In the early 1990s, I lived in a pitch-black and sparsely populated patch of northwest desert near Lone Mountain. Occasionally, I’d see a green light beam washing over the mountain from sources unknown. Any explanation?
Spy planes from Nellis? Advanced military devices veering outside the Nevada Test Site? UFOs?! While all are possible, none are correct.
The 1990s were a boom time for Las Vegas. The years 1989-1993 saw five themed megaresorts spring up and catapult the Strip from Old Vegas to New Vegas. Then, as now, casino competition was fierce. Then, as now and always, resorts sought ways to bring attention to themselves. That look-at-me approach began with neon signage, moved on to erupting volcanoes, and, by the 1990s, had progressed to lasers.
In 1993, the (new) MGM Grand opened and staged a free, family-friendly indoor animatronic show featuring laser technology. Soon, lasers were found in attractions at the Forum Shops, Sam’s Town and the Luxor, where a 10-story Strip-front replica of the Sphinx shot lasers from its eyes while xenon projections layered on screens of water.
Even Bob Stupak, a larger-than-life Vegas character if ever there was one, dreamed of lasers beaming in all directions from the top of his future Stratosphere Tower (1996). While that never materialized, something similar did: Both the Rio and the Las Vegas Hilton used powerful lasers to project nearly horizontal beams across the Las Vegas Valley. The Hilton’s origin point was its huge, mid-century modern pylon sign, and was touted as the world’s most powerful public laser display by its creator, Laser Fantasy International. While the Hilton laser did offer a sort of pulsing “show,” it was during its rest mode when it projected low-lying static beams in four directions around the Valley. One of those directions was (drum roll!) Lone Mountain.
The otherworldly beams in the desert were not to last. Multiple pilot complaints led the FAA to issue a 1995 halt order for all outdoor casino laser displays. And as lasers have become ridiculously affordable (see: annoying kids with laser pointers at theaters), the FAA continues to struggle with their impact on flight safety. Just this week, complaints about home-use holiday display lasers are giving the FAA headaches. But for a brief moment in the go-go í90s, the skyline was punctuated by curious beams of green lightónot the vapor trails of little green men, but simply a reaching for the same green for which Las Vegas is always hungry.