I have returned from Nevada and an unexpected Internet blackout – as in my husband neglected to bring his laptop for WiFi use at our hotel. We had a fabulous trip and I plan in the next few days to provide a glimpse into the unexpected adventures the Las Vegas region has to offer. Believe it or not, there is more to the Sin City than gambling, drinking, and the Strip.
My first impression of the Nevada desert as our plane descended into Las Vegas surprised me. The region was in the midst of a pounding thunderstorm with sheets of rain and streaks of lightning. We happened to land during a small break in the storm, so the angry layers of clouds parted enough for me to see the surrounding landscape. Mountains upon mountains, not unlike my descent into Anchorage, Alaska only a week before, yet a completely different kind of mountain landscape. The mountains in Nevada are emotional, angry, vibrant and energetic characters, standing naked and rocky against the elements, without anything to hide. They wear their life story on their slopes, with rows of various sedimentary layers lined in whites, grays, reds, browns, and blacks in the rock, often buckled up upon each other as if in the middle of a violent argument. From the plane, any sign of vegetation is absent and the mountains give way to vast stretches of brown, forlorn desert.
From the ground, the landscape tells a completely different story. There is a subtle beauty to the Nevada desert, which I grew to love in only a few short days of exploring its secrets. Yes, it is desert and the region only receives about 4 inches of rain in a year. Many visitors may come away with a stark impression of absence, menace, and loneliness. Many tourists probably go home to tell their friends how ugly Nevada is.
I tell a different story. As we drove through the Lake Mead Recreation Area, rafted along the Colorado River in Black Canyon, and hiked in the Valley of Fire State Park, I began to invite the desert’s beauty into my heart. An appreciation for an ecology and geology completely alien to me seeped into my consciousness. The desert is not a void. It is brimming with life. Clever plants that may appear short and stubby and sickly, but are actually masterminds of survival engineering in a water-starved environment. Lizards and insects and mammals which hide during the heat-intense day, but come out to explore in the cool of the night. Even some that brave the day, such as the ground squirrels scurrying across the ground without a moment’s rest that entertain tourists at a Valley of Fire picnic spot.
I began to perceive a rainbow of colors beyond the monotone of brown. Within the desert exists a riot of colors, some so subtly woven into the canvas of rocks you have to allow yourself to be still and let the desert landscape speak to you before you notice them. Soft yellows, muted yellow-greens, brilliant and angry reds, every imaginable hue of brown, even a splash of quiet lavender, all set against a massive impressionistic swirl of blues and whites in the never-ending sky. It is a masterpiece that must be absorbed, like a painting in a crowded museum. Sit and stare at it for a long time and you will begin to understand what it is whispering to you. Be still – the message of the desert is a secret worth hearing.