Driving across the United States

PART 10: Rapid City to Long Beach with a stop at Las Vegas for a trip down memory lane


With our destination of Long Beach clearly in our sites, we couldn’t not stop in Las Vegas first for at least a night or two. It is hard for us to believe it has been 14 years since we were married there. But then again, as the miles on this road trip quickly churn away, we are amazed this part of our round the world journey will be over soon.

I think most people think of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead as a day trip from Las Vegas. Coming from the north via car, though, it was simply a matter of stopping along the road. Interstate-15 took us through a short bit of Arizona and then on into Nevada. There is a 3,845 foot drop in elevation from beginning to end of our day.

It is a very impressive and quite beautiful drive although there is no place to pull over and snap a picture.  Actually, it is kind of scary at times with all the wind warnings and trucks barreling along, as everyone is loath to give up the 75 mph speeds, despite the turns and grades.  It is almost with a sigh of relieve that you get propelled out of this and find yourself on the Nevada flats.”

Journal entry 008, September 19-21, 2005

Back roads are fun roads

Choosing a back road so we could meander, we gradually loop down and over to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.  We stopped to take a quarter mile walk just to look off into the distance — as if driving through this bleak countryside isn’t enough.  The charred remains of a burnt car at a pull-off was a ghostly reminder that driving in the desert can be hazardous to vehicles as well as people.  Our old Tracer is still getting us from place to place which is our miracle. The sun is so bright and everything is so dry. It seems like another miracle to find scattered colors growing amongst the stone. 

We stopped another time to take a closer look at a red rock outcropping in the distance. It seems to have been plopped down on Earth like a meteorite falling out of the sky. It surely looks misplaced. Considering that dinosaurs where known to wander these western desert lands, I mused about the exact consistency of the plop.  

There was an unoccupied vehicle parked nearby and we wondered that anyone could have walked so far as to not be visible. Then a van arrived as we continued to peer at rocks and “stuff” we cannot identify, and we laughed. Three vehicles seemed like a veritable traffic jam for this place in the middle of nowhere.

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

As our lonesome back road meshed back onto the highway, we found ourselves in a real traffic jam. Every vehicle was going through the security checkpoint, to gain access to the Hoover Dam interpretive center, gift shop and lunch – and then take the time to go on a tour of the dam.  

It was interesting to take the high-speed elevator and go down to the inside observation deck overlooking the turbines.  

In another five years, the Interstate will take travelers over a new bridge and the top surface of the dam will no longer be used for vehicular traffic. None too soon, from the look of the traffic.  If only just 10 percent of the 38 million people who visit Las Vegas every year (c2005) take the side trip to see Hoover Dam, you begin to envision the crowds. 

The traffic into Vegas is horrendous  

From the somewhat elevated roadway of the interstate, we can see the roofs of houses stretching across the valley to the hills maybe some five miles away. It looks like someone thought they could create the illusion of desert turf if they used all the same roofing material.

Going to timeshare presentations pays for our time 

We woke on September 22, a day shy of four weeks after leaving New Hampshire. In exchange for listening to a time-share offer, we are in a one-bedroom suite with kitchenette, dining table, couches and chairs – even a hot tub off the bedroom.  This means we can make our breakfasts and, maybe, a meal or two.

Lounging, we turned on the morning news and discovered that some of the traffic jam during our incoming ride last night was because of two accidents. A truck had jackknifed, dropping metal tubing at one of the exit ramps ahead of us that took time to clear.

There had also been a terrible incident where someone drove into a crowd of people on the sidewalk, along the famous “Vegas Strip,” killing two tourists.  That is the kind of story that makes national news, so we quickly calculate the hour and call home to New York so mothers don’t have to worry about traveling children.

Vegas is Vegas, only more so

Either we were so intent on getting married all those years ago and didn’t notice anything else, or Las Vegas has grown to epic proportions. This visit it seems that huge crowds of people are everywhere. They are walking along The Strip and detouring in and out of the big-named hotel lobbies in an endless stream of humanity. 

After all the wilderness and desert, it seems oppressive.  We decide not to purchase a time share (never happening to begin with), take the coupons provided for our time and cash two in for $40 at one casino and another $25 goes to defray the cost of dinner at a Benihana’s Steakhouse.

We don’t, mind you, convert the coupons to tokens and blow them on a slot machine, or worse. Rob and I laugh that this is why we can afford to take a year and travel around the world.  Neither one of us will throw money away.

Dinner was fun and great food.  We chatted with the couple to our right. It seems they come to Vegas from California at least four times a year and get “comped” for food and lodging because they play a lot of slots. 

Afterward, Rob and I agreed we have seen the man someplace on TV or in movies. Not an A-list star but definitely one of those character actors you see but whose name you don’t know.  Someday we’ll be pointing to a screen, saying we had dinner with him once. 

We could have asked, I suppose, but then how tiring must that get – people bothering you over dinners. We’d rather have had the conversation and relax with pleasant dinner companions.  

US Postal Service General Delivery

As those who travel by truck, motor coach or campers know, the way to receive mail when you have no physical address is to use the Postal Service’s General Delivery option. The only hitch is that you need to send your letter or package to a street address and not just “Post Office, Something-City.” Big cities, after all, have more than one post office.

Since we have the time and it amused us, we asked Rob’s mother, Jean, to forward a package to Jean, Nevada, less than 30 miles from Las Vegas.

Rob had already called to see if our package had arrived. The postmistress said, “Yes, but please know that the post office would be closed between noon and one o’clock and isn’t open on Saturdays.”  That meant Friday was Jean’s Day.

We left Vegas on a Saturday and drove through the desert – again – to Ontario, California in the San Bernardino area.  Two nights at the Ontario Hilton provided more luxury. One last shopping trip to a mall and one last post office stop to send something and we were ready.

Monday, September 26, we checked into a motel overlooking the Port of Long Beach. We are simultaneously excited and hesitant to realize the next big step in this journey is about to become our reality.

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