Introduction: It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades. Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting time to look back and remember the World Trade Center before they collapsed on that terrible day. Marieta and I visited the World Trade Center a few times. We even went to the top of one of the towers about a year before the tragedy. Today’s essay includes some photos which were taken during those visits. These photos are all that remains.
The twin towers. So utterly unremarkable in design, yet so grandiose by sheer size and scope, weren’t just windows to the world. They were extensions of our national character and pillars of America’s unequivocal stature as a global superpower.
Within sight of those two towers, the Statue of Liberty is often said to symbolize our national identity. But the unruffled lady bearing a flaming torch is more of an idea, really. Perhaps even a myth, given where we are and what we’ve become. Rooted squarely within the planet’s financial epicenter, the World Trade Center arose as the true manifestation of a nation, an economy, and a people — imposing, bold, excessive, and unapologetic for it all.
Which is precisely why they were such inviting targets on that fateful day no one saw coming.
I took this photo about a year before it happened.
The view from the top of the towers looking east towards Brooklyn was breathtaking.
Visitors rode express elevators from the ground floor to the observation decks. One was inside. Another was on the rooftop, outside.
That’s Marieta off to the right of the frame.
Here’s another angle, of the view looking east, but angled more towards the south. If you look carefully, you can see the tip of Manhattan Island starting to curve around, there off to the right side. The World Trade Center was only a block or so away from the shore. In fact, a landfill was added to part of the outer perimeter which allowed traffic to move more easily. A park was also added near the waterfront. Of course, that’s all gone now, or at least it’s been transformed.
When we stepped inside Windows on the World, the famous restaurant perched on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower, this was the view looking out towards Hudson Bay. There in the center of the photo where the golden sunset radiates off the water is Liberty Island, which provides the base of the Statue of Liberty. You can barely see her proudly standing there in the glow of the sunshine.
The twin towers standing so close side by side meant you could sometimes see people over in the other building. Those working in offices were on display, but if you fear heights, like me, the view was dizzying. Company executives with corner offices who by the very definition of where they worked had “made it.” All strangers. But in a very real sense, they were our friends and our family, too.
Watching someone over in the other tower, catching their eye, and waving was pretty amazing. Seeing them wave back was a real joy.
I wonder what happened to some of those nice people who waved. I wonder how many survived, and how many did not.
The first thing that hits you when you step outside onto the observation deck at the World Trade Center is — the wind.
Not like a breeze. Not even gusts. It just blows…..hard….all the time.
We went outside on a perfect day. I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what it must have been like to do construction or maintenance work on the roof of these buildings. The wind was brutal.
Here’s the view from the outer observation deck looking directly north, uptown on Manhattan Island. Oddly enough, when being up this high it’s so far up one might lose any fear of heights. It’s almost like flying.
Just about everyone connected in any way to the events of 9/11 had an opinion on what to do with the now-sacred site. In the end, rich and powerful financiers do what they always do, which is to tear it all down, haul it away, and rebuild again. The land beneath the bodies and rubble was far too valuable to be left simply, as is, which would have been the most appropriate tribute.
At the very least, part of the iconic outer skeleton of the World Trade Center should have been left intact, and then other buildings could have been built around it. Something, at least, should have remained of those fallen towers, to remind us. Something tangible. Something people can see, and touch, and remember.
Now that those two platforms of such wonderfully unique perception are gone, we can no longer gaze out, reflect, and enjoy. The purgatory between earth and sky stands no more.
Once upon a time, Dallas had 19 drive-in movie theaters scattered throughout the city. This is the story of the one that created traffic jams on the freeway, ignited court battles, and quite likely was the ground zero of conception for many.
November 3rd, 1951 was opening night at the Lone Star Drive-In, which would become a thriving business that lasted 37 years, the longest of any outdoor movie theater in the city’s history. The film which premiered that night was Broken Arrow, a western starring Jimmy Stewart. Reportedly, the grand opening was accompanied by the explosion of fireworks.
Oh, if irony could foretell of the surreptitious sleaze to come.
Camped in a swampy industrial section of East Dallas engulfed in oak trees on Military Parkway, the Lone Star Drive-In was just another family-friendly hangout for a decade and a half,. But then the owners cooked up a wacky way to increase profits by carving out a niche customer base that was certain to be controversial, even scandalous, but would also attract even more cars and customers — if only they could get away with it.
Their new business model was to start showing smut.
In 1966, the happy families loaded into station wagons must have slammed on the breaks in full panic mode when they pulled into the Lone Star Drive-In and been shocked to discover it was now showing X-rated movies. Quick daddy, hit the reverse! I’m not sure exactly what an X-rated movie looked like in 1966 since the MPA rating system wasn’t instituted until two years later, in 1968. I presume those early films must have been hysterically awful and even tame by today’s tawdry standards. But back then, with strict decency codes the norm in most American cities, it’s almost unimaginable that Dallas had an open-air, outdoor movie venue that featured hard-core pornography, what were then called “skin flicks.”
Welcome to the Lone Star Drive-In!
Note from the banner ad, that when the theater first opened, they advertised a “playground for the children.”
Presumably, that attraction later hit the skids once the porn began to flow.
Dallas has no natural reason to be a hub for drive-ins.
Except for lots of cars. Hot summer nights. And nothing much else to do.
Okay, so maybe Dallas — at least back then — was the ideal town for drive-in movies.
History doesn’t lie on this question. Years later, well into the 1980s, Dallas featured the only nationally-syndicated drive-in movie critic. Joe Bob Briggs (real name — John Bloom) wrote a hysterical weekly column, movie reviews actually, of the worst films ever made. They were published in the Weekend section of the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald, which also spawned the careers of many — including sportswriter Dan Jenkins, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, the late politically brilliant Molly Ivins and Skip Bayless, the motormouth on ESPN. Briggs himself became semi-famous for playing the role of the incompetent hick slot manager who was fired in Martin Scorsese’s film, Casino.
However, for all his ambition and talent, Briggs never once reviewed any of the movies playing at the Lone Star Drive-In between 1966 and 1987, not even Debbie Does Dallas. That’s when the giant screen finally went dark….after one last money shot.
The most unusual thing about the Lone Star Drive-In was its location, adjacent to a busy expressway that was named after a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. [Note 1]
You can look it up.
Movies couldn’t be shown until after dark. But when skin flicks hit the screen nightly between 8 pm and midnight, graphic sex scenes were easily visible from the road. Envision driving down the expressway one moment, and then the next — penises the size of Chevrolets. And the acting skills of a jackhammer.
Many rubbernecking witnesses recall “traffic jams” building up along the expressway, particularly during the winter months when the surrounding trees shed their leaves and made for a dangerous driving distraction. Others who remember the Lone Star Drive-In said accidents were common along the section of the roadway where voyeurs could capture a quick peek behind the wheel of the car. Truckers sometimes parked on the median, feigning a “flat tire.”
The stretch of road on the other side of the drive-in complex, known as Lawnview, reportedly had “much clearer views.” It also wasn’t subject to the dangers of distracted drivers barrelling down the expressway going 70 mph. There, on a dark and quiet city street, dedicated aficionados of the cinema arts unwilling to pay the cover charge could watch the screen, though without the sound. The Dallas Police regularly patrolled the area, frequently running off lots of teenagers and cheapskates.
The owners operated several drive-in theaters across Texas, but their decision to show X-rated movies in the middle of Dallas got to be way too much for local authorities to ignore. That’s when the legal battles began.
Somehow, reasons unknown, land exemptions had been grandfathered in. The Lone Star Drive-In’s owners escaped the normal zoning restrictions for decades, to say nothing of the mystery of how they managed to evade local laws on decency. Bribes? How much profit could a porno movie earn to be used to bribe cops and politicians? Who knows?
One story goes that they were able to avoid the deadly classification as an “adult-oriented business” by occasionally running mainstream movies, those rated G and PG, suitable for the whole family. Hence, on some nights the neon marquis in front might advertise a showing of 101 Dalmations, and the next night promote the feature attraction — Sorority Sluts. No word on how they avoided confusion when Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs was shown. Presumably, moviegoers didn’t know if they’d be watching a kiddie cartoon or a gangbang.
I remember the Lone Star Drive-In. Very well. I even went there a few times.
The legal age for entry was 17 and during high school, it was just another rite of passage to the eventual boredom of adulthood. Just like the first time you saw the centerfold in Playboy or kissed a girl. Once a group of us guys went together, which was way far more awkward than it was exciting. Another time, I went on a double date. Some helpful advice: Don’t ever take a girl to an X-rated drive-in movie on a first date.
Whatever the cover charge was ($5 for a carload, I think — no matter if it was 1 person or a dozen), you got to watch three sleazy movies. What a joy! They also had those giant metal speakers attached to an industrial cable that would be hung inside the car window, which was always screechy. I don’t recall much about the concession stand, other than the hot buttered popcorn was certainly something not to be touched.
According to a few drive-in nostalgia sites, the Lone Star Drive-In finally closed down with utterly no fanfare. This time, there were no fireworks. No porno parage. No gooey goodbyes. It wasn’t the Internet and free porn that killed all the big-screen fun. It wasn’t free porn. Rather, it was a new city law and an updated ordinance. The owner’s exemption to restrictions on adult businesses ran out, and the movie went dark on December 18, 1987. One week before Christmas Day.
Ho, ho, ho.
Sometime later, many months or it might have been a few years, with weeds sprouting in the parking lot and the white-plastered screen dingy with dirt and faded by the searing Texas heat, the drive-in suffered a sad and mysterious end. The television news later reported the abandoned drive-in, including the giant screen, had somehow caught on fire. Never mind how suspicious it sounds that a vacant property matted in gravel and surrounded by sheet metal miraculously burst into flames. The punch lines to the story wrote themselves: Wow, the X-rated drive-in caught on fire! That must have been one hot movie!
I guess, looking back now many years later, the Lone Star Drive-In was equal parts of quirky reminiscence and shameful disgust. All the drive-ins are gone now, perishable by evolution, erased by time.
Note 1: That busy freeway is named after R.L Thorton, a former Dallas Mayor and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Many Dallas residents are trying to change the name of the freeway.
Here’s a fact? 97 out of the 100 poorest counties in America are in red states — i.e. Republican states.
Democrats often get blamed for the collapse of many American cities, particularly inner-city neighborhoods where stores and shops are boarded up and poverty is a daily way of life for the people who live there.
The ruse goes something like this: Big cities are mostly run by Democrats, who comprise a majority of mayors and city councils. Accordingly, Democrats are at fault for slums, crime, and a pervasive diseased culture of hopelessness.
The accusation does seem to have considerable merit to those with little or no grasp of history nor an understanding of urban affairs. The accusation appears to ring true to those stuck inside echo chambers of hyperpartisan disinformation, which is a deliberate and constant toxicity brewed on right-wing media. The accusation does look factual to someone who’s spent no time actually working in big cities nor ever comes into direct contact with people who born and live most of their lives poverty. It’s attractive clickbait to those susceptible to the mindlessness of memes, those who don’t really give a damn at all about their fellow brothers and sisters struggling to make ends meet in the ghetto.
Indeed, there’s a lot of blame floating around out there and most of it is aimed at Democrats.
Now, let’s look at the truth.
Oddly enough, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, no one blames Republicans for the collapse of small-town America. I mean, wait-just-a-minute here: Aren’t most small towns run by conservative Republicans?
The fact is, small-town America has been in a tailspin for several decades. The evidence is overwhelming. Despite a so-called “boom economy,” many town squares, once thriving centers of commerce packed with locals who shopped and ate lunch and conducted most of their business with people they knew, now resemble snapshots of what things were like during the Great Depression. Boarded up stores. Broken windows. Vacancy signs. Buildings completely deserted. You know, just like in the big cities.
Look at some of these pictures. You can’t tell if these buildings are in Detroit or Dixie.
Things are at their very worst — in other words, the economy really sucks — in small towns in the South and the West. Many towns have quite simply vanished. They are de facto ghost towns — places with signs and spots on a map — and they number in the hundreds, if not thousands. And they’re vanishing.
Why is this happening? Many reasons. One is that Walmart has steamrolled over more businesses and led to the shutdown more factories in America, due to outsourcing its suppliers and manufacturing overseas, than any company in history.
Looking for a culprit to blame for all the stores in the town being vacant?
Here’s something you won’t read on the right-wing rags. Thank giant corporations, industrial farming, conservative economic policies pushed by Republicans, union-busting, and the insatiable greed of the market greased by company shareholders who consistently demand profits over people. If a product can be made cheaper in China, fuck it — close the doors and move the plant. Capitalism 101.
And so, small towns and the people who live in them became the victims of bad economics.
Yet, no one points a finger at any of the Republican mayors of these deserted towns, nor the Republican congressional representatives who dominate these districts, nor the state and local officials who are mostly Republicans, nor the Governors of states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, or Kentucky who are all Republicans.
Why is that?
Why are Democrats to blame for boarded up windows in Baltimore, but Republicans get a free pass for creating the thousands of shitholes in their own backyards?
Take a moment. Let that sink in. Republicans are in charge of 97 percent of America’s shitholes.
So now, let’s get back to inner cities. Yeah, many of those areas suck. Things are awful. And someone should take responsibility.
But what are the factors that led to slums? Who’s to blame for that?
I have a theory, and I’m convinced that I’m correct. Let’s see if you agree.
In the 1950s, a phenomenon social scientists later came to term as “White Flight” began happening. Whites began fleeing inner cities and moved to the suburbs. Since White people owned most of the wealth and held all the political and economic power, most cities were left devastated by the mass departure which took place over a long period, generally between 1950 and 1985. Fewer people with wealth paying taxes meant cities didn’t have as much money. Stores fell into disrepair. Sections of cities began collapsing.
During this time, factories closed down or moved to other parts of the country, but more often overseas. Thousands of them. Cities that once were home to millions of factory workers who spent their paychecks in town, were left deserted. Who is to blame for this? Liberals?
Then, neighborhoods were carved up. People with no power became pawns. Highways were built, highways mostly intended for commuters and companies making deliveries, and inner cities became reduced to the dark recesses of an off-ramp, an area of town we were instructed not to go into. Stay away, we were told. It’s dangerous. Inner cities didn’t get that way all by themselves. They were starved. They were choked. They were bled dry. And the skeletons of today are the remnants of centuries of racism and the grotesque failure of an economic system tailored to wealth and power and privilege, while indifferent to its victims.
Yes, conservative economics ruined cities. Greed ruined cities. Democrats, who have inherited the messes caused by the past, now get blamed for conditions they couldn’t possibly have prevented. If you don’t feed something that’s living, eventually it dies. That holds true for inner-city Baltimore. It holds true for Dixie, West Virginia (population 315).
It’s conservative economic philosophies and Republicans’ distorted policies that have created the squalor of many inner cities, just as it’s conservative economic philosophies and Republicans’ distorted policies that have destroyed small towns.
Midnight Express is a mesmerizing 1978 film based on the true story of an American college student who gets arrested and then convicted of drug charges who is summarily forced to endure the unspeakable horrors of the Turkish prison system.
After I watched the movie — its screenplay penned by Oliver Stone based in the captivating book by Billy Hayes who wrote of his experiences — like so many viewers I came away with a deep hatred for Turkey and its people. It was impossible to watch that movie and see the way Turks were portrayed and not be jaded by the cruel hyperbolic depiction.
I wasn’t sympathetic to drug use nor smuggling, mind you. However, the injustices of the Turkish legal system and the way such a relatively minor crime was punished left a lasting impression. For many who saw it, Midnight Express was the only thing we knew about Turkey.
But life does twist us in ways we cannot predict and turn us onto paths we do not foresee. Fifteen years after Midnight Express infuriated tens of millions of moviegoers, I ended up working for the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Washington D.C. I was an employee of the Turkish Government for seven years, between 1993 and 2000.
During my employment with the Turks, I gradually came not only to admire the fascinating history and rich culture of Turkey, and before them, the Ottomans. Working with people with very different attitudes opened my eyes to another perspective of the world — one that was not always consistent with my own perspectives, opinions, and values that I thought to be unshakable. Visiting Turkey four times during my tenure with the Embassy broadened my experiences even further. The photo (posted above) was taken during one of those visits, while in Istanbul.
However, one thing I couldn’t shake was the terrible memory of Midnight Express and the constant reminders of how Billy Hayes was treated by the system I now supported with my own labor. His book and the movie came up frequently among the Turks while I worked there. It was often the first thing Americans thought of when they were asked what they associate with Turkey. I even came to share the Turks’ resentment of the distorted portrayal. I began to posture defensively about it in conversations with Americans.
Fuck Billy Hayes. He was a drug smuggler. He did the crime, so he should have done the time! He got what he deserved!
Nonetheless, I couldn’t refute his very real story of a grave injustice at the hands of a government that was essentially run by a military dictatorship (in the 1970s). I couldn’t defend a corrupt system where an admittedly guilty man gets convicted, serves most of his sentence, and then just a few months before being released gets *retried* again for the same crime and subsequently is given life imprisonment. Imagine that for a shocker. Life imprisonment!
Sometime around 1997, while still in the employ of the Turks, it occurred to me I’d never actually read Billy Hayes’ book, Midnight Express, which was the first-person account. Reading it with an open mind seemed way overdue.
The text of Midnight Express, penned by a college graduate who once aspired to be a journalist and commanded a mastery of both language and expressing his own emotions, recalibrated every thought I had about the story, the book, and even the movie (which took extraordinary artistic liberties and even added incidents that didn’t really happen). As I closed the book following the final paragraph, guided by Billy Hayes’ narrative, I was a changed man, or at least I saw things differently than before. There was no genesis of opinion, nor even a definitive finality to that story. All of life’s experiences and the way we look upon them — good and bad — contribute to the rolling assembly line of evolutionary thought.
Billy Hayes and Midnight Express had once again affected me in ways I didn’t expect. His story made me think of things differently, and in a very tangible sense had also broadened my horizons at looking at subjects in a more existential way — that there can be contrasting even contradictory truths which depend on where we are in time and who we interact with, some by intent and others purely by chance. The truth we believe today might be the falsehood of tomorrow.
Perhaps I felt closer to Billy Hayes and his story solely because I spent all that time also influenced by Turkish people, which was a clash of perceptions. This all happened more than twenty years ago. Occasionally, I wondered what happened to Billy Hayes?
I wondered: Did he disappear? Did he try to forget about his years in Turkey? Was he even still alive?
Between 1997 and 2020, Midnight Express appeared on television sporadically and like a firefly to the flame, I felt the magnetic pull of curiosity tugging at my soul. I watched the movie a few more times, each viewing a chasm driven deeper into the divide between illusion and reality.
Then, about three weeks ago, something remarkable happened.
A local magazine was sitting on my living room table. I don’t even recall how it got there. The front cover showed a photo of Billy Hayes. Was that the same Billy Hayes who wrote Midnight Express?
It was. What was he doing on the cover of a publication about Las Vegas? He was sitting in a pose a Red Rock, seemingly at peace with himself. Wait — Billy Hayes was now in Las Vegas?
I was about to explore….and discover so much more.
On the night of October 7, 1970, an American college student named Billy Hayes duct-tapped four pounds of hashish to his torso and attempted to clear customs as he was about to depart Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. He made it successfully past the initial terminal search, then boarded a transport bus that shuttled international passengers to a waiting airplane out on the tarmac. It seemed he was home free.
But just as the bus pulled up to the jetway, Hayes was confronted with a horrific sight. Turkish Army soldiers were lined up waiting to search passengers for a second time. Recent terrorist attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization put Istanbul and other airports on a heightened state of alert. Hayes had just made the biggest mistake of his life. His life was about to change in ways no one could have predicted.
Yet, Hayes later said his arrest, trial, conviction, and five-years spent inside a hellish Turkish prison turned out to be one of the very best things that could have happened. Watch the video clip here, which runs about three minutes. It’s a short, but thorough account of Billy Hayes and the factual background story of what became the incendiary 1978 movie, Midnight Express.
So — almost fifty years later — what was Billy Hayes now doing in Las Vegas?
I read the well-written expose on Billy Hayes that focused on what he’d done in the four-plus decades since his escape from imprisonment in Turkey when in 1975 he paddled 17 miles in a storm across the Marmara Sea and crossed the heavily fortified border into Greece and on to freedom back home. Turns out, Billy Hayes had moved to Las Vegas.
Now 73 (his birthday was last week), Hayes has made peace not only with himself but with his once-hostile captors — the Turks. Hayes was invited to return to Turkey as an official guest of the government, actually the TNP (Turkish National Police). He openly spoke of his experiences and even expressed love and admiration for the country and especially its people. It seemed such an unlikely, even an impossible reconciliation, but Hayes had never *hated” Turkey or the Turks despite his imprisonment and brutal treatment.
What I remember was Billy Hayes’ book and the movie destroying Turkey’s tourism industry and jading an entire generation as to how it perceived a proud culture and people. Certainly, this had not been his intent. In fact, he’s been trying to correct the record and make amends, ever since. These noble efforts speak to the remarkable qualities of a man I somehow thought of as a friend, with so many kindred interests — experiences with Turkey (indeed very different), deep love and background in writing, a free-spirited outlook on life — but who I’d never actually met.
None of us is ever likely to be locked up inside a Turkish prison, nor understand the fear and nightmare of what it’s like to face a life sentence for drug possession (later changed to drug smuggling). Nonetheless, his remarkable story resonates with all who have read it, and who can now hear it, thanks to Hayes’ doing what amounts to a one-man show of his life and experiences. He has written other books, directed a movie, and even appeared as the hired assassin in a Charles Bronson movie, Assassination.
When our lives return to normal after the CV-19 crisis, I hope to go see Billy Hayes’ show. I expect there are many more things I can learn, not just bout him and bygone days in Turkey, but about myself. His story is a rebirth and a revelation.
Last week, Billy Hayes and I became Facebook friends. This is one of the many unanticipated benefits of social distancing and isolation, which is to create of our time what we want to make of it. Hayes doesn’t know I’m writing this, but I expect he’ll read it. If so, I have some words for him:
Thank you for sharing your story and for your gifts as a writer and for your courage to self-examine through intense introspection and for being fully human and for enduring and for moving to Las Vegas and now being one with us on social media.
Midnight Express, which factors in the title of Billy Hayes multiple narratives, refers to an uncharted labyrinth of escape from captivity. In a sense, we all remain captive to all of our outmoded perceptions, those old ideas, destructively archaic thoughts, and paralyzing fears. Yes, each of us remains in perpetual pursuit of truth’s liberation, of finding our own Midnight Express.
I don’t know when it will come but at some point during this “social distancing” thing, many of us are going to go stir crazy.
This is especially true if you live in Las Vegas, like me.
We’re used to going out and having fun. We’re accustomed to casinos, and restaurants, and world-class entertainment within a short drive. We’re spoiled by instant gratification.
Let me be very clear: I fully support and encourage following every recommendation and guideline put out by any authority — at least those put out by people not named Donald Trump and Mike Pence. The draconian measures of social distancing, and in some cases “self-quarantining” are sure to save many lives. I beg everyone: Please follow them.
But let’s also be realistic. Many of us are going to go outdoors. We will leave our homes and drive places. Some destinations — such as grocery stores and medical facilities — are mandatory. Others, such as amusements are optional.
Fortunately, Las Vegas is blessed to have some really cool places closeby. Everything about these spots is positive. I think many readers might enjoy them if they can get outside and are willing to try an adventure.
In recent years, I’ve discovered a few amazing places that I want to share. Each destination is easy to reach from Las Vegas. So, if you are a local resident, or visiting, these are very doable. Best of all they are safe and cost next to nothing!
OPTION 1: TAKE A HIKE AT RED ROCK CANYON
Distance from Las Vegas: 5 miles
Time Required: A few hours (or more is optional)
Don’t be put off by the word “hike.” I promise — it’s not that difficult. There are many leisurely walks through the Red Rock Canyon National Park. Some take no more than an hour. Others are more challenging and can take up to a full day. The option is yours.
The main thing is — the views our here are magnificent. More like breathtaking. And, since it’s March, the weather should be great this time of year. The same goes for April and May. So, even if this health crisis continues for months, Red Rock Canyon will be there waiting to welcome us.
The many times I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon, it’s never been crowded, like a city attraction. Sure, several hundred people might be at the canyon at one time. But they are spread out of many miles. So, there’s virtually no threat going out and doing something that’s fun and good for you — walking and hiking.
Here’s my report of an amazing hike I did a few years ago with a friend, Nick Christenson. Nick knows these trails very well, so I was glad to have him as my guide. If you’re interested in learning more, please read this column, and if you really want to find out where to go, share the discussion on Facebook. Either Nick or I will be glad to address it. Read: TAKING A HIKE: THE OTHER SIDE OF LAS VEGAS
OPTION 2: DRIVE AND VISIT VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
Distance from Las Vegas: 50 miles
Time Required: 4 to 5 hours (can be done in a half-day)
Valley of Fire is about an hour-long drive to the northeast, about halfway to the Utah border. It’s a pristine setting with lots of rock formations and natural beauty.
There’s no urban development out here, meaning no hotels or gas stations. The natural splendor is what makes Valley of Fire so attractive. The park is located next to an Indian reservation, which has a tobacco shop as the main cut off from the highway onto a single-lane road, which takes another 10 miles, or so.
I’ve visited this park many times, usually with family or out-of-town guests. Everyone I’ve gone with enjoys the quiet solitude combined with the beauty of the unusual landscape.
Unfortunately, I have not written about the Valley of Fire in the past. So, instead, I will provide this link to their OFFICIAL WEBSITE.
OPTION 3: DRIVE AND VISIT DEATH VALLEY (DANTE’S VIEW)
Distance from Las Vegas: 120 miles
Time Required: 8-10 hours (full-day)
People hear “Death Valley” and they think of unbearable heat and barren desert. But it’s not that way, at all. Or, I should say, it’s much more than that.
One of the park’s best-kept secrets is an amazing landmark that overlooks the vast natural treasure, which is about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. This is one of the best day-trips you will ever take from this city. For reasons inexplicable, I’ve met very few Las Vegas residents (or anyone else) who has done this wonderful mini-vacation. Don’t be like them! Do it!
Remember, during this period, we want to be cognizant of social distancing. Well, a visit to Death Valley is about as socially isolated as it gets. The closest you will come to other people might be cars on the other side of the highway.
This article I wrote about Dante’s View will give you some idea of what awaits those to make the drive. Trust me, it’s worth it. And, once you are there, it’s a nice spot to get out and spend a few hours. The view never gets old.
Be Warned: There is no food or services out here, so please make sure you are well-fed and stocked up before heading out. Oh, the area is totally safe. You just need to make certain you have plenty of gas and don’t leave hungry. Because you won’t find a fast-food place around for 50 miles. And that’s what makes it so wonderful.
There are more places to visit than just these. Utah has some astonishing parks within a reasonable distance. Of course, it’s also okay just to go outside and take a walk.
I understand these are unusual times. For everyone. We’ve never been in a spot like this before. I encourage those I know and those I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet to stay safe. But also — please volunteer and help when and where they can.
Just as important….I also think it’s vital to live a little and enjoy life.
Visiting one of the parks within driving distance is a breath of fresh air and a very responsible way to take advantage of this disruption of our normal lives.
The best way to appreciate Las Vegas right now might be to leave it, if for only a few hours or a day.
Please share with me if you decide to follow any of these recommendations. I’d love to hear your thoughts.