Sep 3, 2017

Nowhere, USA

4AM is my least favorite time of the day. But that was when my alarm went off to wake us up so we could get on the road to Portland by 5 AM. Why so early? Because for inexplicable reasons we decided the best course of action for two people who don't work was to travel across the country on the long weekend when the working population is on holiday. Actually, it just worked out that way with the communication with the property management company.

Anyway, we said goodbye to the cats, locked everything up, and drove out into the night. No traffic. We took some stupid detours I'm chalking up to lack of caffeine, and while I grumbled my way along, Saori really enjoyed the desert scenery revealing itself in the dawn. 

We stopped for a quick breakfast bite in Wickenburg, and then pressed on to Hoover Dam. I had been once, as a teenager, and remembered enjoying the tour and architecture. Saori had never been, so we went for it. It was pretty packed, but we were there early enough that we didn't have to wait in a line of cars. Lots of visitors too, but it looked like most people were there to take photos from the top of the dam. We got into the tour immediately, actually. They have crowd management down to a science. Line up in a queue, then into the theater for a ten minute movie presentation.

The movie bothered me, actually. The dam was presented as a heroic and bold step to tame a dangerous river which caused havoc and destruction with its flooding, [while the real reasons were the sales of hydroelectric power and the diversion of water to create new agricultural communities]. With the application of rolled up sleeves, good old American gumption, and ingenuity, nature could be tamed and contained for the benefit of all! If you don't include Mexico, which the film neglected to mention. Or even name. On the whole, 50% fact, 50% propaganda.

Tour was good. It's still an impressive sight, the tunnels for the water, the beautiful industrial art deco architecture in the turbine halls. We enjoyed it a lot, and then we were on our way again.

Drove through Las Vegas without stopping. Didn't even get off the freeway. Passed right through and waved to all the headliners playing the Vegas EDM festival over the weekend. Headed out instead into the desert, threading the desolate strip of highway 95 between the vast wasteland of Death Valley National Park on one side, and the Nuclear-bomb-pockmarked radioactive lunarscape of the even more massive Nellis Air Force Range. This area was so isolated and uninhabited, that it made Arizona look like New Jersey. We drove for more than two hours, and didn't pass so much as a gas station before we got to Beatty, Nevada, which by distance is possibly one of the remote outposts in the west.

Beatty had two restaurants. We ate at both of them. At the Happy Burro grill we got open faced hamburgers smothered in their homemade chili, and I had mine served up with a PBR. We ate outside on their weathered deck, under a dirty yellow umbrella on wooden cable spool tables. Saori bought a tee shirt from them with a big smiling burro on the back. Later, strolling the "town" we saw burros roaming free by the giant RV Park.

It's a strange town. They know they're between Reno and Vegas, and get visitors for Death Valley, so they play up their connection to the Nellis Range. Lots of references to Area 51, and a few more to the nuclear waste storage and nuclear weapons testing nearby. Relatively speaking. Most of the tests took place at least 50 miles inside the range, and the prevailing winds carried the radioactive fallout towards southern Utah. Although 10 miles outside of town, a low-level nuclear waste dump caught fire a few years ago.

We stayed at the internet-savvy Atomic Inn, which was a typical 1950s roadside motel until it was made over as a destination retro-kitsch motel with a nuclear-alien-scifi motif. Cutout aliens. Radioactive isotope signs as the logos. Our room had a giant framed photo of Barbarella. We were quite happy with the rooms. A nice big window with a view to a joshua tree, it was clean, spacious, and the AC worked great.

After we checked in after lunch, we basically konked out. We were exhausted. That last stretch of driving through endless desert did it especially to me. So we took a nap for about an hour and a half, and then went wandering through the town. We ate dinner more from habit than anything else at the other restaurant, and it was ok. Cold beef sandwich and cheezy potato soup.

It's surprising to see how vibrant the town still was. People lived here. The women working at the FamilyDollar yelled at the kids playing the aisles because I'm sure they knew them well in this small town. Kids played in the playground after dark. Chatting with the receptionist when we checked in, I asked about a ribbon hanging behind the counter. Third Place for Beatty Days. It piqued my interest, because getting third in anything in Beatty would seem to me as a huge slap in the face. But it turns out it was for a parade float in the annual parade and festival the town throws. This year, she told us, the truck was going to be decorated as a flying saucer, pulling a trailer made out to be a motel room with little kids in alien costumes harassing grandpa who was trying to sleep.

Slept as much as usual, which lately, is not great.

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