St. George, UT to the Valley of Fire State Park to Las Vegas, NV
16.03.2016 - 17.03.2016
I've always loved sleeping in late, but I'd never appreciated it more than this morning when I woke up around 10am in a cozy motel bed, finally well-rested for the first time the whole trip. We took our time getting ready and heading out today, since our only planned stop was Las Vegas a few hours away (which wouldn't really be exciting until late evening).
The drive started off dull, an endless straight road through the desert with very little to look at along the way. Fortunately, we decided to take a minor detour and follow signs towards the Valley of Fire State Park which was supposedly a scenic hiking spot hidden somewhere along the barren landscape.
Suddenly, enormous and porous red sandstone formations began to rise up all around us. It was as if we had been transported to another planet, the natural red skyscrapers definitely didn't belong in the same area as the flat and unsaturated lands we had been driving through only minutes prior. We pulled over at the first picnic table area in the park to get a better look.
The rocks, we later learned were rare Aztec sandstone, were strangely smooth to the touch and the pores were large enough to use as handholds for a little rock climbing (although scaling the monstrous walls was definitely harder than it looked).
It was ridiculously hot today but, even with nothing to shade us from the glaring sun, we still spent hours hiking the sandy trails.
Vivid yellow wildflowers (my favorite) surrounded the visitor center and added a little life to the sandy desert. Even better, we came across dozens of small lizards basking in the sun around the park and took the opportunity to connect with nature by chasing them with our cameras.
We were shocked to find out that the infertile and dry area was once inhabited by the ancient Anasazi people. While they have long since relocated, their culture remains immortalized in petroglyph art carved into sandstone formations all over the park.
Most of the petroglyphs we saw were visible along the hiking trails, but we also found a staircase against an enormous rock structure which featured even more complex carvings at the very top.
After a long afternoon hiking in desert, we left the park satisfied with our spontaneous nature expedition and ready to explore an even more bizarre place: the Las Vegas strip.
The city was nothing more than an artificial oasis in the heart of a desert wasteland, but we eagerly watched it grow larger and more interesting as we approached. We had some time before nightfall and briefly toured the Vegas outlet mall before heading to our hotel room in the Palace Station casino resort. I decided to leave my camera in the hotel out of fear of losing it, so all photos from here on out will be low quality cellphone images (sorry!)
Tian, not really a city person, decided to stay in the hotel that night to catch up on rest and work instead of exploring the strip, turning my Vegas adventure into a solo trip. I washed the sand out of my hair and tried to make myself presentable, dressing in the only heels and skirt I had packed and cursing myself for forgetting to bring nicer clothes.
It was just before 10pm when I left the hotel; unfortunately, I didn't realize our hotel was a 1.5 mile walk from the strip, and the way there took me directly through an insanely sketchy part of town entirely uninhabited spare for the occasional car driving past, and every driver made sure to offer me a ride. Thanks to my speedy walking pace and pepper spray held high, I made it to the strip safely.
New to the Vegas thing, I went into the infamous Palazzo casino hotel to try to get a drink and mull over my options. I have never been in a more luxurious building; gorgeous fountains were in the center of enormous halls filled with people in formal attire chatting over glasses of champagne. I wandered through the casino hoping to find a bar to no avail. Lost and much too sober, I wandered down the strip a bit further before stopping in another casino where I could see the bar from the outside. I was happy to find that in Vegas it's legal to walk down the street with an open container of alcohol, so nothing inhibited me from spending the rest of the night wandering up and down the strip with my drink in hand, gazing up at the neon castles around me.
Sadly, I couldn't take too many photos in order to preserve battery life, but the night unfolded into something wild and beautiful. I met dozens of fascinating people, all of whom were eager to drink or smoke with me while I begged them to teach me the rules for the card games. I had a lucky habit of encountering other University of Michigan alumni, who looked out for me almost like I was a family member. Even though I was wandering the city alone, there was never a moment I felt lonely or threatened. Vegas was hands down the friendliest and most lively city I've ever been to, and I gladly spent most of my time exploring outside rather than in a bar or gambling the night away.
Men in club uniforms had been giving me wristbands to various nightclubs all night but I hadn't really paid attention to them until, after some desperate attempts to get to the top of Vegas' Eiffel Tower, I realized one of the dozens of bands around my wrist was for the nightclub on a platform halfway to the top. It would do. I ended the night in the most stereotypical Vegas way: at a Pitbull afterparty, on a fake Paris monument, drunk and badly dancing with a nerdy group of German tourists, bonding over our mutual Vegas culture shock.
I didn't get back to my hotel until early morning, hungover and exhausted...just in time to leave for Death Valley.