He was running around like an idiot. Tall, blond, and clearly drunk, The Jim Beam Guy was wearing a cowboy hat, and what looked like a sweater wrapped around his waist like some sort of weird knit skirt. He swung the glass whiskey bottle around, occasionally taking swigs from it. He didn’t really harmonize with Bond, the swanky Vegas cocktail bar, full of sparkling lights and devastatingly hot girls in skimpy outfits dancing in cubbies high on the wall. All the beautiful people looked on, shaking their heads, amused by the feral man.
I tried to look my best; to fit in with the Vegas scene. Sexy isn’t really a dominant aspect of my personality, however. I feel more at home in a fleece than a dress, and my hair is in a ponytail 99% of the time. It was fun to get all dolled up for once, even though I didn’t feel like I could pull it off completely. Mostly it was the damn shoes. I ended up taking my heels off and walking barefoot through the streets on my first night, sporting large red sores on my big toes where my new glittery silver heels had been rubbing them raw. I mused over the sexy women working it through the casinos in their tight bandage dresses and platform stilettos, and there I was limping around with filthy feet. It’s no surprise the streets of Vegas proved to be germ-filled and the sores got infected. I catastrophically imagined that the infections would get so bad that they would have to amputate my big toes. This was upsetting mainly because my primary choice of summertime footwear is the flip-flop, and I would no longer be anatomically capable of wearing them.
Vegas was just plain overwhelming. Every building was spectacular, in the literal sense of the word. We walked down The Strip on our first night, necks bent back looking up at the fantastic architecture. The multi-turreted white castle that is Excelsior was a gaudy vision straight out of an old Super Nintendo video game. It came equipped inside with a beefy-chested Fabio wearing a leather vest, with whom you could get your picture taken. The Venetian was a surreal trip back to Italy, complete with a detailed replica of a Venetian canal, full of skinny black gondolas and lined with shops in sherbet colors. The simplicity of the black glass Luxor pyramid was contrarily accented by a huge sand colored Sphinx entrance.
If you love cheesiness, as I certainly do, you can definitely find it in Vegas. But nowadays, overtaking the cheese, are very tasteful hotels and restaurants catering to a more refined taste. My husband Gaz and I met several friends at the appropriately designated Chandelier Bar, located within the trendy Cosmopolitan hotel. My eyes grew wide when I first saw the classy three level cocktail bar, connected by spiral staircases and completely enclosed in a chandelier of dangling crystal strands. We had a few drinks up on the second floor, feeling very fancy sitting in plush velour seats surrounded by sparkles. The waitress brought us all dry-ice frozen raspberries as an accompaniment to a sweet and spicy cocktail called the Fire Breathing Dragon. It was fun, shooting back the raspberries and taking pictures as we all exhaled the cold “smoke”.
We ended up spending a few restful days at our hotel pool, and several late nights bouncing around stylish restaurants, bars, and casinos on The Strip. I was pumping money into a penny slot machine one night, and turned a few dollars into $41. Gaz came to meet me after a few minutes at a game table. I told him, excitedly, about my winnings, and he replied,
“Oh, good. ‘Cause I just lost $40 playing blackjack.” I suppose coming home one dollar up is better than a loss. That’s about all I could hope for, considering my and Gaz’s luck.
A couple of days later Gaz and I left Las Vegas for a drive through the desert with our two friends: Janel and Alicia. Our first taste of the area was a little cruise through Zion National Park. We wound up switchbacks and around bends in the mountain road, even driving through some tunnels carved out of the bright red rock. I stuck my arm out of the rental Jetta, snapping photos of the monstrous mountains as we weaved through them.
That evening we arrived at the Grand Canyon. Everyone knows what it looks like, so I’m not going to try to describe it. I took a hundred pictures and none of them capture it well. My feelings were similar to what I felt in Vegas in that both places were more than a little amazing. We visited the North Rim- it is higher, greener, and less crowded than the South. It was an excellent choice, as there were several lookouts we had all to ourselves. Gaz had a habit of giving me heart attacks by climbing around dangerously close to the edge. I don’t think notoriously accident-prone people have any business being near cliffs, but what do I know? We wandered around with the girls, enjoying the moment, excited to be in the presence of a great wonder of the natural world.
After a night on the lodge deck, under the stars, with 3 bottles of wine and some deep conversation, I felt very content. The next morning we drove to Bryce Canyon. Bryce is full of rock formations called hoodoos, formed by ice cracks and wind erosion. Tall spires of rusty red rock pierced the Technicolor blue sky. I’d never seen a sky so blue. We hiked down steep switchbacks into the bottom of the canyon, admiring the hoodoos from a new angle, and then gasped our way back to the top (I’m blaming the altitude).
In looking back on my time in the Southwest, I realized that the emergent theme of the trip was beauty. I had the opportunity to experience two extremes of beauty out there: I spent a few days reveling in the mayhem of excess, and a few days road tripping in the serenity of sparsity. It was an experience of two halves, definitely, but each half equally as impressive. One half was an extravaganza, man-made, purely for the purpose of entertainment. The other half was completely natural, created simply by rock and weather, with no concern for our enjoyment needs but meeting them anyway. I find it interesting that the Navajo, who have lived in that area of the world for centuries, have a word, hozho, that means both beauty and balance. On my journey I found a fascinating harmony created between two nearby locations, both inviting in very different ways.
The surprise of the trip was that the most beautiful moment was neither here nor there. We were in the car making the drive back to Las Vegas from Utah. The sun dipped below the silhouettes of the distant hills and the clouds and sky shone in a rainbow of colors. As Janel cruised along through the empty desert, I sat quietly mesmerized in the backseat. Through the window, I took photo after photo of the ever-changing colors and patterns in the wide-open sky. I then stopped just before the final glow of pink faded to deep blue, and took a moment to absorb the unexpected brilliance of the sunset we were lucky enough to witness that night. A bit further down the road, the lights of Vegas glimmered.