Nevada: A Neon Desert

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We drove into Nevada through Valley of Fire State Park, in the southeast corner of the state. We’d seen pictures of Elephant Rock and other formations here, but we were nonetheless surprised at how beautiful the landscape was. The park turned out to be a red-rock wonderland. Crumbling walls of rock formed peaks and wild shapes, while farther into the park swirls and slot canyons created a maze of natural beauty. We camped at a small landing flanked by walls of the fiery stone, and baked in the 90-degree heat.

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Elephant Rock!

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We climbed on rocks and the Fire Wave formation, and toured the canyons of the White Domes on foot. We LOVED exploring this park; it seemed to have a surprise waiting around every corner.

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The Fire Wave

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White Domes

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We were especially glad that VOF is a state park as opposed to a National one; even though it is just as awe-inspiring as the National Parks we’ve seen, it’s state park status left it only sparingly supervised and reasonably uncrowded.

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After spending so many nights in the National Parks of Utah and Arizona, we were starved for some city energy. We had work to catch up on, so we figured we’d spend most of our time in Las Vegas- especially since our gateway to California would take us through Death Valley immediately to the West.

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We were a little bummed to be skipping the great expanse of Nevada in favor of the city. The state conjurs images of rolling desert dotted with rusty trailers, one-horse towns and truck stop casinos. All that dry, endless space between the twin gambling hubs of Vegas and its little sister Reno. But we traded this option for the neon, feathers and sequins of Sin City, surrounded by metropolitan sprawl.

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We parked on hot asphalt in the shadow of an off-strip Casino with 14.99 steak and shrimp dinners and a sign lined with blinking yellow bulbs. We spent our days working in the trailer or at Starbucks and exploring the city by night. We roamed the streets, watched movies in cineplexes tucked quietly into enormous casinos and put quarter after quarter into the horse race game at The D. We even saw Captain America at a Drive-in on a dusty, warm Friday night that buzzed with the energy of summer.

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We pinched pennies for weeks in order to splurge on an expensive buffet at The Cosmopolitan (Carl had been there before and described it afterwards as “one of the finer dining experiences of my entire life!”- so, shoestring budget be damned, we were going.) 

Even though I was terribly grumpy after tearing a hole in my new ‘Vegas’ dress immediately prior, we enjoyed a feast of crab legs, bone marrow, fancy mac ‘n cheese, vanilla-infused beet salad and endless gelato flavors served in teeny edible cone-cups.

We also went to the Neon Museum, which showcases retired neon signs from Vegas’ past. Unfortunately, many of these are in such disrepair that they don’t light up anymore! Had we known that, we’d have gone during the day so that it’d be easiest to see the colors and details of the signs. This place was a design (and font)-lover’s dream.

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We had fun playing in the city and getting some necessary work done, but truthfully, Vegas doesn’t do a whole lot for either of us. We’re not really Vegas people*. I vaguely knew this, but our visit really solidified it for me, and I felt more and more misanthropic as the days went on (never a good thing! Shame on me!)

Carl is more into gambling than I am, so I spent some of my time wandering the strip and window shopping. Since buying anything is generally out of the question for us, this can feel a little futile- but Vegas has some of the best people-watching around.

We left recharged and ready to take on the near-impossible effort of exploring California.

*I’m not sure who these “Vegas People” are, but in the interest of being inoffensive, let’s say they’re people who love to PARTYYY!!!

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US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.

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