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Getting serious about the sandbox

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Las Vegas Weekly staffer April Corbin tries out an excavator at Dig This Heavy Equipment Playground in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 10, 2011.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Right joystick to the left, then left joystick forward—no, wait. Right joystick and left joystick forward together—damn, that isn’t it either. Left joystick to the right and right joystick to the left—WHOA! Yes! Yes! There! There!

My life has become a real-life video game ... or maybe it’s a porn shoot.

Dig This

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Dig This
Daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
3012 S. Rancho Dr.
digthisvegas.com

Somehow, I find myself strapped into a two-ton excavator on the top of a tiny hill, challenged with the task of scooping a series of basketballs sitting on orange traffic cones into my giant yellow bucket. If that sounds easy, let me assure you it isn’t—especially when your prior experience is limited to that tiny rotating seat with the claw for digging at the sandbox inside the playground. I didn’t even own a Tonka Truck when I was a kid.

Welcome to Dig This, which brands itself as a “heavy equipment playground.” Here, customers are shown how to operate Caterpillar equipment with intimidating titles—312CL hydraulic excavator, D5 track-type tractor (aka bulldozer!)—then allowed to use it on their dirt lot. The excavator experience includes moving big rocks, digging a trench to your liking and a makeshift game of basketball.

If any of this sounds familiar, a Henderson man attempted to open a similar company called Big Dig Las Vegas back in 2009. His company is no longer around.

That doesn’t doom Vegas’ newest attraction to the same fate, of course. Dig This has plenty of things going for it beyond the undeniable fact that playing with heavy machinery is a lot of fun. Perhaps most notably, the company is located just behind the Strip and the I-15 in a lot that once housed the amusement park Scandia. (Yes, that means there’s a chance you may dig up a golf ball or two during your earth-moving.) Also, this isn’t the company’s inaugural venture; it opened its first Dig This in 2007 in Colorado.

On the downside, at $400 for a half-day session that includes two hours of operating time, Dig This isn’t affordable for everyone hoping to relive his or her childhood. Still, owner and founder Ed Munn believes enough people will pay up for the unique experience. The adrenaline rush that comes when you push a bucket into the ground and feel the earth give way tends to open pockets.

And really, there may be no better place than Las Vegas for such a thrill. Many already view the city as an adult playground. Why not solidify that with a more literal interpretation?

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