Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leaving Las Vegas

Some places we go I have a hard time leaving and others not so much. In this case as much fun as Las Vegas can be I am always ready to leave when the time comes or earlier. Like most anglers time spent in a big city can wear on too long in a very short time unless there's a great fishing river running through the middle. I would much rather be some distance from any big city no matter which one it is under any circumstances because I can't think of one that does have a good fly fishing river running through it. With Reno calling in the distance our stay in Vegas seemed too long.

The drive out was refreshing after being hemmed in by traffic lights, crowds and lights so bright they can be seen 100 miles away in the desert sky. It felt good to be in the middle of nowhere for a while. Driving along Hwy 95 I found myself invigorated by the extreme contrast between the two places. Vegas is an overwhelming mass of humanity and the desert is so devoid of visible animal life that you wouldn't know anything animal lives there. In the 300+ miles I believe we spotted 2 birds, a falcon and a crow.

This is a drive I made years ago on my way to Reno from Fort Worth for work. I remember it being desperately lonely for those long, seemingly never ending hours across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona but once I passed Las Vegas the drive took on a character I never expected nor had I experienced before or since, until yesterday. The character of the desert is different here from anywhere else I've seen. Flanked by mountains in the distance on both sides there's a feeling of being isolated like the world doesn't exist beyond the mountains. It was just us and the other travelers making our way somewhere else because this surely can't be the destination, or so you think.

Out of nowhere there are these small, ghostly mining towns most of them so dilapidated it's a surprise to see human life on the rare occasion when it happens. Between the heat, cold and wind blown sand the climate out here is brutal on structures. For the most part all human life is hidden giving the traveler a sense that some apocalyptic event has occurred without you knowing. It's just you, the wind, weather worn structures, abandoned mining equipment and the kaleidoscope of muted colors painted by the layers of minerals exposed over time. Mostly a drive out here consists of a few travelers, the scenery and the wind.

You have to stop at some point though because it's a long drive. The necessities of fuel, food, hydration and the need to pee brought on by hydration finally catch up. Something I have noticed as we travel around the country is that the people you meet in the desert, any desert are a friendly bunch. I often wonder if it's a mind set that they have which stems from making a life in  an inhospitable environment away from things that inhabitants of say the Rocky Mountains take for granted. Not to stereotype too much but more often than not people living in what we consider to be beautiful places tend to be a bit on the crabby side. When I've mentioned this to a few of them they invariably say they're upset that other people have moved from other places to their beautiful place making it more crowded. I wish I knew what to make of that attitude when you're staring at something like Pike's Peak on a daily basis. It's hard to hold fault with that line of thinking though because it's the main reason I wanted to leave Texas all those years ago. Seeing the open country my brothers and I cut our teeth on become one of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the state for a couple decades was hard to take. I suppose that is one of the main reasons I get such satisfaction seeing the open desert in all it's inhospitable glory. It won't be overrun with humanity any time soon.


Often enough there are times when the other travelers seem to have just disappeared. At one point yesterday we went over an hour without seeing another soul on this long lonely highway. Remembering my first drive out in February 1994 I had left Las Vegas not long before dark. Driving along as the sun set to my left I came to a set of hills close to the highway. Looking off toward the yellow, orange glow I thought I saw a Native American wearing a quill headdress standing on the top of one of the hills, then there was another and another. I finally realized it was the Joshua trees dotting the hills I was seeing, their silhouettes looking so much like sentries guarding the hills and landscape that I was imagining things. But was I? As night fell completely I could feel the presence of the Native Americans that roamed the land before the white man came and changed the country we call home. Though such thoughts bring an urge to lament the past it does no good. Such thoughts can only bring regret and pain that can't be wiped away. Those thoughts I have to suppress lest they overtake my emotions and send me spiraling down the rabbit hole. Some things can't be changed they can only be remembered.  What I do lament is the fact that we as people haven't learned from those events. I think of what this land must have been before progress took it over forever.

This past year traveling around the country we have seen so many new places and revisited so many places that just a short time ago were completely different. More often than not the sites we see or alarming but I don't hear the bells going off to sound any sort of alarm. Open spaces are being covered with urban sprawl that consists of houses that are far bigger than necessary for the families that live there. Each one with a bright green lawn that requires water which is becoming more scarce with every new neighborhood.

What do I think of when leaving Las Vegas?

Water that could and should be in the lakes and rivers and not on urban and suburban lawns. Land that could and should be used for producing food or better yet left alone and allowed to remain wild.
Mostly I wonder what it will all look like a decade or two decades from now.

There are certain things that in our age seem to have always existed. One of them is Las Vegas and the story that anyone who has driven in from the north at night tells. Heading back to Texas from Reno 22 years ago I had been watching the glow in the clouds become brighter and brighter for well over an hour as I got closer to the city. At a certain point the entire city came into view, a sea of lights that lit up the sky and the earth like nothing I had ever seen before or since. It was 2 am and I stopped to take it in.

Last Friday night Sharon and made the drive north of town to the spot where I had stopped years ago to admire the sea of lights. I had told her about it for all these years.When we got to the spot I was confused and disappointed. The new highway heading north topped with overpasses and the ever growing sprawl of  over-sized two story homes has blocked what used to be a visual wonder. You can't see the wonder that is Hoover Dam coming from the east anymore either.

They call it progress. I think that's why I would rather be in the middle of nowhere.

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