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Entering Henderson

Eight miles from the blackjack tables and the incessant ringing of slot machines of the Las Vegas Strip is a welcome diversion called Henderson, Nevada. On my way there I saw desert, residential areas, strip malls and of course more casino/hotels. I avoided the temptation to enter yet another air conditioned casino on this 80 degree day and keep going so I can embark on the Henderson Factory tour. Four companies located within a three mile radius that offer self guided tours, free samples and overflowing gift shops to spend those would be winnings in.


My first destination was Ethel M. Chocolates. Founded in 1981 by Forrest Mars, Sr. the company was named after his mother Ethel whom I am told made chocolates in the 1930’s. This is no ordinary chocolate factory the site also contains a cactus garden, and a water recycling plant including separate gift shops for both chocolate and cacti. I began the tour by observing the candy making process from cream beaters to chocolate coaters to final packaging. Upon entering the gift shop I collected my delicious sample while drooling at the vast array of confections.

I decided on this hot day for another Ethel M. specialty: handmade ice cream. Stepping outside I found myself in the midst of a three acre cactus garden. Camera in one hand and a scoop of strawberry buttercream in the other I navigated my way through 350 varieties of cacti and succulents as well as the very impressive water recycling plant. Having satisfied my sweet tooth for the time being I’m off to see the clowns.

On arrival, visible through big picture windows is an authentic 30- foot Chance Carousel that sits in the front lobby of Ron Lee’s World of Clowns. Immediately I can tell this is a popular place with kids but I still plan to ride this work of art once a spot becomes available. Meanwhile, in the factory I observed through more big picture windows, artists carefully applying paint to 2- and 3-inch-tall clowns coming in and out of molds. The figurines are fashioned in great detail to look lifelike, some are plated in gold and many of the clowns and cartoon characters are made of pewter and set in scenes in which they do just about anything you can imagine. There is also a museum that houses hundreds of the clown creations displayed in glass cases along with a gallery of animation prints. Still more are sold in the museum gift shop and range in price from a few dollars to a few thousand. Finally I make it on the carousel, riding can work up a thirst!

Time for Ocean Spray’s Cranberry World West and everything I ever wanted to know about that tart little berry and more. I started at the interactive media exhibits where I learned believe it or not what is actually a fascinating history of how they are grown and harvested. All cranberries must pass the bounce test to see if they are ripe, if the berries don’t bounce they will never see the processing plant where they would have been introduced to other fruits and created old favorites like cranapple, cran-grape, cran-kiwi (not just yet) but something tells me it may not be far behind. Finishing the tour it is now time to raid the self serve juice bar accompanied by a variety of baked goods and condiments like relish, chutney and of course salsa. My Dixie cup moving from my mouth to the next dispenser at rapid pace was giving me a case of déjà vu from a night on the strip. The gift shop is huge I could spend the rest of the day browsing here but marshmallows await.

Last stop is Kidd’s Marshmallow factory where on this day I saw nothing because they were changing over the equipment to make coconut marshmallows. All was not lost as I still received my free bag of the gelatin, cornstarch, and sugar concoctions upon entering yet another gift shop. Small but crammed with everything from key chains to socks to an inflatable marshmallow man! I am reminded that this is Vegas vicinity after all.

The Henderson Factory Tour is an industrial oasis that shows how diverse the Las Vegas area is becoming. Now back to the slots.