The Journey West: Las Vegas to Beatty
The sun wasn’t even up yet when I woke up Sunday, August 24. I was still on Oklahoma time. Still, except for getting up once to go to the bathroom, I slept the night through. It had finally cooled off outside. The air was cool and comfortable. Birds were chirping in the trees. 
I couldn’t find the showers, if there were any in that area, so I washed in the men’s room. I took what my Dad used to call a “spit bath:” filling up the sink with water and washing down from there. I brought a sponge to clean up with. The sign on the wall said “no bathing,” but what were they gonna do, ask me to leave? It felt really good to be clean—or, at least, cleaner. I packed everything up as the Sun slowly rose over the mountains. I knew once the Sun was up, it would be hot again, like flipping a switch.
I pulled out of the campsite and headed down the highway towards Las Vegas. My destination was the Vegas Hilton Hotel. That’s where Star Trek: the Experience was located. I had downloaded maps on how to get there but, of course, the maps were on my desk back home. I had a pretty good idea where it was, however, so I figured I’d be able to find it in no time. After a fruitless half hour, I stopped at a Circle K store to ask directions. There were slot machines between the cash register and the pop cooler. The clerk was very helpful, and sent me around to Karen Avenue; that’s where I found the hotel. A security guard directed me to the north parking garage. He said, “Everybody pays for parking,” but nobody asked me for any money. I walked around the casino. It was Sunday morning, but there were plenty of people at the slot machines and craps tables. Some of the shops were even open. I passed the wedding chapel, just down from the gift shop, where I got a magnet.

The Experience didn't open until 11, and the rides didn't start until noon, so I suddenly had time to spare. I looked around and found the entrance to the Experience. That whole section of the casino had been remodeled to look like Star Trek engineering. The Experience wasn’t open yet, but the outer part was. Apparently, the future is full of slot machines. There was a bar, and many video screens set up all over. I thought it was funny they had the movie “Star Wars” playing on one screen. I walked outside, where there was a station for the local monorail system that serviced downtown. It was already hot outside. I decided to look for the breakfast buffet. The restaurant, called simply the Buffet, was in the sports book section of the casino complex. It took about 20 minutes to go through the line. Breakfast was $12.99, not counting beer, but since it was a weekend the only choice was the $19 “champagne brunch.” Still, there was a mountain of scrambled eggs, the sausages were tasty, and the home fries were cooked with onions and bell peppers—spicy. There was also roast beef, rice, pork chops, a full supper menu. I didn’t know when I’d get another meal, so I ate until I couldn’t eat any more.

It was still well before 11, so I relaxed in one of the easy chairs in the sports book area. The chairs faced a wall of big-screen TV’s playing various soccer matches, ball games and local channels. The local weather report predicted it would get to 106 degrees that day—109 at Lake Mead. Hurricane Fay was sill loitering around the Gulf Coast. I got a small bottle of water (12 ounces, $1.95) and got caught up on my writing. At 10:30, the downstairs shops at the Experience opened, so I went browsing. They had lots of neat stuff, even if it was stuff I’d seen before at science fiction conventions. Many shelves were empty; what was the point of restocking? There were a couple of additional shops around back but they were closed. There was a whole wall of notes from people sad about the Experience closing. Many of the notes were from children. One kid wrote, “Resist the closing! Resistance is not futile!”

As it got close to 11, I went upstairs to get in line, but there was already a line running way out into the hallway. The line just got bigger. Why would anyone want to close something that popular? The Experience had actors in Star Trek costume and makeup wandering about. The guy in the Ferengi costume talked to the folks in line and posed for pictures. There were gigantic models of the Enterprise and Voyager hanging above under a starfield ceiling. I had already paid for my tickets online, so all the cashier had to do was scan my downloaded bar code and I was in. That's where I met up with my friend Becka from St. Louis. She was on her way to Burning Man, too, and happened to show up there on the same day. Inside, there was an amazing museum of Star Trek costumes and props. They had Kirk’s broken glasses, phasers and tricorders, and blinking parts of Data’s positronic brain. These were highlighted by a comprehensive history of the Star Trek universe. I got my picture next to a proton torpedo.

There were two “rides” at the Star Trek Experience: the “Klingon Encounter” and the “Borg Invasion.” Around the other side of the museum was a corridor leading to the two rides. The Klingon Encounter was first. A set number of tourists were led through a portal and into a small room. We were told to line up in front of a series of doors. As we waited, the lights suddenly went out. It was pitch black for several moments, and when the lights came back on, we were in the transporter room of the Enterprise. Even the floor was different! I don’t know how they did that. The premise was that a rogue Klingon captain had used a time vortex to reach back in time to the 21st century. His goal: to kidnap and kill the ancestor of Captain Jean-Luc Picard so that Picard would never be born. A Starfleet officer led us through a doorway down an exact replica of an Enterprise corridor. We were then led through the Enterprise bridge. I would’ve liked to stay and gawk, but they had to hurry to get us back to the 21st century. Images of Commander Riker and Geordi LaForge appeared on screens to guide us keep us appraised of the situation. We went down a turbolift which suddenly lost power; it felt like we were falling until they fixed it. Our group was then led through Engineering to a shuttlecraft. We all had to fasten our seat belts when we piled into the shuttle—anyone caught not wearing his seatbelt might cause the mission to be aborted, and by this point nobody wanted to miss anything! The shuttle got sealed-up, and through the viewports ahead we watched as the ship flew and zoomed through a space battle, negotiated a dizzying time vortex, and then wove its way through the skies of Las Vegas. It felt like we were flying. I don’t get motion sickness much, but that really pushed the envelope. When the shuttle “landed,” the doors opened, and on wobbly legs we were all escorted through a “maintenance corridor” somewhere in the bowels of the hotel. Here’s where attention to detail added a nice touch. The hotel and casino had TV screens all over the place, showing sports, weather and local news. There was a TV screen on the wall as we were escorted to an elevator. On it, there was a “live” broadcast of reporters questioning an Air Force general about UFO’s over Las Vegas. It was a completely thrilling experience.

The elevator took us downstairs, and we emerged in a corridor patterned after the architecture of Deep Space Nine. It took us back to the shops and the restaurant, Quark’s Bar. Becka and I shared a space at the bar. She had a snack, but I was still full from the brunch so I just had a fruit drink. The place was full of customers, and there was a line of people waiting to eat in the restaurant. It seemed like a popular, profitable business. The bartender was pretty vocal about the closing of the Experience. After the first of September, he and the other workers there would all be unemployed. His managers were so disgusted by the decision many had stopped coming to work. “Take a good look around,” he said, “because in a month this’ll all be in a landfill somewhere.” The clerk in the gift shop was equally revolted by the closing. When I asked why it was being closed, he replied, “Because management are idiots.” After buying some gifts, Becka and I went on the Borg Invasion ride. As we waited in line, the tour guide tried to pass the time with trivia questions. But, everyone in line was a hard-core Star Trek fan, for whom the questions were all too easy. Janeway’s dog? Molly, of course. Duh! In the Borg Invasion, we were led into room that was a briefing room for a space station engaged in anti-Borg research. The Doctor from Voyager appeared on the viewscreen to welcome us. Just then, the station was attacked by the Borg, so we hurried to make our escape. This ride had many more characters in costume, fighting back against the invading Borg. We had to keep looking around to catch all the excitement. One actor was whisked out of sight by hidden cables as she was “captured” by the Borg. We were finally herded into small auditorium that was supposed to be a transport ship, and told to put on “safety goggles.” The goggles were 3-D glasses that enhanced the show as we fought our way out of the Borg’s clutches. In the end, the Voyager itself arrived to save us, with Janeway’s voice lending us comfort. We departed by elevator and ended up back in the DS9 corridor again.
It was getting late, so I said my goodbyes and left. Star Trek: the Experience was fun, thrilling, and exactly the sort of Star Trek-related attraction I’d always hoped for. Going through it, however, was bittersweet— knowing it was closing its doors forever, knowing we were among the last ones to ever see it. The casino video screens continued to advertise it as I left; an actor in Klingon garb declaried “Qapla! And come again!” But there would be no more visits, ever again, and that left me a little sad. Outside, the sky was overcast, but the wind was fierce and hot. 
Online ticket for the Star Trek Experience. 
(Note that all tickets were "valid through Sept. 1, 2008 only.")
I passed Dean Martin Drive as I headed west towards Blue Diamond. Traffic made travel slow-going. Mountains with sheer cliffs appeared ahead, the ridges jutting up like a big, monstrous underbite. The further I headed west, the more the elevation climbed. The Sun came out. I passed Mountain Springs and headed into the mountains. My plan was to take Highway 160 west to a road called the Old Spanish Trail to Shoshone, then work my way up to Death Valley. I’d never seen Death Valley, and it sounded like a good idea to see it at least once. As I came up to the turnoff, however, it looked like the Spanish Trail was a dirt road, and after my misadventure in 2005 trying to find Ely, Nevada, there was no way I was gonna be suckered into doing that again. So, I continued on through a desolate, dry land. Scrubby cactus, stubborn bushes and weeds dotted a valley of white sands. A motorcycle with a sidecar passed me headed east. As I came into the town of Pahrump (emphasis on the “rump”), a dust devil danced over a small neighborhood before disappearing in a dusty cloud. The first business I saw was a large white building designed to look like a castle. It was the Kingdom Gentlemen’s Club. The town had many casinos, including one that was built to look like the main street of an old west town. A store called Liquor First was preparing to open, and had a sign out front: “Coming Soon, Liquor First.”
After two tries, every road I tried to take west ended up going another direction. I stopped for some gas and went inside to ask directions. I told the lady behind the counter, “I’m trying to get to Death Valley Junction.” “I’m sorry,” she replied. She finally said there were two ways to get there. She pointed down the road we were on and said I could go to the next stop light, “which will be 28 miles,” and turn right, or I could go through town to a street called Bell Vista and turn west. I thought I’d never find Bell Vista Avenue, but when I did I turned west into some rugged, rocky hills. I had an exhilarating sense of freedom as I drove off on that lonely 2-lane road, leading who-knows-where. The only sign I saw marked it as the Bob Ruud Memorial Highway. I was on the Ruud Highway.
At some point, I crossed the border into California. Quite unexpectedly, I turned a corner and came across the Amargosa Opera House, which got written-up in National Geographic Magazine once. I didn’t have time to look it over. The next intersection was a junction with Highway 190, which would take me into Death Valley. Five miles of empty road pointed due west into the setting Sun. There was a red car in front of me, but when the driver saw the forbidding road ahead, he pulled over, apparently to reconsider his options. A sign said I was 12 miles from Death Valley, and 30 miles from the visitor center. My ears popped as I drove into the Sun. 
I passed a sign that said the elevation was 3,060 feet. About a mile down the road, I passed another sign saying the same thing, but just then the grade of the road started angling… downwards. Black, volcanic rocks dotted the roadside. Mountains suddenly rose all around me. A car with Oregon plates came up from behind me and impatiently passed me. A sign warned of “Extreme Heat Danger.” Seventeen miles from Death Valley Junction, a sign said I was at 2,000 feet elevation. Six miles on, I was only at 1,000 feet elevation. I passed the turnoff for Twenty Mule Team Canyon. Five miles down from there I was at Badwater, and the wind was scorching hot. I passed Sea Level, the Sun glaring mercilessly, and the road continued downward. 
The little village of Furnace Creek sat at only 190 feet above Sea Level. The visitor center looked closed, so I drove on. That’s when I started feeling a heaviness in my chest. It hurt to take deep breaths. Rocks spread out across fields of dreary, heartless land. I figured I had about another hour of sunlight left in the day. I had canteens of water in the car, but the water was hot! The landscape seemed to mock me as I drove down the lonely road. Suddenly, a sign appeared ahead: “Beatty,” with an arrow pointing east. I knew I’d have to turn towards Beatty eventually, but the road appeared much sooner than I expected. So, I turned right. Satori’s engine labored as it climbed the long, persistent grade, her temperature gauge climbing hotter and hotter. The road had a yellow line down the middle, but no shoulder. No other cars—no other people were visible anywhere.
Shadows began to get long as the road snaked uphill towards a Mordor-ish wall of rock: the Funeral Mountains. My cellphone registered no service at all. The van slowed to 40 MPH as it climbed the steeper grade. I felt incredibly alone. I began to fantasize about how much it would totally suck to break down on that lost, forgotten road. My bleached-out bones might not be found for years… And then, suddenly, the road merged onto a well-kept highway. A sign declared Beatty was only 19 miles away. I was on Highway 374 headed eastward back towards Nevada, and all was right with the world again. 
I saw Corkscrew Peak off to my left. The summit indeed looked like someone had screwed the top off. A red car passed me an zoomed on down the road. Was it the same car I’d passed at Death Valley Junction? The shadows of the mountains were a welcome relief from the valley’s glare. I crossed a cattleguard at Daylight Pass and left California behind me. A long, flat valley lay ahead, colorful  banded mountains off to my right. At just before 7 PM Nevada time, I made it to Beatty. My face looked flushed in the rear-view mirror. While researching places to stay, I found an RV park in Beatty called the Space Station. As I came upon it, however, it looked really crowded. It looked like the RV version of a clown car. There was only one space empty, that I could see. So, I drove on through the town, past one of its brothels (“Angel’s Ladies”) and found the town’s other campground. It was called Bailey’s Hot Springs. The office was in an RV parked back beneath the cottonweed trees. It felt good to get out of the car and walk around. There were only a couple of other trailers in the campground, but I didn’t know if the vacant ones were reserved. I asked the owner, “Do you have any spots left?” “Spots?” he said. “No, I just took a shower. I don’t have any spots.” I shook my head; a thousand campgrounds in Nevada, and I find the one run by Henny Youngman. Actually, the owner of the place was an older, Native American gentleman named Sixtoe, who asked me which way I was headed. I said north. “Black Rock?” he guessed. He said he’d seen a lot of Burners pass that way in the last couple of days.

The campground had about a dozen places to park and camp out, each with a picnic table and fresh water faucets. The rest rooms had hot showers, with instructions on the wall in English, French and German. I took a hot shower, then treated myself to a dip in the hot springs. The water comes naturally hot out of the ground there, 106 degrees, with 30 different nurturing minerals. It was particularly low-tech: the spring water was in a gravel pit surrounded by a cinder-block house, but the hot waters were incredibly relaxing. The tension of almost dying in Death Valley just melted off me. Back at my campsite, my second experiment with dashboard cooking was much more successful, with my can of ravioli nice and cooked by the sun. I was surprised by a clunk! sound from the car. It was a cottonwood seed pod, fallen from the tree, heavy as a cookie. They fell out of the tree off and on all night. Unlike the campsite in New Mexico, I really was parked under a streetlight that time, so I moved Satori until I was in the shade. The hot springs were right next to the highway, but it wasn’t a busy highway. A quiet evening beckoned. I spread out my blankets in the back of Satori and quickly fell asleep.

Albuquerque to Las Vegas
  Beatty to Black Rock City
The Journey West
The Sketchbook
The Journey East
Broken Arrow to Albuquerque
Black Rock City to Provo
Albuquerque to Las Vegas
Provo to Pueblo
Las Vegas to Beatty
Pueblo to Broken Arrow
 Beatty to Black Rock City
Links: Boulder Beach Campground 
The Star Trek Experience 
Las Vegas Maps 
Death Valley National Park 
All original content copyright 2008 by Tim Frayser.
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