Greetings from Death Valley. It’s almost the end of our trip here in USA and even though I miss my own shower and home cooked meals, I’m not ready to go back home yet. This trip has proven to be much more interesting than either one of us expected. And especially this last week, we expected to face the most boring week ever but instead discovered the America of small towns and wonders of the nature.
We were driving somewhere close to the Twin Peaks town of North Bend. Suddenly there were these abandoned old trains lying along the road on old railroad tracks. It seems the trains were sort of taken care of since there were some signs telling what the trains were originally used for, but they were all in a bad shape. Still, old trains are always a pleasure to eyes. Rust just adds to the charm, right?
Some of the train cars may have been used to shoot scenes early on in Twin Peaks, too – the crime scene set.
Church of God-Zillah
We promised to tell you about this last week so here it is. In the small town of Zillah, WA, some people had a wonderful sense of humour and they made this great God-Zillah statue to celebrate their Church Of God, Zillah, WA, but then some other people apparently found it in bad taste and now it’s hidden behind their church building… or that was the explanation we read from the internet. Who knows, but cool it was and really hard to find, because it was deliberately hidden behind the church.
They had plans to situate it next to the interstate with eyes glowing whenever cars drove by. That would’ve been a sight!
Dinosaur town of Granger
On our way east we also drove through a small town inhabited by dinosaurs. According to the internet, the townspeople of Granger, WA, just happen to like dinosaurs so they have decorated their whole town with such specimens. No dinosaurs have been found from Granger except for these. There should also be volcano toilets (?), but we didn’t see them.
In the middle of nowhere in a native American reservate lies a casino and a gas station. In case you are planning on visiting the museum, don’t bother asking the locals since none of them seems to know where the museum is located. It took us half an hour to find the place, which is pretty good considering I just listed everything there is in that place. To find the museum, drive past the casino and right after it turn right and drive until you find a narrow, winding road leading to nowhere. That’s where the museum is located. It takes a bit of faith.
The museum itself was very fine, but we got the impression it was built for the native American tribe who owned the land instead of a casual visitor. The museum presented how people had lived before the Europeans and how their arrival had changed the tribe’s life, also going through how the early settlers stole their lands, breaking treaties until their lands were reduced to maybe a tenth of their original size. If you are interested in native American history, Yle Teema has broadcasted at least twice an excellent five episode series on the subject in the past two or so years.
While traveling in the rural areas of Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Nevada we mostly stopped in small towns and drove in the middle of endless fields and cattle ranches. The most prominent memory from Oregon and Utah was the thick, unbelievably striking stench of pure cow poop. We both have stayed in normal Finnish country houses next to cattle and pigs, but this was something quite different. The worst part were the huge, many meters high and wide piles of cow poop people had piled on their front yards, covered with a tarp and left there to boil in the heat of 40 C. The stench was just undescribable.
But when it didn’t smell we absolutely fell in love with the small towns we stayed in. The people we met were just most kind and seemed extremely delighted to get visitors who were willing to spend some time chatting with them. Each town also has their own character. Some are more lively than others, some barely surviving, some with blooming communities offering many locally produced luxury items like vinegars and coffee at ridiculously low prices compared to Finland. And size has nothing to do with how well the towns are doing. Rather it’s up to the people.
One of the things which separate Finland from the small (and larger) towns of America is their willingness to do things together as a community. For example even the smallest towns seem to have a local museum put up by volunteers. In Union, OR, we found a Union County Museum which we expected to be small and hardly worth a visit, but it turned out to be a surprisingly big and well thought out place where numerous people had donated their family’s old items with stories attached to them, making the place much more interesting. The locals had also involved local school children in putting up the museum and they had painted murals and made paper(?) fish in the room introducing local wild life.
And many times when we asked for recommendations for places to dine in, we found small places we might have never visited but found them serving normal home made food and surprisingly good dishes and ended up chatting with the owners this and that and about their future plans, pets and sights worth a trip and tips on local bakeries, etc. For example in La Grande, OR, we were pointed to the local town fair where people were dancing and selling their produce like cherries and wine. In Buhl, OR, the motel served locally baked breads and pastries which were so delicious we had to go to the store which produced them to buy snacks for the road. And in Beatty, NV, just before Death Valley, we found a great place with home cooked meals and got into a long conversation with a twenty-something woman with her own cafeteria and great plans for the future.
Previously I thought that if I died and went to hell I’d end up on those cruise boats between Helsinki and Stockholm, searching forever for a place to sit down. Now I’m sure I’ll avoid them and end up in Las Vegas. The whole city is like a gigantic cruise ship designed to make you lose your way between the endless lines of slotmachines, if you ever enter indoors. And if you go outside you are faced with 44 C temperatures in narrow streets full of people pushing and trying to move forward, up and down stairs and across pedestrian bridges over the multi laned roads. At times the crowd stops to follow some casino’s outdoors show or some fellow dressed in a Stormtrooper suit, and then agonizingly slowly the crowd moves on. Everything is hideously overpriced and if you run out of water and go indoors to look for it, you are lost forever. It took us almost two hours to walk 3 km (1,5 miles) from the Luxor hotel to Treasure Island, on the other side of the Strip.
The most shocking yet maybe not that surprising thing is how sexist and misogynist the place is. Every hotel offers their own striptease show with tacky headlines and even Cirque du Soleil isn’t safe but are apparently forced to make their own naughty show for those whom the amazing circus just isn’t enough. Also on those hot streets, in every corner there were crowds of people pushing cards featuring nude big tits and apparently very horny women at you, trying to hand them secretly over to fathers walking down the street with their families. Disgusting and so degrading.
And in case you were thinking of taking your kids there, don’t. There is _nothing_ for kids and most of the “non-stiptease” shows are not appropriate for young kids. And despite this, even late at night we saw many families with very young kids being dragged through the streets or having fallen asleep on their father’s shoulders. Ridiculous!
Now, I must admit we are not in the target group of people to whom Las Vegas is designed for. We don’t gamble and we don’t drink alcohol and being as cheap as I am we weren’t even willing to pay the very expensive ticket prices to see any of the shows. But if you are into those things, I’m sure this is the most expensive place you have ever gotten drunk in.
Las Vegas Outside the Strip
The Strip is only a very small part of Las Vegas and around it lies a wide city which houses all the casino workers, and it looks pretty much like any regular town. And you can get food and drinks at less than half the price compared to Strip. So after enduring that one night on the Strip we decided to make our escape.
Las Vegas is located right next to the Nevada atomic testing site and Area 51. Though the museum was a bit dry and probably gave its best kick to those working in the atomic industry, there were some jewels. First of all, the museum holds the Ground Zero Theatre which lets you experience what it’s like to sit in an observation bunker at an atmospheric nuclear detonation test. It was quite frightening and after the explosion, when they showed a short video with the first people working at the testing site, it was interesting to hear how even they felt the terror each time an atomic bomb exploded and they had to wait for the shockwave to get to them.
Another interesting thing was that they didn’t inform the Las Vegas residents about the very first atomic bomb test they did. Suddenly there was just a bright flash of light, then the mushroom cloud, and the earth was shaking. People thought it was either some accident or an earthquake. Later the atomic bomb tests became popular tourist attractions and the townspeople and tourists had benches where observe the explosions. Of course, later people realised the atomic bombs caused radioactive dust to spread around and the testing moved underground.
The museum had also a temporary exhibition called Area 51 – Myth or Reality. Despite the enticing name, it was the silliest exhibition ever! First we got a special badge complete with our “alien identity profile” and then we met a secret agent in a briefing room who told us to keep everything we were about to see in secret. (…am I just breaking the law or something?) Then we were led to an area where we were told about the theories about Area 51 and the Roswell incident and after some pretty childish, crude displays were introduced to the modern fighters and experimental aircraft actually tested at the site. I think the main message of the exhibition was that if we had had extraterrestial visitors and learned their technology, how likely is it that we are still using human technology on airplanes? And though the exhibition didn’t say it, it would seem the secret experiments going on in Area 51 have to do with these experimental aircrafts. Oh wow, can I get my money back? *not impressed*
In the Las Vegas suburbs there is also a similar place to the pinball museum we visited in San Francisco. The only difference was in this place the entry is free but you have to pay to play the games. With ten bucks, which we paid for the place in San Francisco, we got more than enough play. Still, I liked the free games better than this way since it didn’t bother as much if you happened to put your money into some disappointing game which dropped all the balls straight out between the flippers.
BTW, if you are trying to find the place, the place is still functional despite the out of date website (last updated in 2009) and almost non-existent signage on the building. It’s pretty popular, too, and as a non-profit they’re giving out close to half a million dollars in charity every year.
The last thing we wanted to mention is the Death Valley national park. If you ever get a chance, go see it. It is awesome. Especially the Artist’s Drive is spectacular. Also we loved the western exit route towards Ridgecrest, CA.
Next week it’s time for out last post from USA. We’ll be visiting the San Diego Zoo, hopefully see a glimpse of the sold out Comic Con and visit the Los Angeles Disneyland and La Brea Tar Pits.
Mia & Joonas