Before we get on to Las Vegas, let’s just mention The Hoover Dam, which sits on the Colorado River just outside the city and is one of the engineering wonders of the world. Built in the 1930’s in the fierce desert heat (ahead of schedule and under budget), the dam provides flood regulation and hydro-electric power for three states, and created the spectacular Lake Mead reservoir. The scale of the dam made it an awe-inspiring sight; the art-deco features actually made it quite beautiful as well, a pleasant balance of aesthetics and practical human ingenuity. Something that can’t really be said of our next stop…

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I’m not sure if Las Vegas is the most ridiculously fantastic place on the planet, or the most tragically superficial and shallow – perhaps it’s both… How best to describe The Strip, that 4 miles of gaudy, neon-powered, over-extravagant nonsense? Where you can see the Statue of Liberty, a flashing Great Pyramid, dancing fountains, a monstrous volcano eruption, the Eifel Tower, giant chandeliers, and huge indoor flower gardens all within the one night… Where you can dine in a rainforest café where a tropical storm blows in every 30mins on the dot, or in the splendour of a permanent Venetian evening, where even the security guards are dressed as Italian Carabinieri… And we haven’t even got on to the miles of gaming floors, bars, clubs and show venues, where you might be able to fit in Penn and Teller, Cher, Rod Stewart and the Billboard Top 40 Music Awards all in one weekend…

Vegas is an experience like no other – it literally felt like being in a weird alternate universe, disassociated from reality for a couple of strange days; where as we drove out we felt relief that somehow we were returning to normality, but at the same time I’m not sure I have felt as sad leaving a place yet on this trip. As I said, weird…

It probably helped that we stayed on the 36th floor of one of the more salubrious hotels, and that we enjoyed the pool and the restaurants, and wandering wide-eyed through the gaming halls. It was a fantastic place to people-watch, and it was interesting to see the different types of crowds drawn to each casino, from the tired-looking Excalibur and Luxor with their, how to say, less trendy guests, to the upmarket Cosmopolitan and Bellagio, with high rollers dropping thousands of dollars with every turn of card or spin of wheel.

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The complete opposite to the attractions of Vegas are undoubtedly to be found in America’s National and State Parks, and we left the luxury of heated pools and room service for a few weeks of hiking and camping through some of the finest scenery the country has to offer. We had handed back our rental sedan in Vegas and picked up our home for the next 5 months – a Ford van converted into a camper, with subtle artwork on the side. The big-hitters of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and, of course, the Grand Canyon, are to come.

But first we headed up to a small Nevada State Park at Cathedral Gorge. Here was another unusual phenomenon, a strange group of rocks that reminded the locals of the big European cathedrals. The rock had eroded into tiny mini-caverns, so you could walk in tight spaces amongst them, while they towered up above like fingers reaching for the sky. It was very cool, and a small taste of the wonders we hope are to come.

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  • Elizabeth says:
    June 8, 2014 at 3:04 am Reply

    Love this entry Dave, & Kirralee the photography is stunning.
    I’m not sure about being battered by a tropical storm every 30min while I’m eat though, a real storm….rain, wind etc or maybe I’m being too literal??
    I LOVE YOUR VAN with its subtle artwork…can we have some pictures of its interior?
    At least it will be easily spotted in the car park!
    All good this end, a mild winter so far & not much rain.
    Lots of love,
    PS. Love your journaling, both written & pictorial….keep it up; I’m enjoying the trip!

  • I am now catching up on the rest of your blog posts. I spent one night in Vegas and only drove down part of the strip as opposed to even going into a casino. That was enough for me! I stayed with friends of friends… and they relayed to me that the grocery stores and even convenient stores all have slot machines in them – anywhere in Vegas. Crazy!

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