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Desert Companion

Sense of Place: Into the Mystic

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Mystic Falls
Illustration by Kristina Colantes

Mystic Falls, that is, Sam’s Town’s gloriously schmaltzy ecosystem of past and future

(Sense of Place is a series in which writers find meaning in specific sites around town)

There’s a certain natural splendor that, having grown up in Colorado, I’ve missed since moving to Las Vegas. The sound of water raging down a cliff. Bubbling creeks. A wolf’s howl, an eagle’s scream. Lasers, and herky-jerky animatronic figures that twist and tilt under layers of dust.

Okay, I grew up in suburban Denver, so my flashback is equal parts mountain getaway and Chuck E. Cheese laser-tag night. Fortunately, all those places are conjured at Mystic Falls Park, the alpine valley inside Sam’s Town on East Flamingo.

Mystic is the appropriate way to describe what’s ultimately a hotel lobby. In the park, you’re sprayed in the face by humidity. It reeks of chlorine, but there are beautiful live trees that provide a canopy over ferns and fountain streams in a surreal new climate. The 10-story atrium is roofed with windows to allow natural light. But what’s really transcendent is the show. It’s Western-themed — mining equipment is set throughout the park — and the 1880s meet the 1990s when a fog machine pumps thick vapor at the waterfall. Music comes on, and lasers slash through the mist.

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This brings me back. When I was a kid, seeing lasers teleported me to the future. On the craggy precipice, the lights draw the story of the Old West — railroads and pickaxes and you know the rest. The show includes a robotic mountain lion, wolf, owl, bear, and eagle, all of which blink and nod. I’m gonna say it: It’s a hoot.

I like to watch from the Ram’s Head Bar, which serves $3 beers. It’s the rare cheap bar that intentionally resembles a cave. Lanterns hang about, and this being a product of old days, where they could install mirrors, they installed mirrors. In its heyday the bar rotated, and you can still see the track.  

In a city obsessed with everything slick and new, I find Sam’s Town refreshingly goofy. Sometimes you want that. It provides a Nevada history lesson and is, itself, a relic of a bygone era, one in which Vegas embraced family-friendly schmaltz.

For me, though, it’s all about the mountain-laser combo. Remembering when, from a place known for its majestic peaks, a simple light beam could transport me to another time.

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