Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Road Trip to Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly

Over the Thanksgiving holiday my family and I took a road trip to Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. I wanted to be in wide open spaces with spotty cell-phone coverage, travel on roads the GPS couldn’t find, and see stunning natural beauty and ancient cliff dwellings.

I scored on three out of four: sadly, cell phone coverage was pretty consistent throughout the trip. 

Day One - Las Vegas to Chinle

The route: I15 north to 9 in Utah, then across a series of smaller roads eastward. In Kayenta, Arizona, we picked up 163 to Monument Valley proper. At the visitor center we took the scenic dirt road through the valley at sunset for as long as we could see it in the fading light. After leaving the visitor center, we turned back on 163 and followed it to 191, where we headed southward to Chinle.

Total miles: approximately 439
Hours on the road: 10

We planned this trip along the most scenic route we could take, given our time constraints. You could easily spend a week or two (or more) along the route we traveled, if you took the time to explore the side trips in the region.

We, however, had a limited amount of time to get from Vegas to Chinle, and our biggest desire for the first day was to see Monument Valley.

The last time I’d been there, it was still a remote place, easy to spot from the highway because there weren’t many roads or buildings.

This time, the presence of people was apparent. It’s not visited on the same scale as the Grand Canyon’s South Rim or Yosemite, but a lot of people are finding their way to this magnificent place. Adjacent to the visitor center there’s even a hotel, The View Hotel, which gives guests a sweeping view of the famous valley.

“When you said we’d see ‘rock formations,’ you didn’t say anything about the size,” my son said as we gazed at Monument Valley’s distinctive buttes, spires, and mesas.

The light here is stunning against the towering rocks, especially at sunset with the advancing shadows adding an intense contrast in colors. After the sun set, the sky gave us a ribbon of pink and blue on the horizon as a backdrop to the red rock spires, which held onto their distinctive colors well after the sun was down. 

After Monument Valley, we hit the road to Chinle, (shin-lay) and were soon enveloped in total darkness. We could almost see the Milky Way from the tinted windows of the car, but we couldn’t see anything else. I’d love to drive this road during the daylight to see what else this area holds.

Day Two: Chinle to Flagstaff

The route: In Chinle, we traveled both the North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive to each of the ten overlooks of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. We then backtracked to 191, and connected with 264 west into Tuba City, picking up a short stretch of 160 before turning southward toward Flagstaff along 89.

Miles: 237, plus 71 miles in Canyon de Chelly
Hours exploring and on the road: approximately 9

In the morning we watched the cows grazing in the field adjacent to our hotel as we loaded up the car. The rooms at the Holiday Inn were wonderfully comfortable and clean, and the entrance to Canyon de Chelly was so close we almost could have walked there.

The restaurant at the hotel had as many locals in the early morning as tourists. The gift shop had a full display of Tony Hillerman books, and at breakfast I spotted one tourist avidly reading one of the author’s popular detective novels set in the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas.

After breakfast we headed directly to Canyon de Chelly. Our first stop was at the visitor center, where we verified the pronunciation of the name: Canyon de “Shay,” not “Shelly.” I picked up a map and NPS guide before we set off to explore both rims of the Monument, which encompasses both Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto.

The Navajo still live here, both along the rims and in the canyon. Traditional hogans are a common sight, and many roads are marked as private. Visitors need to be respectful of the fact that these aren’t all public lands--this is home to many families.

To enter the canyon floor, you must have an authorized guide, unless you hike down into the canyon along the White House Trail, which starts at White House Overlook and leads to one of the ruins. It’s a 2.5 mile hike, 600 feet down and back along switchbacks, and takes about two hours round trip.

Our first look at Canyon de Chelly was at the Tunnel Overlook, where a man was selling hand-made wares from his car, a common sight in this region. The path down to the viewing platform is steep, and my husband chose to skip it and chat with the artist while I inspected the view. The canyon’s not so deep here, close to its mouth, but eventually attains a depth of about 1,000 feet.

The depth and majesty of the canyon starts to show at Tsegi Overlook. This was where I began saying, frequently, “Please step back from the edge of the canyon,” or some variation thereof. (Also spoken often: “No, not funny. Not funny at all.”)
“That’s a lot of down,” my son observed, peering down. You will not find an abundance of rails or walls here to keep you from exploring right up to the edge of the cliffs. Posted signs warn you to keep your kids and pets under control, but sheer drop-offs are everywhere. It’s a little scary and one of my favorite parts of tribal lands in the Southwest.

Each overlook provided a new and stunning view into the valley below, where ancient ruins exist next to small farms and stands of trees. The day was icy cold and clear, with ravens and hawks soaring above and below us, taunting me to take their pictures. 


The history of the canyon is long, and some of it is quite sobering. It’s been inhabited for 5,000 years, including the years during which we waged war on the Native Americans. According to the informational pamphlet: “In 1863, Col. Kit Carson began a brutal campaign against the Navajo. In the winter of 1864 Carson’s troops entered the eastern end of Canyon de Chelly and pushed the Navajo toward the canyon mouth. Resistance proved futile; most Navajo were captured or killed. Carson’s forces returned in the spring.... They destroyed the remaining hogans and orchards, and killed the sheep.”

This happened during the Long Walk, the forced 300-mile march of Navajos to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. The forced walk and subsequent internment resulted in the loss of thousands of Navajo lives. After four years of exile, the remaining Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland. When you know the history, it’s hard to forget when exploring the canyon.

We left Canyon de Chelly late in the afternoon and headed toward Flagstaff. Instead of dropping down to I40, we took 264 across Navajo and Hopi land. We saw huge expanses of country filled with mesas and rock formations. Homesteads dotted the landscape, where cattle, sheep, and horses grazed. Few other vehicles were on the road, mostly pick-up trucks.

After the sun had set in a spectacular blaze of orange and gold in a cloudless sky, we turned southward toward Flagstaff. As we started to climb into the mountains, we pulled over and took a few moments in the 28 degree weather to stare at the night sky, filled with stars and a fabulously visible Milky Way. It had been years since I’d seen the Milky Way. In Las Vegas, light pollution has bleached the stars from the sky.

We talked about going to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, but after we checked into the hotel, got lost (twice) trying to find a restaurant, and finally had dinner at the retro Galaxy Diner, it was too late. Something for the “next time” list.

Day Three: Flagstaff to Las Vegas

The route:  I40 to just past Ash Fork, where we picked up Route 66, which we took into Kingman. Then we grabbed 93 home to Las Vegas.

Miles: 266
Hours on the road: 5

By day three, we were all ready to get home. No matter how much spectacular scenery we’d seen, everyone was ready to be out of the car.

First stop: Matador Coffee, the coffee shop we’d driven past several times while we were lost the night before. It’s a little local place in a remodeled car repair garage. The food and coffee were great, but the only downside was that we wound up eating in the car. There wasn’t much seating and not much (if anything) in the way of heating, and it was about 27 degrees out. I noticed the temperature didn’t deter the line of bundled-up people waiting for coffee and food.

We headed out of Flagstaff west on I40 until we grabbed an exit onto Historic Route 66. The old road runs in a semi-circle, roughly parallel to I40 from around Ash Fork all the way into Kingman. Beyond that, you can continue on into Oatman and all the way to Topock, and in California the road picks up again just off I40 along the Mojave Preserve’s southern border.

We were only going as far as Kingman, with one stop at the Hackberry General Store.

As Route 66 unfurled in front of us, I saw dozens of places ripe for photographs: ruins, horses, memorabilia shops, and kitsch galore... more stops for the “later” list.

I’ve stopped in Hackberry many times over the years, and it’s always a fun place to photograph. This time was no different. Loads of vintage cars and Route 66 memorabilia fill the grounds. It’s hard to resist buying a souvenir here.

After our short stop, it was only about two hours until we pulled into our driveway. That’s the moment we enjoyed one of the best parts about any trip: getting home.

Additional reading and notes on the route:

I’ve collected some example of possible side trips off our route, but be forewarned: adventurers will find many more places to explore in this region. Remember to take all appropriate travel precautions and consult an actual map, not just your GPS, when you’re in remote areas. Here are some possibilities:  Zion, Cedar Breaks National Monument, all Rims (North, South, and West) of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Valley of the Gods, Petrified Forest, Sedona, Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, Jerome, Oatman, and the Mojave National Preserve.

On the history of Canyon de Chelly and the Navajo:

I found this account of the Long Walk as related by Navajo elders. It includes the story of Fortress Rock, where the Navajos who refused to surrender hid atop the rock and outlasted the troops who had been left to wait them out, presuming the Navajo would run out of food or water.

The Navajo did run out of water, but waited until nightfall on a full moon to create a human chain down the rock to a water source, silently collecting and passing water up the chain of people. Although the holdouts outlasted the troops, they were also eventually captured and forced on the Long Walk.

I first read about the history of the canyon and the Long Walk in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which devotes a chapter to it.

If you’ve been into any of these areas, what are your favorite places?
All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. See more from this trip on flickr.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Vintage Vegas on Main Street Las Vegas

Main Street was once the place to go for things like cheap furniture and upholstery supplies. Today it’s home to several vintage and antique shops, plus some impressive street art.

When I walk into many of the shops on Main Street, it’s like a trip back in time. It’s delightful, except it’s a little unsettling that I own (and still use) some of the things I’ve found for sale.

This display kitchen at Retro Vegas, for instance, holds several objects that are very familiar to me. See that little folding stool by the counter, in the corner? I have an identical one at home, inherited in the few things left from my childhood home in the Charleston Park area Downtown.

If you’ve seen the movie “Casino,” you’ve seen what I call Vintage Vegas style. The look is heavy on orange, olive, glass, and gold in a mid-century style that’s actually pretty cool. It saw its apex during the 70s. I think the earlier, slightly less gaudy 1960s style is cooler, but it’s a little harder to find. Retro Vegas is filled with vintage pieces from prior eras.
While Vegas-centric items are the focus of several Main Street stores, that’s certainly not all you’ll find in the way of shops. Case in point: Las Vegas Oddities and Antiquities, which is light on Vegas-themed items but has everything from fine art to skulls. 

Modern Mantiques has a great combination of vintage and interesting items. My favorite piece here was a metal dragon sculpture. “Look, it’s your spirit animal,” my son said. 

JJC Clocks & Antiques is full of clocks (of course), but also has an area filled with an assortment of vintage and antique pieces alongside unexpected things, like this elephant. 

The number of ash trays in most stores is astonishing. It’s a reminder that everyone smoked everywhere all the time from the 60s through the 80s. Ash trays were functional and decorative. Today, the prettier ones have survived and can be re-purposed, unless you’re using them for their original purpose. This is one I have, and I think it's way too pretty for cigarette ashes. 

When you’re wandering down Main Street from store to store, you see plenty of street art along the side streets. It’s one of the best reasons to walk to a few shops.

It’s nice to see a mix of businesses in the area. The vintage shops are neighbors to car repair shops, restaurants, plumbers, tattoo parlors and other businesses that are hold-overs from Main Street’s prior life.

The word “gentrification” gets mentioned a lot when talking about this part of town. Personally, I like it the way it is, but everything changes, especially in Las Vegas. In August, LV Weekly featured a piece on Main Street, complete with an artistic conceptualization of how the new, redesigned, one-way Main Street will look like after road construction is done (whenever that may be). I’m sure it will be pretty, but I’ll admit I’m a big fan of authentic grittiness when it comes to my home town. But I have hope we’ll get it right, something like what has happened along Fremont East.

An afternoon on Main Street is sure to be entertaining, especially if you’re hunting for a specific hard-to-find item, or if you’re of a certain age and remember seeing this stuff when it first came out. If you dislike glossy newness and cookie-cutter things, Main Street Las Vegas is the place for you.

Are you a vintage and antique shop lover?

Fun Fact:

Perhaps not coincidentally, the owners of Retro Vegas own a home that was once an embodiment of the Vegas Vintage style in every way. A few years ago I read a story in Las Vegas Weeklyabout the owners’ purchase of the former home of Doyle Brunson (also once the residence of Jackie Gaughan), a place I knew well once since I was friends with Brunson’s daughters when we were kids. It’s an amazing house that was once filled with furnishings that would fit right into its current owners’ shop.

All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. See more from Main Street Las Vegas on my flickr page.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Day at Tule Springs Park

At one time, Tule Springs was easily identifiable as a large patch of green in the middle of the desert just off US95.


Today, it’s a little harder to find, but well worth the effort.

My son and I spent an afternoon there about a month ago.

“When I was a kid, we used to come out here for field trips,” I told my kid as we were driving there, right after we passed a strip mall with a grocery store and a gas station.  “None of this was here.”

“'Back in my day,'” he replied, imitating the voice of a 300-year-old person.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of signage to point you to Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs (its official name). Otherwise, I don’t know how I’d find it since the housing developments hide it from view.

I decided to head out to Tule Springs primarily to use it as a backdrop for some portrait shots, but also to explore the grounds. The last time my son had seen Tule Springs, he was this size. (He’s the short one.)

My son just turned 18 recently. Here he is, having a stare-down with a goose in about the same area.

The area of Tule Springs has been around for literal ages. It includes the designated park that bears the name Tule Springs, as well as the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, which is full of Ice Age fossils and includes the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

Water in the desert is a rare and beautiful thing. For centuries, people and animals were drawn to the numerous springs in Southern Nevada. Tule Springs was one of those areas.

Flash forward to the 1940s, and Tule Springs Ranch (which later became the park) was a divorce ranch. Nevada had only a six-week residency law for divorce, which was the shortest residency requirement in the nation at that time. If you had big bucks to spend on your divorce, you could get in some horseback riding and fishing while you waited for the time to pass. It was also a working ranch.

By the time I was a school kid, the buildings had long since become “historic,” and the grounds had become a city park. The property and buildings were officially listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1981.


The geese and peacocks are a defining feature here, and they’re brave. We were stalked by a group of geese I dubbed “The Tule Springs Welcoming Committee.” This group of avian panhandlers never gave up hope we would feed them.

We also spotted a pelican. “Look, a pelican,” I said when I first saw him paddling toward us.

“We don’t have pelicans in the desert,” my son automatically responded, but he hadn’t seen the bird yet.

“Well, that’s a pelican,” I pointed out.

“Yup... that is a pelican,” he agreed when he spotted the bird. Mr. Pelican was floating close to the shore, clearly eyeballing us to evaluate the likelihood we would feed him.

The second time we encountered the pelican, he was brazenly cozying up to some people at a picnic table. When my son and I walked by, we were apparently too close for comfort. He abruptly spread his big wings and took to flight, almost grazing my son’s head as he circled over the pond, landing just ahead of us on what appeared to be one of his favorite picnic tables, judging by the pelican droppings.

The people Mr. Pelican had been so friendly with said, “The rangers told us they don’t know where he came from.” However he arrived, Tule Springs seems like a good place for him, all things considered.

Fishing ponds dot the grounds, and there are plenty of places to picnic and enjoy the greenery. The historic buildings and accompanying placards give a wonderful idea of what living in Las Vegas was once like.

It creates an odd dissonance for me to see Tule Springs surrounded by houses. But it’s reassuring to walk through the park, much of which remains unchanged from what I remember from my grade-school years. And it’s always a treat to be able to share something with my son that’s relatively unchanged from my childhood--a rarity for Las Vegas natives.

In this city, things change quickly. A timeless place like Tule Springs is treasure, and I’m glad we have it.

Have you been to Tule Springs?


All pictures by Terrisa Meeks (you can see more pics of my day at Tule Springs on fickr)

Monday, September 05, 2016

What it was Like to Grow up in Old Las Vegas

Once upon a time, I lived in a city full of mobsters, entertainers, cowboys, colorful gamblers, and an abundance of open desert. It's a time that's passed into a kind of mythological status, so it's only natural that one of the most common questions I get is: “What was it like to grow up in Las Vegas?”

We used to get started gambling early around here
(I'm kidding, of course)
This question is almost always posed with wide eyes and, I think, the hope that I have something  juicy to share, like a mobster dad or a mother who was an exotic dancer.

In my case, my dad was a bartender and my mom was an accountant.

My parents moved here around 1960. When I was born, Dad was working at the Flamingo. Over four decades he worked as a bartender or food and beverage manager at a whole bunch of legendary Vegas places that no longer exist, like the Aladdin and the recently imploded Riviera.

Here Dad is hanging out after work (notice no tie) at what looks like a pool bar. Once he was done with his shift, he usually went off to visit one (or more) of his bartender (or dealer or waitress or entertainer) buddies, which appears to be the case in this photo. This was probably taken around the time he worked at the Flamingo in the early 1960s.

Dad was, to my mom's great irritation, that guy who always “knew a guy.” And that guy never showed up when he was supposed to, nor did he ever do what he said he would. Take, for instance, the "painter" who painted my parent's bedroom with an earthy shade of exterior house paint that looked terrible and made the room feel like a cave. Dad was pleased, but Mom not so much. (In later years, Dad hired another guy he knew to do paneling on one of the walls, which took twice as long and cost twice as much as originally quoted, and did not improve the cave-like feeling.)

My mom worked mostly as an accountant, but she also sold flight insurance at McCarran for a while, as evidenced by this picture. Mom's the one with the lei. She also happened to be gorgeous, as you can see.

Mom once told me a story about the day she was out shopping with her hair up in curlers when she ran into Della Reese. She spotted Della, whom she knew (remember, it was a small town), and tried to duck out of sight because she was embarrassed. “Here I am in curlers, and there she was, all beautifully done up,” was kind of how Mom described it to me. I think Mom may have said a brief hello, but she scooted out of the store without stopping to chat.

Later that night, when Della saw my Dad (I’m guessing at work), she told him, “Your wife is stuck up.” Mom told me she was horrified when Dad told her (I bet he laughed), and I’m not sure how that perception was corrected, if ever.

We went to a lot of shows and restaurants, most of which my parents never paid for—unless you counted the generous tips paid to the maitre ‘d, the cocktail waitress, the waiter, and so on. Mostly, these were people my dad knew, who returned the favor when he comped them at his bar when he was working. It was an unwritten rule that if you weren’t paying for the meal or the show, you’d better be tipping well.

It wasn’t all shows and glamour, of course. We had a pretty regular family routine, although life with two partiers (as we would call them today) had its ups and downs. But they bequeathed me a huge supply of great stories, which is a good thing for a writer.

When I was a teenager and finding things to do without my parents, Las Vegas was still largely rural on the outskirts. I went to gymkhanas and off-roaded with my friends. The Red Rock Loop was a two-way road, and it didn't take long to drive out of town. Seeing the Milky Way required only about a two-hour drive… if that.

In some ways, getting used to the city-fication of Las Vegas has been harder than adjusting to the changes on the Strip. Gone are the ranches and the wide open desert I remember. Most of the places from my childhood are gone or irrevocably changed.

Still, I find the city fascinating and the desert alluring.

My son has grown up in an entirely different Las Vegas, a place that's far more urban than when I was a kid. He's rather blasé about his famous hometown, and while he still has some distinctly Vegas Native tendencies (like never taking anything someone hands you on the Strip and a love of vast, wild places), his experience growing up in Vegas is almost as if he didn't grow up in the same city that I did at all.

Are you a Vegas Native? Leave your story, please!

In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.

All pictures from the giant family photo collection of Terrisa Meeks.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The Unsolved Murder of Stephanie Isaacson

In 2007, I originally wrote about the troubling and tragic death of 14-year-old Stephanie Isaacson in 1989. Out of my 22 years with Metro, ten of them were at the front desk of the Crime Lab, and this unsolved case remains one I cannot forget.

On June, 1, 1989, Stephanie Isaacson left her house at about 6:30 a.m. to walk to Eldorado High School. She cut through a vacant desert lot at Stewart Avenue and Linn Lane on her way, which was her usual route. Her shortcut was not a good idea that day.

When Stephanie didn't come home that afternoon, her father started looking for her and soon found out she had never arrived at school. A search turned up her body in that desert lot. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Terrible crimes occur every day. I know this because I read the reports and saw the photographs of pretty much every homicide committed in Metro's jurisdiction between 1984 and 1994.

At the time Stephanie was killed, my nieces were close to her age and lived only a couple of miles away from where she was found. The tragic and senseless nature of this crime felt very close to home, because it was.

A young girl being violently murdered while walking to school is deeply disturbing. And in this case, that brutal crime went unsolved and unpunished.

I wrote to the Cold Case unit to ask if there were any updates to the case. I didn't expect to hear a surprising new development, but I had a sliver of hope that there would be something that had changed. A person of interest. Some new development that hadn't received much press.

Sadly, the reply from the cold case investigator was very short: “We've nothing to update... sorry.”

Periodically, I receive comments on the post from people who knew Stephanie, most recently on August 12, on what would have been her birthday. Stephanie's mother wrote:

Today we would be celebrating Stephanie's birthday if she were still with us. I am her Mother and I can tell you that "time does not heal all wounds." This tragedy will always be an open wound for her family and friends. I miss her every day. I wish the low life who stole her from us could be brought to justice. I still believe there is someone out there who knows who did this. I just wish they would have the decency to come forward and tell who committed this horrible crime, but I don't believe it will ever be solved. I love you Stephanie. 

Did you live in Las Vegas in 1989 in the area of Stewart Avenue and Linn Lane? If you know anything about this case, it is not too late to speak up. You can contact the anonymous tipline at Metro or contact Metro's Cold Case Unit.


Note: In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.

Photo by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, September 02, 2016

Mystery Shopping in Las Vegas - An Update

When I first published the post “The Truth About MysteryShopping in Las Vegas” in 2011, I had no idea how much interest it would spark. 

The allure of getting paid to shop remains high, no doubt fueled by totally false ads about earning hundreds of dollars per shop.

Here's the deal: in Nevada, you cannot become a mystery shopper unless you have a work permit and are working for a licensed private investigator, as a regular employee—not an independent contractor—or if you're an actual private investigator. Period. All those websites that promise mystery shopping jobs right away are misleading, at best, and outright scams in many cases, like the money order cashing scam I encountered ("cash this money order and wire the funds out of the country".... yeah, no).

If you're looking for legitimate work as a mystery shopper, do your homework. Remember that old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”  And don't let high-ranking websites fool you. One of the top five returns on my recent Google search for “mystery shopping Las Vegas” was for a membership to get mystery shopping jobs online, with no mention of Nevada's laws or licensing requirements.

I wrote to QSI, a Las Vegas company that offers legitimate mystery shopping work, to see what might have changed since I wrote my post. Their Vice President, Lety Gonzalez, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Q:  What do you think people should know before they apply to be a mystery shopper in Las Vegas? 

A: Before folks apply to be a mystery shopper in Las Vegas, they need to know that mystery shopping is a part-time job to supplement income or do for extra money. It is not something that will earn a ton of money, although there are some folks who do mystery shopping full time.

They should also know that they must apply with a licensed PI company and are required to obtain a work card from the Private Investigator’s Licensing Board (PILB). Nevada is the only state with these requirements. Shoppers are paid every two weeks and are W2 employees, NOT independent contractors.

Q. How often do you have someone apply with you who’s been duped by a mystery shopping scam before finding you?

A: I haven’t encountered too many folks personally, but I have heard that it is very common. Receiving a check without having done any work or filled out any report is one to keep an eye out for. A legitimate mystery shopping provider (company) would not pay a shopper prior to having the mystery shop completed.

Q:  Is the demand for mystery shoppers growing?

A: Companies are always looking for shoppers. QSI specifically is always accepting applications. With more and more shops being conducted in Las Vegas and in Northern NV, we are always seeking shoppers to help meet rotation requirements. We always want new faces in the places we shop!

Clearly, there's some fun work available for people who can meet the requirements, but don't quit your day job just yet.

And beware of the scammers out there.


Have you ever done mystery shopping?

In August 2016, Vegas Girl celebrated its 10th anniversary. This post is a part of three-part series revisiting some of Vegas Girl's most notable stories.
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Trumbull at flickr. Interview comments edited for clarity.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Quintessential Las Vegas Picture

I was asked for photos that capture the “most quintessential Vegas moment you will never forget,” by #CapturingVegas.

Now, that’s a tough question since I was born and raised here.

So I thought about what I, a native Las Vegan who writes and blogs and photographs all kinds of Vegasy things, sees as a photograph that captures the essence of Las Vegas.

First, I considered the Las Vegas Strip.

Here’s the thing I noticed about my recent photographs of the Strip: they all have that slightly off-the-beaten path, behind-the-scenes view point. That’s partly because I was working on a series of photos from parking garage rooftops  (which tends to attract security guards, by the way), but I think it’s also reflective of how many residents see the Strip. It’s fun and glamorous, but living in any exciting city (San Diego, New York, etc.)  is far different than vacationing there.

People often ask me why I stayed in Las Vegas, instead of moving away as so many people do. We have one of the lowest percentages of native-born residents of any city.

Two things kept me here: family and my love of the desert.

Only about 15% of tourists ever make it beyond the Strip, which is a shame. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, zip lining, golf, and easy access to the stunning beauty through the Southwest—Red Rock, Zion, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Cedar Breaks, Lake Mead—are right here in our backyard.

I love a great meal, a show, and taking in everything the Strip has to offer. But for me, the amazing wonders around the city are what captures Vegas.

All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. Check out my other photos on flickr — including more of my photos of Red Rock. And check out #CapturingVegas on's Twitter and Pinterest pages for other pictures of Las Vegas.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Day Trip to Rhyolite and Death Valley

I’ve visited Rhyolite more times than I can count, but until a few weeks ago I hadn’t been to the popular ghost town in a long time. I never grow tired of exploring the ruins.

On a clear and warm December day, my son and I made the two-hour drive from Las Vegas to Rhyolite.

We stopped first at the Bottle House, which looks kind of antiseptic to me now (I remember when it was open to the public and the grounds were cluttered with all manner of things). 
Many of Rhyolite’s ruins are fenced off, but the place is still amazing. At its peak in the early 1900s, Rhyolite had a population of about 6,000. Today, the desert has reclaimed the townsite almost completely.

We explored the area as thoroughly as we felt was wise, considering the numerous rattlesnake warning signs.

After walking around Rhyolite for about an hour and a half, we got in the car to head toward home, via the scenic route through DeathValley.

The Hell’s Gate entrance to Death Valley is just 10 miles west of Rhyolite. As we pulled into the fee station, a panoramic view of Death Valley welcomed us.

We cruised down toward the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Stovepipe Wells. Sadly, the road to Scotty’s Castle and the historic building itself is still closed due to damage from floods in fall of 2015.  

I tried to tempt my son into climbing the sand dunes (“Look, it’s not even a very tall dune!”) , but he insisted he didn’t want to get sand in his boots. I got out and snapped photos while he read the newspaper in the car. The dunes were packed with people.
We made a quick stop in Stovepipe Wells for some water and expensive gas before heading out to catch 190 South.

It was sunset when we came to Zabriskie Point. “You can stay in the car if you want, but I’m getting out to take pictures. This is one of the most famous places in Death Valley,” I informed my teenage traveling companion. (I think it was actually my story about the counter-culture cult classic movie of the same name that piqued his interest enough to get him out of the car.)

We walked up the pathway to the overlook and marveled at the landscape, and at the large number of foreign visitors. We  heard more foreign languages than English. The other striking feature: the photographers. They lined up atop a hill just below the overlook to capture the gorgeous afternoon light, becoming as much a part of the landscape as the formations they were photographing.

Before the sky completely darkened, we headed back. The almost full moon was rising and a brilliant sunset lit up the sky behind us, making me wish I’d brought my tripod and stayed at the point longer.

On the lonely two-lane road that took us from Death Valley Junction back to US95, my son and I talked about skin walkers and chupacabras and the vastness of the desert.

It was the perfect winter day.

Have you been to Death Valley recently?

To see more photos, visit my flickr album, "Rhyolite and Death Valley"