Thursday, Nov. 30, 2000 | 11:34 a.m.
Motoring down 82 of the nation's scenic byways can reveal picturesque views of anything from ocean waves crashing on the rocky shores of California's Big Sur Coast to the unspoiled quiet of the Maine woods.
But the 83rd federally designated scenic byway is a little bit different. Instead of ocean waves, dark woods and other natural wonders, motorists can catch a glimpse of a Sphinx, dancing fountains and a pirate battle along a roadway bathed in the glow of 15,000 miles of neon light.
Las Vegas Boulevard may at first seem like a strange choice for the honor of being named a scenic byway, and one of only 17 All-American Roads, but the Strip does have one thing in common with the country's other outstanding roadways, Clark County official Kristine Bunnell said.
"All of the byways have a story, no matter the scenery that they showcase," said Bunnell, who coordinated the county's effort to get the byway designation for the Strip. "It took a couple of years of talking, but the Department of Transportation recognized Las Vegas Boulevard as a National Scenic Byway based on a cultural and scenic aspect."
The U.S. Secretary of Transportation uses the byway program to recognize roads that are outstanding examples of scenic, historic, recreational, cultural or natural qualities, with the 17 All-American Roads considered the best of the best.
The designation is for only the few miles from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road, making the Strip one of the shortest byways. It also is the first nighttime scenic byway.
Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and County Commissioners Erin Kenny, Mary Kincaid and Myrna Williams joined entertainer Wayne Newton under the Arc de Triomphe at the Paris Las Vegas on Wednesday night to celebrate the designation that was first awarded in June.
"I always called it the road of dreams," Newton said of Las Vegas Boulevard. "I don't know of any highway in the world that has had so many dreams fall on it. Some have been successful, and some have not. Without that highway I'd probably be training horses for someone somewhere else."
Las Vegas Boulevard started out as just another stretch of road along Highway 91, also known as the Los Angeles Highway. Then in 1946 Ben "Bugsy" Siegal opened the Flamingo hotel-casino along the highway, setting the stage for the resorts that followed, eventually turning Las Vegas Boulevard into one of the most famous stretches of road in the world.
Motel operator Chris Sutton has spent most of his life living just off U.S. Highway 1, a scenic byway in California's Big Sur River Valley, and says that the natural wonders he sees every day and the man-made wonders of Las Vegas Boulevard are both unique to America.
"I can see why both should be designated as special roadways in America," Sutton said. "There are certain places in the United States that are just utterly American, and no other nation has anything like them. Las Vegas is one of those places, and it should have that recognition."
Sutton, who runs the Glen Oaks Motel and points out the sites of Big Sur to his guests, has been to Las Vegas several times, and sees it as another piece of American culture.
"It's like this glowing arm that stretches out into the desert, and it's another part of what makes up our country," Sutton said. "You have to see all the different places out there or you won't get the whole picture."