Early birds once again, last teary hugs from aunts and a short fly down to the other end of California to pick up the car at LAX. Time to hit the road and experiance the glory of america’s wild west. First stop, Las Vegas, ye haa! One problem, Tahn has never driven on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car and through the hell that is Los Angeles’ freeways. Six lanes of extremly fast driving fury. We escaped the hours of freeway doom with only a scratch down one side of the car. The nice policeman said this happens several thousand times a day. No surprise there. After a nervy start things got a little more colorfull as we drove further into the desert leaving city woes behind. The most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen was in a full double bow across the road. But wait a sec. Is that rain? Soon we were driving in heavy rain, at night, through the desert.
We finally reached the flashy lights of our destination, going from wet blackness to an explosion of colored advertisements. Navigating to our hotel “the Stratisphere” right at the end of the Strip, we dumped our stuff and went for an exploration. But it was still raining, alot, not many people were out and we were very tired from the days events. We didn’t make it up to the main part of the strip, so after we fed some dollars into boring flashy machines we called it a day. The next morning we awoke to a beautiful day, sat in the room with a ream of advertising and Vegas guides to plan the days attack. We decided that since we don’t particularly like giving money away for the flash of some LED’s we would try to see all the free attractions and one big show. We chanced upon one of the many discount ticket booths, bought our way into what was to be the highlight of our visit and made our way to the far end of ‘the Strip.’ At the end we are greeted by a gigantic casino in the shape of a fairytale castle, complete with turrets. Next door, New York, New York had a crazy rollercoaster weaving in and out of its buildings and we fed some coins to machines which were actually fun. That’s right! Arcade games! Emmily even won some tickets before realising they were worthless. We made our way accross a giant bridge into a robotic rainforest, with snakes, aligators, butterflys etc… Of course all adorenment for a souvenir store. Inside was also a habitat for lions, small and concrete, but better than it’s Thai counterpart we had seen on our honeymoon.
Next we made our way to a building which was, shock horror, not a casino! The only building on the strip which could boast this. Instead it was a mall! Amazing architecture though, built like shards of crystal sticking out of the pavement. Inside were poles of shimmering, colored ice. Large cylinders encasing rainbow whirlpools and a huge wood and brass structure like the mishapen ribs of a whale. Wandering accross more bridges spanning the busy main street we wandered into a garden filled with Flamingos, Swans and Ibis’s. A meticulous reconstruction of Venice… Inside!! A large aquarium inside Caeser’s Palace, a casino filled with statues of Greek Gods. Next door a huge replica of the Eifel Tower, it’s struts penetrating rooms upon rooms of gambling. It was getting dark and we went in search of food, all the while being harrased by flicky booby-card guys in flurescent shirts. We noticed that everyone had large plastic tubes of margharita and decided it was our duty to do the same. The food was all trashy, apart from the upscale restaraunts far beyond our wallets. We decided on a hotdog place with large tubes of margharita shaped like a hotdog. Classic Vegas.
After a belly full of hotdog and margherita we’d had enough of the same reapeted theam of all the casinos, being large gambling floor, expensive shops with only the most exclusive brands and some gimick or other. But there was still plenty to see outside and it was nearly time for our show. The one free show which we were told we had to see was the Belagio fountains. In front of the Belagio casino is a huge lake. Stretching a city block accross, framing the palacial building itself. We took up position on the edge and waited. It was a precisely choreographed water show which used the whole area of the lake. Swaying motorized beams of water dancing to the music with giant crashes to emphasize the important moments shooting a torrent of water as high as the building behind it. Impressive stuff. Next to belagio was a vulcano show with large jets of flame and smoke. Lastly was the renowned pirate show at Treasure Island. We took up a descent position in front of the large as life pirate ship and waited. Both horrifying and astounding it was a show filled with swashbuckling action, pun laden sexual inuendo, crazy pirotechnics and robotics.
From the pirates we went on to see our show. Mystere by Cirque du Soleil. We had bought the cheap tickets as they were expensive anyway and our budget was tight. All the while thinking we would be stuck with horrible seats. The theatre was quite amazing in itself, with a semi-circle of seating surrounding an intricate stage. Complete with tiers, large mechanical structures and a pit in the centre. We made our way into the theatre and found that our seats were right against the stage about four rows up from floor level. They were perfect, afording us a view of the back of the stage as well as all the central action. In fact we found that we were able to interact with the performers, with some climbing over us from the edge of the stage. The show was classic Cirque du Soleil, magical costumes, fantastic circus tricks and awe inspiring stage mechanics. All the music for the show was created from the teirs lining the side of the stage, drummers, singers, strings, woodwind, brass and you name it. A Giant snail, a hilarious adult baby, crowd participation and wonderful aerial feats. All the creatures were meticulously choreographed to become far from human, each movement fitting that species. The show surpassed all expectations, a great way to end a full on and exhausting day.
We decided to leave the next day and head on into Arazona. Vegas was amazing, but the shire magnitude of money pooled into nothing but excess can leave a bad taste. Our next plan of attack was to head to a town close to the Grand Canyon for an easy trip there the next day. A nice surprise along the way was a crossing of the Hoover dam. When I first saw signs I wasn’t much impressed, how interesting could a dam be? But settled into a beautiful canyonous country, with roads intertwining the cliffs, the Hoover dam was large and impressive, giant construction was also going on around it adding to the spectical. Plans became a little hinded when we found ourself in a snow storm. What? snow! We thought this was the desert. Things got a little scary especially when it got dark. Seeing and steering becoming almost impossible so we turned off the freeway and found our selves in a little town called Williams on the old historical rout 66. Cheap lodging was easy to find and after wading not to far in the cold we found a cute, and most importantly warm, little country eatery.
The next morning we were told the weather wouldn’t clear up till late so we decided to put off the Grand Canyon till the next day. After nearly freezing our hands off clearing the snow piled on the car we headed to Flagstaff. On our way there our friend Brian called us and said he was on his way back to LA from New mexico and would be stopping over in Flagstaff for the night. Love them crazy coincidences. So we planned to meet up when he got into town. Not wanting to completely waste our day we drove out to the Museum of Northern Arizona, a pretty building amongst the pines with softly drifting snow coming down in gentle drifts. The museum had a good rundown of the indigenous history of the region. A lot on the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo tribes, including history, weavings, pottery and our favorites the Hopi Kachina dolls. Each doll used for ceremonial purposes and depicting a different ‘spirit.’ Children grow up with the belief that each doll or man in ceremonial costume is a spirit. Each doll is alive to them until they come of age and are inducted into the making of the dolls or the ceremonies themselves.
After the museum and a wander around town looking at art galleries we headed to our cheap hotel for some warmth, unfortunately their computer was down, the booking lost in the storm and so were cast once more into the icy world. With a clear patch surrounding us we decided to go for a walk into town to look at some more galleries. This all went well until we had waited an hour and decided to head back. The snow began to fall, heavily, and we became living snow men. With snow piling on our heads, covering our clothes and forming crude shelters in Dotahn’s facial hair. It had turned from being a romantic fluttering to a pain in the ass. With a brush, a shake and a disgruntled look the man at the hotel gave us the keys and agreed to let us know if the booking had gone through the next day. So we huddled in the warmth and thawed our snowy selves until Brian showed up after a nice eight hours straight of driving. We decided to go out for dinner, his treat, picking a nice sounding country home-style place a short walk away. Upon arrival we realised we should have perhaps taken better notice of the pricing scale. The restaurant was at the upper end of the scale, but entranced by the warmth and the cute remodeled cottage environment we decided to stay. With some of the best and most interactive waitering we had ever encountered and a quirky pyjama bottomed chef, the restaurant was amazing. A carrot soup with an incredible depth, Caeser salad prepared from scratch at table-side, Australian lamb which was perfection and a chocolate cake of doom. Not to mention excellent company and conversation we fell asleep contented.
The next morning we were greeted with a sunny day as promised and hit the road without delay. The sun hadn’t quite had the time to melt the ice and the roads were still treacherous, but we made it to the Grand Canyon without incident. Our time was limited and so we decided to simply walk along the rim rather than down into the canyon. The Grand Canyon, so aptly named, is almost too hard to take in at once. No one point of view can encompass the scale of this beautiful natural monument. I became frustrated with my camera as it just would not do this geological phenomenon justice. It was strange how the snowy edges of the rim contrasted with the layered red desert sand within. We had no idea it snowed at the canyon, expectations of dry dirt disappeared as we trampled through the snow and gazed with owe. A highlight of the day was when we stumbled across two people, flute and stringed instrument in hand, playing and singing to the Canyon. Yelling out “I love you!” into the giant hole in the ground. A few moments were taken just to listen.
Lunch time came round for it’s turn in the day and we drove to the nearest town for another diner experience. Then came a brief moment of goodbyes with the knowledge we would see Brian again very soon. With a few more hours in the day we headed on to the Navajo Reservation nearby. Stopping to look at jewellery and pottery stalls they had set up along the road.
The next day we set out for Sedona, a destination recommended to us by Aunt Sue’s boyfriend Michael. The drive was extraordinary, a twisted canyon road winding around cliffs. The piny crags soon turned to red rock boulders, large intricate formations in stone. After much twisting and turning we arrived in Sedona. The new age haven of Arizona. Surrounded by stunning scenery, Sedona is said to be the site of many ‘vortexes,’ or sites of natural spiritual power. First off we explored a small artists village/market called Tlaquepaque, a series of galleries and shops in the style of a mexican villa. Not only a Mecca for new age spiritualists, Sedona also has more artists per capita than the rest of America. Upon the site of one of these ‘vortexes’, Frank Lloyd Wright had constructed a church. Built into the side of a red rock mountain, the church was a wonder. A huge cross of concrete and glass jutting out over the valley below.
With more than our share of processed food and corn syrup building up we decided to go for a hike. We drove around for a while in search of the site of a vortex and decided to stop at a walk heading up to a huge rock formation called ‘Cathedral Rock’. A beautiful walk winding up rapidly through the stone and ending abruptly atop a plateau overlooking the valley. After overcoming an urge to give up or vomit with exertion we made it to the peak. It was well worth the effort.
After gleaning our fill of more galleries and souvenir shops we headed to a nearby town to spend the night. To compensate for the exertion of the day, Dotahn elected to have a Chimichunga for dinner, otherwise known as a gigantic deep fried burrito. Needless to say he was very pleased with the decision. The next morning the road beckoned and we headed once more into the mountains, to Montezuma’s Castle. A ruin of an ancient civilisation, lost either to time or the ever expanding Navajo, the castle was a ruin of a town built into the side of a sheer cliff face.
From there we headed to Jerome, a less touristy artistic hideaway in the hills. After the quick decline following a mining boom in the area, a group of hippies recolonised Jerome. A quaint town high in the hills, it plays host to many an artist and some interesting shops. The highlight being a shop of burlesque relics, old bordello trinkets and oddities from the war.
With the food of the road burning a hole in our stomach’s we drove on and on.
Taking the scenic route to skip the snow we finally encountered the real desert of cowboys and plains. Large, iconic San Pedro cacti, tumbleweed and dust. The only stop for a drink and the restroom in a town which was only a diner. Upon entering through a creaking screen door we were met by a large ominous fellow. “If you’re lookin’ for trouble, you’ve come to the right place.” He said looking me in the eye. Ominous pause…. “Just kiddin’” he said with a smile.
With the traffic increasing to a roar and the sun setting on the horizon we joined the masses with the lights of LA in our eyes. Late that evening we swung into Brian’s driveway to a warm reunion of friends and a much needed rest.
The next day we arose to pancakes and headed once more into the thick of LA traffic to attend the ‘Aussie Barbecue’ with Tom and Nina. A swathe of Australian bands and a “truly Australian” barbecue cooked by a small unintelligible Mexican man. It was good to unwind and bask in the company of friends. Next thing we knew we were packing our bags and savouring the few hours sleep before awakening once more to night morning and returning to our beloved LAX to end our days in the US of A.