Las Vegas was the most convenient place to fly in and out of, and it seemed like somewhere I should see once in my life, but I ended up liking it enough to want to go back. At least, I would be quite happy to go back. Its downside is obvious. Our taxi driver told us that it has the highest unemployment in the country, and we drove past some very seedy motels, various people who looked homeless, and, where other cities would have boxes containing free magazines about local arts and politics, lots of what looked like listings of prostitutes. Just about everything there is fake (most obviously the promises that you will win lots of money at one of the ubiquitous casinos and have sex with a beautiful stranger) or crass (most obviously the way everything there is designed and the constant attempts to sell you tickets to expensive shows). Actually the casinos are not just ubiquitous; they are the Rome to which all roads lead. You cannot get to the elevators from the hotel check-in desk without walking through a casino (even though children are not allowed in gambling areas). You cannot get anywhere without walking through a casino. The sex stuff is pretty much everywhere too: large billboards at the airport advertising things like "Peepshow" and (shirtless) "Men from Down Under," the slogan "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," of course, and even the fortune cookies at the place we had dinner revolved around the idea that we would and should have a one-night stand later.
So what's to like? Partly the crassness itself. With each building on the strip designed without any sensitivity whatsoever to its surroundings the result is a noisy chaos of clamors for your attention. It's like a room full of young children or a page of prose by Martin Amis. And the attempts to charm and seduce are sometimes successful. The Paris and Venetian hotels are like walk-through toy versions of Paris and Venice (including gondolas on a canal on the second floor of the Venetian). I like toys, and these are well made. There are some very good shops, which I'll shop at if I ever win the lottery, and pretty good places to eat. Our hotel had a wonderful swimming pool, which the kids didn't want to leave. And the show we saw was spectacular. So all in all a great place for a short family vacation, especially if you can get (your lovely wife to find) a good deal on your hotel and show tickets.
Everything else we saw was very different. Zion National Park (pictured below) is a lovely place to hike and ride horses. Bryce canyon was fascinating (though annoyingly crowded in places--I recommend Bristlecone Loop and the Queen's Garden Trail, each of which is easy, provides incredible views, and was uncrowded when we went there). From Tuba City you can visit dinosaur footprints, ancient petroglyphs, and (possibly) the oldest continuously inhabited place in North America.
We also visited the wonderful Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley (which is impressive but felt like a tourist trap, and involves driving on an incredibly rutted and pot-holed track). Then the Grand Canyon, where just before we left I saw, to my great delight, a condor flying overhead. Then one night in Sedona and back to Vegas to catch an early flight home (we got up at 4 a.m.--ouch).
Everything we saw was worth seeing, everything we did was worth doing, but the places I most want to return to are Zion, the Grand Canyon, and, funnily enough, Las Vegas.