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DIG THIS!

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3012 S. Rancho Rd.

Las Vegas, NV 89102

888-DIG-THIS

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AT A GLANCE

What is it?

An oversized sand box (otherwise known as a big dirt lot) where you can drive excavators and bulldozers and do silly things like pick up rocks and stack tires. Oh, and play basketball!

Where is it?

On Rancho Road, just west of The Strip on the former site of the Scandia Family Fun Center.

Is it worth the cost?

It's expensive but it is a unique opportunity to live out some childhood fantasies.

What else do I need to know?

The instructors are great and will make you feel as though you could do this for a living.

What's the bottom line?

Anyone who ever had Tonka toys when they were a kid should probably run to sign up for this right now.

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FULL REVIEW

If you ever played in a sandbox as a kid, making mountains and valleys with Tonka toys or even with a pail and shovel, Dig This! might just be the attraction you've been looking for. It gives grown up boys and girls the chance to play in a giant sandbox with giant toys, specifically real bulldozers and excavators.

The facility is located just west of The Strip, on the site of the former Scandia Family Fun Center. The experience starts out in a comfy air-conditioned office where you sign in, meet your instructors, and get a short briefing on the activities and some basic safety instructions (do: wear your orange safety vest at all times; don't: talk on your cellphone while driving a 15-ton excavator).

Then the class moves outside to the dirt lot next door where they have three Caterpillar 315CL excavators and two D5, 10-ton bulldozers, the latter of which are smaller than you might be thinking but are still plenty big. All have fully-enclosed, air-conditioned cabs so you can do this even in the middle of July when it's 115 degrees outside.

The instructors put you inside the cab and give you some additional basic instruction on the operations, then put you on a headset so they can communicate from the ground and it's time to fire that bad boy up.

The experiences include a Mini-Dig, where you basically get to either push dirt around with the bulldozer or dig a trench with the excavator; the Big Dig, which allows you to do some more advanced stuff like moving rocks and even playing "basketball" (more on that in a moment); a package that allows you to drive both vehicles; and several special packages that include everything from spa treatments at a local hotel to a round of golf.

I did the excavator Big Dig, which starts with digging a hole in the ground so you can get used to the controls. It's a lot harder than it looks and requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination. There are two joy sticks that control various movements of the boom, bucket, and cab (it spins 180 degrees), plus two control arms that make the thing go forward, backward, and turn. Push the right joystick forward and the boom and bucket drop to the ground. Pull the left joystick back and the bucket scoops up the dirt. Pull the right joystick back and the boom goes up. Push the left joystick to the side and the cab spins so you can dump the dirt beside the hole. It took me a solid 20 minutes to even start getting the hang of things although no matter how many times I did it, I kept spinning the cab the wrong direction, much to the chagrin of my very patient instructor who was standing in the general vicinity of where the dirt would've gone if I hadn't corrected myself.

That's another don't: bury your instructor. They frown on that.

The next activity involved using the bucket to knock a rock into a hole and then attempt to scoop it up without pulling out a huge amount of dirt at the same time. Drive the machine across the lot and dump your rock to create a new pile on the other side. Sounds fairly easy, but again it requires a lot more subtlety with the controls than you'd expect.

A variation on this exercise involves a differently equipped excavator and stacking giant tires.

The final activity is the aforementioned excavator basketball. The instructor has you drive the machine up a steep dirt incline, at the base of which are traffic cones set up with basketballs on top. The object is to use the boom to carefully get the ball into the bucket, spin the cab (dizzying when you're at an angle), and then drop the ball into a large tire. The first time I tried I nailed it - I could've gone excavator basketball pro. Of course the next four times I tried I kept knocking the basketball off the cone before it could go in the bucket. Frustrating!

The experience ends with pictures and an award certificate back in the office.

Throughout the afternoon, the instructors and staff were unfailingly friendly, knowledgeable, and confidence inspiring. At one point when I moved the boom a little too quickly causing a giant "bang," I radioed and apology to my instructor Travis and said, "This is the part where you're supposed to tell me that I'm not going to break this thing." He assured me I wouldn't and I believed him.

The Big Dig experiences run 3-4 hours and will cost you around $400, which includes transportation from your Strip hotel and back.

I was never much of a dig-in-the-dirt kind of kid so Dig This! didn't hold the kind of fantasy fulfillment allure that it may have for other people. But I still enjoyed myself, especially when it came to the challenge of trying master the intricacies of operating such a beast and the finesse it requires. Who knew it would require finesse to do things like move rocks?

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