After consuming more donuts from Kettle Glazed, we are off to our next stop: Moab.
Moab is almost 11 hours away from LA, so we decide to break the trip into two. I choose a random little town to stop and sleep in as a halfway called Mesquite. In my obsessive google searching prior to the trip, I found a motel hybrid that also plays the role of a casino/buffet/swimming pool/put put golf/movie theater. It’s only $29.00, which is cheaper than our Super 8 stay in Albuquerque, and it looks significantly cleaner.
Our departure first takes us through the Mojave Desert. This is the first and only National Park that we pass and do not visit. The Mojave still manages to show off for us, despite remaining on the highway, and I am immediately smitten. While this has been one of a hyperbolic million deserts we have now driven through, the Mojave is unique in it’s own desolate way.
It also has Joshua Trees. They all wave hello to me, as they do with those wavy arms, and I am annoyed that I drove out of my way to Joshua Tree National Park…. When I could have just seen them here. They’re ugly and cute and don’t care what I think.
The sky above us is low and swirling with different grays. I wonder aloud to David if it’s smoke from a wildfire – because it certainly can’t be rain. This is the desert! The driest desert in all of the U.S.!
Then lightning flashes. Only us. Only we could bring the midwest heat to Los Angeles, and then the midwest storms to the Mojave. Suddenly, it’s storming as we drive up and down the mountains. Why me?
I can see my knuckle bones as I clench the wheel tighter.
Miraculously, we manage to out-drive the rain before approaching the final descent into Nevada. You climb and climb all of the remainder of California, and then drop the entire way back down and end up at a casino gas station in Nevada.
30 minutes after reaching our new state, we decide to detour through Vegas, which I’d always assumed would be… bigger. The buildings are much less larger than life than I had envisioned. And instead of spectacular or historical, they come off as a bit cartoon-like.
The tiny/big city is permeated by Trump’s ugly tower too, which leers at us. It reminds me of Sauron tbh. Someone hurry up and destroy the ring!
After perusing up and down the crowded streets, David requests we drive past the Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
“That’s it!?,” he shouts when he sees it. “What a rip off.”
He’s right. The sign is squat and small, and there is a line of people winding around the sidewalk, everyone waiting for their selfie. It is underwhelming comparative to photos.
David’s disappointment leads me to try and cheer him up with his first In-N-Out Experience. We squeeze into the packed restaurant, and I order us Animal Style Fries and a Minute Maid lemonade. David’s verdict? Kinda like White Castle, but worse.
So much for Las Vegas.
Mesquite is only one more hour from LV, and we excitedly talk about playing the slots when we get there. Neither of us has ever gambled, and only I have been to a casino once for an event. We talk about what we’d do with the money if we hit it big. I’d repair our fucked up basement floor. He’d pay for school.
We reach Mesquite and the storm has re-found us. The town is surrounded by mountains and their peaks get struck by lightning every few minutes. It’s pretty spectacular.
There is significant need to replenish snacks and eat some dinner, but everywhere looks like their lights are off. It’s not even 8 o’ clock yet and I panic that maybe this place has small-town hours, and everyone has already gone home for the evening. We pull into a Walgreens with it’s lights off, but I can see that their “open” sign is still buzzing.
“It is open,” says David. “Look, I can see people inside.”
Upon further peering in, I can see the silhouettes of people roaming up and down the aisles.
“Oh my god,” I suddenly realize. “The windows are tinted. All of these stores and restaurants have tinted windows.”
Turns out the average July temperature in Mesquite is about 107 degrees. They need these windows in order to not melt. Ohhhh.
After loading up on snacks and eating dinner at a Chipotle knock-off, we finally check into our *clean* motel. I put on a cute dress, grab a little money, and we are ready for our first lively night out at a casino.
Only to quickly find out that slots are super depressing.
We enter the casino and are immediately greeted with the stench of smoke. It’s an overpowering mix of lingering wisps in the air, burnt holes in the colorful carpet, and yellow goo stuck to the machines. People sit and stare at the machines with glazed over eyes, robotically hitting the levers over and over. It all reminds me of my dad, which just pangs me with anxiety.
They’re playing old show tunes overhead and we are the youngest people there. We are also way overdressed, with most wearing sweats and logo-ed t-shirts. No matter, I think as we head to the bar to grab a drink before we begin gambling. I get a vodka tonic that tastes like straight up plastic.
“I think this drink is going to give me cancer.”
Our first stop is the penny slots, where we continuously win back the amount we put in. Overhead are screens with photos of people, “I won $20,000 on the slot machines!”. Yeah, but how much did they put in? A man sits by us and plays three penny slots at once, quickly moving his hands and waiting for us to leave so he can monopolize all four in a row.
We receive back our vouchers and attempt a few other games. Some of them require math, which I am not into, and others require incredible strategy. I shove a dollar into a machine with cute animals on it, press a bunch of buttons, and then win back $2.00. I have literally no idea how I achieved this.
We call it quits after only an hour. Our vouchers end up winning us back the $10 we put in, making it a wash. Oh well – better than losing! I think back to our time in Japan, where we blew $50.00 trying to win candy from a claw machine. Apparently chocolate motivates me more than money.
The next day, we roll out early, eat another microwaved Starbucks breakfast, and begin our way to Moab. I have wanted to go to Utah for forever now, and I am so excited to finally get to explore!
The first thing we do after finding our campsite in Moab (at an RV park… lol), is turn around and head straight towards the Canyonlands. This was the #1 suggestion made to me from internet friends when I mentioned we were headed off on a 2 week road trip. Go to the Canyonlands! Canyonlands! C-a-n-y-o-n-lands! I am so grateful for this suggestion because it’s true, the Canyonlands are what’s up.
As we begin to hike, we stop several times to admire the deep red of the ravine. I begin referring to it as the Grand Canyon’s badass little brother. From up top, you can see the old tracks made by animals and machines, as miners searched for uranium and permanently scarred the land. There are also no guard rails and the rock is smooth, so you could easily slip right to your death. I bet this canyon also listens to heavy metal and has a few tattoos he didn’t tell his mom about.
The hike is simple, but dark clouds (yet again) begin to roll in. We walk aside a family, who is letting their toddler run up and down the trail… Right along the edge of the drop off. I’m doing my best not to grab him and demand he stop endangering his life. I’m also prepping what I will say to 9-1-1 when he inevitably slides off.
“Look, a rainbow!” he yells at us and points off. We ooh and ahh.
“That’s the first rainbow I’ve ever seen!” We both simultaneously say awwww.
“I wanna kill it! Pow pow pow! DIE RAINBOW!” He takes off running again, making machine gun noises.
Soon after the rainbow comes the lightning. We are about a half mile into the hike. Turn around! Ruuuuuun! I shout to David. We are totally exposed on this ridge line
Briskly walking back to the car, we watch as more lightning sprawls into angry hands and fingers and then strikes the red earth around us. We scamper back past the family and the son, who is still trying to shoot the rainbow, and past a handful of other tourists who stand, not moving, gawking at the sky and being the tallest points of interest on the pathway.
We reach the car and I am thankful I saw no one get struck by lightning or fall to their deaths.
As I zoom back to Moab, a torrential downpour begins and I have to pull off to the side of the canyon road. Some higher being has been trying to kill me this entire trip and I have been defiant. Not today, Satan!
The rain let’s up a bit and we finally reach the bottom of the park and are back on even ground. As we round the corner back to the town, two more vibrant rainbows make an appearance and stretch completely across the sky, touching what appears to be both Arches and the Canyonlands. The hotels and gas stations, that pepper the highway we are driving, are surrounded with customers who left their beds or pumps to see the show. We, and a handful of others, pull off the highway to take photos of its magnitude.
I don’t think I’ll ever see a rainbow as beautiful as this one. So close I could almost touch it, perfectly saturated in the desert rock.
We make it back to our tent and drink hot beer and canned wine that we’d stashed in the car. Lightning flashes over our tent, briefly making it daytime every few minutes. We laugh and make out, attempt shadow puppets, and read more about the dangers of the Canyonlands.
“Oh shit, this is where James Franco 127 hour’ed his arm!”
After a long weekend of crowds, smog and money, it’s nice to be back in the peace of just David and nature.
The next day we make it to Arches, and at long last it is a day without rain. I’m glad these areas have received some much needed precipitation, but I am ready to selfishly fry on the slickrock in the one hundred degree sun today.
The hike to Delicate Arch is moderately challenging, hot and exceptionally rewarding. We pass other friendly hikers and I am practically bursting with love for the camaraderie of individuals in nature and the fact we can experience such beauty. Moab is great. Moab is wonderful. Moab is a drug and I wish I could have it all the time.
And lastly, Moab readies me for our final stop: Denver.