Quest of the Phoenix 2017 (4)

Part 4 of 11

I rose early again but took my time getting ready, since I had a shorter drive today (or so I thought). Checking out, I also bought a postcard depicting Canyonlands National Park, since Tina (and her mom) had requested one and it enabled me to give the innkeepers an extra 80 cents to thank them for their nicely-scented room. I was on the road again by 9:30 and in good spirits, for today I would be driving through Monument Valley.

Monument Valley is one of the most iconic areas in the American West, featured in numerous films and widely spoken of as a must-see. Even before I got there, though, the countryside just south of Bluff was spectacular, not least Mexican Hat Rock, after which is named the nearby town of Mexican Hat, which has a strange little bridge over a strange little canyon where the waters are sort of reddish-orange due to the land over which they flow.

The valley itself was perhaps the highlight of the trip so far. The landscape doesn’t shift massively as you enter it, but you know you’re there. The good people who’d built the highway wisely put areas alongside the road where motorists could pull over to admire the sights, and I shared one such area with an Asian couple from California who seemed as enamored as I was. I took some pics and drove on (slowly, gawking all the while).

The Arizona border runs through the middle of Monument Valley, and so I crossed into the state which was technically my main destination, through the Valley of the Sun, where Phoenix and its satellites lay, was hundreds of miles south yet. My path for today would zig-zag all across the border between the two states before descending into Nevada. Anyway, northern Arizona was slightly less bizarre than southern Utah, but still really cool. Much of where I drove through was part of the massive Navajo Nation reservation, and occasionally there would be stands alongside the road selling authentic Navajo jewelry, though most of them were unmanned. The towns also seemed a bit economically depressed, unfortunately.

Somewhere in the desert near Shonto I missed my turn and ended up going a goodly ways deeper into AZ than planned, which irked me since I wanted to get all the way to the town of Page before I stopped to pee. However, as I drove back north to get back on track, I ended up ascending some mountains, which, though somewhat difficult to drive through (not as bad as the Rockies), were incredible to see, AND, quite unexpectedly, I rounded a bend and saw, in the valley below, what I’m pretty sure was an eastern spur of the Grand Canyon. It was only fleeting and the one picture I got massacred what it actually looked like, but still.

Page lay atop a plateau of very dry red-rock country, near the smaller Glen Canyon and its attendant Dam. It seemed like quite a nice town, albeit also a tad touristy and crowded. I stopped at the obligatory McDonald’s to trade urine for coffee once more, and continued along the dam-bridge, which was pretty cool, shortly thereafter crossing back into Utah and heading for Kanab.

Near Kanab (another popular location for the shooting of Western films) the countryside again became slightly more fertile. Kanab itself was beautiful but a tad yuppified; at the gas station/convenience store where I stopped to trade urine for fuel, there was a FOUNTAIN near the back of the parking lot. Interesting.

A left turn took me back south for a short loop again into northern Arizona, and then back into Utah for the last time. I stopped to pee again (I’d been drinking coffee all day, give me a break) in the weirdly-named town of Hurricane, which was pretty nice but, again, seemed overcrowded. I saw a few women wearing very old-fashioned, full-body-concealing dresses, suggesting that they were probably the Mormon equivalents of Amish or Hasidic Jews or some such. I was almost to St. George, a fast-growing city which was supposedly one of Utah’s outposts of Mormonism but which also had representation from the legendary IN-N-OUT BURGER, which Laura recommended I try. Shortly after getting on Freeway 15 South I saw the first signs for the St. George area, and pulled off upon seeing an advertisement for said restaurant.

The suburb into which I came was the most traffic-clogged and over-busy place I’d seen yet in the West, and In-N-Out Burger had a huuuuge line of cars wrapped around the building. Nevertheless, I persisted. A girl with a mobile ordering device came out and started walking down the line of cars to get people’s orders in quicker. I had a fairly standard double cheeseburger combo with fries and a chocolate shake, by far the richest food I would have eaten in several days now. It did not disappoint. Well, the burger was great. Their fries are weird, with a light papery texture for which I didn’t much care.

I got back on 15 South, headed for Las Vegas. When originally planning this trip, I was just going to go straight down through Arizona from Utah into Phoenix. Adding Vegas at the expense of one of my Phoenix-days was a late addition, and I didn’t think about it very hard. FORESHADOWING!

As I passed through a tiny corner of Arizona again, the freeway suddenly descended some mountains — I’d been over 4,000 feet for awhile now, and Vegas lies at only about 2,000, but I wasn’t expecting the drop to be quite so sudden. Back to riding the brake down curvy slopes. The brown mountains here were really cool-looking, though. Sadly my camera screwed up the couple of pics I got of them, only displaying a blank grey screen. Alas.

Once the last mountains of AZ were out of the way, I entered the Mojave Desert and the state of Nevada. The landscape here was less-interesting than the Colorado Plateau had been, aside from the strange-looking Joshua Trees which are the Mojave’s characteristic vegetation. Oddly, the sky was overcast and looked almost damp, giving the impression (abetted by the palm trees growing near human settlements) that I was on some sort of tropical beach that had misplaced its ocean. Closer to the City of Sin, massive power-line tower-things were everywhere, taking away most of what charm this part of the desert had.

AND THEN, as I got to within half an hour or so of my destination, after having crossed most of the continent (this was as far west as I would go), braving flat tires and icy mountains and empty wastes and those weird traffic-circle yield-loop things they have in Arizona, and after having tried to plan the trip in as much detail as possible and account for every possible problem that might arise, then, THEN, a horrible, horrible thought came to me:

What if the hotel I’d booked in downtown Las Vegas was the in the type of area where you need to find a PARKING GARAGE???

Sometimes, nightmare scenarios do come true, even when the nagging thoughts that precede them are carefully stuffed deep into the subconscious where they fester and gradually grow into “memories” of having been abducted and rectally probed by aliens. Which is basically what happened.

Freeway traffic once I entered Vegas was bad even by freeway-in-a-big-city standards, with lanes that went up and down curving bridges and shit, and I almost missed my exit due to assholes not wanting to let me into the appropriate lane. Then I did get onto the exit ramp, which abruptly dumped me into the middle of the Realm of the Chaos Gods, where nothing makes any goddamn fucking sense.

My hotel was supposed to be, like, right there, right off the freeway. I didn’t see it. There were too many tall buildings in the way and cars moving everywhere and never stopping, and tons of pedestrians crossing the street and threading through the lanes. I blundered on to the next intersection and turned, then turned again, thinking I had been teleported to Manhattan because this part of Vegas did seem an awful lot like an Eastern city. There was no place to park and nowhere to stop. Eventually, I saw my hotel’s sign and drove right past it, never seeing any sort of “parking lot” for it, or any sign indicating where the hell else you were supposed to park. I randomly drove a little farther and turned into the nearest parking garage, which had a sign saying “______ Employee Corporate Lot” that I ignored. There was no way for me to get the bar-thingy to lift and allow me access to the lot, so I backed up and awkwardly ran over part of an interior curb or something as I did so, trying not to look too obviously like someone who had no idea what he was doing. A middle-aged black man in a security uniform came over to me and I opened my window. He looked a bit exasperated, but in a friendly-pitying way. 

“This is the ______ Employee Corporate Lot,” he said, apparently quoting the sign I had ignored. “Their parking lot is over there on Such-and-Such Avenue and Whatever Street.” I assumed that by “their” he meant my hotel and that this sort of thing happened all the time. 

“Such-and-Such and Whatever?” I said. “Okay, thanks!” I drove off, appreciative.

The corner of Such-and-Such and Whatever did not produce any parking garages of which I am aware. There was a lot with meters, but you could only pay for 12 hours at a time and that probably wouldn’t be enough, plus I didn’t know how much they cost. Pulling into it for a moment at least afforded me the opportunity to STOP DRIVING instead of being swept into the pandemonic energy-flow of endless motion which seemed to characterize the rest of the city. Then I saw what looked like another parking garage, but driving through the entrance just caused me to rudely interrupt the basketball game of a couple people playing there (?) and then suddenly be back on the street (for some reason?). THERE WAS NO WAY TO STOP, AND NO PLACE TO PARK. I think I drove around the block four or five times in different configurations, and in addition to generalized near-panic was also embarrassed and concerned at the prospect of ______ Employee Corporate Lot Security Guy seeing me continue to run in circles and trying to fight his way out into traffic to inform me of where I’d gone wrong.

Finally, my brain just started flashing a big red message saying “MISSION FAILED. ABORT. ABORT…” and I decided I needed to get the hell out of this terrible place. Glancing at the nearest street sign and then at the direction-thingy on my rearview mirror, I determined that I was currently headed south on Las Vegas Boulevard. South, yes. Good. If I keep going in one direction, eventually I’ll be far enough away from downtown to catch my breath. My hastily-thrown-together Plan B was to find some sort of “suburb” or something and then find a different hotel room, meanwhile calling to cancel my reservation at the downtown one (which probably wouldn’t be refundable at this late hour, but it had actually been the cheapest room I’d booked for the entire trip, at a mere $39).

Once I decided that I had a “plan” again, I calmed down (somewhat) and realized that I was in the process of driving right through the middle of the famous Strip. So that was kind of cool. In addition to all the ridiculous, kitschy, and excessive crap everywhere (sadly it was only dusk so the neon wasn’t in full effect yet), not to mention crazy-looking people ambling around here and there, there were also vehicles with mobile light-up video advertisements mounted on them. Never seen that before. I briefly saw Caesar’s Palace and some other such nonsense that I can’t clearly remember, but the overall impression is that maybe, just maybe, this place would be fun under better circumstances. This is why the two times I was in Manhattan, I went with guides (thanks, Tina & Erik) and we took public transportation.

Unfortunately, the traffic remained super heavy for awhile and I didn’t see any areas that looked sufficiently encouraging; glancing briefly at the map I’d printed off of the city (good thing I did that, at least), I decided to get back on the freeway and try to find a room in Henderson, or maybe even Boulder City farther to the southeast. The aggressive drivers on said freeway were the worst I’d seen thus far, in part because I was still not in the most capable frame of mind and it was getting dark now. Passing by Henderson I never saw any of those blue “Lodging” signs with hotel logos on them, so I kept driving.

After a little while the freeway turned back into a highway, and then I came into Boulder City. A smaller town, more sensible, I figured. Coming around a corner just as the evening went full-dark I saw what appeared to be an independent inn. Some of the light-up letters on the sign out front were burned out, but despite this slight dilapidation, it turned out to be quite decent. The guy at the counter (I somehow assumed he was the sole proprietor) was friendly and didn’t give me crap when my debit card was declined for some vague and disturbing reason (probably too many purchases in one day?), and I instead paid for the room with credit, relieved that he didn’t charge me too much. I pulled around in back and loaded my stuff into the room and locked up the car and relaxed, a bit. The room was spacious and even had a jacuzzi. I then tried to call my original hotel, but the number turned out to be invalid, somehow. Had I transcribed it wrong, or did the website screw it up? Ugh. I hoped they wouldn’t try to charge me some kind of extra fee for being a no-show. I also attempted to text my mom and brother, but the former had already fallen asleep because I’d forgotten that Nevada lay in the Pacific Time Zone and it was now pushing midnight back in Eastern.

I took a sleeping pill, disturbed that Vegas had defeated me so easily and thus dealt a blow to the confidence I’d felt in the trip so far, but at least relieved to have found a nice place to sleep, and sleep I did, like a log-shaped rock. Tomorrow I would proceed to the Valley of the Sun, which is what I really came here for anyway.

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Quest of the Phoenix 2017 (4)