Journey into the West – Day 7

Walking the Strip

The Excalibur has surprisingly comfy beds for being a $45-a-night hotel so I felt well rested, if a bit sluggish. We abstained from our ritual cooking of camp-stove oatmeal as the hotel staff and fire alarms would have disapproved.

I decided not to take my camera with me on our excursions for the day, mostly because I was tired of carrying it around.

The map showed a McDonalds down the Strip from us near the Las Vegas welcome sign. We walked there, ate, then visited the sign to find a hoard of tourists waiting in line to get their pictures in front of it. An Elvis impersonator stood nearby, ready to accept the tips of anyone who wanted him in their pictures.

We walked back up the Strip to the Bellagio with the intent of visiting their gardens. We wandered around inside for a while before figuring out the gardens were closed for construction. Back at the hotel Terry checked his pedometer and discovered we had walked more that morning than any of our park hikes.

Visiting the Non-garden

Determined to fit some nature into our time in Vegas, we drove to Spring Reserve on the north side of the city. Terry is a member of the New York City Botanical Gardens (because, who isn’t?), so we got in free, which turned out to be the appropriate price.

Spring Reserve would probably have been more interesting if I was in 3rd grade, had never seen dirt, and was accompanied by a crotchety, but knowledgable tour guide. That not being the case, it was just a well-maintained series of paths highlighting four types of native cacti. There were lots of empty class areas, so I’m sure it’s a popular spot for field trips.

The attached museum is a temple dedicated to Las Vegas’ status as an unsustainable stain on the desert. The exhibits highlight residents’ water usage compared to what was available in the area with the lesson being, “It’s stupid for this many people to live here. Escape if you can, children.”

Tacos con Pinball

I wanted Mexican food and Terry acquiesced as it had been “only the second preference I had expressed the entire trip”, so we drove to Tacos El Gordo on the Strip and had the best truck-style tacos I’ve ever had. I’m convinced I could eat the asada tacos for every meal.

With a few hours to spare before Terry’s flight, we drove to the Pinball Hall of Fame across town. Quarters in hand, we split up and played through their collection.

There was a sweet spot of machines from the 70s and 80s that were tuned to provide a good money/play-time value. The older machines and those from the 90s all seemed to be quarter-sinks, often shooting the ball straight into the gutter on its first launch. I played a Johnny Mnemonic-themed machine that cost 75 cents and did this three times in a row.

Out of quarters, I followed Terry around as he spent the last of his on Mario and the few arcade games spread out among the pinball machines.

Sending Terry Home

We drove back to the hotel and Terry finished packing. To ensure bag space we split the camping gear that we had purchased in Vegas the prior week – I got the stove and oatmeal. Terry took a quick shower and was ready to go, so we loaded up and drove to the airport.

Neither of us had tried to kill the other during the week and that’s a good measure of success for a road-trip, so on the way we talked about planning a trip for next year. “Alaska?” “Sure. Or the Arctic. I want to ride a polar bear.”

At the passenger drop off we shook hands and Terry said “You are kind to the people you don’t hate.”, which I took as the best sort of compliment. We said goodbye and Terry walked inside to magically teleport to Philadelphia in time to go to work the next morning.

Sending Chris Home

I woke up the next morning to discover that my flights had been delayed and instead of arriving in 5PM in OKC, my rebooked itinerary would arrive nearer to 11PM.

I left the hotel and drove to McDonalds to buy a cup of coffee. Pulling up to pay, I discovered the driver in front of me had paid for me. He was pumping his fist out the window and yelling “Woo!”. I waved at him and he threw me a peace sign as he drove away, still yelling “Woo!”.

With extra time before my flight, I drove to Red Rock Canyon outside of Vegas. I had the road to myself and it was a pleasant drive, another reminder of how pretty the desert can be without Las Vegas in it.

I finished up the loop of the park and drove back to Tacos El Gordo for some late breakfast tacos.

It was time for me to head to the airport, so I filled up the Passat and returned it to the agency. It’s not my favorite car, but it had treated us well for the trip for as much as we abused it with unpaved roads and wild temperature swings. I walked away from it feeling like a little kid waving goodbye to passing trains. “Bye bye, car.”

I was able to steal an entire exit row for the long flight to Atlanta. As we took off, I wedged myself into the window and looked out until all I could see were clouds. Then I fell asleep.

Cover Photo: Rob Hyndman