Prius does the Mojave desert

map palm springs to las vegas

Road closed? No problem!

Late last week, front-row center-seat tickets for a Pointer Sisters show in Las Vegas fell into my lap, courtesy of friends Alan and Dale, whose Las Vegas trip plans had gone somewhat awry. Of course I'd like the tickets!!! So, Saturday morning I pushed the "on" button in the Prius and set off across the Mojave short-cut to Las Vegas with Bret, my friend and perpetual houseguest from Vancouver.

Oh, the surprises! Oh, the adventures!

Kelso train station

The first surprise was to discover that the Kelso train station is now open after its restoration and conversion from abandoned relic of past railroad glory days to awesome museum and stunning new visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve. Of course we had to stop to check it out. In the days of steam locomotives, Kelso was a critical stop on the railway, for it was there that trains took on water before the grueling climb up the long Cima grade. The station had two stories, with ticket office, baggage room, and cafe on the lower floor and hotel and employee rooms on the second floor. Most of the second-floor rooms have been converted into display spaces, but two rooms have been restored to authentic crew and worker sleeping rooms. Among the railroad memorabilia and desert resources Bret found an old — and we mean old — Automobile Club of Southern California map on which the route we were traveling was clearly marked "road practically impassable." More on that later in the story.

Pointer sisters
Pointer Sisters today: Issa, Anita, Ruth

The next surprises came at the Pointer Sister's show. The "Sisters" now include a daughter, and those ladies are hot! Oh, yes. They sang, they danced, they cracked wise. Especially in the second half, they had people up out of their seats dancin' and hootin' and hollerin' and singin' along. It was the greatest hits come to life. To my utter surprise, they not only tolerated people taking pictures, they actually posed for pictures at the end of the show while they took their final bows and shook hands with the audience. None of us had brought a camera because they never allow cameras at shows. Damn! What shots I could have gotten from our front-row center seats!

Imagine my chagrin when I later realized while walking through the new Wynn hotel — Wow! — that I had had a camera with me all along. I was carrying my second cell phone, the one that knows how to talk with my Prius, and it has a built-in camera! Argh!!!

sex cards

Las Vegas is still the same mix of tawdry "Sin City" and big-money opulence and decadence. Battalions of mostly-Hispanic hustlers line the streets passing out cards advertising bountiful sex for hire opportunities. Most of these cards litter the streets. At the other extreme, the new Wynn hotel is the latest entry in the "top this!" competition that drives Las Vegas development. It makes the Bellagio look so "yesterday."

smoking gambler

I'm often struck, but never surprised, by the zombie-like state of so many people parked in front of a slot machine, cigarette in one hand and the other on the "spin" button. Sorry, but they just don't look like they're having fun. It is a little startling to see how many of the strip casinos — even the very grandest ones — now host a profusion of penny, two-penny, nickle, and dime slots. Safe to say, the high rollers are not the ones playing these.

On the way back on Sunday, we were planning to see the Mitchell Caverns, a side trip that would require a diversion through another part of the Mojave Preserve. When we turned off the Kelso-Cima road, a barricade with a "road closed" sign blocked our way. Hmmmm. Just then a park ranger pulled around the sign and headed down the road. Monkey see, monkey do. Eventually the ranger pulled to the side and stopped, and we assumed it was to ask if we couldn't read. But he was checking his maps and said we could go through, "at your own risk, of course." Of course he was driving a big four-wheel drive SUV.

old AAA map

"C'mon, Prius, let's go!"

Soon the blacktopped road turned to dirt, and before long it became obvious why the road was officially closed. The ravages of a recent flash flood were evident in the gaping holes and washed-away sand along the road. (We later learned that the gaping hole is where a fire truck had become stuck and subsequently buried to its hood in the raging flood just a few days before.) Prius Prius gamely impersonated an all-terrain vehicle, only once getting hung up when the wheels sank too deeply in soft sand. But, it backed up out of the predicament and plowed ahead successfully off to the side where the sand was a bit firmer.

Several miles later we finally arrived at the other end of the closed section, where rougher sorts sitting in parked pick-up trucks looked at us somewhat askance.

At the Hole in the Wall visitor center, a sociable ranger took us into the back office to show us a baby desert tortoise being cared for by another ranger as part of a tortoise rescue program. Although it was a year old, its shell was only a couple of inches in diameter, and it looked almost as if made of plastic.

Mitchell caverns

Then, at the Mitchell Caverns our tour group consisted of us plus just one other person, so we had a personal tour. The two caverns, joined by a man-made tunnel, have some awesome features, including the burst of stalactites shown here.

It was a most excellent adventure!

For more pictures, check out the slideshow (sidebar).