Red Rock Canyon: Hiatus, then Hiking

I took an unexpected and rather abrupt hiatus from this blog, as you might have noticed.

Perhaps it was the election. Perhaps it was my sudden bout with sore throats and abdominal pain. Perhaps it was the conclusion of my Japanese contract. Perhaps it was all of this that crippled my desire to write.

If it makes you feel any better, dear reader, I didn’t write anywhere else either. I didn’t work on my book. I wrote no poetry. I kept no dream journal. I barely touched my actual personal journal. By all measurements, my ability to write simply dried up like a desert streambed in summer.

Speaking of…

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Before my recent re-relocation to Japan (having gone home briefly), I visited one of my favorite places in the United States: Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I don’t know if Red Rock Canyon is my favorite spot – I love the Sequoias in California, the Hudson River Valley, and the tumult of Chicago – but it certainly ranks. If I had to give it a number one rank, it would be “Favorite place to go in the winter.” The desert in winter is something alien and unexpected. There is snow in the mountains, and in the late winter the melt swells the streams.

I’ve been going to Red Rock Canyon since I was a child. We’d always go in the late summer or mid-spring, coinciding with spring breaks and the end of summer vacations. I remember finding the small spherical stones that had fallen off the sandstone like pimples (I learned later they were vaguely magnetic, attracting particles around them). It’s not a national park, but it is protected under the BLM’s National Conservation Areas, specifically for the tortoises. When I was young, there was nothing leading to the park – a sparse collection of old gas stations and parched houses. Now, Summerlin abuts the park almost to the inch of the protected space.

When I visited in February, it was with the intention of seeing the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day in the desert, so there was no sunrise to watch. The sign at the gate warned against climbing on the sandstone (already a slick stone). Though I didn’t get the sunrise, I got a bounty of other sensations. Desert plants must act fast, and the aromas getting out of my car hit me like a wall of spices. Mesquite, yucca, agave sage – these are the plants that opened up to welcome the brief morning rain, and the scent was cleansing.

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Looking out over the vast living landscape, full of cacti that would dry out in a few months, pools of water that wouldn’t last, I felt free again. There is something so…fragile about the desert. I find it almost unbearable to be in Red Rock in the heat of the summer, when everything is bleached and dry and desperately holding on. But in the winter, the colors deepen and the whole place comes brilliantly alive (the desert is always alive, mind you, but its much more practical about it in the summer).

So I hiked around Calico Hills, the patchwork sandstone mounds near the entrance of the park. I kept a lookout for animals, but saw only hummingbirds and a hawk. I met a nice Naval man on the trails, who proved good company and thankful hiking buddy (I kept my distance from him for awhile at first, uneasy at being alone). From Calico Hills, I went back to my car and started the long scenic drive through the park.

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Note: Make sure you get gas before you arrive at the Park. There is no access point out of the park once you start the scenic drive – it’s a big loop.

I’ve hiked part of Pine Creek Canyon, about three-quarters of the way through the 13 mile scenic drive, but I’ve yet to hike the whole thing. I get too interested at the beginning, where they did a controlled fire. There are Ponderosa pines there, and I’ve seen the wild burros once as well. It’s a forest that doesn’t belong in the desert, which is why it’s so fascinating. Much like the geological face of the mountains, which feature old rock pushed on top of younger rock (due to the fault lines), it’s sort of out of place. I love it.

Sitting on a rock, I watched the stream/almost river flow across the road, and felt the tuggings of inspirations again. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to feel the desire to write and describe. I had been feeling isolated and numb. Much like the riverbed, I felt the great need to open up again, and let the life in.

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Addendum: I worry, as I have been worrying for months now, about how Trump’s environmental lethargy is going to hurt places like Red Rock Canyon. I’ve watched Summerlin’s cookie cutter homes encroach more and more on the space, and I’m genuinely worried that in this new administration that does not care about protecting anything except their own wealth, spaces like these will fall victim.

So go buy this shirt from Cotton Bureau, or one similar to it. Maybe some good will come of a “gentle” visual reproach…

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Las Vegas: Circus of the Sun

Alright, it’s been awhile, so here’s a bit about a place I’ve been:

Las Vegas

I’ve been going to Las Vegas since I was a kid. I was a child when Vegas was going through its “No, really! We’re great for families!” phase. White tigers, pirate fights, Nile river boat rides, all good times for a young girl too young to gamble. This was back when the machines gave out real money when you won. Mom was always willing to let me tally her nickels at the end of an evening. When they switched to paper print outs, she literally stopped gambling all together. She said the fun was gone. Though there are still great things for families to do in the City of Sin, the sin has come back in a big way with the advent of giant strip malls on the Strip, and a big nightclub boom.

When people ask me what shows they should see, I always tell them to catch a Cirque du Soleil show. There are other good shows, but Cirque du Soleil is such an unexpected Vegas collaboration. In a way it makes sense – Cirque shows are full of spectacle and special effects. But then it doesn’t – there’s a lot of metaphor and no stripping, two things which tend to appeal to the yard-long margarita crowd. Cirque shows feature classic clowns and mime. Few characters speak English, and there’s a kookiness which runs through productions which I love, but doesn’t seem like it should work in the superficial lies of Las Vegas. Yet they do – enough so that there are several shows to see. Here they are, and here are my thoughts on them. I’m starting at Treasure Island, and working my way along the Strip.

Mystere: Mystere was the first Cirque du Soleil show to come to Vegas, and it is the oldest, located at Treasure Island.  It was my first Cirque show, and after some difficult mental wrestling it remains my favorite.  I think it the best Cirque show because it is more classic Cirque –  no real plot, but a sort of desert theme. The acts – giant cube manipulation, silks, strongmen, Japanese drums (my Dad’s favorite), and bungie acrobats (mine) – all sort of flow into each other. It’s weird and wonderful, and is a great value for the ticket price. My nephew still doesn’t understand why there’s a giant friendly snail that appears out of nowhere, and he gets a kick out of the red bird dancer. Mystere is a show that gets a lot of “oohs” and “aahs!” from the audience, impressive after twenty (!) years of performances.

Love: The first of the “themed” Cirque shows in Vegas, and is located at the Mirage. A celebration of all things Beatles, it combines the symbolism of Cirque with the story of actual people. The result is transcendent. After Mystere, I think Love is my favorite Cirque show. Perhaps it’s because I also love the Beatles, and combining theater with good music is (probably) never a bad idea. Part of what makes Love such a treat is the joy of the production – there is a lot of energy in the performances. I find the costume effects of “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite” to be especially mind-bending, and there are some cool tech effects as well.  Under all the color and familiar tunes is a rough history. The bombing of London, the trip to India, Beatlemania, and John Lennon’s loss of his mother are all expressed in beautiful musical touchstones. Also, by the end anyone who knows the music is singing along. It’s a show that succeeds in bringing an audience together, provided you’re willing to let go and enjoy.

O: It’s easy to see why O’s tickets are some of the most expensive Cirque tickets. The theater at the Bellagio is massive, and the entire show takes place on/in/over a giant pool of water. I got to go on the O stage during Cirque Week , and it’s squishy like a race track. I was told this is because it the material sheds water quickly, which is essential when the stage is going from submerged to dry and back again. O is a celebration of the aquatic, and so the bulk of the acts involve water – synchronized diving, swimming, high dives, acrobats on raining apparatuses. There are also some fire spinners, and an excellent set of clowns. If you go, please cheer for the scuba divers when they appear. Each is a Master Diver and is in charge of making sure performers get air when they “disappear” underwater.

Zarkana: Before Zarkana, the Aria held another Cirque show – Elvis. Elvis had some truly fantastic acts, but the narrative was odd and far too literal. In my opinion that’s why it failed to stick. Zarkana, it’s replacement, is a throwback to old carnival and freak show acts. Acts include an amazing juggler, the tight rope, and giant hula hoops. The plot, such as it is, is bare. There’s a ringleader and his pack of talented performers. He is looking for a woman, who he keeps meeting in different forms, and these provide the setting for new acts. Zarkana is weird, but I liked it a lot. It’s a bit heavy on two main singers, but then it felt old-timey and off-kilter in a good way. I will say that there is a giant animated, singing, dead baby in a jar effect, which might make kids uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable, till I remembered that at the old carnivals that came through my town there was always a tent or two dedicated to “grotesques.”

Ka: Ka is the MGM’s Cirque production, and it has a definite story. A good king and queen are murdered by a rival, and the twin brother and sister must enlist allies to take back what is there. Ka has a lot of martial arts, and my favorite music. In particular is the song in the forest, which has some fantastic puppetry to boot. It’s got a lot of actual fire in it, and certainly has a harsher story with people dying, and a breakdancing starfish for levity. It also has a crazy rotating series of stages. Ka is one of the more infamous Cirque shows, as the finale fight, which requires vertical climbing and jumping down a stage resulted in the death of one the performers. The show retooled and is back, just as strong.  It’s a sobering reminder that these gravity-defying actors are human.

Zumanity: Ah, the attempt at “adult” entertainment, Cirque style. Zumanity is at New York, New York, and attempts to explore sexuality through circus. This one was average for me, though I freely admit that seeing adult entertainment is not my cup of tea. There is also a tension in trying to be risqué while at the same time being super athletic. Just because a girl is doing a bondage act with the silks while a soundtrack featuring suggestive moaning plays all around doesn’t make the silks less of a feat. It’s hard to see the sexuality when being awed by the techniques required in some of the performances. They try to make up for this with goofy burlesque acts and a suggestive emcee, which only partly succeeds. Still, it’s a fun sort of romp, but definitely not for the kids.

These are the shows I have seen on the Strip. The two I have not are Chris Angel’s “Believe” and the Michael Jackson “One.” The former because I am not a huge Chris Angel fan, the latter because I’m not into Michael Jackson. At least, not his persona – his music was good.

The nice thing about Vegas shows is that there are always deals going on. If you are looking to see a show, call ahead of time and see if there is a dinner/show combo, a sale for the season, or a military discount. BE SURE TO CHECK BLACK OUT DATES. Each show has two days a week when it’s “dark” (or off), in addition to some holidays and rehearsal/tech breaks, so check out the websites ahead of time.

In my next post, I’ll go through some other worthwhile shows to check out. This one is all about Cirque du Soleil because I love what they represent and how they’re willing to expose audiences to new experiences through theater. Their music is live, not recorded, so there’s a sense of immediacy. This is even more present with the performers. It’s fascinating for me to see what happens when a landing doesn’t stick, or a grab gets missed. It’s a testament to showmanship that such mishaps don’t derail an act. It’s good for kids to see how to handle mistakes.

I had a vision of me singing the forest song in Ka, and rather than wish I tried to manifest that dream. I sent in a video audition to be a singer. They said I could reapply in three years. I bet I’m not the only one with that dream. Still, there’s a little Cirque in all of us, and I encourage you to see it unfold in an impossible city.  If you cannot, see if one of the touring show is around you. You will not be disappointed!

Enjoy the show, and bon voyage!