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Monday, August 16, 2010 : Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas

 

Early in the morning, to avoid the searing heat, we visit the visitor center at Furnace Creek. We see many displays about the geology of the valley, mining, mostly borax, and the famous 20-mule teams, the only way to take minerals out. Just outside, a thermometer displays 110°F (43°C). It's hardly 9:30am, that's promising !


Death Valley, Furnace Creek Ranch

Green grass at the entrance of the Ranch, in the center of Death Valley

 

One more picture at the entrance of the ranch (but when, and with what, did they water ?), and we leave Furnace Creek. There must be some occasional precipitation in there, we see foot-deep gullies in the sand !

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Death Valley, Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

 

We make our first stop at Zabriskie Point, a point of view on the bottom of the Valley, not far from Furnace Creek. The wrinkles in the rocks have been carved by the erosion of the wind, loaded with particles of sand. We already are about 900 feet above Valley level.

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Death Valley, Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point. Erosion by wind and sand carved the wrinkles

 

This is Mineral Kindgom. There is not a single vegetal. It's even more bare, as if it were possible, than the bottom of the Valley.

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Death Valley, Dante's View, salt flats

Dante's View, just above Badwater salt flats

 

We make the drive to Dante's View, 26 miles roundtrip, a stunning view of the Valley, about 5,200 feet higher. If you are sensitive to dizziness, please do not come close to the edge, it's really steep !

 

On this picture, we are approximately above Badwater, which we visited the day before. We can see the salt flats pretty well and, from here, we now realize how large it really is. The summits on the other side of the Valley are about 12 miles away. That tells you something about air purity here !

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Death Valley, Dante's View, south view

Dante's View, south view

 

On this south view, we still can see the salt flats. On the spot, I cannot tell what that dark dome in the middle is. It looks like a different sort of rock. After some research, it seems it is an igneous intrusion. There are many of those in the area, though it is not volcanic.

 

On this wind-swept pass, vegetation has a hard time to grow, and we will not see anything higher than this shrub.

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Death Valley, Dante's View, local plant

Looks nice, but ... what if it were toxic ?

 

Before we left, we have been warned about many toxic plants in the area. In doubt, and considering our absolute lack of expertise in plants, we refrain from touching it. Too bad ... it would have been nice in an herbarium.

 

We then leave Death Valley through Amargosa, a tiny village that seems frozen in time.

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Nevada, Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree. Doesn't it ring a bell ?

 

The Joshua Tree is the absolutely pervasive vegetation in most of southern California. It also can be seen in the pictures on U2's eponymous album sleeve. It belongs to the family of yuccas, and a national park is even dedicated to it. It will be for another trip.

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Las Vegas, the Strip

Sin City. Just a long boulevard with hotels and casinos on both sides, that's all

 

Then it is Vegas, out of nowhere. I'm not particularly attracted to this city, but it's a practical stop in the middle of the desert. Hotels, especially since the last financial crisis, are much more affordable than, say, in San Francisco and, well, it deserves a visit, at least once in your life.

 

Vegas is first and foremost the Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. The Strip. All places on interest are on the Strip, even the airport. I come here for the third time. At my first visit, the city stopped a good 2 miles short of the airport. Second time, it almost extended to it. Now, the airport is almost inside the city. Let's bet that, at my next visit, it's going to be like Berlin-Tempelhof or Hong Kong !

 

Vegas is exactly what you've been told : the Kingdom of Artifice, Tinseltown, that Sin City where you can get married in 10 minutes for 60 bucks (or 60,000 ...), crude neons, luxury shops and buildings of an often questionable taste. And gambling is so ubiquitous that Navada casinos are the only closed places in the United States where smoking was still permitted at the time of our travel.

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Las Vegas, M&Ms store

3 stories of M&Ms, just that !

 

We absolutely did not expect to find a whole store dedicated to M&Ms. There, you can be sold custom candy, M&M printed with your initials or anything else. Who cares about dieting ?

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Las Vegas, Luxor hotel and casino

In Vegas, almost everything is possible

 

All themes are offered, and architects seem caught in a frantic race to outdo each other. We saw Egypt, New York, Paris, a fortified castle ... all in less than 10 minutes.

 

After a brief check-in at our hotel, we drive to Hoover Dam.

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Hoover Dam, Lake Mead

Water level is low in Lake Mead. It makes sense, in mid-August

 

Although it was eventually inaugurated by his successor, Hoover Dam, which was the biggest dam in the world in the 1930s, was christened after the President who commissionned it. It is part of those works whose main objective was to give work to jobless people during the Depression. At the same time, it allowed water adduction, irrigation and electricity generation in the whole region. Without it, Las Vegas would not exist. It is that rare instance, even in the United States, of a public project completed in respect of deadline and budget.

 

In mid-August, the level of the lake is low but no worry, the first snowmelt in Colorado will fill it up !

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Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam used to be the biggest dam in the world

 

This picture hardly shows the sheer size of the dam. Let's say that the rightmost part is more than a quarter-mile away from us. The dam itself is 1,244 feet wide and 726 feet high. At the time of our visit, the main road, US-93, still crossed the crest of the dam. Needless to say, its two narrow lanes became absolutely saturated in summer. Since then, a highway bypass has been opened a little downstream.

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Las Vegas, stretch limo

Now, who's got the biggest one ?

 

Back in Vegas, we make fun looking for the longest limos. This picture's specimen looks interesting.

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Las Vegas, water and light show at the Bellagio

The superb water and light show at the Bellagio. Absolutely worth a visit !

 

After dinner in a French restaurant (which I absolutely disown !), we take a walk along the Strip. Where the hotel I slept in during my first visit used to be, now stands the Bellagio. Its water and light show are really worth a visit. The show lasts about half an hour. Its is really the attraction to see in Vegas.

 

Of course, it's still as warm, and we have to sweat our way back to our hotel on the Strip.

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