Night 22: The Nevada Oven

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
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25
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Trip End Jul 18, 2012


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Where I stayed

Flag of United States  , Utah
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Night 22: The Nevada Oven

Today we drove 320 miles through the very hot Mojave and the Great Basin deserts. Weather was clear and extremely hot most of the day with temps averaging between 105 and 112 and topping off at 117. As night fell monsoon rain (which did not make it to the ground) threw up dust storms and wind.

The heat is sometimes overwhelming. It is worst in the sun, but there is a breeze, albeit it feels like it came from an oven. There is something to that overused "dry heat" idea. It doesn't feel as hot as a steamy humid New Orleans summer day, even though it is much hotter. Tonight it is about 97 outside.

So I treated the heat like I would treat a deep freeze. I drove slowly and mindfully. I stayed indoors when I could. I paid $39 to sleep in air conditioning tonight instead of $8 to camp 11 miles away in the hot desert. When I saw the car's heat rise, I slowed down the engine and turned off the A/C. It seemed to work very well. I thank God because I saw mire than a few cars with flipped open steaming hoods. I figured if I acted like I was in a hurry in the Mojave, the desert would slow me down anyway.

We began at Barstow Station besides the train tracks near the middle of town. There was a McDonald's there built for tour busses on their way from LA to Vegas. It's dining rooms were in the remodeled shells of old Amtrak cars. Andrew was itching to go there since we pulled in last night so we popped in for breakfast. Attached is a little mall designed to pull cash out of people on tour busses. A bus obviously was there because it was very crowded when we pulled in. The staff was handling it all with efficiency and we were eating in the train car sooner than I thought.

Gas is something else designed to pull out tourist cash. The stations right next to the on ramps sold gas for as high as $4.99 a gallon, but two blocks into town it was going for $3.59. In some California towns this disparity was even greater. For a state with so many regulations and consumer laws, I am surprised gouging like this is allowed. I mean, the fast food places have to list calories beside prices on the menus. Parking garages have to post signs that the structure contains "cancer-causing" materials. But do what you will with gas prices?! This was stopped years ago in Illinois by the attorney general when it developed. In Nevada gas was $3.35 or so. This is the lowest of the trip so far. Chicago gas is probably about $4.25 a gallon if I had to guess, but I haven't been home in almost a month.

After gassing up we headed east into the Mojave Desert along I-15. I wish I would have taken I-40 to Kelso, but what will be, will be. The countryside was stark and beautiful and as we headed into to the Mojave National Preserve, the land displayed evidence of past volcanic activity. Cinder cones, big black rocks, lava tubes... We pulled off to the Preserve entrance. The road was empty, a relief from the halfway congested interstate. It was 35 miles to Kelso, a ghost town concerted to a VC for the preserve. This was a long way to go in 115 degree heat.

I drove on down I-15. We had to climb a very gradual hill to a plateau about 2400 feet up. This was rough on the van in the heat. I kept my eye on the engine temp as it slowly inched up. I lowered my speed, got the RPMs to 2000, and shut off the AC. The engine temp stabilized quickly and we climbed without incidence unlike other stranded trucks along the way. At the top was another exit into the preserve along a mch shorter route: this flat route would be our Mohave NP experience, as the Interstate continued over another mountain. Adding a scenic few dozen flat miles seemed a better idea than climbing a mountain.

We drove down the lonely and empty Cima Road into the Preserve, passing a thick Joshua tree forest. These yuccas (not palms, as I guessed yesterday) seem to grow only at higher elevations where the temps are about 105 today. As we drove down the road, the forest thickened. It was a beautiful sight, these tough trees with their rough bark and twisting, aching arms all over. Mountains of various colors surrounded us.

We reached the ghost town of Cima where the road ended. Houses were falling apart and leaning precariously. One was a pile of wood already. The store promised water and refreshments, but was closed and decomposing. There were rusted out trucks from the 1950's era in a fenced off lot full of sun-bleached junk beside a collection of modern rural route mailboxes. There are a handful of towns like these around here: founded in the silver boom days of the 1880's and starved off when the Interstate shifted traffic away in the 1950's. Most of the surviving towns, not coincidentally have the word "Well" in their names.

We drove in a loop back down the plateau and met with the exhausted I-15 traffic near a baking mountainside. The temps cooled off to 105 in Cima, but were back in the 115 range down here.

The road flattened out for a while, to my relief and we drove into a rest stop near the California border. People were roasting and looking for water and shade. It was a pretty busy place. After those passes, a break was needed. It reminded me of being at rest stops during snowstorms in the Midwest when strangers, who shared the common experience, actually talked to each other.

I knew when the Nevada state line was coming because there is a wall of casinos right at the border in the middle of the desert. There are slot machines in about every public building in the state. I suppose these casinos are for the people who just couldn't wait the extra 45 minutes to get into Las Vegas proper.

Las Vegas appears like a mirage after you cross a mountain pass. It is in a bowl-shaped valley which is quickly filling up with suburban development. It is a city of construction lots and not enough streets. We drove in on Las Vegas Blvd. far from the Strip. As we drove we passed through the shops and outlet malls and there it was shining in the distance! New Orleans' favorite late night fast food chicken: Raising Cane's! What was it doing way out here? I didn't care. I wasn't even that hungry but I stopped and scarfed down the sauce and juicy fried chicken. My blood vessels should be glad Cane's exists only (or so I previously thought) in faraway Louisiana.

The Boulevard is fast moving. People in this city drive wildly. We passed McCarron Airport and reached the Strip. We slowly cruised past all the famous casinos like the Belagio and Wynn's and the Flamingo. The mega themepark casinos were quite the sight. Treasure Island has a full sized pirate ship. Paris has built an Eiffel Tower that is nearly the same size as the original. NY NY recreated a miniature NYC skyline, complete with the Statue of Liberty. Harrah's had a Mardi Gras theme, which makes sense since they are also located in Nola on Canal Street. We drove past downtown and the so-called Fremont Street Experience.

Returning to the Strip we decided to park at the most evil of all the casinos: Circus Circus. It was recommended by my sister and by the woman in the Bakersfield repair shop. There was a KOA operating on the casino's property. Amazing! The lot was packed and I was surprised to see lots of kids, but then again that is what makes this the most evil casino. Circus Circus just built an indoor, air conditioned amusement park called the Adventuredome. This place was luke the Joe Camel of gambling, teaching kids' brains the basic gambling reward process with cheap Midway games.

Air conditioning and people watching were the major draws for me. We walked into a flurry of activity. The place, like the Biloxi casinos, was designed like a mall with the gaming areas kind of off to the side. There were food shops, toy stores, souvenier stands. We went into the Adventuredome which was packed. Andrew was amazed at the sights but in no mood to take any rides and I didn't push him too hard. There were fun rides for every age and size.

Inside the casino, I could see security was having trouble keeping teenagers off the slot machines. (The goal of creating young gamblers seemed to be paying off.) There us another area with kid-friendly games and frequent circus acts if you walk through the maze-luke gaming area and up a flight of stairs. It was a madhouse, the most crowded, wacky casino I have ever seen.

We had enough. The most they got out of us was $2 for postcards and a few bucks for ice cream.

I told Andrew that those games were money-poof machines because they made money go "poof!" I have never been into gambling. I am nit tuned into that frequency where I feel like I could win or where when I lose, I feel like I "almost won." I have been to a few casinos in St. Louis, Mississippi, and Atlantic City and have even out down a few bucks and won here abs there, but the winning never really fooled me. Hell, I don't even like the games at Chuck E Cheese. It's not my thing. So Vegas to me was an interesting spectacle and one of the most American things I have ever seen, but that's all. I had enough and left town. My sister, who is a Vegas booster, will be disappointed I didn't see the lights at night, but I'll settle for the desert stars.

We stopped in North Vegas for gas and I booked a cheap room across the time zone line in St. George, Utah. Camping would be tricky. It was 117 degrees and rain was potentially on the way. Rain in the desert is tricky. I have camped in desert rain before. It makes things into lakes and streams that weren't before. Wind is rough. So I paid the $39 for an air conditioned room at the Hojo. For sone reason I feel guilty about spending money on lodging, but never about spending on food.

As we crossed the Pauite Indian reservation north of Las Vegas, the clouds gathered and seemed to be raining but nothing hit the scorched ground. The activity seemed to excite the winds which pounded against the car and created dust devils out in the desert. The air smelled like stale water and dirt. At one point we drove through a full blown dust storm worse than the foggiest Dubuque day.

The skies cleared as we passed the pink rocks of Virgin Peak along the Viegin River, a tributary of the Colorado and of Lake Mead. There was a tiny bit if water and green along its banks and you could tell by the topography that it was, from time to time, a more substantial flowing river. Soon we crossed into Arizona, a state that destroyed my tires and mt spirit in the past.

At this point, I-15 pushes against the mountains. I dreaded another mountain pass, even as the sun was setting. But the road remained level. The mountains had been blasted away in a road building feat, I later learned, took 11 years to complete. At the summit the BLM had a bice campground and picnic area along the Virgin River in a tiny canyon. We pulled in to eat dinner with the desert.

Night was moving in and all the desert creatures were waking up. We saw a family of phaesants or road runners gathering to go down to the completely dry river bed. The rocks softened into a rose color as the light faded. The Joshua trees and cacti made tortured shadows against the sky. We fed ourselves and Andrew fed the ants.

We drive through the mountain in the night ending up in Utah at the small city of St. George with it's bright shining Mormon temple in the distance. Here is where we spent our air conditioned night hoping we cam use the laundry in the morning.

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