KA by Cirque du Soleil

It was our last day in Vegas and we really did not have anything planned. I was a bit restless. I get that way towards the end of a vacation. Not really looking forward to getting back to the cold of a Canadian winter. And, now that retirement is only 18 weeks away, I found that I was quite enjoying the unstructured time and not really looking forward to getting back to a busy calendar.

We had a wonderful morning walking around a number of the resort properties on the strip. We decided to stop at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay for brunch.

Did I mention I was a bit restless? When I get restless I get impulsive. We walked by the Titanic exhibition and, on impulse, purchased two tickets and enjoyed a walkthrough of various artifacts taken from the ship.

We made our way over to the MGM property and I was taking a few shots including this one at the exit gate for KA.

As I was taking the shot, an employee raced over to us. At first I thought I had broken some rule about taking pictures but no. “Hurry!” she said, “You can join us for a behind the scenes look at Ka but the doors are closing right now.”

There we were. Inside the incredible theater hall for KA.

There were only a handful of people for the demonstration but the presenter was great and walked us through many of the remarkable sets for the show.

As we left the presentation, I took this picture of the dragon. And, being restless, which meant being impulsive, I jumped online with my iPhone and purchased two tickets for the evening performance. Great seats and, sadly, a great price to go along with the great seats.

What a show! We were so close to the front that we felt like we were in the show. We loved every minute of it.

Here is a trailer that shows some of the highlights from the show. What a terrific way to end the week.

Hoover Dam

Somehow we had managed to avoid it. Touring the Hoover Dam. Until this year.

Why this time? Not sure. I suppose it felt like a bit of an obligation. Visit Vegas, visit the Hoover Dam.

So we did.

We booked a Pink Jeep tour with a great travel guide, Dennis.

As of August 2017, Lake Mead was at approximately 40% of full capacity and we could clearly see the drop in water level in the basin that feeds into the Hoover Dam by the difference in the colours of the canyon.

Dennis called the white markings etched into the canyon rock a bathtub ring.

It is also obvious that the water is low when you look at this view of the dam. The intake towers draw water into the tunnels to drive the hydro-electric generators. Good thing that they draw the water in from a high water level as well as a low water level.

Lorraine ignoring the warning sign.

Two time zones at the Hoover Dam. This was the Nevada side which is opposite the Arizona side, one hour later.

Here are the turbines that generate electricity.

A shot of the face of the dam.

We walked to both ends of the Hoover Dam. This perspective offers a good view of the new bridge that was constructed to alleviate the traffic that was forced to use the Hoover Dam roadway. The dam is now classified as critical infrastructure and there was a visible armed presence complete with semi-automatic rifles.

Fremont Street Experience

And what an experience it was. Such a dramatic contrast between the strip and Fremont street.

Here is one of the main roads into Fremont:

And on the strip:

The covered walking mall experience on Fremont:

The indoor mall experience at the Venetian:

The shops at Fremont:

The shops on the strip:

Specialty retailers on Fremont:

And on the strip:

Wonderful eateries on Fremont — meal is free if you weigh over 350 pounds:

Dining is a touch different on the strip:

Our uber driver described the Fremont Street experience as “working class” compared to the “upper class” experience on the strip. There are some tacky spots on the strip as well however the differences are quite stark between the two environments.

First time we had gone to Fremont. It was interesting to spend a few hours walking around the place.

Not sure I would book a vacation there.

Las Vegas Resorts

We spent several days walking up and down the Las Vegas strip. According to Lorraine’s Fitbit, we easily broke 25,000 steps each day.

I’ve always found the New York, New York Resort and Casino to be bigger than life. The photo above shows how physically imposing a structure it presents on the strip. That said, it is not the largest or the most expensive resort in Las Vegas. The MGM holds over 5,000 rooms compared to the New York, New York resort which offers only 2,000 rooms. The Cosmopolitan hotel is the most expensive at $4.2 billion. New York, New York cost roughly $460 million to build.

Treasure Island stands across from the Venetian. Many times we have been in Vegas. Very few times have we even entered Treasure Island.

The Mirage is a bit of a different story. We have seen the Cirque show, Beatles Love, here. And I also celebrated my 61st birthday by having dinner at the Heritage Steakhouse in the Mirage. Wonderful restaurant.

Lurking just off the strip is the Trump International Hotel. The tower holds about 1,200 rooms although back in 2012, 300 units were sold to Hilton Grand Vacations timesharing operation.

The Bellagio is a favourite. We have stayed here several times over the years.

We have stayed at Mandalay Bay twice over the years. And both times we found it to be too far from the strip itself. It is a nice property and the swimming area is an attraction in and of itself. The Four Seasons operates a hotel within a hotel at Mandalay Bay. They occupy the top five floors.

There were a few properties that we had never visited before, like the Linq. It seemed like just another casino. The strip is so competitive that properties like the Linq seem to be a step down from the major resorts.

The Venetian has always been a favourite for the amazing indoor shopping mall. We also enjoy eating at some of the Italian restaurants in the Venetian.

Towards the end of the strip are the Wynn properties.

And then the resort we enjoyed during our stay in Vegas, the Aria. Beautiful property with a stunning, contemporary design.


Las Vegas

As we spent a week in Vegas, I should probably share a few shots of the strip. I brought my Leica M10 with just one lens, the 35mm Summicron F2.0.

I loved shooting with such a minimalist kit. Quite different from shooting with a DSLR.

We stayed in the Aria Tower Suites. We were in suite 15-246 and this was the view from the floor to ceiling windows that stretched the full length of our room.

We faced towards the back of the resort property. At first we were a bit disappointed until we looked at the front of the resort property. Nothing but buildings and cars.

We have stayed at the Bellagio many times over the years. The resort is positioned well back from the strip with a massive water treatment. The forward facing rooms do have a great view. Bellagio is a bit of an exception in that regard. The rest of the strip has been built out to such an extent that there really isn’t a view. And I suppose that is how it was designed. Keep people inside the casinos.

The scale of the Aria is beyond impressive. Aria is the main resort in the City Center project, the largest privately funded construction project in U.S. history at just over $9 billion. Here is but one very small corner of the resort, looking out over the main registration lobby.

The City Center includes a number of other properties like the Cosmopolitan. The Cosmopolitan was built at a cost of $3.9 billion and has been named as one of the best hotels in the world.

Many screens attempt to grab your attention as you walk the strip. This one grabbed mine. A massive, curved high resolution electronic billboard.

We grabbed a quick dinner at the New York, New York casino. No windows to the real world, only fake ones on the inside of the casino floor.

Outside New York, New York, there were numerous planes flying in the night sky.

It had been a long day and with the time zone change, we had stayed up several hours past our normal bed time. When we go to Vegas, we spend most of our time outside of the city, exploring the landscape. And this trip was no different. The changes on the strip have been dramatic to us. Lorraine and I decided that we would go to the original strip in Vegas, the Fremont Street Experience.

I will have a few shots to share from that day.

Death Valley

One of the most unique areas in the world: Death Valley. Aptly named because of the harsh environment. Not so bad in the winter months. We visited in late February and the temperatures stayed below 20 Celsius. Perfect weather to hike and explore the twenty mule team canyon.

There is a gravel road and a relatively short loop for visitors to drive through the canyon. But really, what fun is there in just driving by this landscape?

We parked our rental car and decided to make our way into the canyon on foot. The picture below gives you a bit of a scale for the mountains that surround the canyon. Most of them reach several hundred feet providing for some great views of the park.

This perspective shows the main road into Death Valley towards the upper right of the frame.

And looking away from the road, these are the mountains. You can hike along the ridgeline on most of them. And we did.

We started with the smaller ones. Here Lorraine is across from me on a ridgeline.

We kept climbing higher and higher.

Although difficult to judge the height from this angle, Lorraine made it to the very top ridgeline on one of the highest points in the canyon.

And from there we were rewarded with some awesome views.

We spent several hours hiking this part of Death Valley before climbing back down and returning to our vehicle.


A brutal flu followed by a wonderful break in the Las Vegas area. Coming back from being offline now.

Vegas is surrounded by some amazing landscapes. I took the shot pictured above at the Valley of Fire State Park, a short drive from where we were staying at the Aria Resort and Casino.

Here are a few images from the afternoon we spent at the Valley of Fire.

This one is just before the park entrance. If you look carefully, you can make out the road that curves in between the two mountains. The scale of the park is much different than you might expect in a desert. Over 40,000 acres of incredible terrain.

Immediately after you pay the entrance fee, you will come across this vista at the head of the old arrowhead trail. Depending on how the sun hits the rocks, they do project a pronounced reddish hue.

A bit further down the road is a short loop that highlights some of the rock formations in the park.

I would recommend parking your car on the side and talking a walk through this area. There you will find some very impressive landscapes.

We left that first loop and headed out to the White Domes area of the Valley of Fire State Park. We did not get quite that far. We stopped at a tourist overlook along the way and went in the opposite direction ignoring the warning sign.

This was our reward.

Valley of Fire State Park is a beautiful area to explore and highly recommended if you are in the Las Vegas area.

What Makes Leica So Special?

This was one of my first test shots with my Leica M10.

Photography is certainly changing dramatically and, for most people, a smartphone is all that they need for capturing images.

For those that pursue photography as a hobby or profession, more is expected out of the equipment. Leica is a very expensive camera system relative to most manufacturers. Here is an interesting take on the why Leica is such a special camera system.

So what is it that allows Leica to set themselves apart?  The simple answer is ”˜tolerances”™.  That is especially the case with lenses.