Thursday, December 26, 2002
When we rose the next morning and opened the door, sure enough we DID have the best view in Kingman! Of course, that wasn't saying much - it wasn't a particularly lovely town I'm afraid.
The Yellow Pages yielded an interesting sounding breakfast joint that was right down the road - Cheryl Ann's Bakery. Breakfast was divine with homemade pastries and baked goods alongside some worthy examples of the usual breakfast favorites. It's the sort of place that causes you to ritualistically patrol the streets of little towns you pass through, certain you'll find a transcendental culinary experience if you look carefully enough.
It was early in the day, so we figured we could take the long road to our ultimate destinations: the Grand Canyon and Vegas. In one of his rigorous examinations of the map, Dave had noticed that the London Bridge was installed in a town just to the south of us called Lake Havasu City. It seemed worth the diversion, both of us imagining that it would be surreal and ironic to witness the juxtaposition of an historic English bridge in the setting of the great America West. Bunch of hogwash. We drove down there and it was a bust. The city was curious in a creepy way, comprised mostly of recently built extremely expensive homes. We guessed it might be a retirement mecca after we started seeing row after row of RVs. Turns out it's a big Spring Break destination for some reason. With an unremarkable brick bridge adjacent to a tudor style hotel called the London Bridge Inn. Whoopee! I'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than return to Lake Havasu, personally. The one notable thing we saw was at the foot of the so called London Bridge was a statue of two dorks in suits, looking at blueprints. I wonder if they've thought to put an image of that on a jigger glass? What about the "My sister went to Lake Havasu and all I got..." t-shirt?
Sadder, but wiser, we turned the car back north to head for greener pastures. Humming along the interstate, we saw an amazing sight and pulled over immediately to gawk. Right there on the feeder road of a major interstate, someone had built a giant (30, 40 feet tall?) geodesic sphere and made it into a home. It was painted butter yellow and included little geometric window panels. A long spiraling walkway extended from what must have been the front door down to the ground. The walkway was wide and dotted with chairs for soaking up the Arizona sun. From three different points on the walkway handrail there sprouted three large arms, each supporting a saucer-shaped spacecraft so it hovered effortlessly above the ground. Each of the spaceships was about 5-7 feet in diameter, detailed and finely crafted. One of them looked as though it might actually move up and down on its support arm. The property was clearly marked as a private residence, so we didn't feel comfortable poking around or taking pictures. But I can state with confidence that the residents of that home were definitely from my planet.
The spaceship sightings lifted our spirits and we set off toward the Grand Canyon. We carefully followed the roads the truck stop waitress had shown us, and after passing through a couple of small towns (one of which was home to the wildly popular watering hole "Critters") we arrived at the dirt road that would lead us to the west rim of the canyon. One of the reasons the waitress had recommended this road was because it winds its way through an enormous Joshua Tree Forest. Now, the Joshua Tree is not a particularly attractive cactus:
Photo credit: photo.net/photo/
so imagine thousands upon thousands of them, spaced about 10-12 feet apart, as far as the eye can see. It made for an amazing sight that wasn't just couldn't be captured by a camera. Lord knows I tried, but the photos didn't come close to relating how eerie it looked so I ditched them.
Meanwhile, both of us began to worry silently to ourselves. The road was in pitiful driving condition and Dave had to slow down to 10 or 15 miles an hour to make it so that our teeth didn't rattle out of our heads. In places, it had been roughly graded so that driving over it was like riding over washboards. We went an agonizingly long distance and blanched in terror when we saw the first of the hideous mileage signs: 21 miles left to the west rim!. We had only gone 3 miles and it had taken an eternity - going 21 more miles was torturous to imagine. We didn't have much more sunlight, and if we going to have to continue at this pace, it would surely be dark by the time we got there! Dave skillfully found the path of least resistance and surfed along at a somewhat faster clip as he got used to the road. We passed precious few cars since this road led to the observation point only, so Dave began driving in the middle of the road when that turned out to be the smoothest portion. We went along, counting down the miles, each secretly fretting that we were making a mistake and should turn back. And just about the time we were both ready to give up and suggest abandoning the journey, like a miracle, a stetch of asphalt road appeared out of nowhere! It felt as smooth as satin. In fact a cattle guard we went over shortly after gaining the asphalt made us laugh at how radical a recalibration we had undergone. We made good time on the paved stretch and had just a few miles left to cover when the road returned to the familiar gravel washboard we had learned to loathe. When we finally pulled into the viewing area we found that it was really just a large parking lot at the canyon's edge. There weren't any guardrails, you just parked as close to the rim as you dared.
We parked the car and CAREFULLY applied the parking brake. From the back, we unloaded some wonderful old hokey stools that had belonged to Dave's dad, picked out some tasty snacks, and set out to see us a damn canyon. We found a flat place and set the stools up so we could look out over the canyon, saturated by the light of the setting sun. We drank ice cold orange juice and ate dark chocolate espresso malted milk balls in stunned silence. Few moments are as perfect as this.
Dave whipped out his binoculars to hone in on the numerous helicopters we could hear flying about the canyon, but could not see.
We figured they'd appear suddenly, emerging from behind one of the bends in the river below. When Dave was finally able to train his glasses on one of them, we were stunned to discover how tiny they were. It jerked the scale of the place violently from its moorings. Dave cried out in surprise when he discovered 2 helicopters that had been directly below us the whole time - they were just so tiny they weren't detectable!
As the sun threatened to set, all the helicopters (we counted 8 at one time) set off toward their home base and left the area in utter silence. Meanwhile, we had been studying the layout of the area and discovered a well worn trail leading down to a much lower vantage point. It was getting close to dark, so Dave and I retrieved our head lamps from the car and put on an extra jacket before heading down the path. We quickly made our way to an breath-taking promontory that allowed a whole new vista. When we located a safe perch, we stood in silence for quite a few moments - no sound other than the air moving past our ears audible.
When we could absorb no more beauty and serenity, we headed back up the hill to the parking lot. When we arrived there, the last rays of the setting sun were dropping beneath the horizon and we found that we were the only people left there. I chirped with glee when I noticed that there was a sun dog perched on the left side of the horizon. I tried to capture it with the camera, but it's not very obvious: look between the orange spot on the left side of the picture and the sun, right above the horizon line. See the multi-hued bar of light about halfway? That's the dog right there. If you're lucky, you get an identical dog on the right (not in this manifestation, I'm afraid). It happens when the sun shows through ice crystals in the atmosphere, but the crystals of ice must be aligned in precisely the same angle and blah, blah, blah. All the non-weather geeks are snoring. They're cool, nonetheless. The sun dogs, that is.
We rolled quietly away for the parking lot after several more moments of peaceful silence, just as the last of the light was fading from the sky. Since there were no electric lights anywhere ever remotely nearby, when dark fell, it fell fast and it fell deep. I had been hoping that we would reach the edge of the Joshua Tree forest in time to see the last streaks of orange as background to the odd forms of the cactii silhouetted. It seemed as though we had reached the first signs of the grove too late, since it was dark enough to see stars in the moon roof above our heads. When we realized how beautiful the stars were, Dave stopped the car in the middle of the road and turned off the engine and the lights. It felt odd to be stopped there, even knowing that we were bringing up the rear. The chances of a car coming the other way were infinitesimal. When we emerged from the car into the dark, we beheld a glorious sight in the distance: a color saturated sunset that began with a vivid tangerine at the base and ended in deepest cobalt blue dotted with twinkling stars at the top. Unreal in it's perfection and beauty. Dave had the skill and pluck to capture it so beautifully:
When we climbed back in the car, we made the mental shift and were ready to be on our way to civilization. We sped on toward Hoover Dam over the same rough road we had suffered over earlier. It was almost a relief to see the lights of "Critters" once again. In no time, though, we were on the smooth state highway, barreling toward Vegas.
Because of "heightened security" (oy vey) roadblocks have been set up on each side of the dam, about 5 miles before you get to the dam itself. We joined a fast moving line at the blockade and were quickly waved through by a cute policeman. Some security check. The cruiser was packed to the ceiling. Shouldn't complain though, should I?
When we got to the dam, we stopped at each of the observation points to take in the view. It was night, so there was little light except for gentle sodium vapor lamps reflected on the rippling water on the high side of the dam. The low side of the dam wasn't really visible, especially since the one observation point which looked out on that side was closed. In the end, it only took a moment to drive over, but it sure as hell looked cool.
After the dam, it didn't take long at all to top a hill and see the glow of Vegas in the distance. I was driving, and Dave navigated me down to the strip for my first gander at Vegas. Considering how anti-capitalistic I have been this year, it was overwhelming to ride down those several miles of money. It was both marvelous and disgusting. The colors and the scale mesmerized me. Dave called our friend Dottie, hostess of the universe, to find out what hotels we should try and stay in. Dottie quickly settled on the Stardust, so we headed there. They were full for the night (which is a pretty mind boggling concept itself - those hotels are so huge) and we found that several of the other places we checked nearby were full as well. So we inquired at the lovely La Concha Motel. How could you not love a place with a Office that looks like this:
Photo by Amy Beth Bennett
Paydirt! Seedy, but characterologically delicious, and most importantly cheap! We settled into our room quickly, and Dave pulled out the Yellow Pages for some entertainment. He flipped to the Escort section, and read the ads aloud.
The ones that got our attention were the Budget Blondes (is that something you really want to go the budget route on?), and the ad for the mother-daughter team. There were hundreds of ads, catering to every whim imaginable. Amazing. When we'd had our fill, we set out to the Strip in search of some dinner and found a sushi restaurant in the Stardust (right across from La Concha) where we dined on the first exotic food we'd had in a restaurant in days. It was delicious. The miso soup was especially satisfying. We milled about in the casinos a bit after dinner. I started with a $10, played quarter slots, and left with about $30 bucks. By four, we were pretty wiped out, so we trudged back to our highly decorated room and fell into bed for a short rest.