The news was full of protests as we got up early for a gonzo run from Vacaville to Las Vegas, past the rice paddies of Sacramento, into Gold Rush country, into the Sierras, past lakes, into snow, the Yuba River, and yes, Donner Pass, where there’s now a ski area.
And then, Reno, into Nevada, past a gigantic Barnes & Noble distribution center in the middle of nowhere. We barely had time to contemplate why when we were in Carson City.
The Prius said it needed oil, so we searched for a Jiffy Lube, but couldn’t find one.
Then we zagged back into California, but did stops at Mono Lake and Panum Crater, then it was a zig back into Nevada along the Grand Army of the Republic Highway.
Soon we came upon Tonapah, home of the famous Clown Motel, where bikers are welcome.
And it’s right next to an authentic Wild West graveyard. The entire town looked like it was designed by Stephen King, and would be the perfect location for a horror film, though the only place to eat seems to be the Burger King.
After more wide open spaces populated by wild donkeys, and towns that were like low-rent versions of Tonapah, near Beatty, we came across the battered sign from the abandoned Angel’s Ladies Brothel, next to which was a crashed plane, stripped of its engines and covered in graffiti.
I can’t help but imagine the scenario:
“Sir, I’m afraid we’re out of gas.”
“There’s an extra hundred in it if you put us down within walking distance of the whorehouse!”
Soon we made our way through the post-Apocalyptic squalor of the desert to Las Vegas’ grotesque caricature of the American Dream, to a chunk of its own new, improved variant of suburban sprawl spewing out of ever-growing, cancerous freeways. Technically, it’s called Henderson, and Mike has a house in an eco-friendly section called Green Valley Ranch where the neighborhood association spends a lot of money on replacing flowers, where we finally found a Jiffy Lube and got the Prius its self-suggested oil change.
“This thing is basically one big battery,” said the woman in charge while a homeless guy did a non-stop interpretive dance and conversation with invisible personages.
The manicured theme park look eventually gives way to a ticky-tacky dystopian overgrowth that thins out into desert and the spectacular geology of Red Rock Canyon, where we did a pit stop at a scenic view area. Emily caught a guy taking a selfie in the gender neutral restroom, where there was political graffiti disputing the recent election.
Back outside, a young man on a bicycle screamed “THIS IS AMERICA!” in disapproval of our masks. Most of the other people there were modern day, middle-class motorcyclists.
The trail around Calico Hill is great!
Then we went back to Vegas to the Art District with its many murals, antique and thrift stores, and bohemian atmosphere. We bought some cool clothes. A lady in one of the stores told me, “You’re really rocking the bandido look.”
The next day, as we left Vegas, I saw another Pinches Tacos. Later I looked it up. It’s a chain.
Back through the desert, on I-15, there were a lot of billboards for something called Alien Fresh Jerky. I figured we must have been close to Area 51.
Near Whisky Pete’s and Buffalo Bill’s Casinos, lighthouse-like light concentrators glowed and towered over solar collector fields. Apparently, these energy farms are raising the temperature, changing the climate. Somebody needs to work on collectors that absorb sunlight without kicking out a lot of waste energy . . .
Finally, in Baker, we found Alien Fresh Jerky. It’s a clever tourist trap where you can actually buy the touted jerky--no claims that it is made of any kind of aliens--and other wacky trinkets and snacks amid kitschy sci-fi decor. You want photo ops?
And there was no sign of the “excellent seafood” or “landcrab” mentioned in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Once again, Nevada is surpassing Hunter S. Thompson’s wildest hallucinations.
There are abandoned motels and other empty, dilapidated structures all over this desert. Not just ghost towns. Nevada is either frenzied artificial economics or closed and disintegrating in the sun.
We took Kelbaker Road through the Mojave Desert Preserve. The naked desert in all its glory.
We got home after Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts. Things were oddly calm after that.