In the vicinity of Barstow (and I use “vicinity” to give an idea of which part of California I was in because I wasn’t near anywhere) I saw a shopping mall emerging like a mirage. Rather, it was a ubiquitous “Outlet Center”, where designer and semi-designer clothes and products go before dying, in the hope of being sold to that segment of the population who couldn’t afford them when they were hot and trendy. This particular mall was literally in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the 15 Freeway, miles away from any inhabited location. But what was even more puzzling was the sight of five hotels – of the Hampton Suites variety – interspersed between the stores. One had to wonder: was this some sort of vacation destination “Come shopping in the middle of nowhere and stay the night?” The worst of consumerism America has to offer? The surroundings were so barren and desolate that it looked like an ideal location for a maximum security prison – or correctional facility as they like to be called – and, who knows, maybe there was one around “Visit your inmate, stay for some shopping and spend the night”. I drove on without any of my questions being answered.
As the night was slowly descending, we reached the North Western edge of the Mojave Desert that, for a trick of the fading light, looked like a wide body of white water. It’s been a while since Ottie took a road trip and we decided to take advantage of the desert in bloom and the recent discovery that the Lowes Hotels gladly take pets. As my utter disinterest in gambling will keep me away from Vegas, we settled on Lake Mead, about 20 miles out of the Strip. Leaving LA on a Friday afternoon took three long, stop and go hours and what what supposed to be a 5 hour trip turned into a seven hour stretch, complete with several pit stops for either myself or the canine. By the time we reached the hotel it was 10 o’clock and we were both tired and cranky which might explain why Ottie, in his enthusiasm for finally being able to run around before turning in failed to brake at the edge of the lawn he was supposed to relieve himself on and ended up in the lake, with me following suit in the pitch dark, afraid he might drown (he hates the water). Mercifully, no one was around to witness this humiliating episode and nobody noticed our wet paws on the way back to our room.
By daylight, the Lowes Las Vegas looks like a new complex filled with touches of Moorish architecture and Moroccan furniture. Hey, this is Vegas after all and anything goes. Properly manicured and accessorized, all I really cared about was their friendliness to dogs – upon arrival I was given a doggy bag containing a food bowl big enough for a chihuahua and a Lowes dog tag – which leads me to think that only pooches the size of a French poodle are the typical guests here and not my boxer size Ottie. But on the phone they did assure me they have no restrictions on breeds and size. So I proudly paraded Ottie in the lobby under the disapproving gaze of more than one human guest.
Lake Mead is a large desert area that was artificially flooded when the Hoover Dam was built (at a time when the country was ravaged by a recession similar to the one we are currently living through) and is more spectacular than I thought. We took a couple of hikes, the first along a river, which is always a strange sight in the middle of a desert – the second more inland. And that is where the desert exploded around us: hard to see from a distance, at closer inspection, the blooming flowers that only last for a few weeks after the rains, are miraculous in their colours and variety. Cacti, tiny forget me nots, even sunflowers. We walked and walked, completely alone, until the trail became too narrow and gravelly and Ottie’s paws, not Nike- clad, began to bother him. My European eyes, unaccustomed to such sights – my continent being too newly arrived to be able to boast deserts of any kind – always find this terrain, its lack of lushness and its disguised gifts an exotic location. I love the way the light falls on the mountains at sunset, creating an endless palette of pinks.
That night the Strip awaited, in the guise of a dinner at Bouchon, the one I was supposed to report on weeks ago. It looks like I can finally honor the reservation.
To be continued….