Archive for March, 2014

Las Vegas: the strip and Valley of Fire

March 29, 2014

On the Tuesday of our trip, we had tickets for a Cirque de Soleil show in the evening, so we didn’t want to tire ourselves out too badly during the day. We decided it was a good day to stroll the strip, just out of curiosity. We were up and about early so we got started when most of the city was still asleep.

It was interesting at first to wander around and take in the sights. You could clearly tell the difference between the older hotel/casinos on one hand with dark, smoky interiors and few exits, and on the other hand the newer places with light, bright, inviting interiors and plenty of access. Then there were the novelty places, which could be of either type.

From the Forum Shops mall at Caesar's Palace.  It was nice to get a chance to walk around in even the theme-park-fake Roman architecture.  Studying Roman art from artifacts and archaeological reports doesn't give you the same sense of scale and space.

From the Forum Shops mall at Caesar’s Palace. It was nice to get a chance to walk around in even the theme-park-fake Roman architecture. Studying Roman art from artifacts and archaeological reports doesn’t give you the same sense of scale and space.

It was interesting in an anthropological sense, but by the end of the day we were both getting very worn down by the crowds, the constant noise, and the aggressiveness of it all. We went back to the hotel to introvert for a while. By dinner time we were feeling a little refreshed. We had a good dinner at our hotel’s buffet and went to the show.

This was our first Cirque experience and it was… weird. The acrobatics were impressive and they put on a good spectacle, but in the end it felt a little empty, not unlike the strip istelf. We were amazed at some of the things the performers could do, but there was no good reason why they were doing them. I guess I want my acrobatics to serve a story, not just stand on their own.

On Wednesday, we had a very different experience. We drove out after breakfast to the Valley of Fire State Park. A long drive through the desert leads up to the park, with the scenery getting wilder and rockier, but that hardly prepared us for the beauty of the valley, marked by an upthrust of deep red stone that is weathered into incredible shapes. We took a lot of pictures this day.

Our trip through the Valley of Fire and back

Our trip through the Valley of Fire and back

We drove the road through the park, stopping in several places to get out and walk short trails. There were plenty of other people there, but even so, we often got to be alone among the crags and boulders. It was a windy day, but when we could get into the shelter of the cliffs we enjoyed wonderfully warm sun.

We drove back to the city through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, another wild barren landscape. It was bizarre to see such a huge body of water in the midst of a desert. It was clearly artificial, and yet in that landscape, which is so alien to me, my entire sense of what is natural was thrown off.

The red rock emerging from the valley floor

The red rock emerging from the valley floor

Towers of rock

Towers of rock

Sculpted by the wind into wonderful shapes

Sculpted by the wind into wonderful shapes

Little hollows and meandering slopes

Little hollows and meandering slopes

This overhang was stippled with little depressions

This overhang was stippled with little depressions

Underneath the cliff above are ancient pictographs.  I'm particularly taken with the sheep and the feet.

Underneath the cliff above are ancient pictographs. I’m particularly taken with the bighorn sheep and the feet.

There are a number of arches.  This is one of the most impressive.

There are a number of arches. This is one of the most impressive.

This one, understandably, is called Piano Rock

This one, understandably, is called Piano Rock

This one could go in a sculpture park somewhere

This one could go in a sculpture park somewhere

One of the trails we walked had a long stretch of fine sand, like walking on a beach

One of the trails we walked had a long stretch of fine sand, like walking on a beach

It's not only the shapes that are amazing but also the colors.  This rock looks like layers of sherbet.

It’s not only the shapes that are amazing but also the colors. This rock looks like layers of sherbet.

Rock formation in the desert or Jawa sandcrawler?

Rock formation in the desert or Jawa sandcrawler?

On our way back to Las Vegas.  Looking across the valley, the city stands out so clearly.  It's like no other place I've ever visited.

On our way back to Las Vegas. Looking across the valley, the city stands out so clearly. It’s like no other place I’ve ever visited.

Las Vegas: arrival and Spring Mountains

March 24, 2014

We had a direct flight from Boston to Las Vegas that arrived quite late at night. We went to pick up our rental car, only to discover a long line. It took us about an hour to get to the rental car desk. Finally, we got through the line and went out to the garage to pick up our car. It turned out, amusingly, to have a Massachusetts license plate.

We had a reservation at one of the big strip hotels since we found a good offer online. It was a pretty easy drive from the airport, which was good since we were very tired by then. We got some dinner and settled in for the night.

The view from our hotel room.  Las Vegas sits in a flat basin between two mountain ranges.  You can get a sense of the landscape in this view.

The view from our hotel room. Las Vegas sits in a flat basin between two mountain ranges. You can get a sense of the landscape in this view.

The next day we headed out for our first day of exploring. We traveled northwest of the city to the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. It was a warm day, around 80 down in Las Vegas, but up at elevation of the Spring Mountains it was a pleasant 60. We had a nice day of driving the loop road through the park, stopping here and there for a little stroll. There was still snow up in the mountains, but after our long winter it was wonderful to be able to wander around in short sleeves.

Our trip to the Spring Mountains and back.

Our trip to the Spring Mountains and back.

The city quite abruptly turns to desert.  This is the view from a major highway just a few minutes past the outermost suburb.

The city quite abruptly turns to desert. This is the view from a major highway just a few minutes past the outermost suburb.

There's some settlement up in the mountains.  The air is clear and cool.  On the day we visited, the sunshine was gorgeous.

There’s some settlement up in the mountains. The air is clear and cool. On the day we visited, the sunshine was gorgeous.

The landscape in the mountains is very different from the desert in the basin.  The alpine valleys are filled with pine trees and other evergreens.

The landscape in the mountains is very different from the desert in the basin. The alpine valleys are filled with pine trees and other evergreens.

Some of the trees had beautiful twisty bark.

Some of the trees had beautiful twisty bark.

We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon.  We had an early dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, then collapsed in our room.

 

Back from vacation

March 15, 2014

We’re back from a week in the sunny southwest.  Our body clocks are pretty screwed up right at the moment from hopping time zones, an overnight flight, and, for what it’s worth, daylight savings.  So, just a short note now, further details to follow after we’ve slept for a couple of days.

Some random observations on Las Vegas and the surrounding area:

– The landscape of the southwest is amazing, and amazingly varied, too.  We took excursions north, south, east, and west of our base in Las Vegas and every time we saw something new and incredible.

– At that elevation, for people used to sea level like us, even a gentle walk takes the wind out of you.

– After a winter like this, it is impossible to describe how good it feels to spend a week in a place where you can just walk outside in a t-shirt and shorts.

– When there’s no trees, you can see for miles.

– Despite the lack of trees, the desert is surprisingly green.  Being the ignorant northerner that I am, I expected the desert to be just rock and sand, but in most places it was full of sagebrush, agave, cacti, and other plants I couldn’t identify.  It was always a muted, khaki kind of green, but green nonetheless.

– The Las Vegas strip is about as busy, noisy, bizarre, and ultimately boring as you would expect.  We went poking around out of curiosity, but it’s not our scene.

We had a very good trip, but we’re happy to be home.  Look for more details and pictures soon.

Sick

March 3, 2014

I’ve been feeling sick for a few days.  It comes and goes and sometimes I feel like I’m just about to get better, then I start sniffling and coughing again.  I was doing pretty well last night when we had some friends over for dinner.  I really hope I didn’t inflict anything on them.

As diseases go, this one is pretty mild.  Still, it would be nice to get rid of it for good.