Into the Desert
Monday, October 10
Following the wrap of Desert Trip festival (October 7-9), Jason and I packed up the truck and left Indio. But not before we fetched the items he had buried in the desert. I know what you’re thinking, but it was just the camping equipment festival organizers didn’t permit on the grounds. Our heading? Simply due north.
We first wound around the sun-baked park limits of Joshua Tree National Park, whose trees stood stunted and gnarled. We sailed along lonely byways as 35 degree temperatures radiated from the ashphalt. Winding, weaving, the truck crested a pass to reveal an arrow-straight stretch of highway that pierced the horizon as far as we could see. As we skirted Sheephole Valley Wilderness I was consumed by the emptiness of the terrain, trained on a singular thought: how this might be a miserable place to be stranded.
A Desert’s a Desert’s a Desert…Isn’t It?
From here we pushed on through Mojave National Preserve, and Jason and I couldn’t help remarking on the diversity of desert landscapes. Pop culture had implanted the idea that tall saguaro cacti peppered this terrain, but in fact, it was not the case at all. The arid landscape of this high desert was decorated with low creosote bushes, spear-shaped yucca, and spiny cholla. In the south of the preserve we gawked the garbled Granite Mountains, passed by the far-off Kelso Dunes and crossed defunct rail ties.
A Desert Surprise
Upon reaching the ghost town of Kelso we headed west along Kelbaker Road – albeit unintentionally – which led us to an unexpected discovery. We pulled over to ponder the vista, upon which sat a trio of sooty black peaks. They sure looked like volcanoes.
What we didn’t yet know, was that we were peering at Cinder Cones National Natural Landmark. What’s more, and what my eyes couldn’t see, was that there were actually some 40 cinder cone vents planted in the lava beds. The most visible – Cima Dome – stood 1,500 feet above volcanic plane.
60 Minutes in Las Vegas
By mid-afternoon we had left the Mojave National Preserve and rejoined the interstate. In a short hour we would reach Las Vegas.
Cruising up the strip between East Flamingo Road and Freemont Street (aka Old Vegas), we crawled by larger-than-life resort casinos and single-room, white-washed chapels. Arriving by land and during daylight hardly befit Sin City. But then again, this was no occasion, nothing more than a late lunch stop.
We parked and trawled Freemont Street for a restaurant. The district was of course replete with its resident freaks: a grown man with a swollen gut donned a frilled diaper and bonnet, while a tan, long-haired man left little to the imagination in just a cowboy hat and Borat-style mankini.
After coaxing $20 from a slot machine we left Vegas with full bellies. We set off on I-15 north and the sun set somewhere near Valley of Fire State Park. The waning light threw brilliant hues of orange, pink and yellow in our rear view and we thought we had better find somewhere to make camp for the night.
‘Camp’ came in the form of a $38 room at the Virgin River Hotel and Casino in Mesquite. After spending three nights in a field of festival-goers, this Nevada border town hotel with WiFi, warm showers and hoppy IPA, could have been the Ritz. I crashed hard into sleep, eager to greet the next day.