Driving through Nevada reminded me of walking in Las Vegas. If you’ve ever strolled down the Strip you’ve probably experienced the sensation of seeing one of the big flashy casinos and thinking it’s within walking distance. And then you walk, and walk, and walk, and maybe half an hour later you finally reach the driveway of the behemoth only to realize you’ve got another ten minute walk to actually get inside the casino.
That’s what driving on US-95 was like. We’d see a variation in the horizon - maybe a bluff or a white patch of sand or just a bend in the road - and then we’d drive, and drive, and drive through undulating shades of brown and olive. The scenery on US-95 was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and the road was smooth and fast, but it was vast, and boundless, and empty. It’s easy to envision what it was like for the miners who searched for, and often found, riches. It’s more difficult to imagine how they survived.
When you’re out west and you see a sign that says “Next Gas Station - 94 Miles,” believe it. There’s a desolation and an isolation that can swallow you if you’re not accustomed to it. It diminishes the further east you go. The closer you get to the Atlantic Ocean the less likely you are to go more than 45 minutes without running into some sort of evidence of man beyond the road itself. At the first sight of cottonwoods, about 93 miles south of Tonopah, we knew there was water, which meant there’d be a town. And in this particular instance, Eddie World.
We pulled into Beatty, Nevada, gateway to Death Valley, and into the parking lot of a bizarro Vegas-worthy gas station and candy store. To get into the store we passed by a three- or four-story stone rook, walked under palm trees, and crossed over a stream that was fed by a waterfall, all of which were designed to lure weary travelers in need of a snack to Eddie’s and the Death Valley Nut & Candy Company inside. We were stocked, but if we had been lacking in the candy, nuts, chips, or jerky department we could have replenished them all.
Back on 95, we passed the turn-off to Death Valley and realized we had driven up one side and down the other of the massive National Park without stepping one foot on its sweltering sands.
Our ultimate destination that day was St. George, Utah, and to get there we had to skirt Las Vegas, which meant that Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was on the way, relatively speaking. We had driven around Death Valley, so a fourteen mile detour was equivalent to pulling off at a scenic overlook. We arrived around three in the afternoon, and by this time we didn’t know Tuesday from Friday so we kinda forgot it was Saturday during shoulder season. THERE WERE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.
(We learned about shoulder season in Yuma. It’s the time in-between peak and low seasons for a tourist destination, so while it’s busy, it’s not madness. Unless you’re at Red Rock Canyon.)
We flashed our National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass to cover the $7 entry (bringing our total value so far to $32; only $48 more and that baby would pay for itself) and pulled in behind a line of cars to get into the park. Then we walked behind a group of people to get into the Visitor Center, followed by a chain of sedans, SUVs, and minivans waiting to wind their way around the scenic drive.
So. Many. People.
As we neared the rugged red rocks, construction vehicles lined the drive. Yes, there was construction. Did they think we were homesick? In the Chicago-area there are two seasons: winter and construction. Didn’t they know it was still winter back home and we needed just a little time without orange cones? We pulled around the rubber devils and glared at a big yellow piece of lumbering machinery blocking our view. I don’t know its name. I don’t want to know its name. I could have looked it up, but there was construction in a National Park and I didn't wanna know.
All whining aside, this construction was a good thing for future visitors. The scenic drive was being smoothed out and more parking spaces added. I can verify that both of those were needed. There were a couple of places we couldn’t explore because there was no place to park, and while I didn’t remember specifically that the road was bumpy (probably because I was obsessing over Yellow Giant and his little orange minions), when I watched some video I’d shot later it was like we’d been driving on rumblestrips.
We completed the thirteen-mile drive and braved the chaos that was Vegas. Sin City. Glitter Gulch. After days of minimal traffic and minimal people, weaving through that crunch and crush of humanity, even if it was only on the highway, was claustrophobic. We couldn’t wait to get back to the two-lanes.