A week ago Rose and I checked into the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for one night. We were on our way the next day to visit our daughter in Bellingham, WA, and Rose had never been to Vegas. 

“What are you here for?” the well-trained receptionist asked.

I threw him off guard. “I don’t drink and I don’t gamble.”

Vegas is back, and the Bellagio’s guests, a culturally diverse mix, eager to drink, gamble and shop, showed little sign that a pandemic had ever happened.

Never mind chronic drought, water shortages and the  “mega-heat wave” across the west. The Bellagio is tricked out in every possible way to keep you in suspended reality.

Many of you might enjoy blackjack or slots in the casino with drinks on the house, hanging out in the spa or waiting in a long line with your cockatoo to shop at Louis Vuitton.

We didn’t abandon air conditioning for 24 hours

I would have preferred poking around Death Valley or the Mojave Desert, but that’s best done in the spring, especially after a rare winter rain. Prickly pears were not in the cards on this short trip. It was 110 F.

I never tired of people watching, and the horticulture was extravagant. 

Our first walk to the hotel room elevators took us through the 14,000-square-foot Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden jammed with guests, admiring and photographing Medusa, grateful they’d found a green oasis and relieved their cars had not broken down on the desert drive from Los Angeles. There were muscled men with thick gold chains, women with false eyelashes the size of small awnings, an odd professorial-looking fella in a sports coat with elbow patches, and young families on summer vacation. The Bellagio experience is over the top, but I was happy to see money bet on gardens, even if it is a peculiar come-on for the dim glow and allure of slot machines, crap tables and blackjack just down the hall. 

The plantings were high maintenance, portions of it kitschy but all of it catchy—in a Disney sort of way—expensive, lavish, over the top, and executed perfectly.

It was hard to move around the Conservatory, packed with afternoon gawkers. We walked around the casino, ate dinner at 5:00 (welcome to senior living), returned to our room, turned on Wheel of Fortune and fell asleep before Vanna White had turned her last vowel. It was not quite 8:00 pm.

I raised the shades the next morning at 5:30 and stared out from the 18th floor at the dull ugliness of Vegas rooftops. Skies were blue, and the jagged Spring Mountains were hazy in the far distance. I have seen the Nevada desert in spring bloom and hope to see it again.

We headed toward the Italianate Conservatory’s—“Bellagio’s Opus”

There were barely a dozen hotel guests here the next early morning. The planting design is changed over during the four seasons and the Lunar New Year. Thousands of plants are brought in from growers every other week. The horticulture crew looked happy with their work. They were pulling out foxgloves quickly and replacing them efficiently with delphiniums. They wasted no time. They’d started work at 5:00. Gamblers were still ordering up cocktails and croupiers were sweeping chips off the table. The flower turtle was being replenished with fresh carnations. Colorful clivias, fuchsias, kalanchoes, camellias, butterfly bushes and Gerber daisies needed watering.

We checked out at 10:00 am. It was 90 F at curbside, with the forecast heading toward 115 F later in the day.  We arrived at the airport ahead of departure. I fell off the wagon, clinched my teeth and took a turn at the dollar slots. I won a quarter. 

Lady Luck was with me.

Viva Las Vegas.