We had heard so much about the casinos in Las Vegas so we were excited to be entering our first one on the strip. As we entered the casino, we watched a man leaving the toilet and walking away. “What on earth does he have hanging out of his pants?” Tom asked.
I smiled, “It is the paper seat cover from the toilet, it is caught in his pants,” I replied.
I guess this is what they mean when they say, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” The anonymous man with a paper toilet cover in his pants headed back to the slot machines.
We continued to see bizarre and unusual people, Elvis impersonators, Batman and pretty girls all seeking fame and fortune in Las Vegas alias “Lost Wages.” Men hustling tourists handing out pamphlets for a “girl in your room in 20 minutes,” and offers of half price tickets for last minute shows. We were surprised at to how empty the casinos were: a few bleary eyed souls hunched in front of the slot machines, no celebrating winners seen. We were surprised at how bored many people looked and at how long the strip really is. Streets were uncongested and people ambled slowly along the strip.
Bright lights and neon signs flashed all around the lavish resort hotels, impressive casinos and exclusive shops advertising excellent entertainment, gambling and gourmet “all you can eat” buffets. We walked the 4.5-mile strip, pounding the pavements, getting lost in the maze of casinos, lobby hopping through the garish and yet spectacular hotels. We took the Deuce bus down to Fremont Street where the atmosphere seemed more electric with live bands playing beneath the tourists screaming overhead on the flying across on the zip lines.
Las Vegas is an amazing city no question about that, but not nearly as amazing at the real places they are attempting to be; the real Luxor, Paris, Venice, Bellagio, New York, Rome, Egypt, Monte Carlo, Sahara now those places are truly worth a visit. Happy travelling all, let loose, get off the strip, go, and explore the real world!
After two nights in Las Vegas I knew it was time to leave when Tom said as we wandered through yet another casino trying to find our way out,
“I feel like I am trapped in a bad nightmare and am never going to see the sun again.”
He was miserable, even as we ate our little packed sandwich on the strip. The only ones of course not at an “all you can eat buffet.”
A geologist and a Scot trying to do Las Vegas simply does not work! In the end we only paid, for two nights in Las Vegas for everything for two persons (accommodation, drinks, free entertainment and food), $120.00 is that a record? No outdoor natural wonders for the geologist, no deal for me the Scots so no Las Vegas winnings oh well.
Tom was soon back to his happy self the moment we entered Red Rock Canyon just north of Las Vegas and a real gem of Nevada. It is of course truly nature at its best and the attempts of man to simulate nature in Las Vegas is a sad comparison of what lies just beyond the city limits.
It is stunning escarpment of banded white, red, pink and grey rocks. Once a giant sand dune field, powerful winds shifted the sands back and forth forming angled lines in the sands. Over time the sheer weight of the layers of sand compressed into stones. The iron rich elements in the rocks oxidized creating glows of pinks and reds. Known locally as the Aztec Sandstones the cliffs of Red Rock are magnificent and attract climbers, hikers, naturalists and geologists. Las Vegas eat your heart out!!
We saw the towering buttes, canyon walls and desolate appearance of blackened plants from a fire in 2006. The fire is a reminder of how fragile our wildernesses are. It is so important to protect our wildernesses for future generations. Driving alone along the Rocky Gap Road, we headed off into the wilderness. It tested the off road capabilities of the Nissan truck with the camper. The truck had plenty of power and we drove up the steep rocky road effortlessly. It was great to be alone in the wilderness again; our companions the birds and some wild burros watching us pass by.
On route to Death Valley, we once again detoured to see yet another geological wonder the Devils Hole in the Ash Meadow Wild Life Refuge. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful spring, watching tiny fish in the middle of a desert before going to the Devil’s Hole.
A fascinating little fish actually lives in this geological wonder called the Devil’s Hole. We scrambled up to fence which surrounds the actual hole peering down we could only imagine these tiny little pupfish living their lives. The pupfish are able to survive in water temperatures of 112F and water three times saltier than seawater and are on the endangered list.
Heading out of Nevada, we pass a sign in Pahrump advertising a Brothel Museum and wonder what on earth do they have in that museum, but keep driving towards Death Valley which was calling us.
Growing up as a little girl in Africa I read about Death Valley and have always wanted to visit it. Tom as a geologist always wanted to explore this world geological natural wonder. We were not disappointed it is more spectacular and larger than we imagined.
Our first view of what Death Valley had to offer us was at Zabriskie Point, it was stunning.
We headed to the only campsite that does not allow generators; we were looking for peace and quite. However, we were joined by a busload of happy, giggling, laughing school children, pitching their tents and enjoying the outdoors as much as us. No peace and quiet but lots of happy children around us.
We hiked through canyons and drove through the wonders such as the Titus Canyon and across the valley. We ran up and down the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells, marvelled at the stunning polished marble colourful rock walls as we made our up the narrow Mosaic Canyon. We stepped on the crunchy salty earthy at the Devil’s Golf course and watched the sunset over the Badwater Basin lowest point in North America with the reflection of the surrounding mountains in the small pond. We hiked up to the Natural Bridge medium size limestone rock hollowed at its base to form a span across two rocks.
We did not want to leave. Tom desperate to stay but we knew we had to keep moving and promised ourselves that we would be back one day with our friends because nobody should die without first going to Death Valley.
There are times in our travels when I am pleased I shaved my legs. Last night was one of them. The campsite we planned to camp at had a horrible smell as if located next to an abattoir, so against our better judgement we headed off in search of a campsite in the howling wind, blinding rain and the pitch darkness of night. I was driving and Tom navigating. He reassured me that he had found a campsite on his GPS. Following his directions, we headed off down a muddy track off into the bushes. The track got narrower and muddier and soon I was in 4-wheel drive. I noticed the signs, “No Trespassing” not very friendly here I thought.
“Where on earth are you taking us, this can’t be right?” I said.
“Yes it is right it says so on the GPS there is a campsite close by,” replied Tom.
He was right soon there were lights and signs of life and we arrived at the campsite. It was a nudist colony.
I burst out laughing telling Tom “Oh boy I am glad I shaved my legs last night.” It was not what I was expecting but this was something we had in fact not experienced in our travels yet.
Tom stammered, “I don’t know how to behave around naked people, I don’t even know if there is nudist colony etiquette, where am I supposed to look?” he whined.
“Hey it says clothing optional perhaps you can leave your pants on” I said as I tried to reassure him. However, he was not ready so we headed off looking for another campsite perhaps next time.
While traveling through Alabama we met Marlene and David who invited us to stay with them when in California. We took them up on their kind offer and spent several wonderful days with them in Santa Barbara. We chatted, laughed, ate gourmet meals, drank wine, and explored the area as got to know each other. The absolute best of traveling is of course making new friends.
While staying with Dave and Marlene we learned of the terrible ‘Tea House Fire’ which devastated their entire hillside community.
Together we visited Solvang a village in Santa Ynez Valley of California that replicates a traditional Danish village. There is even a copy of the famous Little Mermaid. Visiting the Mission of Santa Ines, we wandered through the live Stations of the Cross admiring the view across the valley of rolling hills. Soon it was time to say good-bye and head for Joshua Tree National Park.
We arrived at Desert Hot Springs, tired and frazzled. It had been an awful day, driving in pelting rain with harried Californian drivers passing us spraying water up, all rushing somewhere. At Palm Springs, we were greeted by 1000’s of wind turbines scarring the landscape looking like giant outer space creatures marching across the fields. What an eye sore. I have to rethink wind power if this is what it looks like.
Joshua Tree National Park restored our sanity. In the wide-open space, fresh air and wilderness we were back in our happy space. It seemed serene with its large mountains of boulders stacked upon each other and amid the boulders Mojave Yucca, wild-armed Joshua tree and other plants. The park is located where the Mojave (western) and Colorado (eastern) desert converge and both are quite different from each other. In the west, hundreds of famous Joshua trees dot the landscape. They are really goofy looking trees looking as if they are not quite sure how to present themselves to the world. We marvelled at the adaptation of Joshua trees and other plants all beating the heat and lack of water in fascinating ways. It is a botanist wonderland.
It is also a geologist wonderland and we headed off to explore the “geology route” through this intriguing rocky landscape. We drove the stunning expanse of the valley and mountains dropping down into the valley and we felt as if we are the only persons in the world.
The Colorado Desert is a sun-baked bowl with occasional patches of plants. The Cholla cactus garden has a variety of plants and I was fascinated by the silvery bristles of the spines of the Cholla cactus glistening in the setting sun.
We camped beneath the stars and woke up to one of the most spectacular sunrises, we have ever seen.
On our way south heading towards Mexico we stopped at the Salton Sea, once known as the California Riviera it is now one of California’s worst ecological disasters. It is a fetid, stagnant and salty lake. We stood on the shore among 100s of dead fish and the occasional dead bird, the smell of death wafting up, we are amazed and do not linger.
Leonard Knight welcomed us to Salvation Mountain. Emerging from his small cabin mounted on the rear of his colourful two-ton Chevy he shuffled towards us, a thin frail 80 years old man with a friendly smile. He proudly invites us into his world leading us through his trees made of tires, straw and painted with gallons of colourful paint. “Everything is made from what I find in the desert,” he explains although he now finds it difficult to keep up the work. He tells us to climb to the top of his mountain on the yellow brick road. The yellow painted steps cut into the side of the hill lead to the summit, which is topped by a cross. We gaze across to Slab city and then down to where the lone figure of Leonard stands surrounded by paint cans, and colourfully painted vehicles. When we descend from the hill, he once again greets us having forgotten that only several minutes before he had spoken to us. We leave Leonard alone in his world surround by his love of the mountain and his lifetime achievement.
On our last night camping in the USA, we met David and Rose. David gave us a book to read called, “Spark Your Dream” by Candelaria and Herman Zapp. It is a story of a young couple fulfilling their dreams of traveling across the Americas. A condition of receiving the book is that once we have read it we must pass it on to another adventurous spirit we meet along the way. Their have been several owners before us and we felt quite honoured to receive it to pass along.
The USA has been kind to us, introducing us to many wonderful people and new friends, showing us the wonders of deserts, glaciers, mountains, rivers, caves, and teaching us a so much about the history, people and life in America. We loved it all.
We are on the Mexican border preparing to leave the USA. I have feelings of excitement, sadness and curiosity as we say “good-bye America” and “hola Mexico.”
Here is a short video of our Steps across America