Who wins in Vegas? Not us, and not many of the 30M punters who come here every year. However, we did manage to have a good time and escape with only limited damage.
Leaving Las Vegas and heading into the Mojave Desert we were amazed at the natural beauty of the desert. Most visitors to Vegas probably never see more than the neon lights and the closest they come to the desert is a dirt car park. They are missing a spectacular part of the US.
Hoover Dam, just outside Vegas, provides the life-blood that allows the rapidly growing city of Las Vegas to exist. Completed in 1935 as a project to create employment during the Depression, the dam provides not only water but also power to five states.
The desert changes as we cross every ridge, rugged gorges one minute, rocky plains with tumbleweeds and stunted shrubs the next. To top it off, we were treated to a dust storm, just as we drove into the old mining ghost town of Chloride, Arizona. The town today is only a couple of stone buildings surrounded by a rubble of old shacks and the ever-present trailer settlements.
Climbing into the high desert late in the afternoon, the temperature at last dropped back to something like winter! It was 22C in Las Vegas this morning and further west in LA it was in the high 20s C. Tonight we are in the small desert town of Williams which is a stepping-off town for the Grand Canyon. The town is on what once was described as America’s main street, Route 66! There is not much left of the old Route 66, most of it has disappeared under Interstate 40. The small portions that are left are being preserved as part of the nation’s heritage. We will travel the last remaining long stretch in a few days when we head west again into California.
It snowed here last night and also up at the canyon, so we are looking forward to seeing (and feeling) a bit more of the cooler weather we escaped a Brisbane summer to find.
Anything that can silence the generally exuberant (and LOUD) American travellers must be special.
Most of those around us, including the stereotypical ‘ugly Americans’, were silenced as we first sighted the Grand Canyon. On a day which was generally accepted as the ‘best you could get!’, we were at least as impressed as the locals. Any attempt to describe the canyon would simply be a waste of words. We roamed, open-mouthed, from view-point to view point along the canyon’s rim for most of the day. Then to top it off, we headed for Flagstaff through the Navajo Nation and the Painted Desert.
Sadly, the Indian settlements along our way were less than attractive.
The deserts of Arizona seem to change with every highway turn. Flat to the horizon one minute, coloured, rolling hills the next, then craggy hills and mountains. We have driven through many hundreds of miles of the Mojave Desert in the past two days with never a dull moment. Most of these miles were travelled along the famous Route 66.
From the early 1920s to the late 1950s, this was the main road from Chicago to Los Angeles. ‘Main’ being the operative word. Its nostalgic importance to Americans goes well beyond its link with the 1960s TV show. Route 66 became known as the Main Street of America, as it passed through the main street of hundreds of towns and cities as it crossed the nation.
As dust storms turned much of the Great Plains into a desert waste land during the ‘20s, thousands of poor farmers abandoned their land, loaded their Model Ts with all their transportable belongings and headed for California along Route 66. Later, in the 1930s, the flow was somewhat in the other direction. The nouveau riche of the Los Angeles movie set cruised the highway east. The ‘ghost town’ of Oakman, some 400kms from Los Angeles for example, was all the rage with the super-stars of the 30s. Gable and Lombard were married here and today, the room in which they spent their honeymoon in the town’s old adobe hotel, is part of the razzle dazzle that draws thousands of tourists here every day.
By the mid 1940s, the traffic became mostly military as troops and equipment rolled west to support the Pacific War. From then on, the route declined or was turned into double lane road as the Interstate Highway system was constructed. The remaining stretches of Route 66 have now been preserved and the few small towns along the highway are, like Oakman, quickly learning how to exploit the tourist $.
Irrespective of what atrocities are perpetrated in the name of tourism by the dying towns along the highway, nothing can diminish the natural beauty of these parts of Arizona and California.