We’re staying at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas. It’s around 1am Vegas time when we arrive, but there’s still a lengthy queue for check-in at our hotel and it’s being processed at a depressingly slow rate. We’re all in pretty dire need of sleep and we have a pickup arranged for 7am for a 12 hour excursion into Death Valley. This should all say “retire to room immediately and sleep”, but this is Las Vegas, and it’s being countered by a pretty strong rush of adrenaline. Or maybe our body clocks are just properly messed up now; it’s 9am UK time for Moff and I, and about 5pm Hong Kong time for Tim. So we agree to head out onto Fremont Street for “just one beer”.
Out on Fremont Street, a large beer costs $16. Add the obligatory tip, and that’s close to a twenty gone per drink. But you come here anyway for the vibe. It’s got a very different feel to the Strip. The Strip is trashy, but does attempt to cover it up and try to appear a bit glam in places. Fremont Street doesn’t even try, proudly selling colourful cocktails in yard long plastic glasses, whilst dancing girls strut their stuff on top of street bars to the beat of live music reverberating off the walls and roof. Meanwhile the dancing girls of the previous decade prowl the streets barely clothed, hoping to score $5 for their picture with a drunk tourist.
Amidst the chaos is a skilled spray-can street artist producing some quite pretty pictures; for $40 creates a very colourful souvenir to take home.
I’ve booked both the Death Valley excursion for Saturday, and a subsequent Valley of Fire excursion for Sunday via Pink Adventure tours. They operate a fleet of custom built vehicles which started life as large pickup trucks, but acquired a roomy air conditioned passenger pod on the back and a lurid bright pink paint job. Anywhere else they would be be turning the heads of pedestrians; in Vegas they somehow meld into the background. At 7am it’s pleasant and cool in Vegas, and the trip isn’t fully booked so there’s room in the back to stretch out.
It’s around a 3 hour drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley and the journey takes us close to Area 51, something that the rest stop and convenience store has properly capitalised on.
Driving further into the Valley the views are spectacular, in particular from Dante’s View across the salt flats and Badwater Basin to the Panamint mountain range. Badwater Basin, at 86m below sea level is the lowest point in North America. Death Valley also holds the record for the highest ambient temperature recorded anywhere on the planet, reaching 56.7 degrees celsius at Furnace Creek back in July 1913.
Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire is a State Park about a 50 mile drive north-east of Las Vegas and covering around 40,000 acres. It takes its name from the brilliant red sandstone formations, formed from sand dunes 150 million years ago. Some of the landscape almost appears Martian, so quite apt that it was the location where the Mars outdoor scenes were shot in the original version of the movie Total Recall.
The Valley was occupied at some points in it history by various prehistoric peoples. Evidence of their presence is still visible, with quite ornate petroglyphs visibe in several locations.
The tour is shorter than yesterday’s excursion to Death Valley. Back in Vegas, late Sunday afternoon, we decide that a short nap in the hotel is needed before hitting the town. But by now all the travel is taking its toll and we’re clearly in chronic need of rest, as none of us wake to venture from our hotel rooms until it’s time to rise for our flights home.