Urban Ambles Travels Part 3- Las Vegas

May 10,2010

I was returning to my rental car, parked in a lot at Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas, an exotic land of ruptured red rock amidst the incessant beige of the Mohave desert. And there was a crowd that had formed around the rear of the car. My God, I thought, what’s wrong. A flock of French tourists had gathered, and one by one, they were taking photos…….of the Alabama license plates on my car. “C’est magnifique!” one declared. Then two others wanted their picture taken with me, assuming I was an Alabamian. I did not dissuade them, in fact, I laid on a thick southern accent- “whach y’all think uh these red rocks, somthun’ aren’t they?” It was  an absurd moment, as was later watching all the French tourists in pearls and pocketbooks navigate the desert sands. Welcome to southern Nevada!

The French- captivated by Alabama
Intrepid French Explorers

I passed through the Hoover Dam on my way there, which is an awesome sight, and the ruptured wonderland of the Valley of Fire State Park north of the city is an amazing bit of scenery, and spent a day  in Las Vegas proper.  It was bit jarring to be in the depths of a darkened casino so soon after our great trip to the Grand Canyon, and to make it all more ironic, after making it out of the canyon in one piece, I wrenched my back in the hotel room shower. But I suppose better to happen here, there seemed no shortage of walkers and wheelchairs in the casino, in case I needed one.

I thought about what brilliant observations I could craft about my visit here, but I think it’s all been said. Vegas is about contradictions; a  fascinating and disturbing place, a well-watered desert,a land of illusions, a luxurious shithole.  Here’s some photos:

In contrast to the Grand Canyon- here, nature is conquered at the glorious Hoover Dam:

The dam, built in the 30’s, is a fabulous example of moderne styling, and the embodiment of that era’s celebration of man’s mastery of the wilds. Is this fellow supposed to be FDR I wondered?


Valley of Fire State Park and its Visitor Center. So how does one design a visitor center in this setting. Fit in? Contrast? A bit of both here, and I think it works reasonably well. But I am really fond of the more innocuous man-made incursions into the landscape as we see further below.

Back in Las Vegas, waiting for the light to change, and worried that the gusting desert winds this day might have dispatched the balloon to Henderson:

Encountered the French tourists again, staying at the Venetian. Of course they were.

I visited the  new City Center complex, impressive in this artist rendering, but on the ground, less so. Like many of these complexes employing multiple star-chitects, it’s a jumble of competing gestures. It was made all the more strange on this day by the winds which were buffeting a sculpture of pipes(?) in the center of the complex and causing the most otherwordly screeching.

It was better on this day to be inside, and my favorite element here WAS inside, in the uber-high-end shopping arcade, a restaurant “pod”.

I am always interested in the edges of place, and here we are, one block off the strip, buffeted by winds and pieces of corrugated plastic, a large vacant lot. Urban detritus.

I talked to these two kindly souls, her first words to me were “I like to watch”. And that she did…………… for hours.

Stayed at the Orleans Hotel , a solidly blue-collar affair featuring $27/night rooms. At the casino, I tried to leverage $20 into some kind of retirement, and the 20 was gone in 4 minutes. It was time to get back to California. Unlike the eastern metropolises of my youth, Vegas just ends to the south, like a line in the sand, followed by beautiful desert nothingness. On this day, as I headed south on I-15, the sky was suddenly peppered with probably 20 or so parachutists, hovering over the highway, descending, and then landing just off the highway to the east. It was a magnificent sight at 7:30am, and a welcome back to the wide open Mojave. Leaving Las Vegas.