Saturday, April 30, 2011

In the Middle of Nowhere, Part One

It's almost a truism to say that the desert is surprisingly full of interesting things. But just because it's a truism doesn't mean it isn't true. Today was a day off from baseball, because Rob, Norton, and I had to put some serious mileage between us and Las Vegas in order to make it to Saturday's Diamondbacks / Cubs game. (Astute readers will note that, were it not for an endless bout of illness in early April, I might well have seen these teams play thrice, home and away; luckily, this will be the only time.)

After the revelation of Double Negative yesterday, we were primed for more desert wonders—and while nothing we saw quite matches the scope and awe of that work, a long drive across the desert had its rewards. We started in Las Vegas with a trip to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, not because we finally decided to cop to our obvious maladies but because it's a Frank Gehry design. The two buildings (event center and offices) are somewhat reminiscent of Gehry's Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, but with obviously more computing firepower behind it.

After breakfast at the Cracked Egg in Henderson, we headed south through Searchlight, into the tip of California, and then west into Arizona, to reach Lake Havasu City—attractive to us in part for being a largely planned community (hard as it is to tell from all the generic sprawl that surrounds it now) but primarily for being the home of the London Bridge. The story is both mundane and oddly inspirational—when the bridge in London, England, was being replaced in the late '60s, an entrepreneur bought all the old materials, shipped them to this essentially artificial lake resort in the desert, and rebuilt it. Now it's a tourist trap for the powerboating and motorcycling sets that seems almost impossible to imagine going to in earnest (that is, nonironically). And yet there they all are. For his troubles, one of the city fathers has been memorialized in this creepy statue:

Why does this make me think of various puppet dictators of the cold war?
From there we struck back north to take in the Geodesic House (or "Area 66" as its owner would have it)—an oddity reminiscent of the UFO house outside of Chattanooga that we visited in 2007. Amazingly, this was apparently built as a restaurant.

After that, it was long but wonderful drive through cactusland, until we rose up into the mountains en route to Prescott. We stopped at a New Deal–era installation of the Stations of the Cross on a hillside in Yarnell that was, despite our collective lack of piety, moderately reverence inducing and admirably constructed. The period signage had something to do with that.

After a fruitless but entertaining quest for a ghost town, down a road that was primitive enough to evoke memories of both The Wages of Fear and our encounter with a meth-dealer-hunting cop, we continued on a spectacular twisting road through the mountains to Prescott, for dinner at the widely and justly praised Hugo's Cocina. Tomorrow, I believe, we'll actually see some baseball.

(The title of this post is borrowed from a classic radio-art piece by the inimitable Joe Frank. Well, actually, people do try to imitate him, but it doesn't turn out well.)

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