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For some reason that I can’t put my finger on, I have never been to Las Vegas. Most of my travel destinations and experiences are aimed at observing cacti and other succulent plants in nature and to share those experiences with other people. The ethos of Las Vegas seemed far removed from these aims and so, given the choice, as in 2009’s visit to Death Valley, CA, or in Spring 2012 while visiting Zion State Park, UT, there were signs to Las Vegas, indicating that a small detour would enable us to take a quick look there. We had always taken the alternative options to look for more cacti.

So when Eunice contacted me a few weeks before my departure from the UK and asked if I was interested in giving a presentation to the Cactus and Succulent Society of Southern Nevada during my mini speaking tour of California, I said ‘Why not? Where do they meet?’ Las Vegas!

Well, if it was good enough for Elvis to appear there …..Viva Las Vegas!   Of course Elvis never appeared at The Garden Center in Lorenzi Park, so no competition for me!

And so it came to be that we set out for the 4:15 hour journey, perhaps a little later than I had hoped for, but understandably Eunice had to make some arrangements including preparing her home for her friend Melissa to look after Bosco.

Eunice was driving and did her best to make up some of the lost time by breaking various land speed records, and possibly a few speed limits as well so that we could fit in my first Cactus-in-habitat stop, one week after landing at LAX. My shutter finger was itching as we left the highway at the turning to Zzyzx Road for stop S3225. I had been here before in 2009 but this time we carried on a bit farther as Echinocactus polycephalus and Opuntia basilaris appeared alongside the road. This was also the first time for me to try out the Nikon D750 in a habitat environment and for the newly purchased 18-35 mm wide angle zoom lens. I was not disappointed, as the combination gave me crystal clear pictures from a perspective for which in the past I had used the Nikon Coolpix S10 with its wonderful lens twisting independent from the body. I dislike changing lenses in the field with the great potential of dust particles entering the delicate parts inside the camera. The only flaws in the pictures were my shadow becoming included in the picture, due to the wide angle and the low light casting long shadows – user error; lessons learned!

And so on to Las Vegas where we followed a by-pass towards Henderson to arrive at the home of the Programme Organiser, Stephenie Thomas to take a look at her small collection in the yard – all these plants overwinter outside, impossible in England! Their real challenge is the heat of summer. Eunice had brought along some trays of sales plants for the meeting so a bit of a car-boot sale ensued or was it two way traffic, a car-boot swap shop?

The clock ticked on and Eunice contacted our host for the night Pete Duncombe, who, like Stephenie, is listed on the Society’s website as a ‘large Board Member’ or was that ‘at large’?  In the UK they would be Branch Officials. We arranged to meet Pete at Applebee’s, an eatery near the hall, but got stuck in traffic. When Eunice informed Pete we learned that there were actually four Applebee restaurants around Vegas and of course we were heading for the wrong one. A quick course correction and we finally arrived to meet our host, slightly stressed as we were close to being late for the meeting. We ordered fish & chips and a pint of locally brewed beer while we waited for the food to be served in take-away boxes. Excellent, just what the doctor ordered!

I was introduced to numerous people and my poor memory struggled to remember the right name for the right face. Regardless, thank you all for making me very welcome. One person I do remember was Victor who had travelled with Eunice and my friend Alain Buffel from Belgium on a 2012 trip in Baja California and is therefore featured in Alain’s Diary and their photo’s. As he is some 2 m tall, he is easily remembered!

The evening ended around 21:00 hrs, as the presentations last only 45 – 60 minutes rather than the 2 x 45 minutes in the UK. So what would we like to do? Would it be possible to drive through Las Vegas and see The Strip? Of course! But first to Pete’s home to meet his wife Rhonda and son, John, where we left our car and where Pete took on his nth role of the day: tourist guide.

It was amazing to see the bright lights with many sights that I recognised from movies, adverts and from Ian Woolnough’s presentations of trips to the USA. We drove past the Bellagio Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard, described as the ultimate hotel experience, just as a spectacular performance of water fountains accompanied by loud rock music was in full flow. Wow, can we stop to photograph this? Sure, as Pete took a left into the Hotel car park. We walked through the hotel voyer that has to be seen to be believed with a Chinese Garden display, presumably to help celebrations of the Chinese New Year later this month. Pete told us that these displays last one month and then are replaced in their entirity in just three days. Of course we were particularly impressed by the huge amounts of plants involved in these colourful displays. What a challenge!

Eventually we reached the outside and found a place at the man made lake (remember, we’re in the middle of a desert!) and wondered when the next show would start when the loudspeakers next to us started beating out Billy Jean by Michael Jackson and the water fountains started their dance. Fortunately the Nikon D750 has excellent video capability so that the whole performance was recorded, in stereo! We were still enthusing of what we had seen and busy taking still pictures as we walked back towards the car park when another piece of (unfamiliar to me) rock music started up, with another performance by the fountain-dancers. Double Wow!!! Angie, you’d love this, so start packing for a future trip to include Vegas!

Back at Pete’s home there was just time for a brief chat before I was glad to drop into bed. But what a small world! It turned out that Pete had spent a spell at Kew Gardens in London and that we both knew a number of people from Kew! I explained that I used to live in Dorking in Surrey, which always brings a smile to the face of Americans, as the word Dork has quite a different meaning here. ‘I know Dorking’, said Pete, ‘my cousin Max has bought a small cottage there, the Watermill’. Wow, I used to live at Millcroft, at the end of Leslie Road and the Watermill, then, in the 1990’s, was in need of some repairs, along the footpath alongside the River Mole, some three doors away!   Yes, it’s a small world indeed!

We are unsure what we will do tomorrow. Eunice’s car is due to be released by the garage where it has undergone repairs after being rear-ended about a week before I arrived. But the garage closes at 13:00 so we would need to leave early as she did not want to pay storage fees and be charged for extended use of the rental car that the insurance company had provided. But that is tomorrow’s problem!

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