Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Through Nevada and into Arizona

My time in Death Valley had ended with me sleeping next to the bike, off in what seemed to be a clearing for storing piles of road gravel. I'd actually climbed well out of the valley by the time I camped, I think I was at over 3000 feet. High enough that it was cool enough for me to need my sleeping bag for the night, rather then just being hardcore and flopping down in my riding gear.

Man, packing up in the morning is WAY faster when you don't have to deal with a tent.

After going east for a while, and stopping in some little no-name town for Gatorade and gas, I crossed the border into Nevada, and a town with a hilariously onomatopoetic name.

Literally the first thing you see after crossing into Nevada is a massive slew of billboards, all offering services that are only legal in Nevada (and Rhode Island, due to a strange bureaucratic loophole)

A few more hours to the south, and I crested some hills to see . . . Las Vegas! In all it's smoggy glory.

What a lousy city it is. I was thinking about heading downtown to at least ride down the strip, but traffic even mid-day was so awful that I said hell with it, and booked it east.

Yeah . . . you're not fooling anyone.

It's hard to say exactly what makes Las Vegas such a lousy place. It's hot, sure, but so was everywhere else that I'd been. But it's a different feeling. In Death Valley, and elsewhere, it was a pure, clean, natural heat. Vegas felt like a smoggy, dirty, artificial heat, made even worse by the constantly sitting idle in thick traffic.

Everything in Vegas is fake; it's like the whole city is made of plastic. Nothing is real, nothing is substantial, everything has a layer of gaudy makeup and glitz on it and it's only attractive if you're drunk off your ass. Everyone seems to want to go there, yet no one seems to actually want to be there. No one leaves the air-conditioned comfort of their buildings expect for a quick dash to their air-conditioned cars, shops and restaurants spray water from overhead nozzles in a mist over the sidewalk in an attempt to keep all the old people from dieing of heatstroke, and millions of gallons of water are used to irrigate imported plants that have no business living in a desert.

Vegas struck me as another effort by people to beat nature into submission. Rather then accepting the facts of your environment, working with it, insane amounts of energy, are poured into trying to replicate what we have deemed "civilized".

Las Vegas was one of the places that saw the largest inflation during the housing bubble, and subsequently the biggest crash. Prices have dropped in some areas by over 50% of what they were at the peak, and rows of hopelessly generic and bland townhouses sit apparently or unfinished everywhere. It turns out that not many people want to live in a desert. At least, not as many as developers had hoped.

Heading east of Vegas for me to the vicinity of Lake Mead, and the mechanism for supplying Vegas with all of it's electricity and water.

The Hoover Dam

Uh, yeah, it's a big dam. To be honest I was more fascinated by the network of pulleys and cables that look like they're used for transporting heavy loads across the canyon, heavier then the road on top of the dam could support.

Half a mile down the canyon from the dam, a new bridge is being constructed for the new highway that will bypass the road going over the dam. A very impressive site, it was.

Given Las Vegas's propensity to making money off of anything it can, I was hoping that BASE jumping might be allowed off the bridge once it's completed. However, given the proximity to all the power lines from the dam, I find it doubtful.

Going over the dam and to the other side gets you to another observation lot, where you can get a look at the back of the dam and Lake Mead.

Even though that when taken in relation to it's CO2 output Hydroelectric is one of the cleaner forms of electrical generation, I can't help but think how much more beautiful and amazing this place would have been if we hadn't needed to build that damn. Oh well :(

East I went, into the hills of Arizona.

I wussed out of camping for tonight, and ended up in a motel. I BADLY needed a shower after three days spent in really hot environments, I hadn't had one since I stayed in a campground outside of the Giant Sequoia National Park. And hey, it was like $35 a night. I'll pay that for a shower, a bed, and internet access.

Since leaving Death Valley, all the way across Nevada and Arizona so far, the terrain had been hilly, and dry. Very little in the way of vegetation, and what plant life did exist was little and scraggly. Today started out much the same way, as the road followed a railroad track.

Bradleys, I think? Can someone confirm/deny this?

As I got farther into northern Arizona, the terrain got more pleasant. It started to green up a bit, eventually producing real trees.

For a little bit of American Nostalgia, I got on Rt 66 for a while, and found myself chuckling at a slice of time that was from long before me.

I don't think Burma-Shave actually runs these promotions anymore, as most of the signs were vaguely related to road safety or speeding (Slow down Pa | sakes Alive! | Ma missed signs | four and five!)

The towns along the road were doing their best to play up the old west/old-timey America thing, sometimes done poorly, but sometimes done well with a touch of actual history thrown in.

I don't know how or why, but when I was in ~7th grade I had a tee-shirt from this place. All the menu items are somehow roadkill themed or named, but other then that it's your standard greasy-spoon burger place. Although they don't really bother with proper cups.

As I kept on going, the terrain stayed just hilly enough to be interesting, and the clouds painted an amazing patchwork out across the plains.

And now, it's time to head to the Grand Canyon.

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