Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vegas Baby? (Part 1)

The morning after our late-night brush with megafauna we were at a slight crossroad. We could either head back into California - possibly as far as the coast - and look for jobs, or continue the trip by heading to points east. Heading east would mean going at least as far as Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, and after a bit of head scratching we figured that we would be foolish not to take advantage of the chance to extend things a little bit. Plus, we would have to drive right through Vegas on the way, meaning we could cruise down the strip once just to say we did it.

On our way to Vegas and Grand Canyon we spent two restful nights at the Grover Hot Springs State Park. Located at elevation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the park has naturally fed mineral hot pools in the midst of a mountain meadow, which make for a soothing cap off to any day. We had a great site - on a bluff overlooking the park, with dense forests behind us - and deer would wander through our living area at dusk. It was almost over-the-top idyllic. After two days there where we didn't do much other than relax, we were headed to Grand Canyon, via Sin City.

The drive through the interior of Nevada is, well, depressing. If Vegas is the city that made it big gambling, then the small towns you have to pass through to get there are the ones who got addicted and lost everything. Boarded up businesses seem to outnumber those that are still clinging to operation, there are rows of slot machines crammed into every dingy convenience store, and I half expected to see tumbleweed instead of locals whenever we stopped for gas or food. All of this isolation and hardship is all the more pronounced when contrasted with a destination that is renowned for the way that people and money flow through its revolving doors at a mind boggling rate.

We pulled onto Las Vegas Boulevard ("the strip") just after dark on a Wednesday (June 10th), much to the shock of our wilderness-oriented systems (our time in L.A. and San Francisco notwithstanding). The lights were flashing, the music was blaring and the sidewalks seemed to be one continuous line of people, three abreast, on either side of the street. We weren't sure that time in Vegas would be to the enjoyment of either one of us, but it was getting late and we managed to find a modestly priced Travelodge in the heart of the strip, so we pulled in for the night. (While we paid a nightly rate at the Travelodge, there were enterprising young women in short skirts spending time in the parking lot and going in and out of rooms with a frequency which would indicate the inn might have had some sort of hourly special that night, but I digress).

After showers we cruised the strip, a daunting task in and of itself. Single resort/casinos take up entire blocks, so passing by only a few of them can take a while when you factor in the slow-moving pedestrian traffic. Added to that is the fact that they are all mazes on the inside (deliberately, of course) so "Let's go into the MGM to grab something to drink" can quickly turn into a forty minute side trip into a labyrinth of indulgence. New York New York looked inviting enough, so we wandered in just to spend a little time on the floor of a casino.

We were wearily making our way across the floor, both acknowledging that we probably weren't in the right frame of mind for a Vegas trip, when I heard "Hart? Hart Shouldice? Is that you?" Turning around and drawing a brief blank I saw an acquaintance from my days at school in New Brunswick. It was as surprising as it was comforting to see someone who had been a friend years ago so far from the last place we had been in contact. He was there with his girlfriend and another couple, also from our alma mater (Mount Allison University), and we had a pleasant though brief catchup. They were on their way to Utah for some hiking the next day, so we wished them well and continued our dazed meander, as I extolled to Sarah for the billionth time the virtues of going to a small school with a well-defined sense of community and a warm social network that an alumnus never seems to be far from.

The strip was too much to take, plain and simple, so we headed back to the Travelodge, looking forward to Grand Canyon the next day.

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