo of cool mountain air and the scent of pine trees, but the northern Arizona city, perched at 7,000 feet amid the Coconino National Forest and San Francisco Peaks, offers a vacation versatility that makes it worth the 250-mile drive. My definition of “versatility” starts with good coffee in the morning and good beer at night. Although decent beverages can be had in many destinations, in Flagstaff they come with a degree of indigenous character that’s worth writing home about. One such place is Macy’s, a bohemian-style coffeehouse and bakery full of comforting aromas and quirky spaces. On one of Flagstaff ’s almost chilly summer mornings, you can settle in among the eclectic population to enjoy house-roasted coffee and vegan waffles while planning your day’s outdoor activities. My outdoor activities inevitably culminate with a late-afternoon beer on the patio of the Flagstaff Brewing Company, one of several cozy microbreweries and bars downtown. Owner and 28  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

brewmaster Jeff Thorsett whips up batches of hefeweisen and spruce tip ale for summertime, which he offers for just $3 on those late afternoons. On Saturdays I tend to stick around for his “Party on the Patio,” part of the town’s lively little nightlife scene. Flagstaff also offers the perfect antidote to our suffocating summer, with temperatures that barely hit 80 in July and a plateau full of recreational possibilities. You can play as rough as you want, with hundreds of miles of challenging biking and hiking trails. (Note: Do not drink Jeff’s beer the night before attempting the 4.5-mile hike to Humphrey’s Peak, elevation 12,600). Or you can go easy (for the kids’ sake) and attempt some smaller adventures, such as walking the Lava Flow Trail around Sunset Crater ( or going up Mars Hill to visit the famous Lowell Observatory ( And those are just a few of the local options. For many tourists, Flagstaff is a gateway to activities elsewhere. The little city is at the crossroads of Interstates 17 and 40, and near seven natural wonders (yes, one of them is the Grand Canyon) and other nearby destinations, such as Sedona and Jerome. As the more than 70 motels, hotels and inns prove with their no-vacancy signs most summer weekends, Flagstaff is definitely on the map. So a word from the wise to first-time visitors: make reservations early. Phil Hagen, Desert Companion editor, lived in Flagstaff in the late 1980s, just before the microbreweries moved in.

If you go to Flagstaff … Handy websites:, and Dining, drinking and dancing: La Fonda Mexican Restaurant, a locals’ favorite for 50 years (1900 N. Second St.); Horsemen Lodge, a fun, western-style steakhouse (8500 N. Highway 89); the Wine Loft, a wine bar above a gallery (17 N. San Francisco St.); Flagstaff Brewing Company (16 E. Route 66); Macy’s European Coffeehouse, Bakery & Vegetarian Restaurant (114 S. Beaver St.); Charly’s, a cozy pub and grill in the old Weatherford Hotel (23 N. Leroux St.); and the Museum Club, a rowdy old roadhouse with live country music and a wooden dance floor (3404 E. Route 66). Seasonal notes: The Flagstaff Music Festival is June 20-21. The NFC champion Arizona Cardinals train at Northern Arizona University in late July and early August. Lodging: For contemporary comfort, there’s the Radisson Woodlands (flagstaffwoodlandshotel. com); for a quaint historic place downtown, try the Hotel Weatherford (

C o u r t e s y L o w e ll O b s e r v a t o r y

A Mountain Town’s Majesty

Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory.

S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n   29

A bike trail high above Lake Tahoe.

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Circling Paradise

T o m Z i k a s , C o u r t e s y N o r t h L a k e T a h o e R e s o r t A s s o c i a t i o n V i s i t o r s a n d C o nv e nt i o n B u r e a u

By Jay Jones

If you’ve only seen Lake Tahoe from one of its beaches, then you haven’t really seen Lake Tahoe. At 12 miles wide and 22 miles long, and studded with countless coves, the lake is too immense to be fully appreciated from the shoreline. You’ve got to get above it. Forget about Interstate 80; take the Mt. Rose Highway (State Route 431) to the best view in Nevada. And don’t worry: In summertime there is no threat of an avalanche closing the road. This is a National Scenic Byway, and within half an hour of leaving Reno, it will take you to the summit of Mt. Rose, where several turnouts offer vistas that will take your breath away—both figuratively and, at nearly 9,000 feet, literally. That shimmering body of water far beneath you—now that’s Lake Tahoe! For other spectacular views of the sapphireblue lake, head a few miles to Incline Village. As you pass the luxurious homes built into the mountainside, you’ll see why Incline—the locals drop the word “village”—has some of the priciest real estate in Nevada. If you’ve worked up an appetite at this point, there are several pleasant, albeit pricey, options in Incline. But I prefer to head to the California side, to the North Shore and its shoreline-hugging hamlets. The view from the lakeside deck at Gar Woods in Carnelian Bay is picture-perfect, making it an ideal summertime spot to unwind while watching boats motor in and out of the bay. The place is named for Garfield Wood, an engineer who designed and built many of the stylish pleasure boats enjoyed by visitors during the 1920s and ’30s. Today the restaurant offers dining indoors and alfresco on the large deck

overlooking its pier (there’s free valet mooring for folks arriving by boat), where I discovered the glories of French toast made with Grand Marnier. Turning left out of the restaurant takes you past dozens of bed-and-breakfasts and retro mom-and-pop motels nestled among the towering cedars. Go slow, as you’re sharing the road with lots of bicyclists and hikers. At Tahoe City, take Highway 89 to South Lake Tahoe and—unless you’re like me and always end up driving—you’ll enjoy the craggy granite cliffs before dropping back to lake level via a series of hairpin turns. (I do enjoy listening to the “oohs” and “aahs” of my passengers.) My favorite part of the journey is Camp Richardson, which straddles the highway a few miles outside South Lake Tahoe. “Camp Rich” began in 1904 and is Tahoe’s oldest resort. It’s privately owned, but the land on which the rustic cabins, hotel and shops sit belongs to the U.S. Forest Service. The feds don’t allow much tampering with either the trees or the buildings, so it always gives me the sublime feeling of being in a Tahoe time warp. Camp Rich is the perfect ending for your Tahoe road trip. The resort features a large stretch of beach (accessible to non-guests for a small parking fee), and a nearby marina rents a variety of watercraft. It’s an opportunity to explore the hidden, pristine coves of this wondrous lake, which is also pretty nice at eye-level. Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based journalist and former Reno resident who frequently writes about Nevada for the Los Angeles Times.

If you go to Lake Tahoe … Handy websites: For North Shore,; for South Shore, Dining and drinking: Gar Woods Grill & Pier Restaurant (5000 N. Lake Blvd., Carnelian Bay, Calif.; 530-546-3366). At Camp Richardson, there’s the Beacon Bar & Grill (1900 Jameson Beach Rd., S. Lake Tahoe; 530-5410630), also overlooking the lake. The Red Hut Café (2749 S. Lake Tahoe Blvd.; 530-541-9024) is a locals’ favorite for breakfast. Beaching it: A bounty of small, sandy beaches lines the lake. Many can be reached only from the water, but one of the prettiest is just off Highway 89 at D.L. Bliss State Park ( Arrive early, as the parking lot fills up quickly on summer weekends. Seasonal notes: For some culture under the stars, check out the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival from July 11-Aug. 23 in Incline Village (800-747-4697, Lodging: For rustic charm, there is Camp Richardson (800-5441801, For an upscale hotel-casino with killer views, head to the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village (775832-1234, D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n   31

The Island of (Potentially) No Return By James P. Reza

Whenever I tell someone that I’m off for a weeklong stay on Catalina Island, eyes widen. What in the world does one do on Catalina Island for a week? Nothing, and that’s exactly the point. But the reality is pleasantly more complicated. Typical memories of Santa Catalina—that peculiarly Mediterranean island just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California—recall a ritual repeated for much of its nearly 100-year tourist trade: Day-trippers swarm off the ferry and quickly exhaust the handful of quaint shops along the main drag of Avalon, the island’s primary settlement. They rent a golf cart to zip around the one-mile-square town. They book a glass-bottom boat tour to witness the island’s famous crystal-clear waters teeming with colorful sea life. Once those things are done, they eat and then plop down fully dressed on Crescent Beach overlooking Avalon’s picture-perfect small-boat harbor. Soon, they find themselves sunburned, weary and eagerly anticipating their return to the mainland. This is not the scene that has drawn me back every summer for more than a decade. In my Catalina, locals greet each other by name, and once you distinguish yourself from the daytripper, they’ll often do the same to you. Make friends, and an islander might offer to take you on spectacular hikes to the inland. Make better friends, and you might find yourself marrying someone you meet and returning every summer for 60-odd years, like my island friend Marie. Instead of a harried tourist, I arrive relaxed with a bike, a backpack full of T-shirts and board shorts, and an agenda that isn’t one. Typically, I’ll hop off the ferry and onto my bike, and about 32  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

10 minutes into my stay, I’m chatting with Juan, a bartender at the Descanso Beach Club, as he shakes up one of the best Bloody Marias I’ve ever sipped from a plastic cup. Descanso is unique in that, as a private club ($1 entry fee), you have access to beach-blanket cocktail and food service, an outdoor bar and restaurant, a large grassy area with volleyball and live entertainment, beachside massages, and chair, kayak and snorkel rentals. Think of it as Catalina’s much more laid-back, family-friendly version of a hotel pool party. There is something at once comfortingly familiar and refreshingly nostalgic about Catalina. Much like Las Vegas, it relies on the travel industry, but beneath that made-for-tourists veneer lies a classic California beach landscape, isolated by geography and protected by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Its colorful history—from Chinese smugglers to Hollywood stars—is well-documented at the Catalina Island Museum, and its terrain uniquely beautiful, especially in the more primitive hamlet of Two Harbors. If you’re the sort who thrives on constant stimulation, Catalina isn’t for you. If, however, a place where sun, sky and sea are three major pastimes, Catalina might be your easy-access paradise. Just don’t fall in love with the island; you may end up on a long waiting list—well behind me and my dream of showing up one day with my backpack and bike and buying Sugarloaf Bookstore, never to leave again. James P. Reza, a Las Vegas native and freelance writer, has been escaping to Catalina every summer since 1997.

If you go to Catalina …

Handy websites: To book your ferry trip,; for lodging and dining,; for camping, hiking and bicycling,; for everything else, Dining: Eric’s on the Pier (No. 4, Green Pier) has great burgers, burritos and breakfast sandwiches. There are several good choices along Crescent Avenue, such as fresh charbroiled seafood at Armstrong’s, wine and espresso at C.C. Gallagher, pizza at Antonio’s and fancy Italian at Ristorante Villa Portofino. Recreation: Snorkel or dive in some of the clearest waters in North America; play tennis and golf at the Catalina Country Club, the former spring training home of the Chicago Cubs; explore rugged Catalina by booking the safari-like Cape Canyon Tour ( or a Jeep Eco-Tour offered by the Catalina Island Conservancy (catalinaconservancy. org); stroll or shuttle 1.5 miles up Avalon Canyon Road to Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens. Entertainment: Shout out requests to guitarist and human jukebox Gil Torres at Luau Larry’s; enjoy a first-run movie under a theater ceiling dotted with twinkling “stars” at the Casino (which has never been used for gambling), plus pre-show music played on a 1929 Page organ; check out the cook-your-own luau with live entertainment at Descanso Beach on weekend nights.

Avalon Bay at night.

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The Adams Theatre at the Shakespearean Festival.

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Shakespeare in Mayberry

K a r l H u g h , C OUR T ESY Ut a h S h a k e s p e a r e a n F e s t i v a l

B y L a m a r M a r c hese

If you want to cross the street mid-block in downtown Cedar City, Utah, you grab a bright orange plastic flag from a handy streetlight bin, hold up the pennant and amble across the asphalt as drivers politely stop for your passage. This trusting quaintness, difficult for us jaded urbanites to fathom, personifies Cedar City. It is authentic small-town Mayberry, America, with tractors pulling floats and 4-H kids parading down Main Street on the Fourth of July. (Hey, isn’t that Barney Fife in the police cruiser?) At an elevation of almost 6,000 feet, and just two and a half hours north on Interstate 15, Cedar City provides a cooling respite from hellish Southern Nevada summers and a welcoming refuge from frenetic city life. Some Las Vegans have second homes here, but most of us know Cedar City from our annual pilgrimage to the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival. Southern Utah University is the festival’s host and the town’s dominant institution, offering ample cultural amenities, such as the fresh exhibits at Braithwaite Fine Art Gallery. But Cedar City remains at heart a small Mormon town, the county seat and regional hub with charming houses gracing wide, tree-lined streets. And town trumps gown when it comes to Sunday performances—there are none. With an actress daughter in the family, we used to go for total immersion, attending a matinee and evening performance each day for three days in order to see everything on the summer schedule in the shortest possible time. Preceding evening performances, the free Greenshow is presented outside the Globe-replica Adams Theatre with spirited young lads and maids joking, singing and dancing. Another fun thing about the festival is the repertory format, which means you might see the star of one play popping up in another. (Makes you wonder how they keep their roles straight!)

 Shakespeare, of course, is the cornerstone of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and fully 50 percent of the summer season is devoted to his work. In addition to “Willy World” festivities, Cedar City also hosts the Neil Simon Festival from mid-July to mid-August at the Heritage Center Theater. Whatever you’re in Cedar City to enjoy, don’t expect Vegas-class accommodations or dining. We’ve stayed most everywhere and the best is adequate. Milt’s Stage Stop, a short drive up Cedar Canyon (3560 E. Highway 14), is great for steaks and one of the only restaurants where you should make a reservation. The Garden House (164 S. 100 West) is pleasantly set in a shady residential neighborhood. For a quick snack or sandwich, the Pastry Pub (86 W. Center St.) is a tasty bet. Shopping is on the slim side, but it wouldn’t be a trip to Cedar City without a stop at The Wizz. Owner Sally Jensen carries an eclectic mix of clothing, incense, posters, jewelry and novelties. We return every year so my wife, Pat, can replace her rainbow of Indian hippie blouses.  Be sure to bring your camera because short jaunts from town reward seekers with stunning scenery at Brian Head, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Navajo Lake. And instead of hurrying home down the interstate, keep life in the slow lane for a while longer and take my favorite little sidetrip: Head west on Highway 56; just past Newcastle, turn left on 18, which snakes south through the Dixie National Forest, passes the historic Mountain Meadow site, and winds up either in St. George or Shivwits. Soon enough you’ll find I-15 and the way back to Las Vegas.   Lamar Marchese, president emeritus of Nevada Public Radio, is a veteran festival-goer and Cedar City enthusiast.

If you go to Cedar City … Handy websites: For Shakespearean Fest details,; for the Simon Fest,; for everything else, The Festival: The 48th summer season of the Utah Shakespearean Festival runs June 29-Aug. 29 (one week shorter than normal, due to the sour economy). The lineup: The historic Henry V, the gender-bender comedy As You Like It, the twin twins in The Comedy of Errors, Noel Coward’s witty Private Lives, a musical treatment of the beloved children’s story The Secret Garden, plus Foxfire, an emotional and resonant Appalachian drama. The extras: The free Greenshow begins in the courtyard at 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There are also backstage tours ($8), literary and production seminars (free), play orientations (free) and “Curtain Call” lunches ($15, noon on certain Tuesdays and Fridays). Ticket info: Call 800-PLAYTIX. Ride the NVPR Bus: Join fellow listeners on the annual Nevada Public Radio tour to the festival. Call 258-9895 for details and dates. Don’t forget the time change: It’s an hour later in Utah, which is important if you want to be on time for the shows! D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n   35

Fabulous ‘Staycation’ Strategies Vacation opportunities seem few and far between with an uncertain economy, which is why more people are staying home. But being stuck in your own city isn’t as boring as it sounds—especially if you happen to live in Las Vegas. In fact, with a little effort, a “staycation” could be a new and exciting experience for the entire family. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your time off when you’re desert-bound. Plan and research. There are dozens of activities to build your “staycation” around. You can start by perusing Desert Companion’s summer calendar on Page 52. Then go online to see where travel sites (such as and are steering Vegas tourists these days. You can develop a fun-filled itinerary on their advice, or let the Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas” be your guide ( Go to town with your family’s favorite categories and find out how “best” they really are. Or you can call a concierge at a major resort, not only for good advice but because you’ll want to ... Act like a tourist. Only the curious will discover new treasures on the Strip. Did you know about the new wildlife, for example? Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium ($13.95 locals; $10.95 kids 5-12; under 4 free) has a rare Komodo dragon and giant Pacific octopus, and the Mirage has a new baby dolphin and a leopard cub. Then, at night, revisit the Mirage volcano—it’s all new and improved (and still free). One must-see is CityCenter—not from I-15, as usual, but from 36  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

street level. To marvel at the “new Vegas,” which is (hopefully) nearing completion, sit across the Boulevard on Trader Vic’s patio, where the kids will love the tiki décor and Mom and Dad will love the mai tais. Enjoy new locals’ attractions. Wetlands Park (free) is fast becoming a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers, thanks to a growing number of trails and attractions (at the far eastern end of Tropicana Avenue). It recently opened a 500-foot bridge where you can get an up-close view of the rapids in the Las Vegas Wash ( just make sure to go at dawn to beat the heat). And have you been to the Clark County Museum in Henderson (1830 S. Boulder Highway) lately? It has a new “Destination’s Century” exhibit that celebrates our county’s 100th birthday ($1.50 adults; kids $1). For something completely different, try the new zip-line at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City ($149), or create your own adventure by exploring Lake Mead aboard a patio pontoon boat from Las Vegas Boat Harbor ($50/hour, $300/day, 293-1191). Pick a theme. A creative itinerary makes a memorable vacation. Choose “Dinosaur Day,” for example, and take the kids to see the mammoth at the Nevada State Museum (kids free with adult admission, $4), the Dinosaur Gallery at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum ($8 adults; $7 students; $4 kids 3-11; two-for-one coupon at, and then let the kids run wild at the dino-themed Aliante Nature Discovery Park in North Las Vegas. How about doing “International Day,” where the entire family can “travel” to Paris, Venice and Hollywood via the monorail ($1

for locals)? Or make it a “Safari Day” and visit those aforementioned baby animals, then spend a few hours at the Las Vegas Zoo (adults $8; children $6; discount coupon at, which has a few new baby animals of its own. Switch to holiday mode. Sure, you’re not jetting off to Orlando with the brood, but you’re also not punching in at work, either. Remember, this is your summer “staycation,” and it should be about family and friends, not catching up around the house or checking your BlackBerry. Speaking of which, consider shelving all handheld gadgetry (sorry, kids—no iPods), except for a camera, of course. Splurge a little. Cutting out big-ticket items such as airfare and lodging might allow some room in the wallet for souvenir purchases. What’s a vacation without tchotchkes? Give each family member a souvenir allowance and see what he or she brings home. It could be a strip of fun photos shot in a booth, a deck of canceled casino playing cards or one of those personalized miniature Nevada license plates. Document it. Use your photos, journal entries and anything you’ve collected (ticket stubs, brochures, postcards, napkins, souvenir pennies) to create a scrapbook of your “staycation.” (See for ideas.) It will make a great coffee-table item for your family to look at for years to come. Marisa Finetti is a local freelance writer and mother of two. She will be using her own advice this summer.

i ll u s t r a t i o n : c h r i s t o p h e r S m i t h

By Marisa Finetti

A story by Kate Silver

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photography by Aaron Mayes


Effort In a new local Habitat for Humanity program, youths such as Jeremie Whiting unite for a good cause. It’s 7:30 on a brisk Saturday morning in February and the crew of kids looks alarmingly alert—you might even say happy—as they trek around a dirt-filled lot. Rather than sleeping in or playing Wii, they’re pushing wheelbarrows and hammering nails at a construction site near Warm Springs and Tamarus. Watching the homebuilding is 13-year-old Jeremie Whiting and his mother, Jennifer Teal. At about five-foot-nine, Jeremie’s manlike height is a stark contrast to his boyish smile, freckles and chubby cheeks. He’s wearing a shirt that says “Ask me about Youth United” in a neon green hue that only kids can get away with. Its message is his mission: Jeremie is a special ambassador for Youth United, the new local arm of Habitat for Humanity that puts volunteers ages 5 to 25 to work building, painting and landscaping homes. >>>

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It’s Jeremie’s job to motivate youths to trade their pillows for paintbrushes on weekend mornings. Judging from today’s turnout of 70, he’s doing his job well. His pitch to them: Hey, if I can do it, so can you. And he has done it. Once a kid prone to trouble, Jeremie has donated about 400 hours to Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that enlists volunteers to build affordable housing. Jeremie will be the first to tell you that the experience has changed his life, maybe even saved it. This redemption was partly due to the fulfilling (and freetime-consuming) experience of helping others—today’s endeavor is his seventh Habitat project. But it’s also because not all of those homes were created equal. Ask this kid if he has a favorite, and he doesn’t hesitate to reply. “Ours.”


Today’s project is the first Youth United home in Southern Nevada. The program was founded about seven years ago when Habitat for Humanity wanted more hands-on participation from young people. Nearly two years ago, Bobbi Hardy, volunteer coordinator with Habitat Las Vegas, decided to start a chapter here. She assembled a board, began raising funds and recruited volunteers. Those efforts have made today’s project possible. The single-story home is going up on a lot that will be shared with three other Habitat homes. The volunteers are trained and supervised by a staff of professional builders. The younger kids paint walls, while those 16 and older do the actual construction. They are all here for a host of reasons, the most common of which is the immediately tangible result of volunteering with Habitat: When the day is done, part of a house will actually stand. This particular home will belong to Rosa Santana, a divorced mother of three teenagers who works in the housekeeping department at St. Rose Dominican Hospital. Dressed in a white T-shirt with red sleeves and a blue New York ball cap, Rosa is here, too, hard at work. (Usually her teens would be right here with her, but today they had other obligations.) Cheerfully, she hammers the frame that, in five months, will hold her front door. Until then, she and her kids are renting two rooms in a house, which is better than their former apartment, where every day they heard screaming sirens and watched drug deals. This is the third house Santana has helped to build, but it’s clearly the most important. “It’s exciting because it’s my house,” she says. “It’s different.” Though just 13, Jeremie knows exactly how Rosa feels. He knows what it’s like to live in the house on which he toiled. He also knows what it’s like to be given tools—literal and metaphorical—and the lessons on how to use them. It’s only been a handful of months since Habitat volunteers helped put a roof over Jeremie’s head. Now he’s happy to be able to do the same thing for other families—kind of a pay-it-forward with houses.


Tiffany Yanke, the 21-year-old president of Youth United, remembers the first time she spoke with Jeremie. It was 40  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

about a year ago. She was making plans for the nascent organization’s Fourth of July fireworks stands to help raise the $30,000 needed for Youth United to co-sponsor a home. Tiffany was making a list of young volunteers who might be willing to help at the stand. The phone rang, and it was Jeremie. He told her he wanted to work every day for a week, from open to close. “I said, ‘Jeremy, you realize we’re closing around midnight every night and we’re opening about 6:30 every morning?’ He’s like, ‘OK, then I’ll be there at 6:30,’” Tiffany recalls with a laugh. And sure enough, for seven days of his summer vacation, the kid was there at the crack of dawn and didn’t leave until midnight—every night. “He’s the sweetest kid, full of life and energy and enthusiasm,” Tiffany says. But her voice lowers a bit when she starts to talk about Jeremie’s past. “This kid has had a really, really hard life.” Jeremie grew up around drugs. His mom, Jennifer, was addicted to methamphetamines for most of his life. When he was about 8 years old, she couldn’t afford to pay for gas or electricity, so they often went without. “I used to spend the night at my friend’s house because

Volunteer Ops for Teens Looking to do good during your summer vacation? Contact the following organizations for more information about volunteering. Youth United. This arm of Habitat for Humanity puts volunteers ages 5 to 25 to work building affordable housing for needy families., 638-6477

The first Youth United house in Las Vegas went up in February with the help of teen volunteers, homebuilding professionals and the future homeowner—in this case, Rosa Santana (left and above).

my mom didn’t have anything to eat,” Jeremie says. “And their mom used to feed me and buy me clothes and stuff. I wanted to stay home with my mom, but I wanted clothes and food, too. So my mom told me to go there every other day.” At this point, his mom somberly leans over and gently kisses her son on the cheek. “It was pretty insane back then,” she says. “But he’s come a long way, too.” Four years ago, at age 30, Jennifer sought help from Shade Tree Shelter. She was five months pregnant, and she vowed to make a better life for her family. That meant getting sober. From the moment she entered the shelter on December 18, 2004, she was clean. She quit on her own, leaving behind the haze of addiction in exchange for hope and hard work. Once inside Shade Tree, away from the drugs and surrounded by a supportive community, both she and Jeremie flourished. He began making friends and getting involved with different children’s activities through the shelter, and Jennifer got a job. Within a few months, they moved out, and not long after, she began working for Shade Tree full time, first as a client advocate and then as a case manager. There she learned about Habitat for Humanity, a Christian organization. She applied for housing and was selected based upon need, her willingness to work with Habitat (homeowners are required to put in 300 hours of sweat equity) and her ability to pay the (interest-free) mortgage on her new home. Jennifer, Jeremie and 3-year-old Mariah moved into the home in December. “It’s a beautiful house,” Jennifer says. “When we walk in,

Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada. This United Way organization connects a variety of nonprofits with volunteers and offers opportunities for families to get involved., 892-2321 Three Square. Volunteers 14 and up are needed to help sort donated food and distribute it to those in need., 644-3663

we can close our eyes and picture who did what. It’s great.” Both mother and son know that it’s much more than a house they’ve Nevada Partnership for Homereceived. Somewhere along the way, less Youth. This community he began building a foundation of a difoutreach program needs youths ferent kind. Jeremie was discovering a age 16 and up (those younger community and a passion for helping others. He didn’t realize it at the time, can volunteer along with their but he was also helping himself. parents)., 383-1332 Five years ago, the rough-andtumble boy could see little in his future aside from run-ins with police. At school he was hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting in fights. At home he was surrounded by scenarios that a young boy couldn’t know how to process. Now, things are different. He spends every Saturday volunteering with Youth United and Habitat, building homes, raising money and recruiting other kids to do the same. He earned the title “Home Owner Youth” for serving on the Youth United board and for helping to build his own home. And he uses the power of his post to encourage other kids who live in Habitat homes to continue paying it forward, just as he’s doing. Throughout the week, he volunteers with other organizations, too, including his church. These days, he just doesn’t have time for mischief. “I remember when I used to get in trouble with people’s moms every day,” he says. “But now they want me to come to the house. They want me to spend the night.” Once the troublemaker, Jeremie now sets the example, and he plans to continue. He’s learned his lesson about idle hands. And by surrounding himself with hammers and nails, Jeremie manages to keep those hands occupied. DC S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 D ESERT C OMPANION  4 1

Rita Deanin Abbey with the “Guardian of All Directions,” her most recent sculpture. 42  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

Gift Rita’s

Longtime Las Vegas artist Rita Deanin Abbey has produced an impressive body of work in her massive backyard studio. Art expert William L. Fox reveals this hidden treasure and its potential impact on our city’s cultural wealth.


hen you visit Rita Deanin Abbey’s studio, a long, narrow building of several thousand square feet next to her home in far northwest Las Vegas, you can’t help but marvel at her lifelong output. Branching off from the airy, light-filled corridor are carefully illuminated galleries filled with artwork of all kinds and workrooms containing an astonishing variety of tools, from easels to welding torches. Outside, dozens of large sculptures are sited with great deliberation in the landscaping of the 10-acre property. This might be the largest working space built by an individual artist in the history of Las Vegas (it may get larger if she and her husband, Robert Belliveau, complete the planned addition). And few, if any, artists in Nevada have achieved a productivity to equal Abbey’s over the past two decades. Also rare for an artist is Abbey’s compulsive record-keeping. All of her output has been meticulously documented in the studio, with offices and storage rooms housing a complete archive of her works, from those created as a teenage art student through the recently completed “Guardian of All Directions,” the 14-foottall stainless-steel sculpture that stands outside her studio. In the consecutively ordered and carefully labeled binders and boxes are descriptions and photographs for each piece of every imaginable medium—paintings in acrylic, oil on canvas and enamel on steel; bronze sculptures large and small; and prints, drawings

and plans for commissioned works such as the 16 stained-glass windows in the sanctuary of Summerlin’s Temple Beth Sholom.  If you take together the unusually comprehensive collection of works by a single artist, the fact that the assemblage resides on the artist’s working property, and that extensive documentation is already in place, what you have is a ready-made museum offering a unique view into a creative process. That process—having evolved from the representational style of the early-to-mid-20th century through the abstraction of the 1950s and onward, then into a contemporary mix of art and science— reveals a virtual history of modern art. And because much of her work is so intimate with the landscape, such a museum would offer residents and visitors an invaluable insight into the desert and our place within it. Abbey is still making art, but given that she was born in 1930, she knows it is time to contemplate what will happen to the complex and the works stored there. To that end, she and Robert have established a nonprofit foundation that will eventually receive the artworks and administer the property as a small museum. Because the property is in a residential neighborhood, the museum will be limited in the number of visitors it can host, and they can come by appointment only. There is precedent for this, as Abbey’s reputation has already drawn small groups from the Guggenheim Museum and Americans for the Arts. SUMMER 2009 DESERT COMPANION  43


  After moving here in 1965, Abbey taught in the UNLV art department for more than 20 years. All the while she raised two sons, Joshua and Aaron, and kept up an active studio practice in a rented space downtown, putting in 30 hours a week and producing a prodigious amount of art. Yet when she took early retirement in 1987, it wasn’t to wind down, but to wind up. Though Abbey is a slightly built woman, she has never been shy about wrestling with large pieces of metal and industrial tools. This was especially true after she left the university. In 1993 she finished a public-art commission for the Summerlin Library that was 20 feet tall and weighed 11 tons. Called “Spirit Tower,” its Cor-ten steel slabs and beams are large enough that they create a visual bridge from the building’s architecture to the buttresses of nearby Red Rock Canyon. Even her “smaller” sculptures—such as the recent “Primal Earth,” a series of deep reliefs made as a visual corollary of the evolution of organic forms—weigh 200 to 500 pounds. Abbey’s style has been, for the most part, post-Abstract Expressionism tied to the nature of where she lives. Vivid colors and vigorous brushstrokes are typical of her two-dimensional work, and bold gestures in metal characterize her sculptures. Schooled as a representational artist, her early drawings and pastels demonstrate a level of traditional training unavailable to most artists today. As a result, her abstractions display a level of cohesion, of contained energy, not always found in the work of others. Furthermore, although you can successfully read her work in purely formal terms—how colors and gestures pull against and balance one another within each piece—most of the work has roots in specific places, from the glaciers of Alaska to Taos, New Mexico, and especially the desert. Abbey grew up in New Jersey but for 55 years has lived in the Southwest. She was an early proponent of tasking art to not just represent landscape, but to establish a deeper relationship with the environment. By the mid-1950s, while in New Mexico, she had adopted abstraction as a way to make art that was not distracted by the specifics of locale but concerned with the patterns that underlie nature. During the 1980s, Abbey collaborated with UNLV geologist Bill Fiero to publish the book Art and Geology: Expressive 44  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

Aspects of the Desert. The volume consists of 29 paintings by Abbey and photographs by Fiero of geological forms chosen by them to reveal relationships between art and nature. The pairings of photographs with abstract paintings demonstrated a consonance between culture and nature that it took both science and art to reveal.  Lately Abbey’s works have become, if not directly representational, more easily recognized as based on flora and fauna. Her two newest bronzes, “Bangarra” and “Centaurus,” are larger-than-life figures with massive musculature and features that are part human, part animal. They verge on the monstrous, yet stand frozen in poses recalling ballet and tai chi, respectively. They are figurative—there’s muscle, sinew and bone—but there is also a totemic melding of biology, geology and culture. These near-mythic creatures show clearly that her early training is still with her, as is the impulse behind her work in the desert and with Fiero. Abbey refuses to let nature alone, or to let culture escape its relationship with nature.


Abbey has never been as concerned with selling art as making it. Although some of her works are in museums in the United States and abroad, as well as in numerous private collections, much of what she has created remains here in her studio. Her art is not meant as a commercial endeavor but is a mode of inquiry through which she investigates the natural world—specifically the desert—and our spiritual relationship with it. Like many contemporary artists, Abbey tends to work in series, and she’s used everything from aluminum to mahogany to polyurethane foam for her sculptures, and from canvas to fired glass for her paintings. Her rich aesthetic vocabulary forms a deeply personal library of her quest. Las Vegas has every reason to pay attention to what Abbey is doing, as the future of the city depends, in part, on

A range of Rita works (from left to right): “Snakewash,” a 2003 Cor-ten steel sculpture (3.5 x 32.5 x 62.6 feet); “Primal Earth Series II, 1/1 Reef,” a 1994 bronze relief (37.25 x 33 x 5.25 inches); “Bangarra” (front and back view), a 2003 bronze cast (93 x 74.5 x 24.5 inches); and “Heart of the Flower,” a 2006 acrylic on canvas (50 x 60 inches). 

diversifying its cultural offerings. Culture is the material stuff a society creates, the physical objects and rituals and less tangible attitudes created as people go about their lives. Culture includes everything from architecture and the arts to sports and how food is prepared and consumed. What makes a culture interesting to people is how distinctive it is from other cultures. It’s how we learn about the world, which is an irrepressible human urge, and it’s why cultural tourism has been the largest and fastest-growing segment of the travel industry for decades. It’s the rationale behind adorning the Strip with imitations of Venice, Paris and New York, why you see world-renowned architects commissioned to create buildings in town. The gifts of individual artists are key to the success of this endeavor. Artists—people who make a professional living treading the boundary between what we know and what we don’t—create and make visible differences. Abbey’s work is uniquely expressive of her locale. She’s therefore part of the culture that makes Las Vegas different from other places, and is of interest to people who travel here to learn something new. That’s why visitors come calling on her studio.

Dave Hickey, in addition to being an art critic and curator, likes to ponder the dynamics of what makes Las Vegas tick. He’s known for his proposition that the minimum mass needed to make a city a cultural destination is at least two days’ worth of things to look at—museums, galleries, unique buildings and gardens. Three is better. And over coffee one morning this past winter, he nodded his head when I talked with him about Abbey seeking a way to preserve her life’s work. He sees her collection as one more building block in the construction of a viable destination founded on a culture broader and more enduring than that of the Strip. The economist and best-selling author Richard Florida has been arguing for more than a decade that the presence of a “creative class” is essential for any postindustrial city to succeed—that it is people like artists who help make and maintain a sustainable economy when you’re not fashioning automobiles and other widgets out of steel. Las Vegas has been arguably the most innovative post-Fordist city in America, its commercial thoroughfare having been sculpted by visionary architects and artists, from the early themed motels to CityCenter. In order for Las Vegas to continue to thrive, it needs many more creative avenues. The city is fortunate to have Rita Deanin Abbey’s street among them. DC   Ten years ago William L. Fox wrote Mapping the Empty: Eight Artists and Nevada, which included a chapter on Rita Deanin Abbey. Altogether he has published 10 books on art, architecture and landscape. He lives in Reno, where he is director of the Nevada Museum of Art’s new Center for Art + Environment. SUMMER 2009 DESERT COMPANION  45








story by John Curtas

p h o t o gr a p h y b y C h r i s t o p h e r s m i t h

Chef Michael Minor works on one of his favorite meals—cilantro-crusted fish tacos and “Crazy Grilled Corn”—in the backyard of Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.

Grill Like a Pro

KNPR food critic John Curtas heads to the Border for some summer grilling tips from a master—Chef Michael Minor. “The most important thing is to have fun,” says Border Grill Executive Chef Michael Minor as he’s about to launch into a tutorial on making the most of your backyard grill. Having ruined more than a few pieces of meat, several whole fish and countless chicken breasts over the years, I know grilling can be more frustrating than fun, so I settle into a patio table outside Border Grill at Mandalay Bay and scribble notes like a med student observing a master surgeon. What Chef Minor proposes to do for me today is to show how easily a mundane piece of fish and a simple vegetable can be transformed into something 48  D e s e r t C o m p a n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

ethereal. And the “fun” begins with knowing that “a steel grate with charcoal is a very forgiving way to cook food,” he says. “Make sure to have two fire areas: a hot one [for searing and fast cooking], and a warm area where food can rest, finish cooking or sit comfortably for a long or short time as you ready the rest of the meal.” If you’re a great chef, of course, this is no big deal. For five years Minor has kept the trendy-yet-authentic Border Grill up there as one of America’s best Mexican restaurants (alongside the flagship Border Grill in Santa Monica, California). The restaurant’s founders—the “Too Hot Tamales,” Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken—obviously knew what they were doing when they plucked Minor from the Hard Rock Café International (where he was executive chef ) in 2004 and let

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him follow his muse as a South of the Border chef par excellence. For today’s demonstration, that muse led him to two humble pieces of halibut and your basic ear of corn. One of the first things Minor does is season the grate by wiping it with a rag soaked in olive oil. “Letting that oil cook onto the steel is essential to the deep flavors you’re looking for,” he says. “Then give yourself a staging section on the grill and have your mise en place, and you’re ready to go.” Those “things in place” make all the difference in the world. People think it’s a chef ’s great taste buds and creativity that set him apart from mere mortals (and, of course, many chefs have those), but the real differ-

Cilantro-Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Mango Salsa Serves 4 Avocado Mango Salsa  /2 avocado, halved, 1 seeded, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch dice • 1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice • 1 to 2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste •

Fish Tacos • 1  • • •

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ence is the speed and efficiency with which he or she works. There’s nary a wasted movement as Minor transforms his ingredients into knockyour-socks-off fish tacos and corn on the cob like you’ve never tasted. Throughout this transformation, the chef delivers a nonstop dissertation full of wisdoms great and small, such as “Everything just tastes better cooked outside” and “Almost anything you can cook, you can cook outdoors.” After agreeing with me that crème brûlée might be the exception, he shares some detailed secrets of his preparation, such the right amount of cilantro pesto to smear on the halibut (“just enough to lightly coat”) and the way to observe the fish to see

pound Pacific halibut* fillet  /2 cup Cilantro Pesto 1 (see recipe)  4- to 6-inch corn 8 tortillas, warmed 4 lettuce leaves

Combine all the salsa ingredients and let sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving. Lightly coat the halibut on both sides with the Cilantro Pesto. Let sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a medium-hot grill or, on the stovetop, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill halibut until barely done, 2 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Remove the fish from grill, cool slightly and pull apart into large flakes. Place warm tortillas on a work surface. Line each with a lettuce leaf and chunks of grilled fish. Top each with Avocado Mango Salsa. Serve immediately. *According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, when it comes to

sustainable seafood, wildcaught Pacific halibut (a.k.a. Alaskan halibut) is a “Best Choice.” For more information, go to

Cilantro Pesto Makes about 1 1/2 cups •2

bunches cilantro jalapeños, stemmed and seeded • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil • 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste • 2

Add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor fitted with a blade. Blend until they are thoroughly combined and the cilantro is chopped into fine bits. Chill at least one hour, or up to three days, before using.

how deeply the heat has penetrated (“stop cooking just before it turns completely opaque”). Another important tip: Don’t flip anything too much. Grill your fish or meat on one side and turn it only to finish. That way you get those nice, attractive grill marks on the side where most of the smoke and grill flavors were absorbed into the food. Thick-grained, fleshy fish work best on the grill, he says, and that’s why salmon, tuna, swordfish and halibut are staples of outdoor cooking. Avoid thinly grained, flaky or delicate fish such as fresh-water trout, sole and tilapia, and you’ll save yourself the aggravation of watching half your meal disappear through the grates.

As for the “Crazy Grilled Corn,” the recipe is simplicity itself. Peel the husks back but leave them on (“It makes a great handle”) and watch the natural sugars caramelize into guilt-free, highfructose fabulousness. Add toppings of cotija cheese, cilantro pesto, chipotle aioli (made in advance) and a little cayenne butter, and you will forever redefine your image of this American summer staple. As he finishes with a flourish, Minor shares one last insight about what he’s just plated: “These recipes are traditional but also nuevo Latino. Anyone can do them in their own backyard, but the flavors will take you straight to a beach in Ensenada or Rosarita.” Now that does sound like fun. DC

Crazy Grilled Corn with Cilantro Pesto. Chipotle Aioli and Cotija Serves 6 Corn  ears fresh sweet corn, 6 in the husk • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste • Juice of 2 limes (about 2 tablespoons) • 1 teaspoon salt • Cilantro Pesto (see recipe) for serving • Chipotle Aioli (see recipe) for serving • 1 cup grated cotija cheese (Cacique is a good brand) for serving •

Preheat the grill to medium high. Carefully remove the corn silk, leaving the husks attached. Soak the corn in their husks in a large bowl or sink of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain the corn well and place each husk-enclosed ear on the hot grill. Cook for about 12 minutes, turning frequently. The corn is

steamed when it loses its raw crunch. Remove the cobs from the grill and set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the cayenne and add the lime juice and salt. When the corn is cool enough to handle, pull back the husks, but leave them attached. Brush the corn generously with the cayenne lime butter, then drizzle generously with Cilantro Pesto and Chipotle Aioli. Sprinkle with grated cotija cheese and serve immediately.

Chipotle Aioli

In a blender, combine egg yolks, chipotles en adobo, lime juice, water, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. With the motor still running, drizzle in the oil very slowly until the mixture is the consistency of mayonnaise (adding too much oil will cause the aioli to break down). Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Chill until ready to use. All recipes courtesy Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Copyright © 2009

Makes about 1 1/2 cups  egg yolks 2 3 canned chipotles en adobo • Juice of 1 lime (about 1 tablespoon) • 1 tablespoon water • 5 cloves garlic, peeled • 1 teaspoon salt • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper • 1 cup canola oil • •

SUMMER 2009 Desert companion  51

Calendar May-August 2009

Biscuit Street Preacher’s Used Appliances for Sale

Tony Curtis in The Great Race

Augusten Burroughs


FIRST FRIDAY May 1, June 5, July 3 and Aug. 7, 6-10 p.m. The Arts District’s monthly festival features more than 100 artists displaying their works downtown, plus a variety of entertainment. $2. 384-0092, Bridge Gallery Through July 2: National Postcard Invitational, in which an artist from each state was asked to respond visually to their city or state by making a postcard-size image. July 10-Sept. 18: Celebrating Life Winners Circle, honoring the talents of artists age 50 and older whose works were selected in the annual art contest. Free. Gallery hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Charleston Heights Art Center Gallery Through May 14: Weightless, Cathy Breslaw’s fusion of painting, weaving and sculpture. May 22-June 11: Celebrating Life Salons des Refuses. June 19-Aug. 27: Confrontations, paintings by Erin Anfinson that explore her interest in people’s complex perception of the natural world. Free. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. ARTFEST OF HENDERSON May 9-10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The city’s annual arts and crafts festival features entertainment, activities and more than 200 art exhibits. Free. Henderson Convention Center. 52  D ESERT C OM P A NION   summer 2 0 0 9

Las Vegas Philharmonic

Reed Whipple Cultural Center Gallery May 8-July 18: Some Future—Sometime, an art exhibit that illustrates our world’s “perpetual state of emergency” through experimentation with natural and man-made transformations. July 24-Oct. 10: Anders Knutsson’s images of a “champion tree” (the most magnificent of its species) deliver a message about strength, endurance and majesty. Free. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. Naomi Arin Contemporary Art May 15-June 21: Black Vegas and Fools Gold, new works by famed painter and sculptor Polly Apfelbaum. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art Through Sept. 30: Modern American masterworks by Ellsworth Kelly, Sol Lewitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and others. New at the gallery: “Local’s Night” (admission $10), 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays. $12; $10 students, teachers and military. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri.-Sat. MCQ Fine Art May 22-Sept. 11: Richard Serra: Levels. “Seventh at Seven” film screenings on May 13, June 17 and Sept. 16. 620 S. Seventh St., 366-9339,

TRIFECTA GALLERY May: Works by artists who contributed designs to the Regional Transportation Commission’s “Stop & Glow” project. June: New paintings by the Biscuit Street Preacher. July: New works by Ripper Jordan. August: New paintings by Brian Porray and Sush Machida Gaikotsu. Inside the Arts Factory, 366-7001, LOST CITY MUSEUM May: Photographs by Anne Carter. June: Artwork by Leigh Neibaur. July: Watercolors and gourds by Jo Tame. August: Watercolors by Betty Halverson. September: Artwork by Maria Wurtz. Overton, Nevada. Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. CONTEMPORARY ARTS COLLECTIVE Through May 23: Stop & Glow, celebrating eight new ACE train stations and the artwork used for the shelters. June 4-July 30: Metasonic. Inside the Arts Factory, 382-3886,

Performing Arts

The Music Man May 1-10, 8 p.m. (plus Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.). Nevada Conservatory Theatre puts on the famous musical. $20-$30, UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, Spring Dance Concert May 1, 7:30 p.m., and

Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1967, 115 1/2” x 115 1/2”, Silkscreen on Synthetic Polymer Paint on Canvas, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ ARS, New York, Photo by Philipp Scholz Rittermann. In Partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.





Tickets and Information at 877.957.9777 or 702.693.7871 or at

Calendar May 2, 2 and 7:30 p.m. The worlds of film and dance meet as the College of Southern Nevada Dance Ensemble and award-winning Concert Dance Company take the stage. $8; $5 seniors and students. Nicholas Horn Theatre. 651-5483, The Bermuda Avenue Triangle May 1–2, 7-9, 14-16, 8 p.m.; May 3, 10, 17, 2 p.m. In this Las Vegas Little Theatre production, two widows move to fabulous Las Vegas in order to enjoy their golden years together. After rescuing a stranger at Red Rock Canyon, he turns out to be even stranger when he puts the moves on both women, causing them all to fall into the Bermuda Avenue Triangle. $25. 3920 Schiff Dr., 362-7996, “THE VIBE PAC” IN G3 May 2-3, 1 p.m., and May 4, midnight. Contemporary works created and performed by local dancers to original music. This urban arts experience is funded in part by a Cirque du Soleil grant. $10. Studio G3, 4061 Silvestri Lane, 301-3153, Ferdinand The Bull May 13, 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. An exuberant play for children and adults about being yourself and refusing to be bullied into acting like someone you’re not. $3. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211, Duquesne University Tamburitzans May 14, 7 p.m. In this showcase of Eastern European dance, music and song, the performers wear more than 400 types of costumes. $24; $18 students. Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center, 877826-6437, Noises Off May 20-21, 7 p.m. The students of Bishop Gorman’s advanced theater practicum bring Michael Frayn’s play-within-a-play to life. $6. Timothy Poster Black Box Theater (Bishop Gorman campus), 5959 S. Hualapai Way, 4764175, Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre Spring Concert May 30, 7 p.m., and May 31, 1 and 5 p.m. $14. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Concert Hall, 895-ARTS.  Super Summer Theatre June 4-6, 10-13, 17-20: The Buddy Holly Story. July 8-11, 15-18, 22-25: West Side Story. Aug. 12-15, 19-22, 26-29: Once on This Island. All shows begin at 8 p.m., with gates opening at 6. $10 in advance; $15 at the gate. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. 594-play, The Reluctant Dragon June 5-6, 11-13, 7 p.m.; June 7, 13-14 at 2 p.m. This Rainbow Company Youth Theatre production is for all ages. $7; $5 teens and seniors; $3 for children. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 229-6383. Hedwig and the Angry Inch June 12, 7 p.m. John Cameron Mitchell’s off-Broadway rock musical tells the story of an “internationally ignored” rock singer and her search for stardom and love. Presented in conjunction with Insurgo Theater Movement. Free. Clark County Library. Percival Irish Step Dancers June 17, 1 p.m. This event features young Irish dancers and costumed pageantry. $3. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211,

54  D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

A LEANER CINEVEGAS CineVegas is one arts organization that actually welcomed a cutback in programming. Artistic Director Trevor Groth insists that the 11th annual film festival was trimmed by three days for the sake of artistic integrity as well as its budget. “I think it’s going to have quite the positive effect,” he says. In fact, he expects the result to be an overall more “exhilarating” CineVegas. His hope is that the leaner six-day schedule (June 10-15) eliminates the midweek lag that had slowed down the CineVegas pace and made it difficult for people to attend the entire festival. But cutting days also means cutting attractions. One victim of note: a section dedicated to up-and-coming Mexican filmmakers La Proxima Ola. Overall, Groth says, the reduction in screening opportunities made the film selection a lot tougher. Nonetheless, CineVegas again puts Las Vegas at the center of the movie-making universe this summer, with Dennis Hopper returning as Creative Advisory Board chairman. Ground zero for the action will be the Palm’s Brenden Theaters, which will show movies by indie and Hollywood filmmakers. Individual screening tickets, $10, will be available online May 22 and at the Brenden box office June 1. For this year’s lineup or more information, go to or call 952-5555. — Elizabeth Sewell

Find Your Passion! June 29 – Aug. 29, 2009

As You Like It

The Comedy of Errors

Henry V

Private Lives

The Secret Garden


Cedar City

Sept. 18 – Oct. 17, 2009

Masked Marvels & Wondertales June 17, 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Michael Cooper is a visual artist and mime whose one-man extravaganza combines handcrafted masks, stories of wonder and stilt dancing. $3. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 2296383, My Fair Lady June 18-20, 25-27, 7 p.m.; June 21 and 28, 2 p.m. A community theater production of the classic musical. $12; $9 students and seniors. Jim3 House of Performing Arts (Bishop Gorman campus), 5959 S. Hualapai Way, 476-2421, EUGENE O’NEILL: ONE-MAN SHOW June 19, noon. Local actor Brian Kral portrays the great American dramatist. Free. Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse (jury assembly room), 229-3515.

Tuesdays with Morrie

The Woman in Black

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)


S U M M E R 2 0 0 9 D ESERT C OM P A NION  5 5

Calendar Sign Design Theatre June 24, 1 p.m. Children combine sign language, dance and performing arts. $3. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee July 10-11, 16-18, 23-25, 8 p.m.; July 12, 19, 26, 2 p.m. The musical comedy, put on by Las Vegas Little Theatre, is about six adolescents who learn that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. $25. 362-7996, Dance in the Desert Festival July 31, 7:30 p.m., and Aug. 1, 2 and 7:30 p.m. A veritable smorgasbord of contemporary dance takes place at the College of Southern Nevada’s 11th annual festival, in which some of the finest choreographers and dance companies from Las Vegas and the nation present their latest and most innovative works in three contrasting programs. $10; $8 for students/ seniors. Nicholas Horn Theatre, 651-5483. Kwak Ballet Aug. 8, 2 p.m. The performance stars Kyudong Kwak and Yoomi Lee. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 2296383, Wait Until Dark Aug. 21, 22, 28 and 29, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 23 and 30., 2 p.m. The College of Southern Nevada presents Frederick Knott’s thriller as part of its inaugural “Summer Chillers Series.” $10; $8 for students and seniors. BackStage Theatre, 651-5483.


Tony Scodwell Big Band Concert May 3, 2 p.m. Hear the best of the big-band era with Scodwell conducting and Lisa Mayer singing. Scodwell, who lives in Las Vegas, is a veteran of the Stan Kenton, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and the Buddy Rich bands. $5. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 229-6383, CSN Orchestra Concert May 4, 7:30 p.m. Conductor Christopher Davis and the College of Southern Nevada Orchestra present an evening of traditional and not-so-traditional orchestral literature. $5. Nicholas Horn Theatre, 651-5483. CSN Spring Choral Concert May 7, 7:30 p.m. The College Singers, Chamber Chorale and Jazz Singers are among the performers. $5. Nicholas Horn Theatre, 651-5483. Jazz Weekend May 8-10. Hosted by the College of Southern Nevada, the weekend kicks off at 7:30 p.m. May 8 with its very own big bands performing in the Nicholas Horn Theatre. The UNLV Jazz Combo and Big Band play at 7:30 p.m. May 9 in the same venue. The CSN Jazz Combos take the stage at 2 p.m. May 10 in the BackStage Theatre. Each event is $5. Night Groovin’: Blame It on the Walleye May 8, 7 p.m. A romp through constellations of shifting personalities in this musical comedy performed by Richel Kompst & The Nightcrawlers. $7. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211, Mayor’s Mother’s Day Lunch & Concert May 10, noon. The 20th annual event includes a catered lunch and music by the Walt Boenig Big Band. $20 (advance only).

56  D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211, DESERTWIND May 15, noon. Works by Elgar, Respighi and Ibert. Free. Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse (jury assembly room), 229-3515. LAS VEGAS PHILHARMONIC May 16, 8 p.m. The orchestra’s season finale opens with Darius Milhaud’’s La Création du Monde and closes with the featured attraction: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy.” Performers include the Las Vegas Master Singers and the Desert Chorale, plus soloists Veera Asher, Juline Barol-Gilmore, Mark Thomsen and Paul Rowe. $30-$75. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Concert Hall, 895-2787, Desert Chorale’s Memorial Day Weekend Concert May 22, 7:30 p.m. The group’s 12th annual event. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Concert Hall. Henderson Symphony Orchestra May 22, 8 p.m. This season-finale masterworks concert features violinist Jeremy Rhizor joining the orchestra for Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Free. Henderson Pavilion. Count Basie Band and Marlena Shaw May 24, 3 p.m. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Concert Hall. LaVerne Christie Trio Concert June 6, 7 p.m. The show spotlights the best of jazz. $7. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6211, Reggae in the Desert June 13, 2-11 p.m. Frederic Apcar Productions and Clark County present Las Vegas’ largest reggae festival, showcasing the Caribbean music and lifestyle. $22 in advance; $25 at the gate. Clark County Amphitheater, Jazz Combo Camp July 19-24. The College of Southern Nevada’s 12th annual camp is open to vocalists and instrumentalists of all abilities and ages (middle school to senior citizens). $150. To register, call 651-4110 or visit Jazz Combo Camp Finale July 24, 1 p.m. The College of Southern Nevada’s camp concludes with performances by student groups in the June Whitley Student Lounge, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., led by faculty members and jazz professionals. $5. Noteworthy Duo July 25, 2 p.m. Classical guitarist Michael Nigro and flutist Lisa Schroeder unite their talents in a program of duos by Latin American composers. Clark County Library.

Clark County Centennial Clark County was founded 100 years ago this July 1. Its celebration will include the following events: Centennial Stories May 1, June 5, July 1 and Aug. 7, 6 p.m. In the Clark County Government Center, pioneers and historians discuss architecture and neon on the Strip, the early years of the Strip, the later years of the Strip, and the mob. (All roundtables will be broadcast live on Channel 4.) Clark County Museum Centennial Day May 23, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Handson family activities and tours of “Heritage Street” at the museum in Henderson.


Winchester Centennial Farmers Market June 20, 8 a.m. to noon. The Winchester Cultural Center hosts a farmers market, music and historical displays.

Tuesday Afternoon at the Bijou Film Series Tuesdays, 1 p.m. June’s theme: “Great Directors: Preston Sturges,” with The Great McGinty (June 2), Sullivan’s Travels (June 9), The Lady Eve (June 16), The Palm Beach Story (June 23), Hail the Conquering Hero (June 30). July’s Theme: “Spotlight on Tony Curtis,” with Houdini (July 7), Some Like It Hot (July 14), Operation Petticoat (July 21), The Great Race (July 28). August’s theme: “Precode

Clark County Centennial Exhibit Opening 5 p.m. July 1. The Clark County Government Center hosts a traveling exhibit focusing on rural Clark County. This opens with music and refreshments, followed by the third installment of “Centennial Stories.” All events are free. Call 455-8200 or visit for more information.

CineVegas from the Vaults First Thursday of the month (June 4, July 2, Aug. 6, Sept. 3), 7 p.m. This series features movies that were screened at the CineVegas Film Festival. Free. Clark County Library.

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CULTURAL EVENTS Asian Culture Festival Enjoy music, dance, martial arts, films, children's activities, vendor booths and food. May 9, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Clark County Library

Las Vegas International Children’s Film Festival More than 60 short films from around the world for children under age 12 and their parents. June 14, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Clark County Library

A One Night Stand with Augusten Burroughs

The New York Times bestselling author discusses life, fame and writing. June 20, 7 p.m. Clark County Library

Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater A GLBT Month performance June 27 at 1:30 p.m. West Las Vegas Library

The Soprano Sisters

Three divas sing blues and jazz with classical undertones. July 11 at 2 p.m. West Las Vegas Library

Free and open to the public. For more information, visit

VENUE GUIDE THE ARTS FACTORY 101-107 E. Charleston Blvd., 676-1111,

GREEN VALLEY LIBRARY 2797 N. Green Valley Pkwy., 507-3790,

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art 693-7871,

Henderson Convention Center and Events Plaza Amphitheatre 200 S. Water St., 267-4055.

Boulder City Art Guild Gallery Boulder Dam Hotel, 1305 Arizona St., 293-2138, bouldercityartguild. org/gallery/html. Bridge Gallery City Hall, second floor, 400 Stewart Ave., 229-1012, College of southern nevada (Performing Arts Center, BackStage Theatre, Fine Arts Gallery and Nicholas Horn Theatre), 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., North Las Vegas, 651-5483, Charleston Heights Arts Center 800 S. Brush St., 229-6383. Clark County Library 1401 E. Flamingo Rd., 507-3400. Clark County Museum 1830 S. Boulder Hwy., Henderson, 455-7955, Contemporary Arts Collective 101 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 101, 382-3886.

Henderson Pavilion at Liberty Pointe 200 S. Green Valley Pkwy. at Paseo Verde, 267-4055 or 267-4849. Las Vegas little theatre 3920 Schiff Dr., 362-7996, Las Vegas Natural History Museum 900 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 384-3466, Lied Discovery Children’s Museum 833 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 382-3445. Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse 333 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 229-3515. lost city museum 721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd., Overton, Nevada, 397-2193. MICHELE C. QUINN FINE ART ADVISORY 620 S. Seventh St., 366-9339. Naomi Arin Contemporary Art 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Suite 120B, 324-5868.

Hollywood,” with I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (Aug. 4), Dancing Lady (Aug. 11), Frisco Jenny (Aug. 18), Flying Down to Rio (Aug. 25). September’s theme: “Stage Stories,” with The Dolly Sisters (Sept. 1), Stage Fright (Sept. 8), Night and Day (Sept. 15), The Country Girl (Sept. 22), Summer Stock (Sept. 29). Free. Clark County Library. NOTBAD Film Series Tuesdays, 7 p.m. June’s theme: “Acting Out,” featuring The Times of Harvey Milk (June 2), The Sum of Us (June 9), Stonewall (June 16), Ma Vie en Rose (June 23), Caramel (June 30). July’s theme: “Winter in July,” featuring Mon Oncle Antoine (July 7), The Winter Guest (July 14), A Simple Plan (July 21), Frozen River (July 28). August’s theme: “The Film Movement Collection,” featuring Eldorado (Aug. 4), Lake Tahoe (Aug. 11), The Country Teacher (Aug. 18), The Window (Aug. 25). Free. Clark County Library. Inside the Actors Studio, Vegas-Style July 19, 2 p.m. Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke talks with legendary actor Tony Curtis. There also will be a book-signing. Free. Clark County Library.


Word UP! Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Las Vegas’ longestrunning weekly poetry reading. Free. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, 4550 S. Maryland Parkway (across from UNLV), 325-3470.

Cultural Events

Helldorado Parade May 16, 7 p.m. The parade marches along Fourth Street between Charleston

58  D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n S U M M E R 2 0 0 9

Nevada State Museum & Historical Society 700 Twin Lakes Dr., Lorenzi Park, 486-5205. Reed Whipple Cultural Center 821 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 229-6211. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park West Charleston Blvd. at Blue Diamond Road., 875-4141, Summerlin Library and performing Arts Center 1771 Inner Circle Dr., 507-3860, UNLV (Artemus Ham Concert Hall, Black Box Theatre, Beam Music Center, Doc Rando Hall, Donna Beam Gallery, Barrick Museum, Fine Art Gallery, Judy Bayley Theatre, White Hall) 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy., 8952787, West Charleston Library 6301 W. Charleston Blvd., 507-3964, Winchester Cultural Center 3130 S. McLeod Dr., 455-7340, Theater_and_Gallery.htm.

and Ogden. There will be a fireworks show afterward. Free.


An Evening with Augusten Burroughs June 20, 7 p.m. The author discusses writing, fame and his unusual life experiences. His memoir, Running With Scissors, spent more than four years on The New York Times bestseller list and, in 2005, spawned a film adaptation. Free. Clark County Library. Open-House Mixer June 24, 6:30 p.m. This networking party brings together local authors, readers, editors, bloggers, book clubs and writers groups. Free. Clark County Library. Chicks who kick A#$—Superwomen in Urban Fantasy July 6 , 7 p.m. The panel includes bestselling authors Vicki Pettersson, Jeaniene Frost and Caitlin Kittredge. Free. Clark County Library. How To Become An Anthology Author July 29, 6:30 p.m. A panel of authors talk about how to get started. Free. Clark County Library. Kid Lit 101: How To Break Into The Children’s Literature Market Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. Lisa Arnold, Jackie Yoxen and Marc O’Brien discuss writing books for kids. Free. Clark County Library.

Children’s Events/ Activities

Adventures with Clifford The Big Red Dog Through May 25. This traveling exhibition features

the characters of the TV show and books. $8; $7 for kids/seniors. Lied Discovery Children’s Museum, 382-3445, Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre Creative Dance Camp July 6-24, 9 a.m.-noon. For ages 3-8, the camp includes creative movement, singing, arts and crafts, storytelling and performance. Call 2432623 for details. Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre SUMMER INTENSIVE July 27-Aug. 14, 9 a.m.-noon. For ages 11-20; audition required. Call 243-2623 for details. Rainbow Company Auditions Aug. 15, 1 p.m. The annual audition for the organization’s Youth Theatre Student Ensemble, a training program for ages 10 through high school. Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 229-6553,


Margaritas for Nevada Ballet Theatre May 2, 4-7 p.m. Taste the award-winning margaritas at Agave restaurant in support of the ballet. $35 in advance; $40 at the door. 10820 W. Charleston, 243-2623, Ext. 222, Vino Therapy May 30, 6 p.m. The 14th annual Wine & Beer Tasting and Silent Auction benefits Bishop Gorman High School. $85 in advance; $100 at the door. South Point hotel-casino, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 476-4032, Art of Addiction Exhibit and Auction June 15July 18. This Foundation for Recovery event features on auction at 7 p.m. July 18. Free. Richard Tam Alumni Center, UNLV, 880-8234,

Special Interest

Helldorado Rodeo May 14-17. This event, put on by Elks Lodge 1482, marks the return of the rodeo to downtown Las Vegas (in a temporary arena). The first two days is a locals’ rodeo, with the final two days a PRCA sanctioned rodeo. Financial Planning Series: Recession-Proof Your Life Discussion led by local experts include: “Foreclosure Prevention,” with the Neighborhood Housing Services of Southern Nevada, June 3, 10 a.m., and June 17, 2 p.m. (11 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, in Spanish); “Purchasing a Car,” with Sarah Lee Marks, author of The Complete Internet Car Buying Guide, June 9, 2 p.m., and June 22, 7 p.m.; “Planning for Your Retirement & Beyond,” with the Social Security Administration, July 13, 2 p.m., and July 15, 10 a.m.; “What Your Lawyer Won’t Tell You About Probate,” with author Ann Marquez, July 27, 7 p.m., and July 29, 2 p.m.; “Ask the Bankers,” with Wells Fargo, Aug. 3 and 19, 2 p.m. Convention of the Casino Chip & Gaming Token Collectors Club June 24-27. This 17th annual event, the largest gathering of casino memorabilia collectors in North America, includes a showroom and seminars. $15 ($30 three-day pass). South Point hotel-casino, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Project GREEN walk June 27, 6 p.m. Volunteers meet at the amphitheater behind Silver Springs Recreation Center to explore the Pittman Wash Trails. Sponsored by Project GREEN. Call 651-5874 or email DC

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by Phil hagen

Green Is Dead. Long Live Green! Well, the Green Movement was fun, wasn’t it? We made a few strides, hugged a few trees, bought a few reusable grocery bags. Then, at 8:30 p.m. on March 28, the whole thing collapsed in Las Vegas, suffering from massive hyperventilation. That, of course, was the moment when resorts along Las Vegas Boulevard dimmed their lights for a full 60 minutes in support of action on climate change. Variations of this show of non-power happened in major cities all over the world as part of “Earth Hour,” but the Strip—the planet’s most infamous energy outlaw—was the marquee attraction. How was this grand show of solidarity a blow to such a vital cause? To put it in pop-culture terms (which seems appropriate), this was the moment The Green Show finally “jumped the shark.” It was like a once-respectable TV series that, after plot development runs dry, brings in a “special guest star” to play himself. This move typically leaves the audience disoriented if not disconnected. It marks the beginning of the end of a phenomenon. Now that flamboyant Strip has played the perfectly disorienting guest star, how will we top that? Like Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas, someone will keep trying to hit new heights of spectacle. (Come to think of it, that might be a good time for “Earth Hour” next year.) Promoters will keep trying—even as the idea of sustainability grows dimmer—until we achieve allout “green fatigue,” in which consumers have grown too weary of the cause to care. The opposite outcome—more mass hyperventilation—can be equally fatal. “When everyone … claims to embrace your cause, you should suspect that you have not really defined the problem,” says Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel in Thomas Friedman’s latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. So, with all due respect to the Earth, I’m pushing myself away from the group hug, because if one thing is clear it’s that we’ve nothing left to do except actually do something. And

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that starts by demanding some real movement in this movement, by arguing over the details, by praising actual achievements (the Strip, for example, has made some significant green strides) and by not worrying so much about photo ops. Getting down to actual work is never fun, but like Friedman says, “If it’s not boring, it’s not green.” What if the “Earth Hour” people diverted their energies from creating spectacles to pushing governments and companies to devote an hour every week to tackle the many everyday Earth issues right here in front of us? Off the top of my head, we could: • Require weekly trash and recycling pickups (instead of twice weekly and every other week, respectively), which would reduce costs, gas, pollution and waste. • Reintroduce ourselves to the broom and ban leaf blowers (many other cities have), which cause unnecessary noise and air pollution. • Debate the cost-effectiveness of planting trees to shade parking lots in order to reduce the heat-island effect of our asphalt jungle. • Ask the phone company to print only one 2,000-page directory (delivered in plastic bags, by gas-powered vehicles) a year instead of two, now that the valley’s growth has slowed. It’s the tedious little efforts—not the grand gestures—that will add up to everlasting green success. It should be noted that I’m not ruling out PR in this process. My hope, though, is that it be more constructive than symbolic. Not to pick on “Earth Hour” again, but why not lobby the Strip to put its mouth where its money really is and power down every night for an hour? Just think of the green-marketing power of the motto “23/7.” Please send your ideas on how to make Las Vegas a greener place to

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Desert Companion May 2009  

CooKinG HiStorY deSiGn art An exit interview with Wynn’s right-hand man Grilling advice (and recipes) from a pro The legacy of the ‘Black Bi...