Desert Companion

Joy rides

No particular place to go? You’re in luck: Our bus system is great for some fine sightseeing

Joy Rides

“I’m riding to the end of the line.” Those are my words to a CAT bus driver who has just asked me where I’m going. Everyone else has left the bus.

“Well, this is the layover,” he says. The bus I’m on has just made a loop around The Lakes, and will now head all the way across town and north toward Nellis Air Force Base. Fortunately, I’m allowed to stay on the bus and wait 20 minutes. That’s good, because air conditioning is a definite plus on this warm afternoon. I climb back up the stairs to the best seat on this double-decker Deuce: the front row right over the driver’s seat. A big glass window gives me a clear view toward the Strip while the driver takes his break.

“Why are you riding?” The bus driver, sandwich in hand, has climbed the stairs behind me.

“To see what there is to see,” I say. “I’ve been taking different routes for three days now, all over the valley.” He eyes my camera and notebook. I can tell he’s curious, but riders are boarding the bus below us. “I think the Strip might be more interesting,” he says as his head disappears down the stairwell.

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He’s right. The Strip by public transportation is fascinating. The view from a bus is like a combination of walking and driving — with the added advantages of extra height and no obligation to navigate. The slow pace enforced by heavy traffic and frequent stops allows plenty of time to take in details along a route that easily deserves its designation as a scenic byway. A bonus: You can catch up on the latest trends in fingernail art and earlobe-stretching without even looking out a window.

While there are fewer tourists and no huge Ferris wheels under construction on the other routes I rode, each provided fresh glimpses into a city I thought I knew. I might never have learned about the slick new bicycle repair and rental facility at the Bonneville Transit Center. And Yelp might do a good job of listing the amazing variety of Asian restaurants along Spring Mountain, but riding by them made me far more eager to ring the bell and hop off for some pho. Walls protect most Las Vegas backyards from view — but not from passengers riding upstairs on a Deuce. Even Google satellite maps can’t reveal a big black lab enjoying a dip in a slightly murky pool.

Whatever the appeal — an anthropological field trip, a look at new development, a trip down memory lane, world-class people-watching or a great meal — consider taking a bus and get far more than your fare’s worth. Here are four routes around the valley to get you started.

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Route: Strip & Downtown Express

Catch this bus at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North or the South Strip Transfer Terminal and ride it not only the length of the Strip, but also past the new landmarks of downtown, including the Lou Ruvo Center, City Hall and Symphony Park. (The “Deuce on the Strip” route covers most of the same territory, but stops at the Mob Museum downtown.) Bar none, this is the best route for chatting with (or eavesdropping on) visiting tourists and finding out what they love, hate or love to hate about our town. It’s also a quick ride through time, offering views of the newest properties and shopping venues as well as some of the oldest. You can even get a glimpse of what the future holds as you pass by new development projects under way downtown and around the Smith Center. This route is very popular, so board the bus at a terminus to help make sure you get a seat. Sit on the right (street) side of the coach for the best views.

 

“Chow mein to chimichangas”

Route 203 (Deuce)

This amazingly long local route runs east along Desert Inn and Spring Mountain before turning north on Lamb Boulevard to Lone Mountain. An upstairs seat on the double-decker Deuce bus offers nice views of local mountains, but the constantly changing pageant inside the coach is arguably even more engaging. As the bus travels through neighborhoods on the east and west sides of town, the students, professionals and retirees getting on and off the coach reflect the remarkable ethnic and cultural diversity of the Las Vegas Valley. Hungry? Stop for a meal, but good luck deciding. Choose from Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Malaysian, Filipino and Korean eateries along Spring Mountain, or dine at an authentic eastside Mexican restaurant. Views of the Sheep Range and Frenchman Mountain are especially nice at dusk.

“Old, new and zoo”

Route 106

Catch a ride at either the Centennial Hills Park & Ride or the Bonneville Transit Center. Starting at Bonneville, the route rolls through downtown, cuts over Bonanza and then follows old Highway 95 out to the new suburbs of the northwest. Along this route, you’ll get a brief look at some of Las Vegas’ grittiest neighborhoods, where you’ll see fierce “pride of ownership” next to razor wire and homeless encampments. At the other end of the route, catch some great views of the Sheep Range and discover some of the valley’s newest neighborhoods as the bus loops through Centennial Hills near Gilcrease Orchard. In between, along Rancho Drive, stop off at Texas Station or another one of the locals casinos on both sides of the road. Several longtime watering holes, including Big Dog’s Brewing Company, are also mere steps (or stumbles) away from bus stops. This route also makes it easy to visit The Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park (the Las Vegas Zoo), where you can check out the last family of Barbary apes in the United States.

 

“Journey to a sweet dam town”

Route 402

Another long route, this trip takes the slow path to Boulder City starting from the South Strip Transfer Terminal. As the bus rolls along Sunset Road, enjoy excellent views of the new terminal and control tower at McCarran Airport. Past the airport, look north for a good view of the rugged bluffs just west of Whitney Ranch. They’re nothing new, but it’s always rewarding to see this bit of “wild west” scenery that has remained unconsumed by urban development. On your way down Boulder Highway, consider stopping off at the Clark County Museum. You might be lucky enough to catch sight of Museum Administrator and “Pawn Stars” consultant Mark Hall-Patton as you enjoy peeking inside the restored historic houses and businesses along “Heritage Street.” As the bus travels further south, you can hop off at the Railroad Pass Casino or stay on board, enjoy expansive vistas over Eldorado Valley, and ride all the way to the end of the line. Use the one-hour (or make it two) layover for a walk around charming downtown Boulder City. Check out the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, or have a bite to eat at the Coffee Cup, Mel’s Diner, or the Boulder Dam Brewing Company before heading back.

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