Go West Pt. 1 | Vegas to Death Valley

We all know Vegas is pretty much a wasteland cesspool of disparity, over indulgence, and posturing in an attempt to make people believe you are the “high roller”.  Of course, I’m referring to The Strip, not the surrounding communities.  Those communities could be the same, I’d just have no way of knowing it.  

After my road dog for the next four days arrived at The Venetian and we got settled into our suite (yes, suite, that’s how we roll...not really, all rooms there are suites), it was after 11pm.  The plan was, Vegas to Death Valley; Death Valley to Palm Desert where our amazing friends, who would act as our tour guides, live.  They would take us to Joshua Tree, the Salton Sea, and Slab City.  

Since it was our only night in Vegas, why not hit the casinos for a quick minute, have a few drinks, but not get too wild because we were trying to get a relatively early start on the drive tomorrow?  We are adults with self control, no problem.  

We head to Fremont St, Downtown, Old Vegas, whatever you want to call it, because lets be honest, The Strip is not our scene.  

A Lyft ride later, we arrive.  After walking Fremont Street, seeing groups of street performers rapping and girls with their tits out posing for photos with passersby, we duck into a casino for a quick beer.  On the way out, we hit the plastic cup station so we can leave the bottle behind, and walk the streets, beer in hand.  It’s at this point we notice that there is an unusual amount of men wearing 10 gallon hats and cowboy boots.  Lucky for us, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was happening, and the Downtown Hoedown party we had just wandered into was in full swing.  Needless to say, we were both super psyched about this stroke of luck, and couldn’t wait to experience Fremont St. with the rodeo crowd.  

After bouncing around for a while, we find a roulette table that we liked and we were both racking up some chips.  Shortly after that, a huge mountain of a cowboy, wearing a 10 gallon hat, boots, Wranglers, the real deal, sat down at a poker table nearby.  

At this point, our quick minute in the casino had turned into a few hours, and a couple of drinks had turned into, I don’t know how many.  Our luck turned for the worse, mine more than my friends.  I apparently couldn't give my chips away fast enough.  On top of that, every so often, when our table got on a red or black streak, four or five of either in a row, our cowboy friend from the poker table, would get up and drop $400 or so, worth of chips on the opposite color, and he would hit it every time.  He did this about six times throughout the course of the night, and never missed.  It was infuriating and impressive at the same time.  I would have followed suit, but I was down to meager chips at this point, and doubling my bet wasn’t going to help, I needed to hit a number to get back in the game.  I never would.  The moral of the story is, always follow the cowboy in the 10 gallon hat.    

Being the adults with self control that we are, we wrapped up the game around 5:30 am, and headed to Denny’s, as one does.  Later that same morning after a nap, we checked out, and grabbed our rental car.  We knew we had two days ahead of us in Death Valley where stores and civilization were probably going to be scarce, so we did a Whole Foods run for water, snacks, PB&J, the essentials.  

Death Valley is way more amazing than I expected.  The drive out there from Vegas is definitely worth it.  We got a late start on day 1, but we were able to enjoy super awesome views of mountains along the way, as well as a few scenic overlook spots before it got dark.  After crashing at The Oasis, the only place to stay in Death Valley within a few hours of us, we got up early the next day and headed out.  

First stop was, Badwater Basin.  Badwater and the salt flats are really impressive.  The walk out to the flats is well worth it.  Once you get out far enough, you can see the raised diamond shaped ribs formed on the salt.  It seems to stretch on forever in either direction in a quiet still silence.  After leaving Badwater, we found a narrow one way street to Artists Palette.  Artists Palette is an area in the mountains where there are wild colors, like hues of red and green.  The road leading there is also a good drive.  It winds up the mountain and has lots of places to pull off and run through the canyons.  

Badwater and Artists Palette are in relatively the same area.  We kept moving through the park and a few hours later came to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  Do yourself a favor if you go, and walk out onto the dunes.  The further out you get, the crazier it seems that these huge dunes just keep going.  You also get amazing views of the surrounding mountains.  If you aren't pouring three pounds of sand out of your shoes when you leave, you didn't get the proper experience.  

Since we needed to make it to Palm Desert by the end of the night, the sand dunes were the last place we were able to stop.  After the dunes, we passed through some of the strangest rundown ghost towns I'd ever seen in my life.  They were a little creepy, but also really interesting, and if we needed a meth reup, it wouldn't be hard to find.  After a few hours we finally made it back to civilization, had a quick Starbucks stop, and then pressed on to Palm Desert to meet our friends for two days of hiking in Joshua Tree, exploring the Salton Sea, and finding East Jesus in Slab City.  Photos of that in part 2.  

Jesse Neal