So its the last full day in the good old US of A! Its been a mad week covering a lot of miles in our rental 4x4. We started off through the rockies, quite an impressive mountain range indeed, in fact its bloody huge! We made a quick detour to see Buffalo Bill's grave, figured might as well while were on the same road. The roads were pretty smooth for the most part and it was quite nice to sit back and just take in the scenery with some music on, Moderat setting the perfect mood. We covered around 300 miles before finding somewhere to stop off, that place being Grand Junction!
We pulled up around 8pm and ditched into the first motel we found. The Rodeway Inn was clean and had some good air con. We walked down the main stree in Grand but seemed like there wasn't much going on. I thought perhaps everyone was saving their fun for 4 th July. We walked down both sides of the main street and kept seeing these really big mad sculptures. One would appear every few meters. Seems like they are big into their public art and all the sculptures were for sale! We finally found a nice micro brewery and got a beer and some curly fries out on the patio. We were amazed to find a dj set up with vinyl decks, records and a laptop! The guy could scratch & mix, the only question was how did he end up in Grand Junction.
Soon a full band had joined the dj and started ripping into various covers of soul and funk tunes. The band were a rag tag bunch but the singer actually had a great voice, nae bad for a 300 pound gay black dude, he had that Cee-Lo vibe going on, he even came back for the second set wearing a bumble bee costume! Total legend and it made our stay in Grand Junction quite memorable. The next day we went to anoher kitsch diner, complete with 1950's dresses & T-Bird jackets on the walls along with the usual Marilyn & Elvis stuff. Some real Americana stuff for sure.
The next drive started with "Young Hearts Run Free" and I have a vision of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. We finally left Colorado and got some picks with the Utah State sign. The land was pretty open and plain but I did have a nice moment listening to the Twilight Sads with a small bird flying along side the car, beating its wings intensely then gliding along in time to the song. On the way to Bluff we passed through lots of small run down town's, lots of boarded up windows and the like. Its quite strange but in many ways parts of America are as bad as 3rd world countries! We stopped just out side of Bluff and the wind was whistling, quite an eerie thing in the middle of nowhere with giant black ants scurrying across the red dust and a massive mountain range for a backdrop.
We passed through our first national park at the start of the desert / red rocks part of America. We stopped to look at some of the rock towers and the erosion from centuries of harsh weather. It went from being clear blue sunny skies to 40 mph winds and rain in about 3 minutes? We had to stay in the car because the winds were so strong but it was amazing to see the rocks in that kind of weather. I've never seen sand & dirt whipped up before, like a mini twister that disperses almost as fast as it appears! As we drove deeper into the barren red landscape Jaga Jazzist came on the stereo, the effect of the music with the scenery was truelly stunning!
Our next stop was in a small town called Tube City. Another run down over looked dump to be honest. We checked into another motel and got cleaned up and headed out for some 4th July celebrations with the locals. Little did we realise we had stopped in a Native American Indian Reserve! And it was dry i.e. NO BOOZE! The only thing to do was join the locals for some Karaoke action. Most of the folks going up were natives and most of them were truelly terrible so I decided to give them a laugh and signed up! My song of choice? Dancing in the Dark in the style of Bruce Springsteen, complete with dance and banter. I think I got the biggest round of applause and quite a few laughs too but it was worth it. I got speaking to a local woman named Frieda who laughed when I told her about Kilts and she offered to share some of her illicit booze, disguised as a regular Sub Way coke! She was a bit smashed I think and I left sharpish once she started trying out her old lady charms! All in all I enjoyed Tube City, it was really nice to meet some native people and to see the effect that hundreds of years of being fucked over has had on them, very very sad but also quite inspiring to see people getting on and making the most of what they have!
We fired onto the Grand Canyon, one of these must see sights I suppose. That first look into the mini Canyon did fill us all with a wild excitement. It does live up to its name and is truelly a sight to behold. The size of those drops was pretty scary and there was no chance of me getting close to the edge but Craig climbed out onto one of the towers for a better view. As he said "Its a long, long drop if you fall off!". I bought a set of National Park postcards with these really cool 1954's & 50's posters on them! After seeing the Canyon we ploughed on for Vegas. We made another pit stop at another Americana diner, this one complete with Marylin and Elvis murals on the toilet doors! The drive into Vegas was made more fun by listening to some Biffy Clyro! A band I have never much cared for but now have them ingrained in my music collection. Hearing the line "I am a mountain, I am the sea, you can't take that away from me!' was pretty powerful when doing 75 on the highway on a massive long straight road surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides!
Arriving in Vegas at night time was quite something, seeing the massive grid like system lit up from above. They really like their grids here. We made our way to the MGM Grand but missed the entrance and had to travel down the strip to get back in. Disney like castles, a mini New York complete with roller coaster, all manner of weird shops and everything scaled up to make you feel very small! It was quite funny to see the spot light shining up from the Pyramid hotel, like something from Stargate! Walking into the hotel was a real trip, the studio lighting rig entry with shops made it feel like you were in a TV, like part of the adverts. And then you get to the grand reception area and see the first rows of flashing bandits complete with strange beepy noises! I got the impression that those lights & beeps never stop! It was very strange to see so many people, from so many sectors of society all united in that one great act, gambling!
I had set my gambling limit at $10 and managed to stick to it. Although I did have a few shots on the $1 machines which give you 100 turns. You can set how much you want to gamble and just firtter those cents away. A suprisingly fun way to spend a dollar! Next I moved up to the computerised roulet. I decided I'd go all in with $5 as the minimum bet. I thought if I can get to $25 ill cash out but I made it to $15 then hit a losing streak and lost the lot, my fortunes gone! At least my mates managed to win some $'s if only for a short time before the losers streak hit them too! We watched both the World Cup qualifiers on these massive 7 ft screens and another 40 odd 40" plasmas! Like a tv world but dedicated to football, except for a few screens kept for the horse racing. All the seats were taken but Eddie kindly allowed us to use his two seats after he lost $400 on the bandits and went to his room!
As well as all the slots the casino / hotel had about 4 night clubs, bars and a lion pit. Being MGM like the film company they have a little glass conserve where they bring captive lions for a few hours a day. I liked the little cubs running up to the windows with their big floppy paws. We went to one of the night clubs, Studio 54 just for the hell of it, the tunes were pretty good but the dj could only play a song for 2 minutes before changing it! Also drinks were pricey, $69 for 3 beers and 3 jagerbombs! We some how got smashed anyway and showed the sleazeballs how to dance, Liam doing a great job with his Jean Paul Gautier tank top on! We did seem to attract mostly male attention but did have 3 girls doing the Dancing in the Dark swing dance with us. Liam doing the YMCA in his red tank top was quite a sight as well! Bobo disappeared for quite a while and being Vegas he could have been doing anything! He did eventually make it back to 11. 231 although he was a bit lighter in the wallet.
Once the hangovers had subsided and a shit ride on the mono-rail we left Vegas behind and went in search of life in Death Valley! One of the things I wanted to do was take a naked photo in the desert! Challenge complete! The landscape was impressive but it was the heat that made Death Vally stand out. Driving at 50mph with the air con off to help the engine was insane, we opened the windows and popped our hands out and it was literally like sticking your hand into an oven, there was no cool breeze, it was hotter than in the car! Some parts of the drive looked like Scotland with small bushes which reminded me of heather. Like home from home in the middle of the desert. The setting sun formed a perfect back drop for some photos on the salt plains with our shadows stretching away from us. Thankfully it did cool down as the sun set and we got out of the valley. We started to see these strange birds flying over head all around us, it turned out to be bats. We really were in bat country just like in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas!
Once out of the valley we found a 24 hour diner, had some under cooked lasagna, got a laugh from the servers, they just heat up your ready meal, pop it on the counter and shout your name. Liam became "Liiii Ammm", oh how very redneck. We checked into the Dow Villa motel and got an early night. A 6pm start the next day as we had to get the hire car back but somewhere we messed up the times and realised we'd be getting in late despite our early start. We took a rather scenic route through Yosemite National Park. The park scenery was stunning with M83 and King of Convenience on the stereo, we thought the route looked shorter as well but it turned out to be longer. Slower speed limits and windy roads slowed us up! And getting a ticket while going through a Bear crossing zone at 54mph didn't help much. But onto San Francisco we wen't!