My first Vegas trip was in the early '00s I think, when you could still ride a mechanical bull in the Strip and several vintage casinos hadn't been torn down yet.
That trip haunts me, because there's so much more I could've seen then, when I was visiting on vacation from New York. Subsequent trips were monopolized by conferences and meetings. And by the time I started to understand Vegas and have the time to see the sites that interested me, they were already gone.
On tat first trip, my friend Tony had booked us at the Stratosphere Casino & Hotel because it was cheap. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was also relatively new.
And despite the fact that I was interested in its tower and rooftop rollercoaster, I didn't go exploring past the buffet and casino floor because I was saddled with one of the worst bouts of influenza of my life. I mostly stayed in my room shivering under the covers. I ventured out to win $90 on a Press Your Luck-themed slot machine. I let Tony drag me to the Valley of Fire and Studio 54 at the MGM Grand.
I didn't do much else on that trip, and that's been hanging over my head for over a decade.
So, on this return trip to Vegas, it was time to return to the Stratosphere.
I suppose by now it's considered a bit passé. It doesn't have the cache of being vintage, but it's not a new luxury high-rise, either. But it's still the tallest free-standing observation tower in the U.S.—and that still counts for something.
Near the top of the tower, 800 feet above the end of the Las Vegas Strip, you can dine at the Top of the World Restaurant...
...which, like the Bona Vista Lounge at the Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown LA and The View at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, rotates to give a 360-degree view of the city below.
It makes a full rotation every 80 minutes—so if you don't rush, you might catch the shadow of the tower and spire cast on the sun drenched city below.
You might even get to see someone bungee-jumping from the observation deck above you.
Getting a meal at the restaurant gets you onto the observation deck for free—though lots of people spring for the thrill rides up there or for some drinks at the bar. It is Vegas, after all.
I, however, wasn't interested in getting drunk or motion sick—so even though I was free of the flu this time, I abstained from everything but the breathtaking view.
While the top of the Stratosphere was probably about as high as I could get in Vegas while remaining sober...
...I left relatively quickly to move on to yet another aerial amusement that would take me above the Strip.
I still haven't had the chance to ride the London Eye, even though I was actually in London 10 years after it was first erected.
I guess I'm always making up for something.
The High Roller is a little farther down the Strip from the Stratosphere, across the street from Caesar's and just behind the Flamingo...
...so it has a bit of a different view.
But the real attraction is the wheel itself, with its retro-futuristic spherical pods evoking something you might ride at a World's Fair in the 1960s.
Unlike most ferris wheels, on the High Roller you're completely encapsulated, so you can move freely about the pod.
And the thing moves so slowly that you barely feel any torque. It takes 30 minutes for the wheel to make a complete revolution.
With open bar packages available, the High Roller is a popular nighttime attraction, but I wanted to actually see what was below me—and not just the lights.
I managed to squeeze in right before the end of the "daytime" hours and catch the beginnings of the sun as it set behind The Linq Hotel & Casino. By the time I was driving away, night had fallen and the High Roller had been lit up in hues of hot pink and orange.
I'm sure someday it'll be torn down, too—just like the rest of Vegas has been. I'm sure the Strip is completely unrecognizable to someone who knew the prior version of Vegas from the 1950s or even the 1970s. Vegas is almost unrecognizable to me now, just over a decade since my first visit.
It's the kind of place you just can't grow too attached to. Of all the hotels and casinos I've stayed in—the Stratosphere, Caesar's, the Wynn, the Flamingo, Hooter's, The Palms, Rio, Riviera—one has already been imploded.
Maybe it's just better to try to experience as many of them as possible, and not to play favorites with any of them.
Because how quickly will that view from above the Strip change?
Photo Essay: The View from Above Balboa Park's Former Expo Grounds
Video of the Day: From the Ferris Wheel