Viva Las Vegas

Today was mostly a driving day, with the ultimate goal being Las Vegas, which was really just an intermediate goal on the way to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. We were on the road by 8:30am after detouring through beautiful downtown Exeter, which was pretty empty on a Sunday morning, but features a number of murals painted on the sides of various buildings around town, mostly depicting some aspect of the farming trade that is the main source of livelihood in that part of the state. Driving up from the south, or even north and east yesterday en route to Sequoia and back, are miles and miles of groves of all different shapes of trees, some were oranges, some looked like apple trees, most were unrecognizable, and of varying sizes too. There were corn fields, grape vines, you name it.

Once you hit Bakersfield and make a left turn towards the desert, the topology changes almost immediately as you hit what I guess are the lower part of the Sierra Nevadas, which look completely different from the part we were just in a day ago. This area is mostly tan-colored grassy rolling hills, with scrubby trees dotting the landscape. We went up and over the mountains and into the high desert of Mojave, stopping in Barstow for lunch at a Long John Silvers, which was an exciting find. Barstow would seem to be about three streets wide and several miles long, Main Street being pretty well filled up with shops and restaurants, the first stretch of the Route 66 trail that we’ve been on, if only for a few miles.

East of Barstow you’re really leaving civilization behind, but before we could make the last stretch to Vegas we stopped for a couple of hours just outside of town at the Calico Ghost Town, which must owe its popularity as much to its relative location at the half way point between LA and Vegas as to any other merits it may possess. For a few dollars, you can walk around what used to be a ghost town but is now rebuilt as a combination wild west and silver mining town from the 1880’s, with lots of little shops and a few modest restaurants, several original buildings, a mine shaft you can walk through, even a little railroad engine to ride on. All this while fricasseeing in the 100 degree mid-afternoon sun. They’ve done a reasonable job at keeping it from being too touristy, there were some gunfight demonstrations in the street periodically, the kids were drinking water like made and mostly enjoyed themselves. This was another stop on that infamous trip of ’68, so we had a few more pictures to match up, but unlike Mother Nature, the ghost town can change a lot in 38 years, not the least because a fire destroyed a good chunk of it about 10 years ago. The wooden cigar store Indian that back then was prominently displayed in bright painted colors right outside one of the shops was now relegated to up against the outside wall, and looking worse for wear. A more politically correct wooden cowboy had taken its place.

A few more hours driving got us to sin city, and we were checked into the vast Circus Circus hotel with a minimum of difficulty, once we figured out exactly where the registration desk actually was. Since it’s a casino, there’s a buffet, so we had to do the buffet, the kids were all impressed with the place, and given the name, it’s supposed to cater more to families, as long as they’re families who like gambling, I guess. They have brief carnival shows every half hour, we managed to see two of them while strolling around an indoor midway that had all manner of carnival games. Chloe tried her hand at one that involved rolling balls into narrow numbered slots to add up to a certain amount, and won a stuffed tiger on the first try. Justin tried 3 times and came up empty. Needless to say he wasn’t thrilled, but fortunately he was too tired to really stew about it.

Tomorrow there’s more driving to do in the 100 degree sun in our $3.19 a gallon gas guzzling SUV on our way to the eastern-most point of the trip and hopefully a bit cooler temperatures.