The earth stripped naked

The most exciting thing about traveling west from Denver is the land. In the eastern half of the United States most of the land is dressed in trees, grass, corn…. Just as clothes cover bodies and frequently disguise them, so vegetation cloaks the shape of the earth. But in the west, where the earth is often naked, or nearly so, what is most remarkable is its odd forms, the geometry of its mountains, buttes, plateaus, and mesas.

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Utah might as well have been the moon, it had erupted into such a strange landscape. The story of the Mormon flight to the state and its settlement takes on another dimension when you consider the path it took. The first Mormon pioneers came from Missouri where the land was sheathed in green, to a dusty place with colors they’d never seen—shades of dun, silver, purple and strawberry. Another world. That may have made all those strange stories in the Book of Mormon make more sense. It was all of a kind. The fantastic fitted with the fantastic.

After all, that’s what I’ve noticed about New Mexico each time I’ve been there. The land makes notions of spirits and gods make sense. Certainly much more than they make in Vermont.

As I went farther West, the land flattened out with only occasional views of low mountains and table tops, and then, in an odd and unexpected moment, I was in a corner of Arizona where the earth had been rent and everything was a-tumble and you could almost hear the clashing of mountain on mountain. Nobody had warned me about the Virgin River Gorge.

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On the other side was a long straight-out highway to Las Vegas, Nevada.

I’d been in casinos, but I’d never been in Las Vegas. I was unprepared for how much of it there was, how all its castles and monuments, hotels and casinos–washed in colored lights–towered above the crowds that thronged it, how its fountains flashed and its  gardens and jungles sprung up in unexpected places and wound around the ceilings. How superbly and incredibly pretentious it was. I could never have imagined so much money, so many drinks and desserts, so many man-made shiny things, so many lights twinkling or flashing, so many places pretending to be other more important places from the Louvre to the Grand Canal, and so very, very many people moving from one to another marveling, pretending that they were wealthy enough to buy it all.

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Maybe the Las Vegas strip is like the gods and spirits of New Mexico or the Mormons of Utah, fantastic enough to fit the West’s fantastic landscapes.

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