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From a musical healing to a comfy front seat: Our Vegas oases

Who says you have to leave the city to get away from it all?

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Strolling in Anthem is Ken Miller’s Vegas escape.
Photo: Leila Navidi

These are stressful times in America, and particularly Las Vegas, where our nation-leading foreclosure and unemployment rates are weighing heavily on the populace. One-third of Americans now say they are under extreme stress, making it more important than ever that they find ways to decompress.

Las Vegas isn’t exactly heavy on meditation gardens, but as our staff has discovered, there are still plenty of ways to melt away in the 24-hour city. Whether it’s visiting a man-made masterpiece on the Strip, taking in a musical healing or just sitting in your car, consider the following pages your stress relief prescription. Take one of these and call us in the morning.

Happy trails

Unless you live in Anthem, there’s no particularly good reason to go there—no real shopping to speak of, no performance venues, few restaurants. As a result, this master-planned community of more than 15,000 homes, nestled at the southernmost point of the Las Vegas Valley, tends to be extremely … quiet.

So the best way for me to escape the stress of my everyday life is to go walking in Anthem, particularly the trails scattered throughout the massive community. Half the fun is just discovering where all the trails are. I can park my car anywhere in the community and just begin strolling. I’ve found great walks around the Revere Golf Course, the Solera retirement community and near Inspirada.

So far, the best trail I’ve found is in Anthem Highlands—it stretches more than a mile and has been built to retain much of the natural desert vegetation. The path also has a spectacular view of the Valley—it was built along a steep incline, so all the homes below it don’t interfere with sightlines.

There’s a peacefulness here I can’t find anywhere else in Las Vegas, and it’s even more Zen when I’m walking my dachshunds, Emma and Lilly. Picking up dog crap? Yeah, not so Zen. –KEN MILLER

Peaceful pond

I can’t believe I’m telling you about this place. Seriously, three years ago, I promised myself I’d keep it a secret. Of course, it’s not really a secret; anyone can just wander in. But nobody does. I’m not sure why. It’s gorgeous and it’s relaxing. It’s the Wynn’s Koi Pond, and you can find it in the casino’s northeast corner.

Let’s start here: A koi pond is the aquatic equivalent of a rock garden. A koi is a really big, sensitive goldfish, with barbels. (Barbels are fish whiskers. They have taste buds on them and kind of look like fangs.) Like goldfish, koi are red and yellow, but they can be white, black or spotted, too.

Roger Thomas designed Wynn’s pond in a room with a domed glass ceiling, a floral-themed mosaic tile floor and a bunch of fantastic-smelling vegetation (large philodendron, fuschia phalaenopsis orchids, kentia palms, bamboo palms and aloe Bonsai trees). The four tanks are set up in a plus formation, and each one holds 11 fish.

When I visit the Koi Pond, I often ponder these questions: Do the fish like being here? Are they bored? Are they proud of their immaculate tanks? Are they satisfied with their 10 friends? Do they ever get into fights? And what might they have to fight about?

You can visit the Koi Pond and wonder about these things for yourself. You can bring someone to wonder with you, but I like going on my own. So if you see me there, let’s greet each other with a pleasant nod. We can chat another time. –RICK LAX

An endless sea of options before Spencer Patterson in his front seat.

Drive, he said

I’m wandering around Central Park on a gorgeous October morning in Manhattan, and I’m kinda missing my car. Not as in, I actually wish I had it with me on this mini-vacation in the walking capital of the world. Just that not having it here has me envisioning what life might be like without it, and I’ve come to the strange realization that my car might be my favorite place to be when I’m home in Las Vegas.

I like spending time in my house with my family, or at my workplace with friends, or at various music venues and restaurants and shops and parks. But all of those things are limited, and when I climb into my car and turn the key, I’m not. I could drive to Tahoe or Tucson or Alaska or Arkansas if the mood struck me. Sure, I usually don’t, but even when I’m simply moving between home and office or grocery store and gas station, I’ve got an endless sea of options before me.

I’ve also got my music playing at my volume, my fan blowing at my temperature of choice, my windows cracked to my preferred position. And when some annoying jerk crosses my path, all I have to do is push a button and he’s gone. Try that walking through Central Park. –SPENCER PATTERSON

For what ails you

They call it “The Healing,” and that title is befitting. Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns has been a personal favorite for about three years running, but the band dates to the mid-1970s, when it descended on such Vegas venues as Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace. Frontman Jerry Lopez and the 14-piece Santa Fe band are currently packing the Lounge at the Palms each Monday night. Doors open at 10 p.m., and it would be a good idea to get there early before the room brims with fans.

The band has been a favorite of such Vegas notables as America’s Got Talent champ Michael Grimm and longtime Strip headliner Clint Holmes (who hired the band en masse to back him for five years at Harrah’s). Both have joined in “The Healing,” called up onstage by Lopez, and members of Tower of Power and Carlos Santana’s backing band, among countless others, have also leapt into the scene.

One night, Kenny Loggins, who happened to be in town headlining at the time, hustled up to sing “This is It.”

The Santa Fe jam is lengthy and the solos frequent, and it is common to simply slip away in thought as the band soars through its 90-minute set.

An oasis in a Vegas lounge? Sure. When Santa Fe unleashes its own “San Diego,” covers “Wishing Well” or cuts loose with a great Earth Wind & Fire medley, it is Vegas at its finest. It is my own babbling brook, and there is no more calming enclave than the Palms when Jerry and the boys share in “The Healing.” –JOHN KATSILOMETES

Absurdist Las Vegas a la Kristen Peterson.

The stairs to nowhere

A friend of mine recently posted a sign on a Facebook page that read, “I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.” I laughed and laughed, then laughed some more, then read it again, wishing everything was like this: ridiculous.

I love the absurd—novels, plays and, most of all, life. I came for the absurdity and stayed for the absurdity. I’m waiting for Godot, and there’s no better place to wait than in Las Vegas, a setting with no certainty, a lingering absurdist state of mind where we build and build and build knowing that we’re not even supposed to be here and that maybe nobody’s coming and if they do come, they’ll leave.

We create themed castles then implode them, drive streets that make no sense, build cement walls so we don’t see each other and construct flimsy houses that can be kicked through with a steel-toed boot. We speed ahead and fail at planning. We rely on slots, craps, blackjack and poker to sustain us, while shoo-shooing the Strip as a place that locals don’t visit.

When there’s time we find little oases to settle ourselves and spend the afternoon, enjoying these spots while we can, knowing that they might be gone the next day. Throw my ashes by this stoop. I’m not going anywhere. –KRISTEN PETERSON

Have soup, will chill at Los Antojos.

Consumed by consommé

I’ll take the table in the corner, right under the small TV blaring Mexican soap operas or soccer games, by the Disney-themed map of Mexico where everything is going wrong. I’ll stroll to the counter and pretend to read the menu, but I already know what I’m getting. I’ve known for hours, days, years now. Ever since I first tried Los Antojos’ Consommé Loco, I can’t help but feel the pull of that steaming, succulent, makes-me-whole-again soup.

It’s not just any soup, of course. It’s a bowl of savory broth laden with rice, chicken, avocado, onion and cilantro and served alongside chucks of lime and warm corn tortillas curled up in foil. It tastes like a hug—as good as anything my mom has ever made me (though I’d never let her know).

And it must be eaten right away. The soup can’t be taken to-go, lugged away in Styrofoam to settle into lukewarm mediocrity. It must be devoured where you can hear the hum and sizzle of the kitchen and the warm patter of Spanish from nearby tables. It must be consumed where the air is layered with roasting meats, pungent chiles and deep-fried quesadillas, their smell as golden as their crisp exteriors. Surrounded by neon posters hocking various flavors of tacos and huaraches, with my haunches wedged into a tiny chair and the roar of Eastern Avenue traffic passing by, I sink into that soup, one bite at time. And it feels so good. –SARAH FELDBERG

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