Off the Strip

A guide to weird Las Vegas

Visitors to Las Vegas usually navigate their way through the standard tourist attractions without much trouble. But locating the really intense stuff-extraterrestrials, eerie rock formations, weeping statues, caverns that lead straight to hell-can be considerably more difficult. To that end, we offer this guide to the dark, strange side of Vegas.

MR. SHOWMANSHIP'S JEWELS

Definitely the most over-the-top museum in the world, the Liberace Museum, home to more rhinestones per square inch than any other place on Earth, is divided into three sections: Cars and Pianos, Wardrobe and Bedroom, and Office. On your first stop, view Liberace's glitter-encrusted pianos and million-dollar custom-car collection. Gawk at photos of the entertainer posing with every possible celebrity. Then cross the parking lot to Liberace's office to view family photos, a painting of Liberace kissing the pope's ring, and a gold casting of the pianist's fabled hands placed on a velvet pillow (really scary). Next door, take a look at his flamboyant, furry, jewel-laden costumes. Peek into a historical re-creation of his Rococo bedroom. View the world's largest rhinestone. Don't miss the Liberace gift shop, where you can browse through the tackiest tchotchkes in Vegas. The Liberace Museum, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave., Las Vegas, (702) 798-5595.

CANDY-COLORED CLOWNS

No trip to Vegas would be complete without a clown experience, and Ron Lee's World of Clowns Museum fills your clown quota. As you walk in the door, the omnipresent Lara the Clown greets you. After you're dizzy from a ride on the garish carousel, meander through shelf after shelf of clown art by proprietor Lee. Inspect display cases full of giant clown shoes and rubber noses. The tour terminates at the clown factory, where you can watch minimum-wage workers paint thousands of clown statuettes. Ron Lee's World of Clowns Museum, 330 Carousel Pkwy., Henderson, (702) 434-1700.

MAGIC AND DUMMIES

The Magic and Movie Hall of Fame, which is run by noted ventriloquist Valentine Vox, is one of the most mysterious museums around. Its dimly lit halls house the world's most extensive collection of ventriloquist dummies, as well as props used by such magicians as Houdini; Siegfried & Roy; Blackstone; and Melinda, the First Lady of Magic. Note also the display on the Witch of Endor, a biblical ventriloquist (Old Testament, 1 Samuel 28:7). Be forewarned: the museum may be haunted. At night, strange sounds have emanated from the dummy display, and visitors have reported bumping into the ghost of Houdini, who is said to have started haunting the museum following a séance held there on the anniversary of his death. The Magic and Movie Hall of Fame, second floor of O'Shea's Hilton Casino, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, (702) 737-1343.

FREE CRANBERRY JUICE!

If you spend enough time in Las Vegas, you eventually stop asking questions like "What in the hell?" Welcome to Ocean Spray's Cranberry World West. When you walk in the door, you're hit with the powerful scent of cranberry and the sight of everything painted that damnable cranberry color. Just as your senses readjust, out jumps Carina, the giant cranberry showgirl, who escorts you to the Cranberry Theater, where you watch a film and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the magenta-colored berry. The museum is filled with heaps of antique cranberry-plucking and -harvesting devices. In the processing plant, watch thousands of bottles on a conveyer belt get filled with juice. The end of the tour is the part everybody likes: FREE CRANBERRY JUICE-ALL YOU CAN DRINK! Cranberry Museum, Ocean Spray Cranberry World West, 1301 American Pacific Dr., Henderson, (702) 566-7160.

THE WEEPING VIRGIN

In the backyard shrine of Pablo Covarrubias stands a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe that was brought all the way from the Basilica in Mexico City. The Virgin regularly weeps real tears that are then harvested in little cotton balls and distributed to the faithful. According to Covarrubias, many supernatural healings have been documented, and on one very windy day, an apparition of Mary appeared in the sky above the shrine. This is a private residence, so remember to be respectful and courteous when visiting. (The Covarrubias family accepts no donations.) The Shrine of the Weeping Virgin of Las Vegas is located behind a 7-Eleven near the intersection of Las Vegas and Lake Mead boulevards at 2033 Donna St., North Las Vegas, (702) 642-0452.

THE REVEREND ACRES

Within view of Old Town Vegas and the new Fremont Street Experience sits Las Vegas' only mobile wedding chapel: the glistening white Highway Chapel, which is run by the Reverend Ethan Acres. The sacred trailer is decorated in classic Vegas style, with a glimmering rotating disco ball, glowing blue neon, mirrored walls, and fountains of bubbling red liquid. Many remarkable miracles, healings and conversions have taken place at the chapel. One night, a homeless man slept underneath the chapel. When he awoke in the morning, above his face he beheld a spider web that spelled out his name, "K-E-I-T-H," as in Job 8:14. He believed it was a sign from God, so he converted on the spot. Keith is now counted as one of the members of the Highway Chapel's growing congregation. Acres is available to perform weddings, esoteric rituals and last rites for deceased pets. The Highway Chapel, 923 Casino Center Blvd., Las Vegas, (702) 384-0078.

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