We were both sitting in that couch leaning on each other, getting some rest. I took a break from my readings to soak in all the emotions flowing through me at that particular moment. It reminded me of those evenings at home when we were both sitting in silence on the couch, my eyes closed, feeling that incredible mixture of emotion somewhere between happiness and peace. I guess I could fully understand Prousts’ Madeleine for the first time. For a moment I asked myself why? Why did we leave everything behind? I shared my feelings with Kenzi. We couldn’t come up with an answer..
The Strip (not the clubs you perv)
One big extravagant area of hotels and casinos, shamelessly throwing millions of dollars away in their folly of excess. Where consumption and making the people consume stands at the top of the pyramid of madness. Where all the lights, music and fountains show off a complete denial to today’s environmental and social issues.
A bit too much in a hurry to leave the city two days after arriving in Vegas, we took the wrong bus and ended up on a bridge on the opposite side of the highway we were supposed to hitchhike on. No one seems to know how to go to the other side of the highway. We must have looked pretty lost there, wandering around KFC and other food chains, unsuccessfully trying to get some WiFi on our phones to take a look at Google Maps. Not really sure if that random lady misinterpreted our wandering, thinking we were starving and looking for food. All we know is she gave us 20 bucks and some coupons and told us to go get something to eat.
We got some mashed potatoes at KFC – don’t judge our cravings – found some WiFi and started the 45 minute walk towards the right side of the highway, our “Death Valley” sign visible for the passing cars. Nobody picked us up, but this time a German lady apologizes for not going that way and gives us 8 dollars. Yep, just like that.
Sometimes getting cash is easier than getting rides in the States.
The clock hit 7PM but still no ride for us. Luckily, we weren’t in downtown Vegas anymore and Google Maps shows that there’s a green area nearby, a potential camping spot. The winds started rising just when we started walking, bringing dark clouds closer to us with them. We knew the water-resistance of our tent would be challenged that night.
“You guys need to get somewhere?”
We only realized a car slowed down when we heard Brandy’s voice.
We told him we didn’t have any luck hitchhiking and that we were looking for a place to pitch our tent. We heard him mention the park we were planning to go to but he had other news; his wife and himself were thinking about going to Death Valley the day after and he suggested to go with them. We agreed on heading towards the park nearby where he would meet us in a couple of minutes to discuss this further.
We were getting mentally prepared to sleep under picnic tables that night, as that park was more of an open playground where the whole neighborhood had vision of us, until Brandy came back, telling us we could spend the night in his house.
With a sigh of relief and a last look at the dark clouds, we hopped in his car, leaving the playground behind in the cold darkness.
We took off our shoes – Kenzi a bit ashamed of having to take out his – got up the stairs and Brandy introduced us to Kim, his wife, and to himself. It clicked instantly. There was no wall that had to be broken. No awkward first get-to-know each other conversations but instead the sounds of constant chatting and laughter filled their living room that evening. It was as if we were having an old friend reunion with good Gewürztraminer wine.
Petrichor had filled the air of Las Vegas with its perfume by the next morning. The rain had fallen and cleared the sky of its clouds, letting the sunrays warm up the air again. We could see it was going to be a beautiful day while we were all getting ready to go to Death Valley.
We rode up to the National Park in the same atmosphere than the night before. We chitchatted about everything and nothing at the same time, while Kim and Brandy were sharing everything they know about the area.
Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.’
With the super bloom going on, Death Valley was facing high expectations. It’s vastness and emptiness has a beauty on its own. A beauty that didn’t appeal to any of us. To quote Kim “I’ve done all of the National Parks of California but Death Valley. And now I know why.”
We were surrounded by grey. Not a full-scale grey a black and white photo reveals. Almost a unique, single tone of grey, from the mountains to the soil. The blue sky was the only contrast in the landscapes and even its bright color didn’t bring the Valley back to life. We were in a place where all colors had died. It felt sad, it felt dead.
After driving around the place for a while, we decided not to camp there and on Brandy & Kimmy’s invitation we returned to Vegas. We didn’t give up the idea of camping though. As soon as we arrived in Vegas we packed up the car once again but this time full of camping gear and food.
Kim and Brandy had left Oregon behind to go to Vegas but that didn’t mean they gave up their love for nature. They had tried to go hiking every weekend and had already discovered their two favorite parks of the area. One of those two was Red Rock Canyon and they promised we would love it.
It was spring break and the whole camping was packed with tents and people. There wasn’t even a little fire pit left for us. We didn’t abandon here though and went to the remote rural areas of Vegas, and made our own fire pit, cooking our (veggie) sausages and marshmallows, while enjoying the view of Vegas at night. We did give up on the idea of camping after all and tucked ourselves into our comfy beds in their condominium.
The next day the five of us all hopped back in the car again, towards Valley of Fire State Park.
If Vegas is called Disneyland for adults, Valley of Fire was Disneyland for us. With its breathtaking red structures of all forms we couldn’t move our feet fast enough to explore the area. Together with Rayne, their daughter, we spent hours climbing around the place, going through gaps and jumping over deep holes. Rayne showed us how good she was at climbing the highest peaks, but getting off of them was another challenge.