Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Las Vegas

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is the weirdest time of year.
You see Elvis in a Santa suit
And the elves are drinking beer.

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is only the opening act.
New Year’s Eve gets top billing
Booze and fireworks—THAT’s where we’re at.

Christmas in Las Vegas
Is unlikely to be white with snow.
But we’ve got neon lighting up Santa’s sleigh
And making Rudolph’s nose glow.

Happy Holidays!
Photo courtesy of Chad Mathews at

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow in the Desert

Have you had enough snow yet? You may have heard this before, but no one has seen snow like this in Las Vegas in over thirty years. Henderson got socked on Wednesday with eight inches of snow. Here on the west side of the valley, we got two or three inches both Monday and Wednesday. My Mondays are normally full of things to do, but this Monday I didn’t get anything done. Instead, I spent six hours watching the snow.

We get snow flurries every year at our house because we live in the foothills of the Spring Mountains. Sometimes, I close my eyes and remember what it looked like before all the houses, when the area where my home sits was nothing but open desert. Ten years ago, when my son, Cameron, was a baby, we lived in an apartment at the edge of the rapidly disappearing desert. We had Cameron’s first Christmas in that little apartment. I hated that place. The walls were so thin that we heard everything—and I mean everything—our neighbors did, and our nephew was living on our sofa. I remember when the snow came that year. We were home alone when the snow covered the yuccas and the Joshua trees, painting the desert in white all the way to Red Rock. That year, the miracle of the snow was almost lost on me. I was sleep deprived, overweight, suffering from a very bad haircut, and not adjusting well to life with a new baby.

Here in the desert, snow is a once-in-awhile phenomenon instead of a months-long endurance test. Snow in the desert is a beautiful thing, an anomaly that helps you believe in the Unseen. Snow in the desert is unusual and memorable.

I remember when we had a white Christmas in Las Vegas, in the early 1970s. (Pictues below.) Johnny Carson joked on the Tonight Show about McCarren Airport being closed due to snow. Snow in Las Vegas! Who had ever heard of such a thing? My dad and I had a rousing snowball fight in the backyard that ended when he fell and hurt his shoulder (FYI, cowboy boots don't supply much traction on ice). I was fascinated by the snow, and even at night I would sit in the backyard and gaze up at the sky, watching the falling flakes.

I was in high school before we had a snowy day again. I discovered that high school boys like to put rocks in their snowballs. I had a bloody nose most of that day. That evening, when I was at a friend’s house, we decided to have a snowball fight. “Just don’t hit me in the face, please,” I told her. She promptly thwacked me right in the face with a snowball, and then apologized profusely as I stood there bleeding on her front yard.

This Monday, when the snow arrived, both my son and husband were home. It’s unusual for all of us to be home during the day. I woke up my son by opening his blinds and announcing, “It’s snowing!” He was out of bed immediately, dressed, downstairs, and outside. We watched as the snow started to stick, and by noon we had a thin blanket of white over everything. Our neighborhood streets were quiet and empty; it felt like we were the only people home that day. Cameron played in the snow until he was soaked; he came inside long enough to warm up and put on dry clothes, then he was back outside. Once there was an inch or so on the ground, he made a snow man. Well, it was more like a snow gnome, but it was a terrific effort. The snow turned the park behind our house into an uninterrupted field of white; I made sure to take pictures before the “sledding” began. The wet, thin snow barely covered the grass, but Cameron was determined. This time he had to go get in a warm shower after soaking a second set of clothes.

When I wasn’t watching my delighted child, I was watching the snow. I sat inside, next to a window, and looked up into the white sky. The flakes swirling down reminded me of the first time I watched snow falling. I remembered sitting on the cinder block wall in my backyard, staring up into the sky, fascinated by the snow. At a time when life often feels strange and unfamiliar, I am reassured to still feel wonder at the sight of snow falling in the desert.
Photo information: Top--My picture taken Thursday from the west end of the valley, looking toward the Strip & the snow-covered mountains; click to enlarge. Below--Family pictures of the 1970s snow. My notes say 1973.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Las Vegas After 6 Hours of Snow

More of my pictures from our snow day today. These were taken right before three o'clock. Big snow flakes stopped falling between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., and right now we have a light drizzling rain. Should be interesting out on the roadways!

It's Snowing in Las Vegas

Snow has been falling ever since I got up! Here are pictures I took around my house at noon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Four Wheel Drive Recommended

If you’re an off-road enthusiast, Southern California abounds with OHV (Off Highway Vehicles) areas, many of them a short drive from Las Vegas. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we stayed on the ouskirts of Barstow and discovered the Stoddard Valley OHV Recreation Area. The area held several campsites, but certainly not so many people that you’d have a problem finding a spot to camp and/or ride your ATV. Several riders were staying at the Holiday Inn on Lenwood, a nice hotel that we enjoyed. It sits right on the edge of Stoddard Valley, right next to an outlet mall and a Hampton Inn.

My husband told me he wanted some dirt roads on this trip, so the detail map and I got friendly. For our ride home, I found a couple of detours to take us around I15 through country we’d never explored.

Our first detour was into the Afton Canyon Wilderness. The dirt road winds through the canyon. Shortly after we took the turnoff from I15, we stopped at the Afton Canyon Campground and watched a train passing. The railroad runs through the canyon, as does the Mojave River. ATVers are thick here, which was a good thing because we had plenty of tracks to follow through the river bed. My 4-wheel-drive-loving husband was in heaven, slinging mud all over his beloved truck. The muddy, bumpy, fun ride through the canyon didn’t allow for pictures.

We hopped back on I15 for about 10 miles to Kelbaker Road in Baker, where we exited into the Mojave National Preserve. We were in search of a lava tube. I knew it was off Aiken Mine Road, but I didn’t know its exact location. It’s one of the places in the Mojave NP I haven’t been. We didn’t find the lava tube, but we did find the abandoned Aiken Mine. Volcanic rock appeared to be the former mine’s product. Derelict equipment and buildings are scattered over the top and side of a cinder dome. Various grades of volcanic rock and tailings are piled everywhere. It’s all equipment my husband knows well, so he showed my son around and explained what each part of the operation did. After we left the mine, corrals and windmills appeared periodically along the dirt road. Somewhere out there, the Mojave Phone Booth used to stand, attracting a cult following before it was removed.

I planned on taking Aiken Mine Road all the way to Cima Road, but we wound up on a different road. Not many street signs exist out there. I wasn't really sure how we came to be on the sandy, northbound power-line road, but at least it looked well-traveled. The compass told us we were heading in the right direction before we could see the cars and trucks of I15 in the distance. As we neared Cima Road, we found an abandoned ranch. Vandals had scratched the year off the name and date inscribed in the concrete by the corral. My husband looked in the window of one of the abandoned buildings and saw a stack of magazines that he described as “Nothing anyone should look at. Not even me,” so we knew we had to be close to the main road. Softball-sized gourds dotted the ground under the Joshua trees.

Once we arrived at the Cima Road entrance to I15, we applauded ourselves for our navigational skills. We joined the cars heading home to Las Vegas and watched the dense line of cars snaking its way in the other direction, toward Los Angeles. How many of them have any idea what the desert beyond the highway holds?
Photo information, top to bottom, all my photos: Abandonded ranch near Cima exit; Joshua tree with gourds growing under it; abandonded mining equipment; the view into Afton Canyon; the railroad bridge.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Joshua Tree National Park: Breezier Than Expected

This year, my family went out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday. I had a couple of places in Southern California I wanted to explore, and Joshua Tree National Park was one of them. Since it’s only about 140 miles east of Los Angeles, it is a heavily visited park, but last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, the lines at the entrance weren’t too long. The weather might have had something to do with it. Instead of the forecasted 70° and sunny, it was 50° and windy.

In addition to plenty of Joshua Trees, as you would imagine, the park also features lots of rocks. As soon as my son saw the granite boulders piled in heaps and mounds, he wanted to get out of the car and climb. We parked at the first turnout. My husband and son were headed to the rocks before I was out of the truck. The wind was cold, so I had to put on a sweater before I explored anything. Not many people seemed bothered by the cold. Families were picnicking, a group of mountaineers was giving lessons on climbing with ropes, and bicyclists explored the dirt paths through the desert. I was sizing up photo opportunities when my husband hurried over to me.

“I ripped my pants,” David announced when he got close to me. “And not in the back.” This might have been a minor setback, if only he had been wearing underwear.

At first, I was no help because I couldn’t stop laughing. David didn’t even have a jacket, so I offered him my sweater to tie around his waist. He declined. “I really wanted to climb with Cameron,” he groused, as we watched our son scampering over the rocks.

As soon as Cameron descended from the rocks, he started an endless string of jokes about Dad’s ripped britches, beginning with, “Dad, you really went ‘nuts’ on that rock!” Since he’s 10, nothing could have been funnier (unless it involved gas).

The next stop on our trip through Joshua Tree was the Keys Trail, where a panoramic vista allows you to see the San Andreas Fault and the Salton Sea. We confabbed in the truck before getting out.

“Do you have any duct tape?” I asked David. (Personally, I believe no vehicle should be without it.) “You could tape it on the inside,” I suggested.

“Well, I’m not going to tape it on the outside!” David exclaimed. I thought he was objecting to looking like he had a duct tape jock strap on the outside of his jeans, but he told me he was more worried about the sticky side of the tape adhering to delicate body parts. We had no need to debate the questions any further, though, because he didn’t have any duct tape. “You can be sure I will have some, next time we go anywhere,” David said.

“How about a towel? You’ve got towels in here,” I said. I was thinking that perhaps he could put the towel on the inside of his pants, as a sort of inner shield, but he vetoed that idea also. “How am I going to look walking around with a towel stuffed in my pants?”

“I would think it’s better than the alternative,” I said, but he refused. I suppose a man’s got to keep some sense of fashion, even when faced with public indecency. He made do with careful positioning of the rip and holding his hands in front of him.

Our visit at the overlook was quick. The brisk winter wind cut through my clothes, and when the clouds covered the sun, I lost all interest in looking at the Fault, the Sea, and the cloud of smog rolling our way from L.A.

Our next stop was for lunch. We ate in the truck, since the wind was too chilly for any of us to want to eat outside, even if David hadn’t had a wardrobe malfunction. David was determined to find a way to climb on the rocks with Cameron, and he finally decided to use a towel in football-player/loin-cloth style, hooking the white towel in his waistband so it covered the front of his pants. With a clothing solution he could finally live with, David headed off with Cameron to explore some rocks. It was too cold for me to care about climbing, so I snapped pictures by the trailhead and stayed in the truck to keep warm.

When my men returned to the truck, they were exhilarated. David was disappointed that he’d forgotten to take his camera. The late afternoon sun was just right for pictures, and the crowds were thinning. “I think I ripped my pants some more,” he told me after he sat down, lifting his strategically placed towel to flash me. “What do you think?”

“I was just wondering how I’ll explain to your mother that we’re going to be back a day late because I had to bail you out of jail for indecent exposure,” I told him.

A few hours later, we were back in Barstow, where we were staying. Fortunately, in addition to a Holiday Inn, Barstow also has a Levi's store.
Photo information: My pictures at Joshua Tree. The first photo (top to bottom) was taken at the turnout where the ripped jeans occurred.