Long-time readers will know that whenever I can, I disappear into the desert for as long as I can. Often, the opportunity arises to cadge a lift out west on the back of a business trip, and so it is that I write this in northwestern Arizona a couple days after spending a day in a conference room buried deep within the bowels of the raucus, random, blaring, unworldly nonsense that is otherwise known as the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Some of the nonsense worked to my favor, or at least amusement, as my $143.95 room was somehow traded up into a penthouse suite on the 62nd floor of the hotel – a suite that was bigger than the first floor of my admittedly small house, with 18 foot ceilings, a wall of glass behind motorized drapes, bar, living room, two bathrooms (one palatial), four flat screen TV sets (more than I have owned of any type in my entire life), and no coffee maker.
But the rest of the complex was just acres and acres (and acres and acres) of slot machines, jumbled restaurants, vast conference rooms and halls, and the worst signage on the face of the planet, both inside and out. Applying logic, the only rational explanation is that the hotel security guards must spice up their endless days at surveillance screens by randomly switching the arrows on signs to destinations such as “registration.” What a hoot it must be tracking arriving guests from camera to camera, heavy suitcases in tow, wandering endlessly amid the flashing lights and din. One imagines the guards sitting there, laughing and betting on how many times they can trick this tired Kansan or that to circle the casino floor before finally stumbling, exhausted and desperate, through the only narrow (and naturally unmarked) exit that allows escape into the lobby.
Needless to say, the desert was looking quite pretty good by the time I escaped myself in a four wheel drive, heading south, and then east, on dirt roads winding into rugged, dry mountains graced with a blush of late spring flowers and the first cactus blossoms of the season. The weather was fine, and my relief palpable by the time I set up camp, and watched the colors of the sunset flare up in the western sky, and transform grandly, then subtly, and at last imperceptibly into a faint yellow aura silhouetting the high crags of the surrounding mountains, as Rigel and Betelgeuse, and then a host of other stars, silently emerged from the gathering dark of a crystalline, moonless night.
I am a light sleeper, and one of my quiet pleasures in the fresh, clear air of a high desert night is to gauge the time by the location of familiar constellations. Majestically, they seem to rise and slowly transit the vault of the heavens as the earth hurtles soundlessly beneath them, determined to rise the sun of another timeless day. After such a night and no matter how fitfully I may have slept, I wake up not so much refreshed as restored..
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