Vegas, Arizona, DC – January 2024

Sunday 21 January 2024

With last year being a bit lighter on travel I spent only around 200 hours in planes, having based myself in New Zealand the majority of time. This is my first trip overseas since October last year, when we returned from the Philippines and Singapore.

Sylvia worked several weeks from New Zealand last year and on Tuesday she departs for her last work trip to Mexico and Brazil.

I actually gave Air New Zealand a try this  time; in the past we stopped flying with them because their Customer Service has been so bad. I just happened to ring up and find somebody really really helpful so decided to give them another try – also because the flight was the most convenient, and on a 777 which has wider seats in business class than the 787, on which they have made the seats narrower, no doubt to fit in some extra seats down the back.

Hundreds of people queueing for a taxi at Vegas Airport.

Arriving in Las Vegas I headed to the Circus Circus hotel, which is further down the street from the Venetian convention centre. In the past I’ve normally stayed at Treasure Island, which is just across the road from the convention centre, but over the last two or three years it’s become horrifically expensive and pretty rundown. Circus Circus was less than half the price and a bit average. After checking in I headed to my room in the building away from the main hotel on the ground floor with the passageway stinking of a combination of marijuana and some other horrible smell, probably vapes. The room had no fridge or safe so I rang them up and asked what had happened to these two things. The woman said the safe is in the wardrobe, just look inside the wardrobe; no safe! What about the fridge… “we don’t supply a fridge”.  After some discussion she said she would move me to another room on the next floor  and they would give me a free fridge. I headed over to reception, got a new key, and headed up to check out the room on the first floor. As I walked in I was looking at the safe, which is in the side of the wardrobe with the door open, which made it pretty obvious – there was probably one in the wardrobe downstairs but with the wood panel blending into the wardrobe, and in the poor lighting was pretty hard to see. As I arrived a guy turned up with a little fridge that was so battered it looked like it had just come from a Las Vegas shooting range or demolition yard. Anyway,  I plugged it in  but it was so noisy so I unplugged it and never bothered to use it. I suppose one gets what one pays for and as I was only in the room to sleep it didn’t really matter.

Monday, 22 January 2024

In the morning I went for a bit of wander down to the Venetian to pick up my pass for the show, which was supposed to have come through from Aimpoint. For some reason this hadn’t happened so I ended up having to do my own one, which took a little bit of time but wasn’t too much of a problem and  cost only a few dollars. Probably time I paid after freeloading on Aimpoint and others over the last 10 years.

That done I got a message from my friend Michael, who had just flown in from Washington DC and had checked into the Venetian. We took a ride down the strip to Tacos El Gordo. Many people queued up to get tacos, piling large quantities all sorts of stuff on them and heading to the counter to pay. There are a lot of big people in here; it made me feel quite skinny.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

I spent the day checking out the downstairs pavilion where all the smaller companies are. There are always lots of new devices and inventions – I have watched over the years many start off down here then end up on the main floor above.

As is normal at 4:30pm it was time to head for the Aimpoint stand, which has now been moved to the front of the main pavilion is apparently Sig and somebody else pulled out of the show last year. This is always a great chance to catch up with the many people I have met here and other places over the years.

When they cleared the place out at 5:30pm Michael and I headed for a bar where we enjoyed chatting over a drink before getting an Uber out to an area called Hamilton out of the main city. A company called Centre had invited us to their armoury for drinks and nibbles. This place is pretty impressive – just about every firearm one can think of stored in the various armouries  in the building, including some well kept old Gatling guns and other stuff from the past. Established in 1949 they operate as a training organisation for different firearms and other things. With offices in New York and Vegas they have an excess of 25,000 firearms, which are used to train people on and also rent them out to make movies such as the Godfather etc. It was the type of place where one could’ve spent a day or so looking around but which had don’t touch and no photographs signs displayed all over the place (which I didn’t notice till it was too late).

Wednesday 24 January 2025

About 1pm Magnus, Torbjorn and I wandered across to the steak restaurant at Treasure Island where we enjoyed a great catch up and a good meal as we watched out the window as scantily clad  woman wandered up and down the street trying encourage people to get their photographs taken with them. This is the first trip to Vegas that I have experienced rain and weather a little on the cold side.

Thursday 25 January 2 024

After another day of exploring the pavilion and looking at many different items I headed in the evening to Top Flight Golf, where Aimpoint was holding a function. After enjoying a meal with Eric, Magnus, Bryan and Michael, I watched a few people drive the golf balls down range with the flight of the ball and where it rolled to at the end the flight being shown on a big screen at the edge of the stand.

Friday, 26 January 2024

Mid-morning I caught the Spirit Eli flight to Phoenix, picked up a rental car and drove the 188 miles down to Hefford in Southern Arizona near the Mexican border. I had forgotton just how big everything is here as I headed down the I10 freeway  passing through Tuscon.

It was 2016 when I last caught up with Murray and Row. Murray and I used to do karate together many years ago and he is now in his seventies. He works as a supervisor in the security side of things at the local Air Force Base and is an Arizona Ranger and spends a bit of time teaching people to shoot and how to defend themselves.

Saturday 27 of January 2024

We were up early and headed to the Sierra Vista shooting range, about an hour’s drive away. There a group of about 10 people had gathered for a board practice shoot. They were a friendly bunch with one of the guys running things taking us through a number of drills and a little time shoot at the end. Shooting Ranges here, like in New Zealand, are highly regulated with safety being of the utmost importance. The afternoon we spent looking through Murray’s guns and doing some simulated shooting and range set up at his workshop.

Murray second from the left

Sunday, 28 January 2024

We took a drive down to the border of town of Naco, as I wanted to check out Donald Trump‘s new wall. Naco was famous as the base of the buffalo soldiers. They were named buffalo soldiers because of their short curly black hair like a buffalo. The border runs through the town with the new Trump wall being 30 foot height and the old wall now on the south side of the new one being 15 foot high, with lots of barbed wire hanging on the side of both of  where they have been finished.

There are many of these observation stations on the hills to the south of the border.

Remains of the old border barrier on the left under the lights.

Where the old wall joins the new wall

Here there is a  border crossing point, which is surveilled by many cameras checking cars and pedestrians as they proceed between the two countries. Several towns are split in two by the border and have been that way for many years.

We had a look around the town, observing one of the cartel houses – no doubt the owner has American citizenship. We headed east along the wall – in the placed where it has actually been finished there are large coils of barbed-wire hanging on the south side of the wall and tall spotlights every 35m about 10m south of the wall. Every third one of these poles has a camera on it, which means between the west end and the east end there must be millions of cameras – how they find enough people to watch them I’m not sure. It’s midwinter down here so the country is very brown with scrub on most of it and the tall ocotillo cactus plants with their short, rose-like spikes poking up to the sky. As summer comes these apparently develop bright red or blue flowers which look quite spectacular and the desert and all the scrub turns back to green.

There has been a huge amount of money spent on this new wall and in places where the wall had originally been some there are some steel RSJs and a bit of barbed wire on top. They have been pulled back to the south and are still sitting there adjacent to the new wall. Despite the media telling us that Biden stopped the wall building it seems to be still going on.  There is some quite steep country with concrete being laid alongside the wall of vehicles to drive back-and-forth, I presume to try and catch the illegals as they cross the border. In places such as creek beds there are steel gates in the wall, no doubt so they can be opened up when there is intense flooding to stop debris piling up against the wall and causing it to collapse. In two places these gates have been left open with just a single strand of barbed wire across them. Apparently there are still lots of people crossing the border illegally and often they just hand themselves in. Apparently they are given some money and a cellphone and then appear in court sometimes up to 5 years later. They go north to join their relatives and don’t seem to go home, or so the story goes.

It was late in the afternoon we arrived back at Murray‘s place and put the guns we had taken with us away. Apparently the cartels out here can cause a bit of trouble and it’s better not to travel unarmed.

Row had prepared us a nice meal and we spent the evening chatting and catching up

Monday, 29 January 2024

Mid-morning we headed it off to Tucson, where Murray had booked us in to take a tour of a Titan II nuclear missile silo. Arriving at the site, we headed into the main building, which is a kind of a museum with lots of information about the 18 Titan II missile sites in the area.  Each rocket carried one 9 kiloton nuclear warhead. These were operational from 1961 to 1982. Each silo and control room in this area was buried very deep into the ground. When agreement  between the Soviet Union and the US was reached to decommission the sites the silos were blown up and left open so the Russians could see from their spy satellites that the site had been destroyed. This is the only site remaining and has glass over the top of the silo and the doors half open with concrete barriers behind so the Russians can see it is still deactivated. The construction of this place  is pretty impressive – the whole control centre in this silo is on large springs with surrounding concrete containing reinforcing bars up to an inch and a half thick.

The tour group gathered and after watching a short video we were lead into the yards and down 9 flights of stairs to the first blast door. This weighs 6000lbs and is made of steel filled with concrete, with large locking lugs. On the change of crew the new guys arrived outisde, rang the bell and on video camera, had to read the password from a piece of paper which was then burnt and dropped into a steel coffee cup prior to the door being opened, which took them into a chamber. The door closed and then the second blast door opened allowing them access to the blast-proof corridor leading to the control room. The six crew then handed over with the old crew and the shift was changed. Maintenance crews, of which there were up to 20 plus on site at times, went through the same process. There is a room above the control room with bunks and another room below where 30-days rations were stored and meals were prepared. One of the two commanders on each shift had to remain in the commander’s chair at all times with a 2IC occupying the seat next door. While off duty, people were encourage to watch movies and play computer games.

The next two paragraphs were copied from Wikipedia a I think it explains things much better than I could:

  • The order given to launch a Titan II was vested exclusively in the US President. Once an order was given to launch, launch codes were sent to the silos from SAC HQ or its backup in California. The signal was an audio transmission of a thirty-five-letter code. The two missile operators would record the code in a notebook. The codes were compared to each other and if they matched, both operators proceeded to a red safe containing the missile launch documents. The safe featured a separate lock for each operator, who unlocked it using a combination known only to themself.
  • The safe contained a number of paper envelopes with two letters on the front. Embedded in the thirty-five letter code sent from HQ was a seven-letter sub-code. The first two letters of the sub-code indicated which envelope to open. Inside was a plastic “cookie”, with five more letters written on it. If the cookie matched the remaining five digits in the sub-code, the launch order was authenticated.The message also contained a six-letter code that unlocked the missile. This code was entered on a separate system that opened a butterfly valve on one of the oxidizer lines on the missile engines. Once unlocked, the missile was ready to launch. Other portions of the message contained a launch time, which might be immediate or might be any time in the future.

When that time was reached, the two operators inserted keys into their respective control panels and turned them to launch. The keys had to be turned within two seconds of each other, and had to be held for five seconds. The consoles were too far apart for one person to turn them both within the required timing.

The site could handle an indirect strike (a mile or more away); anything closer was considered a direct hit ,which would in all likelihood destroy the complex.  I got to sit in the commanders chair and go through the process of turning the key to simulate the missile launch along with the assistant seated across the desk from me.

After the launch the crew (if no word was received from the outside world) would wait it out for up to 30-days before exiting the site via the main stairs of the escape tunnel through the air intake shaft.

After the presentation we headed along the 250ft tunnel to the rocket silo. This too is reinforced and on springs to protect it from both the vibration of the launch and indirect attack. Another blast door gave us access to the silo containing the Titan II rocket. Glass windows have been placed in the silo casing so we could see the rocket. With a mixture of liquid fuel it could be launched in around 30 seconds. Prior to launch some 9000 gallons of water was dropped into the back of the silo to reduce noise and vibration, which could destroy the rocket.  Large vents went to the surface to let the steam out created by the launch.

From there we made our was back along the tunnel to the stairs and had a look around  the yard and down into the silo from above.


After the tour we headed for some lunch before checking out a local sports shop and heading home. We had planned to go the the Safari International Museum, which had a large collection of mounted wild game, however it is now permanently closed.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

At 0500 I was on the road for the drive back to Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport, hopefully with a bit of time up my sleeve for traffic etc. I recall driving across the US in the 80s and 90s with a large map book, which was in some ways better than the car nav as one could see the whole journey and all the roads and streets. Somewhere north of Tucson the off ramp I was supposed to take was closed. This meant heading all the way up the I10 then branching off near the airport. Lucky i had left a bit early. The rental car return was easy; just park the car in a line, leave keys in and walk away! The train back to the terminal came quickly and soon I was at the gate ready to board the flight to Reagan airport in Washington DC.

I get reminded every time I come here remember just how big everything is.

Arriving in DC I had a bit of a cold and Mike suggested I might like to stay in the local Old Town Hilton at Alexandra. I spent the next couple of days staying there away from people apart from the visit to Bob and Edith’s diner next door for some food.

Thursday 1 February 2024 

In the Evening Mike picked me up and we headed to his place for dinner and a brief catch up with his brother Eric, who I have caught up with in many parts of the world. Eric had just flown in from the middle East where he had been for work.

Friday 2 February 2024 

Mike dropped me off at the airport early and soon the first leg of the LA flight to Chicago was underway. On reboarding on the next leg I was seated way down the back, jammed up against the window looking at the clouds for the next 4-plus hours. I had thought I had got a really good business class trip from Phoenix DC to LA but didn’t read the fine print on the last leg. I had spotted this once before when looking at a fare on American Airlines – cunning buggers.

LA to Auckland was on Air NZ with excellent service from the cabin crew.

The next trip is to Bhutan on the 22 February. Sylvia retires from Mars and Royal Canin on the 17 February after 30 years of dedicated service to many parts of the business.



5 thoughts on “Vegas, Arizona, DC – January 2024

  1. Joe says:

    Love a good gun show mate 🙂

  2. Stan Schwalger says:

    Cool walking stick pistola. wonder whether you could buy a missle silo and bunker for the zombie apocalypse

  3. Marie Carmen Remi says:

    Bonjour Roger
    merci pour ce beau reportage d’images de Vegas et de ses environs…
    Marie Carmen et moi espérons que vous allez bien avec Sylvia et votre famille.
    peux tu stp nous communiquer vos coordonnées personnelles
    mail, téléphone.
    Vous serez toujours nos invités quand vous passerez par la France ou l’espagne.
    à bientôt

  4. Rosie says:

    BIG is certainly the operative word!
    Thanks Roger. Glad Air NZ is back in your good books.

  5. Darryl McDonald says:

    Loved it. Thanks Roger. Life will be pretty boring now that Sylvia has retired and you don’t have a reason to travel.

    Cheers Darryl

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