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February 13, 2008

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Where's Jerome?                                 Mesquite, Nevada



Up close and personal with Mesquite, Nevada
Take a gamble on Mesquite, Nevada, a growing golf and gaming destination.
By Jerome Shaw

I am not much of a golfer.

OK, let me be precise. I don't golf. I have never had the humility to allow myself to be pathetic at golf long enough to get decent at it, never mind good. I am not much of a gambler, either. As a freelance writer and photographer, waking up and finding work each day has been enough of a gamble for me.

So what the heck am I doing in Mesquite, Nevada?

Join me on a trip to visit Las Vegas' little brother ... Mesquite. Fortunately, golf was not required on this trip but I was allowed to slay some clay, hurl a phosphorescent sphere, "hold my own", have a dust up, experience an intimate half-hour with a man, learn the difference between a fade and a draw and perhaps lay claim to my next sporting conquest.

There is more to Mesquite than gambling and golf.

My trip began in unglaciated Wisconsin, with an hour drive to the Madison airport (MSN) for an early morning flight on Northwest Airlines (NWA). I arrived just over an hour in advance of my departure time, which at this airport, at that time of day, is sufficient. Using the self-service check-in station, I scanned my passport for identification and was able to change my seat and print my boarding pass in about three minutes.

After years of struggling with cases filled with hundreds of pounds of photo equipment, this trip signaled a seismic shift to a "travel light" policy, with only carry-on luggage. I had a suitcase/backpack, a shoulder bag containing a camera case and my bike messenger bag which, according to Northwest Airlines' 1+1 carry-on policy, is one too many. I am about to see how serious they are about this 1+1 policy.

At the security checkpoint, I requested a hand check on a Ziploc baggy containing film. (Yes, I still use some film, even in the digital era.) Prepared for the screener to wrench the film bag from my hands and toss it onto the x-ray conveyor belt, I stopped a yard short of the counter to make my request. The sour-faced, security screener surprisingly brightened and complied with my request, while chatting with me about photography.

I boarded my flight to Minneapolis /St. Paul (MSP) (carrying my 1+ 1+ 1 bags) without incident and stowed my gear easily in the overhead compartment on the Airbus 320. It is a quick hop and then an hour plus layover. The Internet kiosk ($5) in the terminal tempts me but I resist and instead grab a cup of coffee ($2).

I walked on to my three and a half hour, food-free NWA flight to Las Vegas with my three items without a problem. Stowing them on this older Boeing 727-200 however, proved to be an issue. When I asked the flight attendant (FA) for some assistance, I was rather discourteously rebuffed. "Either it fits overhead or it doesn't and YOU'LL have to gate check it," I was told. Hurriedly, I removed some shoes from the outer compartment and wedged the bag into the overhead. When did NWA flight crews become so unhelpful, stern and dour? Two of the three FAs didn't even come close to a smile for the duration of the flight.

I was glad to have brought my Caribou Coffee but wished I had brought a full breakfast like the guy next to me. The rules about bringing coffee and food on board are fluid, vague and unequally enforced.

After landing in Las Vegas and locating my ride, I took a lap around the terminal at McCarran (LAS). Many airports are generic but the colorful panels promoting Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil and the clanging of slot machines lets you know in no uncertain terms that you're in Vegas. The displays of historic aircraft and airport service vehicles on the level above baggage claim, provides an interesting diversion while I wait for the rest of my party to arrive.

We leave Las Vegas in a Celebrity Tours party coach for the 90-minute drive to Mesquite. As you'd expect in this high-roller town, the coach is decked out "showgirl style" with a leather and chrome interior, twin TVs, a high-end sound system, plus snacks and drinks to tide us over 'til lunch. Our driver JP, sports a cowboy hat with a precisely coiffed brim and a helpful and laidback attitude. While the coach is quite stylish, I think it is better suited to shorter hops. Vibrations and thumping from the tires at highway speeds made for a tiresome ride.

Situated in the Virgin River valley near the Utah and Arizona border, Mesquite was founded in the late 1800s. About 100 years later, Randy Black made a fateful stop at what was then a wide spot in the road and decided that the truck stop town could become a gambling and golf mecca.

The Falcon Ridge Hotel provides us lunch on the shaded patio overlooking a desert landscape interrupted by Mesquite's development. (Caution: The hotel's website plays loud, unstoppable music.) Catering is offered to hotel guests in lieu of a full restaurant. I was famished and was grateful for the shrimp cocktail served the moment I sat down. A calabrese salad came next, followed by pasta primavera as the main course. A deliciously rich tiramisu with a caramel and chocolate sauce, served with a glass of Frangelico liquor completed the meal. The shrimp cocktail and salad were quite well done. The pasta was a bit off, lacking both sauce and flavor. The belated arrival of a large bowl of Romano cheese provided a little relief. I scraped the enamel off the plate to get the last bit of chocolate and caramel sauce from the tiramisu.

The Falcon Ridge Hotel feels very spacious from the conversation pit at the front entrance to the pool area just off the lobby. The architecture conveys a southwestern style with arches that frame the bronze and beige desert views. Two-bedroom suites are perfect for golfing buddies. Visitors looking to avoid the casinos attached to most other properties in Mesquite will be very comfortable here. Falcon Ridge Hotel, 1030 W. Pioneer Blvd, Mesquite, NV, 89027, Tel: 702-346-2200.

It's a short drive to The CasaBlanca Resort. But then again, most every thing in Mesquite is a short drive, except for the 609-yard, par five, seventh hole at Falcon Ridge Golf Club. The CasaBlanca Resort will be my base for the next few days. As usual, the casino is front and center. To get anywhere in the hotel, you have to walk past the rows of slot machines.

My room is a two-room suite ($170 - $205) that is very spacious and comfortable. The bed is huge and nicely firm. From my sealed window, there's a welcoming view of the pool, the island waterfall and the mountains beyond (standard room rates range from $60- $130 per night).

The CasaBlanca is part of the three-property chain that also includes the Virgin River Hotel Casino Bingo and the Oasis Resort Casino Golf Spa. The CasaBlanca's list of amenities includes: Katherine's Fine Dining, Purple Fez Bistro, The Buffet, George & Randy's Ice Cream Parlor, Parrot Poolside Bar, Skydome Lounge and Starbucks. The CasaBlanca Resort, Casino, Golf & Spa, 950 W. Mesquite Blvd, Mesquite, NV 89027, Tel: 1-877-GETAWAY.

Dinner in the Kontiki Room at CasaBlanca starts off with shrimp cocktail. Steak, lobster and more shrimp comprise the main course. The meal was savory and satisfying. The atmosphere was a bit antiseptic. After dinner it was time to explore the casino.

Even at the busiest times, the hotel lobby and casino here have a more laidback atmosphere than in Las Vegas and the odds are purportedly friendlier to punters here in Mesquite. As Las Vegas earns more and more of its revenue from non-gaming sources, the complimentary drinks and rooms that used to go to the recreational gambler have vanished like a mirage in the desert sun.

"In Las Vegas and across the country, the gamer is a dying breed," says Michelle Yegge, general sales manager for the three properties owned by Randy Black. "Try playing $100 in blackjack at a Strip casino and ask for a free room, you would get laughed out of the property," she says. "A customer who bets $25 per hand or sits at one of our slot machines for a couple of hours is a sure bet to receive a mountain of appreciation."

I can certainly see why people would come here to gamble and escape the huge numbers that Las Vegas generates. The slogan "We give you more to play for" translates into free hotel rooms, complimentary rounds of golf, free spa treatments and tickets to headliner entertainment shows.

Michelle reinforces her point: "When Randy Black says he wants to take care of his customers, he means it."

Tomorrow night I'll get to test my fortune at the tables. I've heard that Michelle is quite comfortable with cards in her hands. I'm looking forward to taking her down in the next day's poker tournament so I'd better get some rest.

Breakfast on the terrace at the Eureka Hotel starts my well-planned day. Coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and a fruit plate with a sweet yogurt dip is served. I thought that was breakfast but then a plate of poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, ham, bacon and sausage arrives. The Eureka is famous for its $3.99 steak and eggs breakfast, which by comparison to this banquet, is a light meal. They are also well known for their buffet ($8 lunch, $13 dinner and $25 for the seafood Friday) and they are building a new buffet area with a super secret feature. (Yes, I did ask and they would not reveal their secret.)

The Eureka has very attractive two-bedroom suites with living room, kitchenette and spa pools. These deluxe suites rent at rates commensurate with pricing for deluxe rooms at other Mesquite hotels. The in-room coffeemaker was a happy find for me, as I hate stumbling out of the room before sunrise without my coffee.

Every casino in Mesquite claims that "The locals gamble here" but the Eureka touts it on their marquee. The Bingo parlor is a huge draw as are the penny progressive slots that recently yielded a 1.2 million jackpot, in dollars, not pennies. Eureka Casino Hotel, 275 Mesa Blvd., Mesquite, NV, 89027, Tel: 800-346-4611.

The Virgin River Hotel features a bowling alley and movie theater. At a cheap $3 per person including shoes, it didn't take much to get me to dust the rust off my 10 pin fingers. With the main lights of the bowling alley turned down, the place glows neon right down to the phosphorescent balls. Three bucks for a first run movie gives you another option for entertainment in the dark. The Virgin River Hotel is also home to the Long Bar, 135-foot stretch of glossy wood running along the gaming area. Here you and 74 of your closest friends can imbibe your favorite cocktails and compete at video poker.

Room rates at the Virgin River range from $30 - $60 plus the Mesquite standard 9% room tax. The lower range of the room rates are in effect Sunday to Thursday, with Friday, Saturday and holidays commanding the higher rates. The Virgin River Hotel, Casino & Bingo, 100 Pioneer Blvd., Mesquite, NV 89027, Tel: 1-877-GETAWAY.

The Falcon Ridge Golf Course is our next stop for lunch on the terrace. We enjoy food from the Ranch House Chuck Wagon BBQ menu while we look out on a landscape of the desert's umber hues, broken starkly by the verdant fairways of the golf course. The Ranch House is undergoing some repairs but is expected to be back in full operation before the end of the year. The Ranch House can be reserved for parties of 50 or more. Dinner is $30 per person and the event includes live Country/Western entertainment.

With seven golf courses within just a few miles from each other, there are more golf courses than traffic lights here in Mesquite. However, with great rates and world-class course design, this ratio is in jeopardy. Lower green fees than in Las Vegas make this a very attractive place for golfing groups. Mesquite golf rates vary greatly depending on dates, time of year etc. Though on average, Mesquite's golf rates are approximately 50% of the cost of a round of golf in Las Vegas. Golf Mesquite Nevada, Tel: 866-720-7111.

CasaBlanca Golf Club
The CasaBlanca Golf Club features an 18-hole, 7,011-yard championship golf course designed by Cal Olson.

Falcon Ridge Golf Club
Falcon Ridge Golf Club's 6550-yard par 71, desert layout boasts spectacular elevation changes, numerous water features and high mesa views.

Oasis Golf Club - The Palmer and The Canyons Course
The Palmer Course at Oasis Golf Club was designed by Arnold Palmer. Enough said.

Palms Golf Club
Mesquite's first golf course. The front side is surrounded by water and then it is out among the arroyos and canyons for the back nine. You‘ll be ready for a drink when you get back.

Coral Canyon
A bit of a drive but if you want to get out of Mesquite for the day, try the Coral Canyon Golf Course in St. George, set in native Utah desert.

Ledges Golf Club
Impressive red rock backdrops, expansive views of the St. George valley and immaculately designed greens by renowned course developer Matt Dye, create a unique golf environment.

"Send your camel to bed" and drive out to Oasis Gun Club about five miles east of town. Instructor Kris Betts gladly gives us a safety briefing and some instruction. With protective eyewear and earplugs in place, it's off to shoot skeet and trap. Even with earplugs in place, Kris managed to explain precisely how to use the sight and made me much better shot than I had been as kid, growing up in Nebraska, scaring pheasants.

On the way back from the gun club we stop by the Palms Golf Course at the long ball driving range. In one of the highlights of the entire trip, pro golfer Brian Pavlet demonstrated how the big boys hit. It was inspiring to see him whack that little white ball so far into the distance that I could barely see it land. Also impressive were his miss-hits, which he could control just as well as his perfect shots down the center of the range.

"I hit my last slice and hook just before I became a pro," he says charismatically, leaning on his driver. Brian then proceeds to strike a ball that zips off the tee and veers dramatically to the left. "Now I draw and fade the ball," he intones, while placing another ball on the tee. He then lifts the club into a graceful back swing and powers down. The ball streaks straight out for a bit then takes a hard right. "A perfect fade," he quips, smiling and winking.

Brian is one of a host of competitors that come to Mesquite each October to compete in the ReMax Long Ball Championship. The event fills up Mesquite as people come to watch these guys power that little white ball nearly 400 yards.

For his final trick Brian stakes a piece of plywood upright about 10 feet from the tee. With a Sharpie, he draws a squiggly line, a pin and flag with a circle symbolizing the cup.

"This is how I like to play closest to the pin," and with a resounding thwack, Brian strikes the ball. Impressively, the ball penetrates the plywood just inches from the illustrated cup leaving a hole nearly the size of a golf ball.

We are spending the evening at the Oasis Resort Casino Golf Spa. It is a walkable distance from the CasaBlanca but we ride in our coach. The Oasis is very much like a Las Vegas casino. Yet, as you move through the gaming areas you feel a decided lack of hustle and bustle or maybe it is better described as an absence of stress. Everyone just seems a bit calmer.

The Rock'it Lounge has a pair of flair bartenders performing (Friday and Saturday nights) as we sit down for a drink. Seth and Dallas are flipping bottles and skewering cherries on cocktail toothpicks right and left. Upstairs is Club Extreme, a Star Wars disco environment that is the "it" place in Mesquite on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Tailgaterz Tavern, just off the main gaming area, is famous for two things: hot wings and beer pong. Their proclivity for great wings was demonstrated for us on platters of wings in 13 varieties ranging from very mild to damagingly hot. Some of the styles we sampled were Hawaiian, Malibu, Fajita, Chipolte or Honey BBQ and plain old Hot.

Sadly there is no beer pong tournament this night. Mesquite hosted the national championships of this collegiate beer-fest favorite (January 2-6, 2008) at the CasaBlanca Events Center. I'm disappointed because this is one sport I might excel at even without years of practice.

Rooms at the Oasis range from $30.00 - $60.00 for standard rooms and $40.00 to $90.00 for upgraded rooms. Oasis Resort, Casino, Golf & Spa, 897 Mesquite Boulevard, Mesquite, NV 89027, Tel: 1-877-GETAWAY.

Charmaine's is a stylish restaurant with a cozy atmosphere located within the Oasis. I have the filet mignon with a béarnaise sauce served with potatoes au gratin, fresh asparagus and a lonely baby carrot. Complementing dinner were several wines; a bright slightly sweet Peisporter, a White Zinfandel (which is not one of my personal favorite varieties so I will reserve comment), a Shiraz that I found unusually thin and finally a very warm and mellow chocolate port. The port was surprisingly good especially when paired with tiramisu and fresh blackberries, strawberries and coffee flavored chocolate chips. I heartily recommend Charmaine's; both the food and service were of a very high standard.

After dinner, it's on to the poker room at the Oasis. At my table is a ferocious "caller" refusing to let anyone bluff their way to any sizable winnings. I made it to the final table but quickly faded in the face of the stiffer competition. I foolishly went "all in" against Michelle in one of the early hands at the final table and had my hat handed to me, thank you.

For the novice gambler, Mesquite is a perfect place to learn in a friendly, helpful and calm environment. For a seasoned player, the relaxed, laidback atmosphere is the draw. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the poker tournament and if I were to take up gambling, poker would be my game.

Well before the Starbucks opened the next morning, I was jonesing for my morning java. There are no coffeemakers in the rooms since the hotel's deal with the corporate coffee devil likely prohibits it. It should be law: if you don't have coffee available in the lobby around the clock, in-room coffee makers should be mandatory. Maybe it's just a photographer thing; we often leave the room even earlier than golfers.

One thing to watch out for in Mesquite is the wind. It can affect more than your golf game. What I had thought were distant fireworks the previous night was actually the wind creating a rumbling, as it surged through the palm trees. This unusual morning wind caused a change in our plans. Instead of the view of the pool and waterfall providing the ambiance for our breakfast buffet, we were moved to a banquet room. As a rule, the wind is most fierce on summer afternoons.

On my last morning, it's off to the spa at the CasaBlanca. At the desk, I am issued a robe and towels and directed to the locker room. I am most assuredly looking forward to the massage. The spa facilities are available to those with a service appointment. I walk around the gardens, lounge for a while in the heated therapy pool, and find a secluded spot with a chaise longue to do some reading.

My massage is in a private cabin. My masseuse puts on calming music and casts scented oils around the room before momentarily excusing himself while I undress and slip beneath the sheet on the massage table. My only complaint about the massage was that it was way too short but I am fairly certain I'd have the same response even if it were a daylong massage. Tel: 866-401-6021.

There are several great natural wonders quite near to Mesquite. Mesquite can be used as a base of operations for day trips to Lake Mead, Valley of Fire (each less than an hour drive) and Zion National Park (under two hours). The Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon are both under 200 miles from Mesquite. Other nearby attractions are: Lake Powell, Cathedral Gorge and Dixie National Forest. Get out into the desert to kick up some dust on an ATV. If you're interested, Lori from Awesome Adventures (800-519-2243) can set you up with a desert tour.

Mesquite provided surprise after surprise. My expectations of a sleepy gaming town were unfounded. Though, until I can improve my golf enough to enter the Long Ball Championship, I'll have to be content to come back in January for the beer pong tournament. This seems like a sport I can master without years of dedication. Now, it's off to the Red Room for some practice.

Jerome Shaw is a Colorado-based travel writer and photographer. He has been traveling since his first taste of adventure while working on ski films in Aspen. Some of his travel credits include: Brazil, Russia, New Zealand, Greece, Fiji, Alaska, Ukraine, British Virgin Islands, Peru, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Finland, Nova Scotia, Bahamas, Australia, Mexico and Newfoundland. You may see more of his travel photography at or at

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Note: This trip was sponsored by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Pictures From

The Trip


Mesquite, NV


The Fun Starts At The Las Vegas Airport


Las Vegas Airport


Baggage Area


Celebrity Coach


Inside Celebrity Coach


Conversation Area Falcon Ridge Hotel


Room At Falcon Ridge Hotel


Turn Down Service


Spa Tub In Room


Calebrese Salad


TiraMisu Falcon Ridge Hotel


Suite CasaBlanca Resort


Two-Room Suite


View From Room


Waterfall Pool


Shrimp Cocktail


Breakfast On The Patio


Long Bar At Virgin River Resort


Slot Machines At Virgin River Resort


Neon Bowling At Virgin River Resort


Michelle Bowling


Falcon Ridge Golf Course


Men's Room Oasis Gun Club


Skeet Shooting Oasis Gun Club


More Skeet Shooting


Brian Pavlet Long Ball Demo


Brian Pavlet Long Ball Demo


Flair Bartender


Hot Wings From Tailgaterz


Table Service At Charmaine's


Tiramisu From Charmaine's


Gina & Marti Poker Room


Poker Tournament At Oasis


Breakfast at CasaBlanca Resort


Purple Fez Bistro at CasaBlanca Resort


Pool Area, CasaBlanca Resort


Massage Cabin Spa at CasaBlanca Resort


Spa Pool at CasaBlanca Resort


Relax In The Garden at CasaBlanca Resort


Jerome Working Hard At Spa at CasaBlanca Resort


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