It's Christmastime in the Desert!

"A desert is a place without expectation"

Nadine Gordimer

State 22: Nevada - December 6, 2017


We woke up after stealth parking inside a garage at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip surprisingly having had a restful night sleep. Today we would drive 16 miles Southeast to the Cross Country Couple's "Made in the USA" tour for Nevada; Ethel M. Chocolate & Cactus Garden. Eating a piece of chocolate covered cactus sounds chewy and painful! Perhaps they infuse cactus water into the chocolate? At the moment, I can’t think of two things more different chocolate and cactus, but I look forward to learning how they merge them together.

We began our visit by viewing the cactus garden. Ethel M Chocolate's Cactus Garden is the largest in Nevada, and features over 300 species of cacti, and succulents displayed over 4 acres. Half are cacti and succulents native to the American Southwest, and the rest are from Australia, and South America. All of the plants were chosen both for the beauty of their floral displays, and their ability to adapt to the climate of Southern Nevada. Although I do like cacti and succulents, I have never been to a cactus garden before, because there are no deserts where I once lived in Connecticut! Admission was free, and the paths wandering throughout the garden were paved. Some of the species of cacti we saw were; Eve's Needle Cactus, Lobiva Cactus, Rabbit Ears Cactus, Golden Barrel Cactus, Beaver Tail Cactus, Cow Tongue Cactus, Grizzly Bear Cactus, Compass Barrel Cactus, Joshua Tree and even a Purple Pancake Cactus! LOL! I have a lot of desert driving in the coming weeks, and will now be able to identify many of the species of cacti I encounter! The cacti are pictured below in the order they were described!

My favorite cactus I came across was the Saguaro Skeleton! The Saguaro is a species of cactus most iconic to the American West. It can grow to be over 40 feet tall, live over 150 years, and grows it's first arm after 75 years. For some unknown reason, some Saguaro’s never grow arms and are called spears. After a Saguaro dies it begins to slowly decay until only a skeleton remains. Since it's life cycle is so long, Saguaro skeletons are rare, valuable and highly coveted! I was once considering getting a few cacti for Rosie to make the place feel more homey, but in the end decided against it. Everything in Rosie needs to be tied down, or it flies all over the place. The last thing I want is to accidentally step on a cactus or to have one suddenly fall on me in the middle of the night!

Please see the additional pictures below of our visit to Nevada’s largest cactus garden! One cactus had a NO CLIMBING sign on it. Who the hell would climb a cactus?

After exiting the Cactus Garden, we entered the chocolate factory to tour the facility. All of the chocolate production occurs behind a 100 foot long floor to ceiling wall of glass. You begin on one end where production begins, and walk along watching each step in the production process! As we approached the first window pane, an employee handed us a sample of the nastiest piece of chocolate I had ever tasted!! There was no richness, no creaminess, and worst of all, it seriously lacked the chocolate flavor! It tasted like air! Why would you give samples of your worst chocolate to your customers??? From here things only got worse! I called ahead to ask if they were currently in production, and the lady I spoke with assured me they in fact were! However, when I arrived, Nate and I were left staring at motionless machinery and empty tables. Please see the pictures below!

At the end of the self-guided tour, we were offered a 30 minute “Chocolate Tasting Experience for $14.99 per person, which includes: education on how chocolate is sourced, refined and produced, the subtleties of chocolate tasting, flavor identification and samples of different types of chocolate. Since Nate nor I were not overly impressed with the taste or quality of the sample we were previously presented with, we decided to pass on their “Chocolate Tasting Experience”.

Next we walked over to their nearby retail shop and café where any and every type and flavor you could imagine was artistically created and pristinely displayed in their refrigerated acrylic display cases! It was quite the presentation! Please see the pictures below.

I specifically was on the lookout for anything that combined chocolate and cactus, but alas I found none! I would have even been satisfied with something as simple as piece of chocolate shaped like a cactus! What a disappointment! To make matters worse, the chocolate was ridiculously overpriced! $5.99 for a single piece the size of a Hershey kiss! $8.00 for an 8 oz cup of hot cocoa! $71.00 for a 40-piece gift box! Talk about sticker shock! I decided to pass of their overpriced chocolate!

By the time we finished our tour of the chocolate factory, the sun had already set. When we exited the building we were shocked by what we saw! The entire 4 acre cactus garden was expertly and brilliantly illuminated with Christmas lights! I have never heard of decorating a cactus for Christmas, but then again I have never been in the desert in December! It was quite a magical experience! While looking at the cactus garden earlier, we noticed they were wrapped in Christmas lights, but didn’t really think much of it. Although, Nate did joke he felt sorry for the person whose job it was to string up hundreds of Cacti with Christmas lights! Please enjoy the pictures below of the lighted Christmas Cactus Garden!


After departing the illuminated cactus garden, we drove across town to the Cross Country Couple's "Historic Location" for Nevada; “Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino”. Opened on August 1, 1931, Railroad Pass Casino holds Nevada's gaming license #4, and is America’s oldest continually running casino! As it is called by the locals, "The Pass” was built to serve as entertainment to the workers whom were constructing the Hoover Dam. Actually, the first train that rumbled towards the dam’s building site carried the very lumber that built the casino! The Pass contains a safe room, which once held the payroll for the railroad and the workers who built the Hoover Dam! Today the casino features, 120 rooms, a sparkling swimming pool, DeSimone's Steakhouse, Iron Rail Café, A full buffet, a casino featuring 12,803 square feet of gaming space, 309 slot machines consisting of penny slots, video poker, keno, 6 table games consisting of craps, roulette, and blackjack, and a sports book!

Although the Railroad Pass Casino was the historic location for the state, neither Lori nor I are gamblers. We decided to make a one-time exception with a few mutually agreed upon ground rules! First, we would each bet $10 on a single hand of blackjack, and would then walk away regardless of whether we lost or won. Lori went first, and I photographed her as she placed her $10 bet. She was dealt a 10 of diamonds, and a 5 of clubs for a total of 15. The dealer had a king of hearts showing. Lori signaled the dealer to hit, received a 9 of clubs and busted. Now it was my turn, and Lori photographed me as I placed my bet. I was dealt a queen of clubs, and a 10 of diamonds for a total of 20. The dealer had an ace of spades showing. I chose to stay. The dealer flipped over his second card; a 9 of hearts. Since we both had 20 showing, it was a push! Now Lori and I had a problem! We had previously agreed what we would walk away after one hand regardless of whether we lost or won. However, we never discussed what we would do in the event of a push! After a brief discussion, Lori and I agreed I would play another hand, and once again I placed a $10 bet! I was dealt a 9 of clubs, and a 9 of diamonds for a total of 18. The dealer had a 7 of diamonds showing, and I decided to stay. The dealer flipped over his second card, and it was a jack of clubs for a total of 17! I WON!!! I took my $20 dollars, and proudly walked over to the cashier to cash out! Not only did Lori and I place a bet at the oldest casino in America, we walked out with the exact amount of money which we walked in! How often does that happen in Vegas? What I liked most about the Railroad Pass Casino, was its intimate atmosphere which was much different from the mega casinos on the strip! The “Pass” is a place where the locals go to gamble! The patrons and the employees all knew each other by name, and clearly, it has been this way for a very long time! Please see the pictures below!


After departing the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino, we went to the Paris Hotel & Casino on the strip to catch a 90-minute show by the Hypnotist; Anthony Cools. Running for over 13 years, Anthony Cools has the distinction of not only having the longest running Hypnosis show in Vegas, but in the entire world! I would rate the show R+, so it’s definitely NOT a family friendly show. Also, his show is not for the prudish or easily offended. His acts pushed the lines of decency, but does not cross over them. What he was able to make his subjects do was absolutely hilarious, and Nate and I laughed nonstop the entire time! If you ever find yourself in Vegas with some spare time and in need of a good laugh, you should go see the Anthony Cools - The Uncensored Hypnotist Show!

After the show, we walked around the Paris Casino taking in the sights. The sidewalk cafes, retail boutiques, building facades, and sky painted ceilings made the European experience feel very realistic! I have yet to visit Paris, but this casino helped me imagine what Paris might be like. Maybe for our next adventure, instead on going on a year long cross country trip, we will go across the continent to Europe for a year! Please see the pictures below.

After departing Paris Hotel, we drove 9 miles Northeast to North Las Vegas where we found a Walmart to spend the night.

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