A Seventh Anniversary Adventure for Abby and Richard
“Singing on the famous street
I want your love above and under me
Am I just in Heaven or Las Vegas
But you’re much brighter than the sun is to me…”
~Heaven or Las Vegas by The Cocteau Twins
• Day 1: Driving to Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abby and I got off to a very late start, but once we were on the road we travelled well and had a great time. Abby had been sick for ten days before we departed, but as the sun came up and we headed west, she seemed to feel amazingly better and happier than I’ve seen her since she caught the crud. The dogs were happy to be huddled on their blanket in the back seat of Abby’s truck.
As we crossed into New Mexico under the perfect desert sun, we both started getting text messages about severe thunderstorms moving though Ada. By the time we pulled into Santa Fe, our home in Oklahoma had received 1.24 inches of rain.
As has become our tradition, we got Chinese food delivered for dinner. We have always gotten great Chinese food in Santa Fe.
• Day 2: Morning on the Plaza in Santa Fe, then driving to Flagstaff, Arizona
The morning was cold and clear in Santa Fe. We walked around the plaza and found a few souvenirs. We made some nice images. As Abby said, “The dogs were the superstars,” with about every third person admiring them and wanting to pet them.
The peak moment was when about six teenagers showed up with a boom box and set up in the pavilion. They performed about five really energetic, fun, clean dance sets, including hip-hop and break dancing. The crowd, which had really started to fill out, got into it, and everyone had a great time.
Our drive to Flagstaff was sunny and easy. At sunset we stopped on the Interstate near Holbrook, Arizona to photograph the Cholla Power Plant.
• Day 3: Arriving in Las Vegas
One reason we were able to go this far west for our anniversary vacation this year is that we started on Saturday instead of our usual Sunday.
The morning was clear and cold in Flagstaff, and Abby and I were in excellent spirits.
We arrived in Las Vegas Monday afternoon and found our hotel, The Cosmopolitan, without difficulty. It is brand new, having opened in December, and is in the very heart of The Strip. Upon checking in, we were treated to a complimentary room upgrade to a terrance view room on the 48th floor, which sports a view of the City to the north, and is directly above the famous Bellagio Fountains. The room is huge and amazingly luxurious.
Abby and I went out onto the open air balcony with our cameras and immediately started shooting and watching, and didn’t say a word to each other for an hour.
We had an excellent dinner at China Poblano here at The Cosmopolitan. Back at the room, Abby was tired, so I left her and the dogs to settle in while I walked the streets for a couple of hours. I didn’t go more than half a mile in any direction, and I never got bored. I saw tons of tourists of all descriptions, and as the night got later, more and more of them appeared drunk. I also saw some street performers, and at least two drunk panhandlers.
As my stroll progressed, I moved north, ending up at the Bellagio Fountains, where the crowds were thickest. I photographed the Fountain show and people watching it, and other interesting tidbits.
I feel like photographs I saw of Las Vegas before coming here did not express its energy in a way that gave me a taste of the actual experience, and I would like for some of my images to do that.
Note: the notion that everything is cheap in Las Vegas so you’ll gamble is a myth. Lodging is fairly inexpensive, but everything connected to lodging, from the $15 internet service to the $68 apiece evening meal is all quite high.
• Day 4: Las Vegas
Abby took the morning off and slept in with the dogs, while I decided to walk south on The Strip and see what might make pictures. I crossed the street on the skywalk into an area that had lots of small shops and attractions, some sleazy, some not. It made some interesting images. I crossed the street at the New York New York and made my way back north through the labyrinth of skywalks and ramps into City Center, then back to our hotel. All told it was about two hours, and I had fun.
Neither Abby nor I had ever ordered room service, so I ordered her a turkey club sandwich, which she reported as delicious.
I called Robert Stinson to tell him that I realized at some point that I didn’t have to smile because I was on The Strip and everyone I would see would be a complete stranger. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like smiling, as much as I just didn’t have anyone at whom to smile. Right after that, a guy in feathers and a big mask made of playing cards told me, “Sir, you look mad enough to hurt yourself.”
I had not realized until I read today on the internet that The Strip is not in the City of Las Vegas.
At midday I was back in the room for a short nap, though I found that sleep eluded me. I was too excited about all I had seen and wanted to shoot. By two or so I was back on the street. One thing I noticed is that a lot of the people asking for money, in fact most of them, had dogs with them. It’s like the head homeless guy said, “Go to the pound and get a dog; you’ll get more change in your hat.”
At street corners dozens of people tried to hand you casino ads or strip show discount tickets. One guy even said, “Fellas, you know how you know that your wife loves you? She lets you go to the titty bar.”
Abby had leftover turkey club from lunch for dinner, so I went to the sushi bar (she doesn’t like sushi anyway) and got their vegetable sushi plate, which was incredibly good.
Afterwards I went walking one more time, this time all the way to the Luxor, the hotel that looks like a giant pyramid. Again, everywhere I turned seemed to make pictures.
Day 5: Hoover Dam
Upon waking, I opened the terrace door to see and photograph a rainbow over the city.
We tried the breakfast buffet here at The Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon and found it every bit as amazing as you might expect.
We put the dogs in their kennel cage and drove to Hoover Dam, where we took the longer of the two guided tours, the one that includes the interior of the dam. Except for strong winds stalling elevators a couple of times, it went without a hitch and was very fun.
Abby and I stopped at a place in Boulder City that makes and sells iron sculpture, and while we would have come home with a trailer full of stuff, we settled for a braised iron Kokopelli.
As night fell Abby and I had dinner at Scarpetta, the fourth of the Cosmopolitan’s 13 fine dining establishments we visited (the others being Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar, China Poblano, and The Wicked Spoon.) After dinner we ventured onto The Strip, where we walked and made some really nice images of her with the 35mm f/1.8 we got recently just for such low-light occasions. The weather was breezy and cool, and we both had a great time just being together.
Day 6: Las Vegas to Flagstaff via Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Abby and I had pondered the notion of driving farther west to Death Valley, but the more we thought about it, the more we felt Death Valley was so huge that it deserved a vacation devoted just to it. Instead we headed south into the corner of California through Needles to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, home of London Bridge. On the way out of Las Vegas we photographed the traditional “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and had our picture made with the Elvis who was there and his ’56 Cadillac.
Also along our drive was a giant silver geodesic dome on a stick with an attached convienience store. The owner told us it was once his mother’s home, but they were in the process of making it into a museum attraction. Tons of fun, funny images.
Day 7: Sedona, Arizona Driving Tour
Woke up in Flagstaff to the same spectacular sunshine we’ve enjoyed all week.
We drove south on I-17 to the south end of the Sedona area and wound our way through the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Nice Visitor Center, nice scenery, but crowded, particularly with busses which disgorged dozens of oriental tourists.
The best item we photographed in the area was its signature piece, Chapel of the Holy Cross. There were lots of tourists, but the coolest among them were three buddhist monks. The Chapel itself is built into a handsome red rock stone bluff, and is immaculate and beautiful, inside and out. It was a little weird, though, to be photographing the inside of a church where people were praying, but it was going on, so I joined in.
We saw a handsome overlook at the top of the Sedona airport road, then drove a winding road to Red Rock Crossing State Park, where we made some nice images of waterwheels and reflections in Oak Creek.
We decided we definitely didn’t like driving in the Sedona area, which features dozens of roundabouts.
Finally, we took 89a back to Flagstaff. 89a follows deep, winding canyons and features breathtaking views mingled with ranches, resorts and campgrounds.
In Flagstaff we found a Quisnos, our favorite sub shop, and had a great lunch outdoors in the high Arizona sunshine.
Day 8: Driving Home
Our drive home went without a hitch.
Other fun facts about this trip…
- Abby’s truck, a 2010 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4×4, averaged 20.4 miles per gallon over the entire trip.
- In our Las Vegas hotel, it was almost impossible to find coffee, even if we wanted to pay for it. Even on the street, there was plenty of alcohol, even in the morning, but almost nowhere to get coffee.
- Abby and I made more images than on any previous trip, more than 25GB of stills and video.
- Our dogs, Max and Sierra, spent most of their road time in the back seat on a fleece blanket. They were frequently admired in our Las Vegas Hotel.
- Abby and I did not gamble, though we did pay for some of the most expensive dinners we have ever enjoyed, and felt they were completely worth it.
- As we drove, out of the blue Abby suggested a name for our RV (which we didn’t bring on this trip). We’d been debating it’s name since we got it two Junes ago, and couldn’t agree. So as of today, our RV is named Kokopelli.
- When we pulled into the driveway at home, Abby said, “I want to go again.”
Watch the Heaven or Las Vegas QuickTime movie here: