A few of the Vegas Valley’s strangest off-Strip sites

Hammargren’s house is an annual house of wonder.
Photo: Steve Marcus

The best thing about the Strip is that it has everything a tourist could want from a Las Vegas visit. That’s also the most unfortunate thing about it, because those Strip-bound tourists have missed out—and continue to miss out—on some first-class oddball attractions.

The Rio isn’t far from the Strip—just under a mile—but it was apparently far enough for people to skip Masquerade Show in the Sky, the indoor, Carnaval-styled “parade” that took place several times a night. Scantily clad dancers gyrated on illuminated “floats” suspended from a track in the ceiling; for a few bucks, you could join them. It closed in 2013, leaving a hole no earthbound sequined-bikini production could ever hope to fill.

Luckily, we’ve still got Mystic Falls Park at Sam’s Town. Filling the hotel’s 10-story, glass-roofed atrium, Mystic Falls replicates the feel of wild, untamed wilderness in exact detail, right down to the trees, birds, waterfalls, wolves, and, of course, lasers and waterfalls synchronized to music. Sometimes, during the holiday season, the robotic critters are fitted with Santa hats. This is really happening.

Demand frontier authenticity? Bonnie Springs Ranch, just a few miles northwest of Blue Diamond, provides it—kinda. True, its replica of an 1880s mining town was built in the early 1970s, and its petting zoo in the early 1960s. In fact, Bonnie Springs Ranch didn’t officially exist before 1958. But it feels much older than that—old enough for its campiness to have solidified into a kind of dignity.

Last but not least are two attractions that provide unique perspectives on our city’s history. The Atomic Testing Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, offers an exhaustive, if slightly terrifying accounting of the Nevada Test Site. And the home museum of former Lieutenant Governor of Nevada Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, open just once a year on Nevada Day, is a peerless repository of Vegas memorabilia, even in its recently downsized form.

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