Days 9-10. 1/19/2016 – 1/20/2016. Starting Odometer: 143806. Final Odometer: 143993. Mileage: 187. Total Mileage 1827.
I said goodbye to Las Vegas with a heavy heart. I love the city. I love its energy, its lack of inhibition, its lies and promises, how easily it breaks hearts, how quickly it raises moods and crushes souls. The adrenaline rush is like no other, and in another life, I would have ended the road trip right here in a massive blaze of glory ending in a fiery crash at the end of a drunken orgy of blackjack, hookers and whiskey.
Truth be told, I almost did that anyway. At day’s end, a wild night of blackjack at Excalibur — where I met two great guys on vacation from Australia, and a pair of girls hoping to get lucky “down under” — and an all-night bender at the card tables put me in the hole $15,000. I told myself that I’d planned on spending that much money, even while lying to the wife about how much I was going to spend, or had spent, or would spend. But it was all lies. Lies to hide the fact that when I’m gaming — be it video games, casino games, board games… there’s no other existence for me beyond the table. I lose myself utterly in them, and neglect chores, duties, job responsibilities, everything, while they’re playing.
So I had to get the hell out of Las Vegas before it ate the rest of my budget and the entirety of my decrepit soul. I headed toward the nearest desolate way station available, Death Valley National Park. How desolate? Apparently there are alien outposts this far into America’s deserts.
Death Valley is the lowest, driest, hottest place in North America. It was the bottom of an ancient sea bed, that dried out millions of years ago (due to man-made global warming, natch), but today it’s the epitome of desert. And like most deserts, it has the ability to surprise.
I was very pleasantly surprised, first, by the National Park Service’s use of solar power here. Perhaps they had some solar generators at Great Basin, and they were just buried in snow, I don’t know. But the park here had them, and most of the parks I saw from here on out had them, and that’s very cool.
Inside the visitor’s center, though, I got a less pleasant surprise.
Those are Death Valley’s famous “racing rocks.” They look like they’re racing, because of the way the wind blows behind them, pushing them across the salt flats for years, leaving a track in the dried earth behind them like they’re burning rubber. Except… they’re not there any more. Idiots come every year and steal them, and now most of them are gone.
“We actually get a few back in the mail,” one ranger told me. “With a note that says ‘These rocks did not move at our homes. We are returning them.” The stupid idiots thought they were magic rocks, and stole them, to have them race in what? Illegal underground rock racing clubs back in Cleveland? Unbelievable.
Most surprising, though, was the natural beauty. Even in as harsh and barren as this place is, every thing that survives does so with grace and courage, and the juxtaposition of life and death balanced at the extreme edge of nature moves the soul like nothing else. I felt that if these scrubs could survive here, maybe I could survive in my own environment, too.
I had planned on spending three days in Death Valley, but on the first day there, I received dreadful news. A dire problem was arising at home, and the wife called, asking if there was any way I could cut the road trip short. I still had more than 30 days left in my itinerary, and at least 8 destinations. I’d already cut a year-long excursion across America into a 2-month circuit around the West. I had to cut the trip again?
Full of bitterness at the circumstances, I walked into the desert that night, and sat under a full moon, gazing across a barren landscape as a coyote passed by, undaunted by desert, man, or my problems. He was a coyote. He was doing what coyotes do.
And in that way, the universe provided my answer.
I’m a man. It was high time I start doing what men do. I called the wife, and told her I’d see her in 10 days.