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March 1 marks the 80th anniversary of the completion of the Hoover Dam — the engineering marvel on the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada. Aside from its primary job of preventing floods and providing water to millions of people, the Hoover Dam is also a major tourist attraction. Some 7 million visitors tour the dam annually.

hoover dam

Aside from the Hoover Dam — which, in my opinion, is far more interesting than actually spending time in nearby Las Vegas — here are five other dams that are attractive to travelers:

Luzzone Dam, Switzerland: Adventurists flock to this high-altitude, 540-foot-tall dam on the Swiss-Italian border for one reason: to conquer one of the world’s tallest artificial climbing walls. A German company affixed one side of the dam with hundreds of climbing bolts and holds. The YouTube video below shows what the acrophobic climbing experience is like.

Grand Coulee Dam, Washington, U.S.: Nightly summertime laser light shows projected onto the dam’s wall make Grand Coulee, about 1.5 hours from Spokane, a fun destination for travelers. The surrounding Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is popular for boating, swimming and camping. The free light shows run from Memorial Day through September 30 each year.

Aswan High Dam, Egypt: Threatened by floods, more than 20 temples in the vicinity of Lake Nasser had to be removed and painstakingly rebuilt elsewhere to make way for this Nile River dam system, which controls flooding. UNESCO supervised the moves, and several of the temples were relocated to other countries that supported the effort. The best known is the Temple of Dendur, which is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

grand dixence dam

Grande Dixence Dam, Switzerland: Another high-altitude Swiss dam, this one, in the Val d’Herens Valley, is a popular starting point for hikers. This is considered the world’s highest gravity dam, and its reservoir is completely fed by melting water from 35 glaciers. Guided tours and cable car rides are available.

Almendra Dam, Spain: Also called the Villarino Dam, the Alemendra Dam is one of Spain’s tallest manmade structures at 663 feet high. It provides hydroelectric power to a great wine-growing region known as the Douro River Valley, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s worth a quick photographic detour when visiting the charming university town of Salamanca.

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— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

calendar with pin on 13
The date may mean nothing to you now, but December 13 of this year is already getting a ton of hype at hotels and resorts around the world.

Why? Because it’s 12/13/14, and people love unique dates. Remember November 11, 2011 (11/11/11)? And get ready for March 14 (3/14/15, also known as the first five digits of the numeral pi). In fact, this week is being called Palindrome Week as all of the dates (4/12/14 – 4/19/14) read the same forward and backward.

With only 365 days in a year, it’s hard to avoid the cliche holiday proposals, stereotypical wedding dates and other event planning faux pas that make your special day overlap with that of countless others.
That’s why, according to CNBC, popular destinations such as Las Vegas are gearing up special hotel and vacation packages for this milestone — the last sequential calendar date this century. (The next won’t be until 01/02/2103.) Luckily for marrying couples and party throwers, 12/13/14 falls on a Saturday.

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According to the CNBC article, many of Las Vegas’ renowned chapels are already fully booked, with some accommodating couples who wish to exchange vows at exactly 12:13:14 on the clock. Some resorts and spas are offering full and exclusive rentals of their entire property on December 13, with price tags upwards of $115,000.

Other hotels and casinos are getting creative with pricing; MGM Grand is offering a package from $1,400 with a commemorative certificate to mark the calendar occasion, while Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, is offering a special rate of $1,213.14 for its luxury Crenshaw Suite to any couple who books their 12/13/14 wedding at the property. To top it off, the married-couple-to-be will also receive complimentary weekend stays for their 12th, 13th and 14th wedding anniversaries — it’s the date that keeps on giving!

On the flip side, many share the same idea of tying the knot or making a statement on an iconic date, so it may not be so unique after all. According to a David’s Bridal survey, around 3,000 U.S. couples were set to marry last year on 11/12/13, a Tuesday, and even more six years earlier on 07/07/07 (a Saturday).

Have you ever used an iconic date for a wedding, a retirement or just an excuse to get away? Let us know in the comments!

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Having recently returned from a late-summer soujourn to Nevada, I can report why August is not a good time to visit Las Vegas in one sentence:

It was 104 degrees.

las vegas signBesides the heat (forget all that “it’s a dry heat” nonsense — hot is hot), the crowds also made it a tad unpleasant. Not that crowds are a bad thing — the economic tumult we’ve all been experiencing the past few years has taken a particularly hard toll on Sin City. Happily, there appears to a reversal of fortune underway. According to a recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in August the city experienced its 12th consecutive monthly increase in visitors. Hotel occupancy is up, as is the number of conventions. Las Vegas tourism still has a way to go before it reaches pre-recession levels, but the signs are there.

That said, now’s a great time to visit Vegas. Here’s why.

1. It’s nicer. The pools are closed or closing (most are seasonal), but there’s still plenty of sunshine and cooler temps to boot. In July, the average high temperature is 106 degrees, falling to 74 at night. Now? Expect highs in the 80’s and lows in the chilly-but-bearable mid-50’s. In addition, weather is fairly calm coast to coast before the winter snows crank up, so air transport is more dependable.

2. It’s cheaper. Well, it can be cheaper. Good deals, particularly midweek, abound at resorts across the city. In particular, Vegas is a ghost town between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if you don’t mind flashing neon clashing with tinsel on trees, you can have your pick of lodging. Check out a rate calendar at a hotel Web site (I use Mandalay Bay’s, but most sites give an overview of tariffs for the coming months) to get an idea when the lowest priced rooms are available, and go from there. Also, check out the hotel sites for late-breaking deals; for example, Mandalay Bay recently spotlighted a 72-hour sale that offered 20 percent room discounts and a $25 resort credit. And keep checking right until you depart for the desert — rates fluctuate wildly and can go down. If they do, cancel and rebook.

3. It’s more interesting. Okay, Vegas is always interesting, but the recent opening of CityCenter — a massive hotel, retail and entertainment complex — has added a whole new dimension to the place. The construction eyesore has been replaced with a sleek, sophisticated and somewhat incongruous collection of buildings that won’t be ignored. Crystals, a gorgeous if ridiculously luxe mall, sports stores that I’ll never buy anything in, but it’s fun to explore nonetheless. And “Viva Elvis,” the new Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria Resort & Casino (one of several hotels in the complex), is a hoot. If you don’t go expecting the typical Cirque acrobatics, you’ll have a good time — and if you click the “summer promotion tickets” button on the show’s home page, you’ll get a huge discount.

4. It’s relatively kid-free. If you like gamblin’ and carousin’ without little ones underfoot, now’s the time to go. They’re in school — and you’ll have the Roller Coaster at New York-New York to yourself.

For more information on the city, see Las Vegas Essentials.

— written by John Deiner

mount rushmore south dakotaWould you travel all the way to China to visit the Beijing Museum of Tap Water, or take a break from touring Egyptian pyramids to catch the highlights of Cairo’s scenic Garbage City neighborhood?

These are just two of the don’t-see sights in the new book 101 Places Not to See Before You Die by Catherine Price. This “anti-bucket” list — a response to the recent bestseller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” — offers a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the world’s truly unappealing attractions.

While it’s not hard to see why a Latvian prison hotel or Montana’s annual Testicle Festival made it into the book, the list is not without controversy. Price turns up her nose at many popular tourist attractions, including Stonehenge, Mount Rushmore and the Blarney Stone — which is oh-so-hygienically smooched by some 400,000 visitors a year. And there’s bad news for our readers in Nevada: Price has consigned the entire state to her “do not visit” list. (Feel free to defend the many wonders of Nevada in the comments below!)

What places would you recommend that other travelers avoid?