National Finals: Las Vegas style |

National Finals: Las Vegas style

The grand entry at the National Finals Rodeo is spectacular, featuring all 123 contestants riding into the arena.

Photo by Siri Stevens

by Siri Stevens

Fence Post Roving Reporter

The stewardess woke me up from a deep sleep.

“Welcome back to reality,” she droned over the loud speaker. “We will be landing in Denver in about 10 minutes.”

Not too far from the truth as I struggled to open my eyes, thinking back on four days in Las Vegas. I went out for the National Finals Rodeo earlier this month, which was only a fraction of the action.

I figure I lost about four hours of sleep each night, bringing my total loss to more than one night.

We arrived on Thursday morning, Dec. 6, and headed to the Flamingo for check in. The Flamingo is the hotel that hosts the Miss Rodeo America Pageant. It was built in 1946 and has more than 15 acres of habitat for 15 species of wildlife. Within an hour, we were settled in our rooms and ready to explore this city of aces.

On the inside, the Venetian looks like the streets of Venice, complete with sky and canal.

Photo by Siri Stevens

Our first hotel was the Venetian, by default, because we got to the Sands Convention Center, where the famous Cowboy Christmas is held and found out we were a day early.

Once we entered the building, our world changed. The ceiling looks just like a sky, with wispy clouds and a pink hue to the horizon beyond the building tops. There is a lovely canal that runs through the middle, with boats that take visitors on canal rides, complete with singing. It did not take any imagination to know where we were.

We followed that hotel with Paris, another amazing replication of the streets of Paris, complete with “indoor sky” and little shops, including one with pastries of every sort, beautiful creations of chocolate and calorie-free creamy concoctions.

Since we were a day early for the rodeo, we saw Lord of the Dance the first evening. The shows in Las Vegas are indescribable and well worth the pricey tickets. Lord of the Dance is a group of incredibly talented step dancers that perform for more than an hour. The “story” was an Irish rendition of “West Side Story.”

By the time we were heading back to our rooms it was after midnight. We couldn’t tell it by the neon flashing lights or the masses of people flocking around the casinos. Every hotel has a casino immediately inside the front entrance. People spend endless hours pushing buttons and waiting while the machine twirls and the bells ring. Nobody appears to be very happy, they seem transfixed to the screen, as if in a daze. I never experienced that part of Las Vegas. All total, we put $3.20 in machines, quickly realizing that it was the gambling that made the amazing theme hotels possible.

Through our many taxi rides, we learned a lot about the city. We found out that since Sept. 11, business in Las Vegas has dropped 40 percent, forcing 20,000 people out of jobs. The arrival of the National Finals Rodeo was a much needed boost for the local economy as more than 170,000 rodeo spectators hit the streets of Las Vegas.

One of the hotels in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand, is the world’s largest resort with more than 5,000 rooms that stretch over three miles from end to end.

Another hotel, the Luxor, has the world’s brightest spotlight at its apex. This light has its own power source and a person can read a newspaper 10 miles into the sky using its illuminating power. Astronauts can see this light from space. This hotel employs 4,000 people.

Jeff Warburton and Scott Naylor are on the road 105 days of the year going to shows. They agreed that the shows don’t get any better than the Las Vegas Country Christmas.

Photo by Siri Stevens

The next two days were spent shopping at the two biggest shows I have ever been to. The Cowboy Christmas is the number one show for many of the vendors. They pay a pricey $5,000 for a 10-by-40-foot booth, but the payoff is 134,000 shoppers during the 10- day event. There are 387 booths and Zandy Charnes, project director of the National Finals Rodeo, is very selective about who she invites.

The Country Christmas is the other avenue for spending money and is actually much bigger than the Cowboy Christmas.

Finally, it was time to go to the first rodeo. The Thomas and Mack Center is maxed out for these rodeos, with sell-out crowds every night. The performance begins with a laser light show and fireworks, followed by 123 contestants riding into the arena behind the flag of their state. Just seeing that many horses packed into the arena is a spectacular sight.

The rodeo is constant action ” the best in the world from the stock to the contestants. More than 20 stock contractors provide the roughstock for events. Only the top 15 competitors in each event are invited to this 10-day-long grueling competition.

All too soon, it was over, and we were headed to another show, the Blue Man Group, held at Mandalay Bay. This show featured three men with completely blue heads, performing a wide variety of indescribably amazing things. I cannot do justice to it with words, and I would go to Las Vegas again just to see this show.

We went to the rodeo for the second performance and as I left the stadium after that performance I thought how nice it would be to see all 10 performances. To watch the progression of the competition each night, to share in the triumphs and the failures of these cowboys and cowgirls who have worked so hard all year to get to Las Vegas.

As I sit in front of a computer, I’m glad to share with Fence Post readers a most remarkable vacation option for next year. You’ll have to start planning now as the tickets go fast for the rodeos.

If you get a chance ” try it, you’ll like it.


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