Years ago, I wrote flowery prose with the express purpose of reading it aloud at coffeehouse open mics. Most of it is very, very bad, but it impressed the ladies that my late friend Amar Pai called “the black underwear babes,” so I’ll forgive my former self on the condition that he remains confined to 1995. One of my best pieces was about a couple falling in love against the backdrop of Vegas’ artificiality: They meet for a date at the old Spago at the Forum Shops (“indoor Rome,” I called it), and they share their first kiss in front of the erupting volcano of Mirage.

It’s one sappy piece of writing, but it killed.I suspect the coffeehouse crowds loved the piece for its volcano protagonist—the hero who jumped in and saved the date. Las Vegas is not a city for lovers (and we’re talking officially; Travel + Leisure doesn’t have Vegas in its top 20 romantic cities), but people can fall in love here if they work at it. And Vegas is not a tropical island with an active volcano that spews flame and piña colada to a Mickey Hart soundtrack, but the volcano makes us believe that it could be. The fire is real. The romance is real. 

The Mirage volcano—and the heavily landscaped, three-acre water feature that surrounds it—would have turned 35 years old on November 22 of this year. It won’t make it that long. Mirage owner Hard Rock International, the latest owner of the property Steve Wynn opened in 2009, intends to build a new, guitar-shaped tower on the plot where the volcano currently stands, pushing the property out to the street.

And while the guitar tower will be distinctive (unless you’ve visited Hard Rock’s property in Hollywood, Florida, which already has a near-identical guitar tower), the experience from the sidewalk will be little different than that of the Cosmopolitan, Resorts World, Park MGM or any of Vegas’ newer or radically remodeled older resorts, nearly all of which practically overflow onto the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard.

“With the volcano going away, Las Vegas is losing some of its uniqueness, and it makes me sad,” says Krystal Ramirez, an artist and educator who grew up with the Mirage and its volcano as a seemingly indelible piece of the city’s iconography. “All the casinos are becoming homogenized. Eventually, there’ll be no difference between Las Vegas, Singapore, or any of the reservation casinos. The newer [properties] feel more like casino ballrooms to me…like convention rooms they put slot machines in.”

It’s too soon to say what the new Hard Rock will bring to the Strip, and there’s a good possibility that the new property will have exciting features of its own, stuff that’ll bring in visitors by the millions. But even so, the leveling of the volcano is an unintentional, but unsentimental gut punch to locals and longtime visitors. It’s a direct rebuke to Wynn’s way of doing things, which was to place the entrance to the casino far behind something eye-popping that doesn’t directly produce revenue: fountains (Bellagio), lush landscaping (Wynn), a pirate battle (Treasure Island). The volcano, like those features, existed only to beautify the street and to not-so-subtly modify visitor perceptions of what Vegas could be.

Without volcanoes and fountains, argue longtime locals like Ramirez, Vegas goes back to being just air-conditioned rooms with slot machines in them. And while she’s never directly employed the Mirage volcano into a piece of art, as I did, she came of age in a Vegas where the volcano was part of our visual alphabet.

The volcano is pure Vegas. You could use it to describe the city in abstract terms: “Gambling, showgirls, volcano.” It was one of the main things visiting friends and family members wanted to see. It appeared in dozens of Vegas-set movies and TV shows. (My favorite volcano cameo is in the middling 1996 Steve Martin comedy Sgt. Bilko; he admires it tearfully, whispering, “It’s just so beautiful!”)

“I don’t think it’s about mourning the end of ‘Family Vegas,’ because that not a Vegas that a lot of people feel very excited about,” Ramirez says. “I think it’s more about losing part of what made Las Vegas special—all these things that you’ve never been able to see anywhere else. We’re losing our neon; they’re all becoming LED screens. We’re losing all the weird animatronic, analog entertainment that Las Vegas had.

“This is how it’s happened in Las Vegas for a century. It’s always reinventing itself, so this isn’t any different. But many of us feel sentimental about it, anyway.” She chuckles wearily. “It doesn’t get old, does it: Being given something special in Las Vegas … and then having to be okay with losing it.”

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