30.06.2011 - 04.07.2011
Driving to Las Vegas was a hot and dusty road, punctuated by the odd copper mine and finally the Hoover Dam, straddling the Arizona-Nevada border. The new highway bypasses the dam but we took a little detour just to cross it, which involved a search of the vehicle by two security guards. They've done well to keep it such a popular tourist destination; after all it is now just a dam and is hardly the largest man made structure, but it has simple beauty in its art deco lines.
Las Vegas beckoned; a three night break from Harrison staying at the Luxor. Oh where to begin? For starters our hotel room was in a giant, black, glass pyramid with a view over the Sphinx guarding the Nevada desert (or the airport for the unromantic). Feeling slightly queasy when taking the lift, we realised it is because the lift shaft goes up diagonally following the angled face of the pyramid.
After four weeks of dining modestly and simply in the RV, we went a bit nuts the first night and partook in the ubiquitous Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. Try as we might, we couldn't eat light for any meal and departed Vegas a bit more portly than on arrival.
We managed to time our arrival with the hottest day of 2011 for the US and where was the nation's high that day you ask? Las Vegas of course. With temperatures over 40 C on both days, this took hot to another level. You can negotiate much of the Strip by ducking in and out of casinos and taking covered walkways to minimise the time spent outside. But many things outside just have to be seen; the Flamingo sign, the Bellagio dancing fountain, buskers of every description, enthusiastic touts for “girls to your room in 20 minutes” and each casino more outrageous and OTT than the last. We were particularly taken with New York New York where you can stay in the Chrysler building for significantly cheaper than the real thing...and see Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty from your window. Not geographically accurate of course, but who cares?!
Of course with Arthur in tow we were limited as to what we could do at night, so we stuck to our casino and took in a Criss Angel magic show one night. Was very entertaining, even more so his mega-fans in the audience who had his face and name tattooed all over themselves. We had to cover Arthur's delicate eyes passing back through the casino floor at night; not sure he is ready for girlie dancers over poker tables yet. While we were fine to walk through the casinos with Arthur, we were told to move on a couple of times for “loitering” with a minor, even when just waiting outside the loo.
Back to Harrison (and the stench of bananas we had accidentally left in the RV for three days of 40+ heat) and embarked on a couple of days to cross Nevada. First leg was north along the Extraterrestrial Highway – oh yes, there is such a thing. So called because the highest concentration of UFO sightings has been along this road and it is also the closest road to Nellis Air Force Base, home of Area 51. We stopped for lunch at the tiny town of Rachel – home of the Al'e'Inn – where you can have a cold drink and admire photos of UFO sightings while purchasing alien christmas ornaments and other useful UFO-related items, if you so choose.
We didn't see any UFOs so we pushed on for the night to Ely, the starting point of The Loneliest Road, our campsite complete with a rattlesnake carcass. Set off very early the next morning – the 4th of July – as we had most of Nevada to cross. The Loneliest Road is pretty much as it says, long stretches of road with very little traffic. This stretch of highway 50 follows the route of the Pony Express, the overland railway and the first transcontinental telegraph so there is a lot of history wrapped up in it. We stopped for breakfast at the pretty and buzzing town of Eureka – a boom town in the late 19 century when silver was found here.
Despite it being a six hour stretch of road the views were interesting, from flat plains to mountain passes to salt flats, the odd ground squirrel running under our wheels, a giant sand mountain seemingly out of place against scrubby foothills and finally the stunning snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains starting on the horizon and gradually looming large until we entered them to approach Lake Tahoe.