Heading north from Las Vegas to Tonopah NV and Winnemucca NV is a lonely, barren stretch of road until:
Aliens appear to have landed and set up some brothels.
They brought some outer space trinkets to sell:
And one giant firecracker:
Area 51 is an extension of Edwards Air Force Base and the subject of much secrecy including conspiracy theories and UFOs. I’m sure you didn’t believe me when I said I’d seen a UFO as a child. I’d no proof. It was only lodged in my little girl memory.
NOW I have photographic proof of a more recent sighting!! Ooooo! What’s that?
“Yes. Let me look at the map.” Flip, flip, flip, flip. “Oh! Yes. Oops.”
Though we only had a journey of about 150 miles from Wikieup, Arizona to Las Vegas, we’d both studied the route several times to check our approach into Sin City. Hoover Dam nestles on the border of Arizona and Nevada, as bold on the map as the Boulder Dam that it used to be. The 247 square mile mass of Lake Mead shows as a big blue splash behind the dam on the road atlas, fed by the mighty Colorado River, downstream of the Grand Canyon.
How could we miss that? But neither of us had seen it, noted it or planned for it.
“The sign said ‘no trailers’.”
“It meant no commercial trailers.”
“Are you sure? It just said ‘no trailers’.”
“Well, yes . . . no . . . . I don’t know. We’ll just keep going and see if we get turned back.”
Flip, flip, flip, flip. “A hundred and forty miles.”
“What’s a hundred and forty miles?”
“A hundred and forty miles there and back to a junction where we can then go the long way round.”
“What should we do?”
Why does he ask me these impossible questions? I’ve learned not to commit myself. Equal blame will be allocated if the journey goes all wrong. I kept quiet while he concentrated on aiming the car down the road, possibly in the wrong direction.
“There’s another sign. It definitely says ‘no trailers.’ Ah, a phone number, 1-866 . . . oh. How are you supposed to read all that at 55 mph? Now what do we do?” I asked.
It was Jimmy’s turn to be non-committal to my question, perhaps pretending it was rhetorical. We’d only just passed through the town of Kingman and the landscape was looking barren as we climbed into high desert.
We’re always climbing. The slightest puff of wind on our nose causes our car to change down into third gear. We’ve traveled “uphill’” all the way from Washington State down to Florida and back to Washington again.
“If I’m quick, I might get an internet signal. Maybe they have a website.” And they did. “Commercial trailers are prohibited to drive over Hoover Dam but recreational vehicles CAN cross the dam,” and then I did lose the signal.
“Well this is a nice surprise. We’re going to drive over Hoover Dam. I didn’t know it was here, did you?”
We’d driven hundreds of miles specifically to see the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State yet here we were about to drive right over Hoover Dam by mistake, or like the chicken crossing the road – to get to the other side, but in this case, to get to the other side of a river.
Hover cursor to read captions or click to enlarge:
Rt.93 with a view of the new bridge . . .
. . . to be completed and opened later that year – October 2010.
It is a little concerning that in this late stage in our travels, with all our navigating experience that we failed notice Hoover Dam. It is so huge it contains enough concrete to construct a two-lane road from San Francisco to New York – a definite landmark.
The deep ‘V’ shape of this dam is an image familiar to both of us as it is to many people but who knew it was just 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas? We’ve probably missed more tourist destinations than we’ve seen as we hurtle around the three and a half million square miles of this country. Jimmy is an alien and I’m almost a non-native, having lived more years in Europe than the U.S., so what he never knew in the first place as a foreigner, I’ve forgotten as a repatriated ex-pat.
So, no, we didn’t know Hoover Dam was smack dab in front of us and we were going to tow our trailer right over it.
This country is so vast, that there are too many geological, technical and historical wonders spread over thousands of miles for us to be aware of every little (and big) one in our vicinity.
Anyway, I’m making excuses now for our ignorance. One would think we’d have a better system by now.
While the pleasure of seeing one of America’s great engineering marvels was still causing us to grin with our serendipity (a more pleasing word than stupidity) we drove straight into Las Vegas rush hour traffic on a main artery to the center. Memories of towing through Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, as well as the kamikaze driving styles around us raised some white knuckles in the car. I counted down the numbers to our exit to North Las Vegas where we proceeded to get lost and Jimmy became more terse.
Which is only funny when it is someone else’s husband.
Las Vegas Strip from the top of the “Eiffel Tower”
Las Vegas Strip and the “Eiffel Tower”
The Flamingo, Las Vegas NV
Traffic on the Strip, Las Vegas NV
Traffic on the Strip, Las Vegas NV
We popped back three years later for the pleasure of driving over the new bridge. Disappointingly you can’t see nuthin’ as you drive across. I guess gazing at the stunning landscape while attempting to point a car across a high bridge vulnerable to cross winds is asking for trouble:
Two U.S. Air Force jets caught my attention as they shot past the car window. My driver’s attention was at least initially focused on the road. Two more jets, laden with armaments, seemed to leap up from the center of Las Vegas in the distance and rush past. Then two more and two more.
As we neared the city more jets roared overhead and we craned our necks to watch them through the sun roof. “F-15’s!” himself told me excitedly and the trailer danced behind us. “There must be an air base around here.”
I consulted the road atlas. “Nellis. There go eleven and twelve.”
We continued to our campsite and busied ourselves with the process of unhitching when six more pairs of jets flew over. We stopped what we were doing each time to watch.
Suddenly alarmed as twelve jets screamed right overhead I clasped an empty plastic bottle I’d been carrying to my chest like a comfort blanket. I could feel the reverberations building up in my chest cavity. I could even feel them in the empty bottle. We were parked right under the flight path of the air force base and the noise was explosive as the jets banked directly over us in order to avoid flying over central Las Vegas.
The succession of six pairs of jets taking off continued with Jimmy and I looking at each other like startled rabbits each time. Our initial fascination had worn off. The physical discomfort of the noise and vibration was deeply unsettling especially as we’d paid in advance for three days. Having looked forward to seeing The Strip we wondered if we could last the night, each jet drowning out the TV, our voices, even our thoughts.
The skies finally quietened at about eight o’clock.
At ten p.m. a diesel pickup truck towing a large trailer pulled up next door and proceeded to unhitch, pump up tires with an electric pump while idling the bag-of-nails engine and then unloaded a Harley motorcycle.
A Harley starting up sounds like a bomb going off when you’re not expecting it and the shock of it sent my head back against a door. The new arrivals popped out for a late supper on the Harley and returned about midnight. Perhaps a good night’s sleep was at last in order.
The neighbor behind us on the campsite also had a Harley. He went to work at five a.m. And then the F-15’s began terrorizing us again at eight. There was no way to avoid the noise except to physically get away. The din even penetrated underwater when I went for a swim.
The prospect of staying right on Las Vegas Boulevard near The Strip had been so exciting. The town plan showed an easy drive of about three inches so we hopped into the car to get away from the noise.
The glitz on my anticipation dimmed slightly as we saw dozens of homeless people queuing on the sidewalks of the boulevard waiting for the Salvation Army to open. Litter gusted and twirled and dust from endless construction sites hazed the view as we sat in gridlocked traffic.
An hour later we had driven the six miles to the beginning of The Strip. We saw the giddy carnival rides on the top of the Stratosphere Tower, the big top of Circus Circus, the oh-so-famous Caesars Palace, the fountains of Bellagio, the skyline of New York-New York and hundreds of people – hundreds and hundreds of ordinary people just like us – no film stars dressed in bling, no Ferraris, not even a Rolls Royce. The town did seem to abound with testosterone-fueled young men in rental cars who zig-zagged through traffic creating a new terror for us.
Jimmy watched the traffic. I watched the action on Las Vegas Strip
View from the Eiffel Tower. Doesn’t look like Paris does it?
The Eiffel Tower without the transatlantic flight.
After stopping at a supermarket for some tranquilizing wine we made it back to the RV park long after dark, soused ourselves with the wine and cowered until ten o’clock when the pilots went to bed.
The next day we had a pleasant evening with an Italian dinner followed by a performance of Cirque du Soleil, got lost halfway “home”, got directions in a casino and traveled back up Las Vegas Boulevard in a bus with the late night cleaning shift, managing to stay away from the flight path until after the Air Force’s bedtime.
The sparkle of Las Vegas has dulled a little in our eyes, but having seen several different sides of life we do feel privileged.
Our blood pressure has yet to come down. It may take a few days for the vibrations to settle.