I had the Friday off and a friend staying, so we decided to take a trip. I left for lectures on Thursday and gave him the instructions: ‘You organise it, I don’t mind where we go’. I arrived home later that day to a twinkle in the eye and a whisper of future riches…..’Vegas’. We hot-tailed it across the desert, passing from oasis to oasis, confused by rich, middle-aged white America’s idea of retirement bliss (desert restaurants and golf courses). Gradually the highway filled out and road signs started to advertise casinos and cheap motels — universal signifiers of good times and general happiness.
It’s impossible to walk 5 minutes inside in Vegas without coming across banks of electronic slot machines, and 5 minutes outside without being accosted with prostitute business cards by unlikely looking pimps — it’s truly hell on earth, a place built for suffering, a machine breeding destitution and damnation. Aside from just generally how soul-destroying the place is, my nostalgic sympathies (nostalgic for a time never personally experienced) couldn’t help feeling peeved at the electronicalisation of Vegas. One-armed bandits have had whacking great screens attached to them, roulette is primarily electronic, gone are the days of pushing quarters and pulling arms. Dolly Parton even seemed to have sponsored some of the gaming systems . . . what a world. After one night and 3 hours of successful F.A. Cup viewing (9:30 am in an Irish bar with a bunch of expats is a similarly depressing experience – aside from the victory), we stacked up on Denny’s breakfast pancakes and set off for Death Valley.
Once into the National Park, an area that boasts the highest recorded air temperature ever, there is very little life and lots of hot rock and sand. It is nonetheless interesting, however, with the lowest part of land below sea level (86m) in the western hemisphere a particular highlight, as well as stunning views of the whole length of the valley and it’s salt flat floor. The names of the geographical spots were inventive for a country that tends to borrow from everyone else, and in a 4 hour drive we covered: Badwater Basin, the Devils Golf Course, Furnace Creek, Dante’s View, Harmony Borax Works, 20 Mule Team and Zabriskie Point. We had planned to camp overnight somewhere in the valley, but having seen that the temperature wouldn’t drop below 30 degrees until 1am, we decided that we had best climb back into our untrustworthy Hyundai and make the long journey home.
Death Valley: would recommend. Take water, and a hat ,and sun cream, and anything else that may help you survive.
Las Vegas: would not recommend. Don’t go there. Ever. Unless you want to see old women in wheelchairs gambling away the last remnants of their pensions at 8am.