Rose with the dawn to the chorus of sparrows - it looks as though my biological clock has already adjusted. Today we boarded the car and headed out of LA, across the desert - final destination = Vegas.
First stop, however, is Victorville. A small, flat desert city that is seperated from the urban sprawl of the LA metropolis by hilly desert terrain - the land is dry, rolling hills covered in short, hardy bushes.
Arriving at lunch we met up with Locke at Ritchies Diner, chosing this small American diner over its neighbouring Dennys. They're both chains, but this one has the old school American charm - booths, checkered table mats, food served in wicker baskets. Locke is a little late arriving, due to issues with communication (ie: my NZ cellphone did not work properly, that is to say, at all). So we began with malt shakes, while we waited for her arrival. My meal - when I ordered it, was a vege burger bursting with lettuce, onion, tomato and came in its basket nestled together with crispy brown fries. Our conversation was a little stilted at first, as my first AFAer to meet in person (this trip, at least) we were both a wee bit shy.
At Locke's advice we visited Target to acquire a cell phone - a $20 Nokia that closely resembles a cheap version of my NZ one but has the handy advantage of a conversion function - good for when we want to know how hot it is really. Then we begin off along the old Route 66.
It does look largely abandoned now - barren, desert landscape with the occasional, sometimes abandoned, home. Hills that look like piles of stones. After heading this way for some time, we come across our first Roadside attraction (and one that I knew was here), the Bottle Tree Ranch rises from the desert like a strange glass forest. It is small, probably no larger than the average backyard and both surreal and slightly eerie. Wind whistles through the mouths of the bottles, drowned out by the chirping of sparrows - these adaptable birds seem to love the place, artificial forest or not. Skulls, bones and old machinery add a touch of the macabre.
We continue onwards along the largely empty Route 66, finally returning to the freeway and making our way across the Mohave desert. It is barren and desolate, dry as a bione and pocketed with alkaline (soda) lakes, stubby bushes and the occasional patch of the quirky Joshua tree. The broken carcasses of tyres littler the roadside, lying at rest under billboards proclaiming "no littering" or advertising casinos, or occasionally, God. We are warned to turn off our air conditioning as we climb the rises, to avoid overheating. A silver camry takes it all in stride, however and handles the conditions well.
Then, the Nevada border looms before us and sitting above a shimmering mirage is the township of Primm, rising over the barren wilderness in surreal glory, almost a mirage of its own, albeit the mirage imagined by a madman. A castle looms on one side of the road, a great red barn (complete with rollercoaster) on the other, and beside it rests a shopping mall, complete with gigantic billboards. Food venues cluster around the parking long litle little parasites. Right on the border, so the people of California do not have to drive all the way to Vegas and Reno to gamble. It is weird, and somewhat tacky.
Then it is back into the desertland, framed by mountain peaks we travel up around 4000 feet above sea level and finally we see it before us, through a gap in the peaks - the first view of the high rises of Vegas. As soon as we exit the freeway we enter into note-to-tail traffic, and must sit stationary whilst beside us the Bellagio fountains shoot in all their glory. If you have to be stuck in traffic, well here is the place to be! After some difficulty we manage to make a U-turn and head down to Downtown and our accomodation for tonight, The Gold Nugget. This is one of the original casinos of Vegas and it is plush and elaborate. Walking in, we at first feel a little out of place with the high ceilings, chandeliers and sheer affluence of the place. The fellows with mohawks and band t-shirts look absurd, more so than us in our t-shirts and shorts, and we realise quickly that here, anything goes. It later turns out that there is a Punk Bowling Weekend on. Only in Vegas. Our room is in the Carson tower, and we have two double beds, fridge, table, chairs and a mirror with a touch-activated light. The beds are sertas, and far too comfortable.
After unpacking and unwinding we venture down into the Fremont Street Experience - and what an experience! It is the Rock of Vegas, meaning that I feel as though I have stepped back into the 80s. Alas, we arrived at the wrong time to see Nikki Six, and too early for Warrant, Skid Row, Dee Snider and any of the other icons that are making a comeback over the next month, but the cover bands are decent - albeit LOUD and the people watching is most entertaining. There are half-naked indians, pirates, superheroes etc wandering amongst those dressed in suits, LBDs, band t-shirts and children - it is truly like a melting pot for all walks of life. There is neon everywhere, and an immense screen above us broadcasts the hits of Bon Jovi on what must be the largest tv screen in the world. At eeach end, spray paint artists whip up amazing landscapes within minutes, using a combination of layering and scraping. There are people sketching caricatures, sculpting faces. There are dogs, a rabbit. Occasionally a flying fox whirls overhead, pepole clutching tight to their rides - some looking excited, others looking a little freaked out.
The large lunch, excitement and the desert heat have stolen our appetite and a piece of pizza and a smoothie from one of the many food vendors is more than sufficient. We return to our room to tune into the radio and find a show hosted by Alice Cooper.
Ya gotta love Vegas!