Las Vegas. Lost Wages. Sin City. Capital of Second Chances. The City of Lights. Glitter Gulch. The Strip with its neon glow (and a neon museum nearby), shows and showgirls, Pyramids and Venetian canals, and of course, the lure of gambling. One more spin, another chip, a last roll of the dice and you too can live the new American dream and get rich quick by ignoring the odds and working only as hard as pulling a lever. Or pushing a button, with the new age of machines and rules.
All of this is the attraction of Vegas, and I come and go to this desert oasis without participating in any of them. I really didn't even see the hotels, and even the Luxor, with its 39 individual lights and 2 billion candlepower, failed to pierce my view. But then again, I left Flagstaff without seeing the Grand Canyon and Yosemite without seeing the Valley.
I am just outside of Vegas in the sprawling suburb of Summerlin. Sam and Brie, two of my best friends from Bellingham who have been featured in the first two weeks of my trip, have recently moved here for Brie's grad school, and it is on their couch I find my own oasis in the desert.
I had taken a small fall on my last day in Paradise Forks a little over a week ago, bruising my coccyx and making climbing, and even walking and sitting, less than enjoyable. I continued to climb (and walk, and sit), but realized that I really just needed some time off. The one and only climb in Tuolumne made that decision concrete—as beautiful as Tuolumne is, and as enjoyable as the climbing was, I just wasn't having fun.
While most of my time in Vegas was spent in sweet air-conditioned relief, Sam and I took a day to drive up to Mt. Charleston to check out some limestone climbing areas from afar, and to let Sam rocket down one of the mountain bike trails from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Mt. Charleston, at over 7,700 feet, has temperatures about 30 degrees cooler than Las Vegas proper. Combined with other areas such as Mt. Potosi, a limestone cave not too far from the entry to the Black Velvet Canyon, climbing is possible year round.
Unlimited potential on one of dozens of limestone "islands" at Mt. Charleston
Bouldering is also quite pleasant in the evenings, and several days after work and school we drive over to the Calico Hills area to wind down the day in the cooling canyon of boulders. Though work and school are on the other side of Vegas from Sumerlin, Sam and Brie's condo is about a ten minute drive to Calico Hills, as well as to the main entrance of Red Rocks National Park. For those climbing friends of Sam and Brie looking to come to Las Vegas and crash in their spare bedroom, be forewarned—age has its privileges, and I call the cot!
Spotting the rare Walking Crash Pad
One day I head into Red Rocks proper to stretch my legs and hike around. Properly known as the Red Rock National Conservation Area, the 195,000 acre reserve attracts over a million visitors per year, mostly in its 13 mile loop drive. In a thirty minute hike starting from the first pullout, I see a family of foxes, a covey of quail, and the biggest most bad ass bee I have ever seen, as big as my thumb with a sinister black and red color scheme. I would have taken lots of pictures, as per my earlier vow, had I brought along my camera. But after all, I was only going for a quick hike in the busiest part of the park...what wildlife would I possibly see?
The day before I leave, I hook up with a local climber and head out for a couple of routes before the hottest part of the day. We knock off three quick pitches, two gear and one sport, as the temperatures reach over 100°. Our choice of routes is of course dictated by the search for shade, and the climbing is not at all unpleasant.
Meanwhile I have filled out some holes in my climbing schedule; next up is the City of Rocks in Idaho. I am sad to leave Sam and Brie, and even Fin and TomCat (despite the fact that they really don't like me all that much). But I am healed and raring to climb again, and new arenas beckon. So off I go, through the desert of Nevada and Utah, through Salt Lake City with its streets numbered into the tens of thousands, and into southeastern Idaho, the small town of Almo, and the City of Rocks.