We decided we weren’t going to talk about California, even though we started there, because it’s not like we *did* California – we visited my family, we ran a race, we went to REI, and we got on the road. But does that mean I can’t talk about how we saw more Joshua Trees in the Mojave Desert than in Joshua Tree National Park? (I understand the point of JTree is not just those JTrees but) Does that mean I can’t talk about how my brain wanted to reinterpret the vast expanse of nothingness that was the Mojave Desert as an ocean? Does that mean I can’t mention how a genuine trace of panic seized me when I saw the sign that said no services for 150 miles in the middle of the desert? Does that mean we shouldn’t talk about Amboy, the town where we pumped gas with a swarm of bikers and the gas station attendants had shirts that said “The Ghost Town that Ain’t Dead Yet”? What about the sign on the side of the road that said “Do you have today?” Where does Nevada begin or end?
We knew we were entering Nevada when the Joshua Trees gave over to huge swaths of farmland punctuated by enormous castles, gargantuan farmhouses, and signs the size of small islands advertising casinos of every name and brand of appropriation. The kind that promises big wins before you even make it into Vegas.
Everyone in Nevada drives 90 in a 70, like rolling the dice is the state-sanctioned way of life.
30 minutes outside Sin City, the sun hits the rocks in a red that cuts right through you. It’s a light that reminds you that you are very small and always lucky. The kind of light we’d see all over New Mexico, but hadn’t seen in California. Red Rock Canyon — a mecca for climbers, though we were totally clueless until A and T, a couple from Washington state with dusty shoes and a formidable camp set-up from the backseat of their sedan, offered to share a campsite.
What an intro to the American road trip, this study in contrasts: 30 minutes from camp, where cottontails bounded around the red hills and coyotes yipped to one another all night, lies the lovechild of Miami and Times Square, Disney meets Cheesecake Factory, where every night holds the promise of prom night, no matter how old or who you are. It can always be Prom night in America. Where every surface smells like smoke, heavy perfume, and beer in every stage of enjoyment and rejection. Everything can be fancy. Anything can be ancient. Just like a diner is a symbol for something thousands of years old
My impression of Vegas is: escalators. I have never seen so many escalators in my life. Even the worst decisions are designed to be accessible. And this was the beauty of the place. Though it’s designed for and by consumerism, it is one hundred percent free to be there. Which is the irony of its proximity to the canyon.
Nevada says the only thing that’s free is living fast. And in Vegas, we didn’t spend a cent. In and out like ghosts in the night. Like coyote calls in the red red canyon.
Las Vegas is full of children having meltdowns. Meltdowns at 10pm, when I would also like to be having a meltdown. It’s past our bedtime. And fire is scary.