Vegetation on the Mojave Desert

Weather anomalies. Beautiful, wild and uninhibited nature. Scorching hot deserts. Strictly monochromatic scenery. People and surroundings born in the wild west. Arizona and Nevada. The two states, which despite the common border, currency and language are so much unlike California that it’s easier to talk about differences than similarities. We’ll see a deep and gigantic wonder of nature, the Grand Canyon stretching out for several hundred kilometers across. Las Vegas, the world capital of debauchery, gambling and entertainment. We overcome the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert. A torrential storm is at most a drizzle compared to massive downpour in Arizona. Contemplating the Hoover Dam, a monumental accomplishment of human thought. A refreshing swim in Lake Mead and the turbulent Colorado River. Simply, the absolute freedom and unforgettable adventure.

City in the desert

A car straight from the Wild West

Road to Las Vegas. We cross the Mojave Desert. The directions are simple, as there is only one road, the Interstate highway 15. It cuts right through the hot desert. At midday the sun is burning, the heat becomes unbearable. This is the hottest place in which I have been previously. Everyone suffers. Our car is overheating at times driving uphill hardly makes it to the top. For this reason, we do regular stops and share the remaining water for the three of us, including the car radiator. In such conditions, thirsty car consumes half a gallon of water per day. I never suspected that nearly 50 degrees heat could be so hard to withstand. Fortunately in several places on the way there is a rest point. The point where you stop, fill up the water supply, take a moment to relax in the shade and continue the trip. Among all the people staying there hardly anyone says anything. People are tired, as suggests the expression on their faces with their lips dry. It looks as if for a couple of days they haven’t had anything in their mouth, cherishing a hope that someone will appear on this deserted island to save them.

New York City in the heart of Las Vegas

Step by step we approach our destination. Las Vegas is a city located right in the middle of the desert. It was founded in 1906 and since then has became one of the most dynamically developing cities in the world.

That’s good it is still relatively early. We use the opportunity to see how the city looks in a daylight. Here comes the disappointment. All buildings on the Strip, the main street, look pretty shoddy. Exactly as if they were made of paper, or at most good quality cardboard. The replicas of famous buildings in natural lighting look as if they were about to fall apart at a sudden gust of wind.

Perhaps it is a less lucky day for everyone, because all people in casinos seem to have worried or sad faces. Casino players leave the impression of having lost a lot. Sometimes I have an inclination to gamble for fun, but looking at all these players I don’t feel like indulging in casino entertainment tonight.

We walk around the city at night. Now The Strip is absolutely impressive. The miniature of the whole world. The Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Great Sphinx of Giza are just some of the reproductions confusingly similar to the originals.

Impressive Las Vegas by night

The main avenue is crowded with people. There are many lights, flickering ads and catchy neon lamps. Unlimited possibilities to spend money. Every second next door there is a unique and special show, right now, tonight, also tomorrow and next Thursday. Lots of concerts, parties, shows and live acts. Self-sufficient entertainment center financed by the tourists looking for ways to escape their boring lives. Casinos, hotels, casinos, casinos and hotels …. non-stop twenty four seven.

There is a big surprise late at night. The rain. It is raining! The first drops from the sky in two months, so long awaited! People keep on walking along the streets. It is the phenomenon of “Vegas”, a town in the middle of desert that lives around the clock.

Wild Arizona

Lake Mead is an artificial lake formed on the Colorado River. This huge mass of water is supported by Hoover Dam. Lake is clean, however it has some extremely muddy and therefore murky parts. The bath is an ideal solution to refresh after the yesterday’s heat. The occasion to swim at the same time. Hoover Dam separates the two states, Arizona and Nevada. It is monstrously gigantic man-made structure. More than 20 millions tons of cement have been used for the construction of dam. I contemplate the deep canyon being carved from the dawn of history by the Colorado River.

Lake Mead has incredibly muddy shore

In terms of civilized development we are on our way to a different world. At the map it means simply entering Arizona. A complete travel back in time. We stop by in a crumbling roadside bar. It has sort of a vintage oldschool style. A few cowboys in hats sit under the porch at the entrance. They spend a lazy afternoon, sip local beer and play cards. I always wanted to eat a burger in such a place.

Well, we enter inside to see all the jumble around. I look at the disorder again and it appears that everything has its place. Behind the counter there is a large board of menu items available. Each item has hand-editable price. Do not ponder deeply. It’s time for a juicy, fat and well-done, a bona fide American hamburger.

Roadside Bar, somewhere in Arizona

Once outside I suddenly see a pick-up car going the wrong direction at a breakneck speed. A few seconds later the car runs into a road sign. Slowly, barely moving the driver parks his car by the roadside. We approach the car. Driver turns out to be an about seventy year old local cowboy. He has wounded his head, it is bleeding. You can also see some other previous injuries on his face. He is trying to say something, but there are no enough air in his lungs. He is hard to be understood. I work out only “I’m not feeling well”. I go back to the bar and ask the porch cowboys if the know him. I say the guy needs help. No one turns away from the cards. A moment later one of the players looks at me and says “Yea … he’s alright.”

It is the Arizonian approach to live. Peaceful and with no unnecessary stress. Later on it turns out that the wounded cowboy is a local crazy guy who often has similar adventures. I understood what is Arizona about.

It is the unusual place not only judging by the people. In all this wilderness we might find things whose existence is already forgotten, in some cases we are not even aware they exist.

I fuel the car at the gas station from another era. I take a hose from a fuel distributor. Gasoline drips like from a garden hose. I turn a special switch. The distributor begins to grind something, then it sounds like a coffee grinder. Pumping starts and after a few seconds the gasoline starts to come down the fuel tank. We continue our trip. There are unique views and varying landscapes all the time. The desert wastes, cactus forests, thorny low bushes, rocks and rough clumps of dried grass. In the background there is a vast plain of irregular hills and high mountains at the end of this straight as the crow flies road.

Grand Canyon

You do not have to worry about a place to sleep in Arizona. We easily find a secluded part of lake Mead. I drive up the car next to the shore. It’s a perfect time for evening swimming in warm water, heated by the sun throughout the day. We sleep in the car. At night, a terrifying thunderstorm wakes us up. It is pouring down amazingly intense. There is lightning on the sky every few seconds, almost like a stroboscope. There are only two of us at most fifty meters away from the epicenter of the Arizona weather breakdown. Within a few kilometers there is not a single living soul. How to survive until the morning? There is a phenomenon known as a Faraday’s cage. The car’s frame will protect us against the electrostatic field in case of being struck by lightning. So the only reasonable thing to do is to stay put in the middle of car, making sure not to touch any of its metal parts.

Grand Canyon

It has been a long night with barely any sleep. The storm eases off and the next day early morning the sun wakes us up. We are just a few miles away to be among the first visitors to the Grand Canyon today. We are at the Guano Point in Hualapai Indian Reserve. A mine, once active, now abandoned and left as a historic site is the only sight of human activity here. It perfectly blends into the canyon’s harsh wildlife scenery. I take a look at rocks of unusual shapes. Some are smooth and polished, other ones pretty sharp and pointed.  Their colors vary from intense, pastel shades of burgundy-red to some having more of brownish and grayish tint. Lizards keep on crawling hastily between small rocks seeking for shade. A few hundred meters below I discern a murky mass of water, the Colorado River. Once at the top of canyon it’s hard to believe that such a deep ravine could have been formed by this innocent river serenely flowing through it.

It appears in the parking lot that the several miles to drive up on a gravel road has been enough to get a puncture. The air coming out gradually in the end leaked entirely. Fortunately we manage to fix it at nearby garage. It is an unplanned expense, however the only one related to the car, which in fact is doing a great job.

Arizona sheriff

Hoover Dam

It’s not the end. I drive carelessly for some tens of miles already, well above the speed limit. I notice a jeep driving right behind us for some time now. It happens to be a sheriff. In addition the sheriff turns on siren, trying to stop us. The car on the other side of the road already stopped on the side in a row to help the police win the chase. I come to a stop. At this time a sequence of bad coincidences comes out. Firstly, too fast and irregular driving. The policeman notices an open beer on the back seat, which we forgot to finish last night. I do not have driving license with me, as I left it in California.  Where is the car insurance? Well, after a long search through a big pile of a various things we get at least this one. Am I going to jail? or get a ticket? Our sheriff initially plays a relentless, tough guy. However, with a little persuasion he eases off. Rather than paying anything we only have to switch places. I also get a warning, that if it happens again I am definitely going to jail. The first round with the sheriff one to zero for us.

Davis Dam is the second dam on our route. Unfortunately, it appears that is not available to the public. Davis Dam seems to be purifying water in the Colorado river. The water shortly after passing the dam is very clear smells chlorinated. A cold bath after a long day in Arizonian sun is an excellent treat. It is around five in the afternoon and the air temperature still remains above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (around 43 degrees Celsius). Late in the evening we return completely exhausted to our house in Costa Mesa, California. Our whole trip made a total of 950 miles. The distance could be slightly shorter, however we intentionally have chosen not to go twice the same road. It is a amazing to see how much landscape, buildings and people can be different by not more than driving into another state.

A few interesting facts:

Straight ahead..
  • the Strip in Las Vegas has 19 out of 25 largest hotels in the world (in terms of capacity)
  • the Mojave Desert in Nevada had been impenetrable for many centuries. It was not until the late nineteenth century when Indians discovered some paths along the river which could get them to California
  • if in the morning it is already a scorcher and the sun is shining on a blue sky you cannot bet it is not going to be a big rainstorm a few hours later
  • depending on the place where you go in Arizona, the difference in fuel prices can be even 30%
  • in August we had to wait until 6 p.m. for the temperature to fall below 40 degrees Celsius (104 Farenheit)
  • people in Arizona live slow and do not make much of an everyday stress

Sample prices:

Services and products
puncture repair $35
one gallon of petrol: $2.8 – $3.6
entrance to Grand Canyon: $30 for a basic package, $75 including skywalk, $200 including helicopter

Food and drink

diner at a roadside bar: $5 – $10
one gallon of water: $ 1
beer in Las Vegas: $3 – $5
six-pack in the shop $6 – $8