Remembering the road, day 11

I’m not sure what’s worse, that I’m still milking a 7-year-old road trip for blog content, or that it’s taking me months to recount a trip that lasted just a few weeks. Well, look on the bright side, either way it gives you something to bitch about other than traffic and the weather.

So, without further ado, I present to an encore performance of “Remembering the Road, Day 11.”

Day 11

I was informed that elk horns are shed every year, so the elk horn arch probably wasn’t from hundreds of thousands of dead elk, but probably just horns they’ve shed. That sucks… it’s not nearly as dramatic that way.

I forgot to mention something about Yellowstone in my last update: guano. The place is filled with it. Right next to our cabin, bear guano. All around the hot springs and geysers, buffalo and elk guano. On the sidewalks, little dog guano (lots of people brought their little dogs for some reason… bear bait?). Yellowstone has to be one of the most fertile places on earth… there’s just that much guano.

There’s also still massive streaks of burned areas in Yellowstone, thanks to the giant forest fires of the last 14 years. It’s actually quite beautiful, some of the burned areas where the remnants of lodge pole pines stand tall and naked while small pine trees cluster beneath them. Areas that have yet to burn are filled with wooded debris and it’s clear that a fire will soon sweep through it.

Scorched earth

I also forgot to mention another near-death (or at least, near Deliverance) experience. While driving towards Utah, I got sleepy and pulled over at an entrance to a national forest trailhead. Cyn was enjoying some gummy bears and I put my seat down for a quick bit of sleep. Suddenly an older couple drives out of the forest at a rapid speed, followed closely by two trucks packed with guys who, well let’s just say they’ve never been worried about their SAT scores, and I don’t mean because they have excellent verbal and math skills.

“Josh,” Cynthia says. “I don’t like this. These guys are creeping me out.” Heavy music blares from their car; the only audible words from the “song” are “motherfucker,” “bitch,” and “boy” and there are plenty of them. Angry white-man music.

“Oh, it’ll be all right,” I assure her as the driver of one of them grins at us.

“Honey…”

His buddy gets out of the truck and I put my seat up. “It’s fine, he’s just looking at his friends behind us. The buddy starts walking over and I start the car. Before he gets any closer, I let out the clutch and drive away… quickly.

Once Cynthia’s heart attack subsides (and I realize that we probably were in a bad situation), we slow down to 95 mph and continue on the way to Salt Lake City. My eyes are wide open now.

In truth, I’m already missing Yellowstone, but it’s behind us now. Today we drive from Salt Lake City on to Las Vegas… the city of sin… from one extreme (Yellowstone) to another (Salt Lake City) to another (Las Vegas).

Interesting note about Salt Lake City: I can’t find the great salt lake anywhere. I think I passed it on the way out of town, but it looked rather small, so I don’t think it was it. I kind of wanted to see if I floated in it, but seeing as I couldn’t even find it, that didn’t happen.

There are billboards all over the place around here, and they’re fairly inventive. One Ford truck ad had actual lights for headlights. Neat. Another, a boat ad, had a full-size motorboat through the billboard.

Others are interesting for other reasons. One billboard alerted passers-by that the UN is trying to take away our guns. Another very sad one featured a full-size picture of Elizabeth Smart, the young girl kidnapped at gunpoint… I guessed the UN missed one.

As we drove along, we realized that ever since entering Utah we have yet to see a cloud. Coincidence?

Mormon church

Utah’s scenery is pretty, where one is able to see the scenery past the billboards. Sadly, it’s very hazy here. Whether that’s natural or a function of manmade air pollution, I don’t know, but given one of the billboards featuring “10 acres of paved parking” for a couple of gas stations and fast food restaurants, I have my suspicions. While there, we saw several Corvairs on their way to Flagstaff, AZ, for a national Corvair convention.

We dipped into Arizona briefly en route to Nevada and passed through the most amazing rock formations ­ basically a small canyon. It was hauntingly beautiful, and once again, nearly our final resting place as double-length gasoline tanker trucks flew through there at 15-20 mph faster than the posted speed limit. Keep in mind, this steep road was winding around deep cliffs and giant boulders. It was not an especially relaxing look at the scenery. Luckily Arizona put a ban on billboards through this region, so we could take in the views without being alerted to the nearest quarter pounder with cheese. Sadly, there was still a lot of litter along the road.

Arizonaa

It was also our first introduction to heat here. When we’d see a particularly stunning site, I’d roll down the window to take a picture. In the 10 seconds our window was open, every molecule of air-conditioned comfort escaped and was replaced by 107° hot hot hotness. Lovely.

That’s what made it all the more stunning to see speedwalkers racing along the highway. Are these people insane? First, it’s a bagillion degrees outside, second they are speedwalking on black pavement, and third, they are doing it against 85 mph traffic, including two double-length gasoline tanker trunks cruising at almost 100 mph. I think the heat affects the brain.

Speaking of affecting the brain, I used to feel badly for the southwest in terms of their water problems. This area just doesn’t have enough water to meet the demand for it. But when I saw lush, green golf courses nestled in the red dirt desert, I lost all sympathy. Hmm, should I drink the water, or try to grow grass with it…

Nevertheless, we finally made it to Nevada, where less than a tenth of the mile into the state there was a casino. An hour later, we pulled into Vegas, as declared by the billboards promoting the world’s largest adult bookstore. Entering Vegas, one of the more interesting signs we’ve seen (on par with one in Yellowstone that said it was illegal to feed or molest wildlife) said it was illegal to pick up hitchhikers, as there was a prison across the road. “Hey stranger, where you going in that striped, numbered number with the leg irons? Costume party?”

As we put the Swingers soundtrack on the CD player, we drove down the strip to the tunes of Franky and friends. On the northern edge of town are the older casinos. Since our A/C was pulling in outside air, and since the casinos where pumping out their stale casino air, our car quickly filled with the sultry odor of a smoky casino. A few miles later we reached the newer casinos, which are monuments to man’s ability to create anything as tacky as the mind can imagine. It’s great in an insane sort of way. Pretty much anything goes here.

Actually, it’s an odd assortment of you can’t do anything wrong, and don’t do anything wrong. On the placemats of the all-you-can eat Luxor Hotel buffet (where many young children are dining with their parents) is an ad for the topless show at midnight. Oooh lala! But then everywhere you look (escalators, monorails, elevators, pools, hallways, casinos) are semi-hidden cameras. It’s all about doling out vices in controlled (and for-profit) fashion. That’s nothing new, but it’s interesting to see.

Vegas, baby!

Anyway, here in Vegas Cyn and I met up with one of my brothers and his family and one of my cousins and his family. We had a good time checking out the strip, saw one of the water shows at the Bellagio, and due to the difficulty of getting three cabs to take us back to our hotel, we piled into a stretch limo to give all 11 of us a ride back up the strip… the kids loved it, and so did I. At one point, I put up the “privacy” glass between the driver and us. As soon as it rose, the driver put it back down again and disabled my switch. D’oh!

After the kids went to bed, the adults hit the casino where I won $11 dollars in slots only to lose $11 in slots. Why oh why couldn’t I have quit when I was ahead? Over the next few hours I managed to lose another $30 and that’s more than enough. Time for bed.

If you’re gambling, you get free drinks from cocktail waitresses who are almost partly dressed. They wear skimpy outfits that are reminiscent of swimsuits with small blazers. They look like they have a constant wedgie, and I can’t believe that’s comfortable.

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