Friday, July 21, 2023

Road trip home

Sorry for the silence, dear readers! After visiting my parents in Southern California, Older Daughter and I had a rather intense three-day trip back, then Don and I took another day to return the rental car (an epic journey unto itself), then I immediately had to plunge into my work week.

So ... let's back up to last week and take you along with us on the road. Grab a cup of tea, since this is a long post.

First, let's go to the beach. Living in the Idaho panhandle, visits to the ocean are rare treats. Older Daughter and I made sure to walk the sands at least a couple of times. The closest beach access was at a nearby train station.

My grandfather worked on trains for many decades, so we have something of a generational fascination with these beauties.

The beach, as always, was cool and lovely.

Walking on the sand, we stepped over lots of these little fragile – almost transparent – carcasses.

At first I thought they might be the remains of sand crabs...

...but clearly sand crab shells are too tough and opaque, not the fragile paper-thin stuff we were walking on. The mystery was solved when we started noticing dozens of velella (also called "By-the-Wind Sailors") washed up on the beach.

These have a gelatinous "sail" on their bodies. Dried in the sun, the animal becomes the fragile paper-thin shells we crunched over.

We saw dozens of juvenile snowy plovers, darling little things.

Here's a large piece of dried kelp...

...covered with barnacles.

Eventually, sated with the sights, we said goodbye to the ocean.

The following morning, we said goodbye to my parents, a more difficult parting. Then we hit the road. Destination: Las Vegas. Why Vegas, especially since a nasty heat wave was predicted? Two reasons: One, neither of us had ever seen Sin City; and two (the primary reason), my literary agent lives in town and we had agreed to meet for tea.

So off we went, paralleling the coast for many miles. We passed several charming antique cars, evidently out for a Sunday drive (yes, it was Sunday).

We had a fleeting glimpse of this tiny island connected to shore by a pier. Looking at Google Earth, I think it's Rincon Island.

As we turned inland away from the coast, lots and lots of agriculture...

...including many commercial nurseries.

The temperature also started to climb. We were heading into one of the worst heat waves to hit the southwest in a long time. These die-hard bicyclists were peddling through mid-90s heat.

As we approached Santa Clarita, we were surprised to see roller coasters rising above the trees. An amusement park? Out here?

Yes. It turned out to be Six Flags.

At this point we were on Hwy. 15 heading east toward Nevada. The farther east we went, the more desert-y it became, and the hotter it got.

We started seeing Joshua trees ... a few at first, then lots and lots. I'd heard about, but had never seen, these desert marvels.

Possibly as a result of the desert environment, some enterprising entrepreneurs attempted to create some diversions once in a while.

Desert, desert, and more desert. Meanwhile the temperature was climbing steadily.

Road construction traffic jam. Whee!

Near Primm Pass, I documented the temperature: 120F.

A few miles later, it topped out at 122F.

Fortunately the temperature moderated to a balmy 118F as we descended toward Las Vegas. Phew. I was worried it might be, y'know, too hot.

More Joshua trees.

Dramatic landscapes.

Huge solar farm. HUGE.

This was, as far as we could tell, brightly painted boulders stacked up as a distraction for desperately bored drivers. Well, why not?

We finally approached the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Lots and lots of apartment blocks.

Before heading toward our hotel ("The Linq"), we wanted to make one detour toward Excalibur. Oddly enough, Don and I swung through Las Vegas on our honeymoon back in 1990 for the sole purpose of seeing this Medieval-themed hotel. When we learned it was still under construction and not yet open, we left town without seeing it. We were in town for less than 30 minutes (no exaggeration) and never went near it again, until this trip. So yes, I was curious to see Excalibur.

It certainly looked exuberant from the outside.

We parked in a (thankfully shaded) parking garage and walked into the lobby. It was something of a disappointment. While it had some basic trappings of an historical theme, it was hardly worth the effort. Basically it was just a casino. We spent less than ten minutes there and then left, satisfied that we didn't miss anything.

I was, however, pleased by this spontaneous photo I took of the hotel's towers reflected in the windows of another building. Very artsy, no?

Then we got back on the road, heading for Sin City's infamous Strip. Everything was oversized and gaudy, and we got stuck in construction traffic, and I was fretting because the tea date with my agent was ticking closer.

In the end, we finally found the entrance to The Linq hotel, and Older Daughter leaped from the vehicle with her suitcase, while I fled to get back on the highway to travel half an hour away to find the tea shop.

My agent and his wife met me there, and we had a fabulous visit. We talked nonstop for two hours. They were a delightful couple and I'm so pleased I had an opportunity to meet them in person.

But then I was tasked with finding my way back to The Linq, this time at dusk when the Strip comes alive with lights and sound. And oh my. It. Was. A. Nightmare.

Seriously, I was trying to figure out where to go amidst an ocean of over-stimulation and no map (nor GPS; remember, I don't have a smart phone, and Older Daughter wasn't with me). The panoply of flashing lights was insane, like Times Square on steroids. I was driving toward one building with a moving display four stories tall that was so bright I had to put down the car's sun visor so I could see the street. Traffic was thick, construction was everywhere, and I kept getting sucked into vortexes of parking garages (I quickly learned, never take an "exit only" lane because they invariably led to hotel parking garages).

In the midst of this madness, my cell phone rang. It was Don, wondering where I was and how I was doing (I hadn't yet called him that day). I sputtered, "Can't talk now. Call you later," and rudely hung up.

I knew vaguely where The Linq was, but couldn't seem to find it. One wrong turn (when I abruptly pulled a U-turn to avoid another parking garage) took me on a twenty minute detour through the very Strip itself until I was able to correct myself, and ... and ...

Well, you get the idea. This is what happens when you throw a Country Mouse into a place like Las Vegas. The visual and auditory overload was insane.

It was dark and I was exhausted by the time I found the parking garage for The Linq. Literally just as I navigated the rental car into a parking slot and turned the engine off, the phone rang again. This time it was Older Daughter, wondering where I was (she had checked into the hotel and done some sightseeing in my absence). We kept connected while I gathered my luggage and went into the hotel, and it's a good thing we had phones because the hotel was massive and I doubt I would have just randomly bumped into her.

Comically, she wanted to attend an avant garde art display in town which didn't close until midnight, but since it would require driving to get there, I put my foot down and said there was absolutely no way I was leaving that parking garage until morning.

Anyway, after I'd calmed down a bit and called Don to apologize for my previous rudeness and describe the harrowing experience of driving in Vegas, Older Daughter and I hit the Strip. I was armed (literally) with a police zapper in one hand, and my camera in the other. No purse, of course.

Considering it was still about 110F out and it was a Sunday night, the sidewalks and streets were absolutely packed with people. I was a little surprised that I felt reasonably safe. There were some skanky elements, of course – a few buff shirtless Chippendales men standing around with mostly naked women, posing for photos; some random guys handing out flyers for prostitutes – but for the most part, it was just people out having a good time.

The one thing that struck me, aside from the lights, was the noise. Between the traffic and music blaring everywhere, it was constantly noisy.

Older Daughter wanted to take me to a shopping complex in Caesar's Palace she had toured earlier.

It was late and the shops were closed by this point, but again the building was full of people doing just what we were doing – gawking – and enjoying some of the restaurants and bars that were still open. (Oh, and taking advantage of the indoor air conditioning.)

Everything was tastefully gaudy, if I could coin a term – ostentatious and over-the-top, but beautifully so. The ceiling, painted to look like the sky, was gorgeous.

We were heading for the "Fountain of the Gods," which turned out to be a huge pool of water filled with Roman sculptures. Honestly, it was pretty cool (in a gaudy sort of way).

After this, we made our way back to the street, heading for The Venetian hotel. Across from us was Harrah's Hotel featuring Donny Osmond (bad placement of the palm trees, sorry).

The Venetian had a moving sidewalk that took us over a faux Venetian bridge.

On the other side, we saw crowds of people lining up against a railing and wondered what they were looking at, since the body of water below was deserted. Turns out we had stumbled onto The Mirage's iconic volcano display.

Inside the Venetian, we saw a "tastefully gaudy" recreation of Venice.

The amount of work that went into the d├ęcor was impressive.

After this, we headed back to the hotel, sated with the sights. At one point we found ourselves walking behind two beautiful women dressed in ... well, not much. "I wonder if they're the advertisement or the product?" I wondered to Older Daughter. She later did a bit of online research and concluded they were the "product," but only as independent contractors to pose for photos (for money, of course) but nothing more. Apparently some of these women were able to earn $1,000 in a night of posing. (Image edited for viewer discretion.)

Here are a couple of feather-decked women chatting up an interested man.

The next morning, we made ready to leave Las Vegas. Here is the view from our hotel room window.

It was still a roasting 106F when we hit the road around 8 am, taking Hwy. 93 through the heart of Nevada. The peaceful emptiness of the desert was a welcome contrast to the showiness of Vegas.

Hour after hour after hour, we drove. The heat gradually lowered to the high 90s.

We stopped in Ely for gas and to swap drivers. I caught a fast glimpse of this Motel 6.

Why is this significant? Well, back in May of 1990 while coming back from our honeymoon touring the southwest, Don contracted food poisoning. We limped through the desert, stopping every few miles so he could empty his system, and finally found ourselves in this roadside shelter, where he spent the entire night violently sick. Ah, memories.

Back on the road, I caught a glimpse of these distant white tent-like structures. Anyone know what they are?

If you see some black dots in the distance, they're horses.

As we approached the northern Nevada border, we found ourselves skirting some rain showers.

We spent the night in Twin Falls, a surprisingly charming city. Tuesday morning we hit the road early and made our way through the Central Idaho mountains, an incredibly scenic area.

At long last, we made it home late on Tuesday. Wednesday was taken up driving the rental car back to the city and returning it, then Thursday I was immediately plunged into the start of my work week.

So that, dear readers, was our drive home. It was good to see baby turkeys, golden grasses, and Queen Anne's Lace lining the roadside.

Thanks for following us on our journey.


  1. There's a Korean girl always camping alone and setting up new kinds of tents in a minute or two on YouTube. Clearly she's selling tents although the videos are not where you can buy them. She's so good at it and they look so comfortable whether in a downpour, or a blizzard, or coast, or wherever. The last time I watched one her tent looked just like those little domes out in the desert. It was double walled so a nice air gap between the walls is part of why the tents always looked comfortable inside regardless of weather.
    So my guess, and it's just a guess, is that they are tents.
    AC's are out there for tents now, so it's quite possible.
    There also looked like they had a propane tank on the back of a truck. Everything is movable. Who knows why, but there my thoughts are.

  2. The solar farm you passed while you were driving is called Ivanpah. My father (who works in the nuclear power industry and is probably biased) likes to point out its controversial history, especially the ruckus that was caused by the discovery that birds were literally being fried as they flew through the intense radiation reflected by the mirrors, as well as the debated reports of how productive it actually had been through its operational history.

    The stacked rocks in the desert are actually an art installation called “Seven Magic Mountains, by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Set up in 2016 and only meant to be on display for 2 years, they have proved such a popular attraction that they have remained up. I saw them on a road trip the year they were set up and thought exactly the same thing you did, something for drivers to look at as they fly through the desert, but apparently many people go visit and take pictures up close.

  3. We had to go to a Dr. appt near downtown Dallas a few weeks ago. God I hate traffic! To think I used to drive in that about twice a week. I went through Las Vegas once about 30 years ago and it was bad. I can only imagine how much worse it is now. Thanks for taking us along and welcome home.

  4. Ivanpah caught fire a few months ago. A mirror aiming problem. Many years ago I visited Solar One, the predecessor to Ivanpah and while touring it a small bird flew through the concentrated beam and died instantly. When we got back on the ground I looked around and there were numerous bird bodies on the ground. The tour guide didn't want to talk about them. Like all commercial solar and wind power it is heavily subsidized and those in the industry like to joke that they are "mining federal subsidies instead of coal". As someone who grew up in the era of Mother Earth News I know that very small scale solar and wind power is practical. But also as someone who has an MBA I can tell you that large scale solar and wind power will never be practical. I wish it could be but the economics just isn't there.

    1. In industry, we call them "Streamers" (sadly) after the little puff and plume of smoke that trails behind them as they plunge to the ground. NATOKADN

  5. In May 2021 my oldest daughter was getting married in AZ. So we went to Las Vegas for the first night. I got out of that city as fast as I could. The hotel was very expensive & didn't even have breakfast. The trip also had Grand Canyon, driving Rt 66, among other great memories. Most important was my daughter's simple wedding ceremony.
    Glad you got home safely
    Debbie in MA

  6. Welcome home Patrice! places like Vegas make you really appreciate the peace and quiet of rural living. I lived near Vegas and went there many times. It is a looney bin. Fun, sorta
    But also the 2nd place thats gonna get the Sodom-and-Gomorrah treatment dinner or later. (D.C. will be 1st). Glad you survived it. Next time bring a gun btw.

  7. Very nice travelogue. Thanks for posting.

  8. Just read the Mirage Volcano is coming to an end - building something else gaudy in it's place. Glad you got to see it. Used to live near the 2 casinos in CT, visited each once but couldn't go back - too many people, too much noise, too many lights - no where to just let my eyes, ears and frankly whole body just be.

  9. The tents could be for range cowboys. My friend does cattle cowboying and they use modern tents like that at the camps, same with some sheep herding. It's common in the deserts of southern Idaho and northern Nevada. Or even your dude ranch style retreats, where rich people get the posh tents while they pretend to be cowboys, also a common thing nowadays.

  10. I enjoyed reading about your journey! Yes, Vegas is... Vegas. The indoor malls, as you mentioned, are quite elaborate and every big-name casino has one. They give the illusion of going outside without having to actually go out. Suffice to say, you won't find any bargains in those malls although they are fun to walk through.

  11. I'm so glad you got to visit your parents and also see the ocean. :) I'm sure you were all blessed by that trip.
    Now, the pics of Vegas make me shudder and reinforce my determination to never step foot in that city. I'm glad you got to spend some nice time with your agent and his wife, though!

  12. You shared so many interesting photos and descriptions. Thank you!

  13. This is from the Yurt website in Ely nevada. "Sweeping views of Steptoe Valley, Egan and Schell Creek mountain ranges and the HQ of Nevada’s glamping scene is the name of the game at Ely’s newest overnight accommodations. Located in historic McGill, minutes from downtown Ely, the Schellraiser campground and yurts originally debuted as part of the Schellraiser Music Festival in June of 2022. Event planners have now made this Uncommon Overnighter available year round, offering primitive campgrounds, fully furnished luxury yurts, and a decked out solar-powered container home every month of the year, and the ultimate basecamp for all your Loneliest Road discoveries."