African Wisdom Statue

These are photos of one of my favorite wood carvings.  It’s a statue from Africa, and it’s on display at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

I love how wise this figure looks!  He pulls on a little beard and frowns like Yoda with a migraine.  Clearly, this is an elder shaman deep in thought.  It’s a perfectly-rendered image of a very specific human condition: vigorous contemplation of some somber vexation.

Sadly, it’s hardly on prominent display there.  It’s actually in a small hallway in the lowest level, right next to a vending machine and an elevator.  Alas.


























Closed Bookstores

The Barnes and Noble on South Maryland Parkway shut its doors earlier this year.  That means that every major bookstore that was open in Las Vegas when I was in college, a mere fifteen years ago, is now closed.

The Borders on Sahara and Decatur, where I worked my freshman year, closed several years ago, just as the recession was starting.  The space is still vacant.

When I was in high school, there was a little Barnes and Noble affiliate called Bookstar just down the street from it.  They closed before I even graduated.  It’s a linen shop now.

The Borders on Lake Mead and Rainbow opened while I was in college.  They closed last year.

There used to be two bookstores in the Meadows Mall.  Both are long since closed, that mall now bereft of books.

There are just two Barnes and Noble stores left to service all of Las Vegas.  Both are in the same part of town: out west in the Summerlin area.

There is not, nor has there even been, a major bookstore in the northernmost part of the city, where I live.  I remember a little independent one in the strip mall at Rancho and Craig, but that was as close as it got, and they closed before any of these others.  A raggedy used book store on Ann closed a few years ago.  Other than the Barnes and Noble I started off writing about, I don’t think the easternmost part of town has ever had a big bookstore, either.

There are, however, still several fine used book stores in Las Vegas.  Thank goodness for that.


Hiking to the Top of Mt. Charleston

A couple of weeks ago, my oldest son and I tried hiking to the top of Mt. Charleston, which is 20 miles northwest of Las Vegas and at nearly 12,000 feet is the highest peak in southern Nevada.  We only made it halfway, but a few days ago I went back and did the whole thing.

I went up the south trail, and down the north trail.  Those are about eight miles each, and with the short hike up the highway to get back to my car, the whole trip was 17 miles.  That took me ten hours (5.5 hours to get up, 4.5 hours to get back down).  I drank seven water bottles during the hike, FYI.  Here are some pictures I took along the way:

I took this picture just to capture that blue sky. The sky never gets that deep of a hue down here in the valley. This is in a meadow at about 10,000 feet.

Looking southwest over rural Nevada from 10,000 feet.

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Desert Dusk

We’ve long since reached that point where the days are so long that the sun no longer rises in the east and sets in the west; it rises in the north and sets in the north.  Daylight Saving Time notwithstanding, I spend the last month or so of each school year driving to work in daylight so bright it might as well be high noon.

Las Vegas in the summer can be frightful.  Nothing illustrates the parched environment here better than the summer sky.  It isn’t blue.  It’s white.  The parts of the sky farthest from the sun–the horizon, for most of the day–are a pale, robin’s egg blue, but most of the sky is a dead albino.

You know how a sign or book left in the sun for months or years will get all the color sucked away, leaving a washed out shell of what it was?  The sky itself gets like that here.

But then the sun sets.  And life gets amazing.  The temperature instantly drops ten degrees.  Color returns to a world blinded by too much light.  A landscape that has been holding its breath all day gets to relax.

For that one hour that starts right after the sun goes down, the world is a milder, dimmer, calmer place.  It’s still hot, and it’s still bright, but within reason–the insanity of the last fifteen hours is over.

People often say that everybody seems nicer during the holiday season; that as they Christmas shop, strangers are more likely to nod your way and smile.  Summer dusk is like that.  There’s a camaraderie.  We made it through another day, together.

It’s worth enduring the day to enjoy the twilight.

Annual Rituals

Ah, Spring.  Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, allergy sufferers are sneezing.  Also, in another cycle of nature for this time of year, the local newspapers are piling on scary stories about the teachers’ union vs. the school district, where the outcome this time will certainly be massive teacher layoffs, horrific student deprivation in a barren campus wasteland, and the end of life on Earth as we know it.

I’m looking forward to summer as much as anyone, but I have to admit, this nauseating dog and pony show is enough to make a guy pine for November again.

It’s getting to be as predictable as Superbowl ads where GM hires some celebrity to tell us that Detroit is “making a comeback.”

The Death of Talk Radio in Las Vegas

This might be the final nail in the coffin of a long, slow, agonizing death spiral at least two years in the making.  Conservative talk radio in Las Vegas, which used to foster multiple quality stations, is all but gone.

In recent weeks, Heidi Harris was given the boot by local AM station KDWN.  Harris had been a fixture of radio here for over a decade and, for a while, was the “last man standing” in the market.

The first big mistake local radio execs made was two years ago when KXNT fired local wunderkinds Heather Kydd and Casey Hendrickson.  Hendrickson, especially, had a gift for hosting talk radio, and it’s not surprising that he has landed on his feet elsewhere.  Even when I didn’t agree with him, his shows were fast and furious, full of variety and depth.  He’s a consummate performer and has a great career ahead of him.

Not long after, the area Fox radio affiliate went to an all-music format–an oldies station.  Too bad.  They used to air BYU football games on Saturday.

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10 Things I Love About Las Vegas

I’m a rarity–a native Las Vegan who was born before 1990.  However, I’ve always been pretty crusty about my hometown–few bandwagons are as easy to climb on around here than the one for grousing about Sin City’s failings.  One of my lifelong goals is even to go live somewhere else–anywhere quite the opposite of Las Vegas.  Still, here are ten things I love about Las Vegas:

1.  Sunrise and sunset.  The beginnings and end of almost every day here are a majestic work of art.  Couldn’t tell you why; all I know is that I tried to find some pictures that would do it justice, and simply nothing out there captures the beauty of our skyscape.  I’ve often pulled over while driving just to watch one for a minute, or thought about making a book that chronicles our sunrises and sunsets every day for a year.

2.  Wide streets.  Anytime I’ve visited the Eastern half of the country, I’ve always been amazed by the tiny streets.  Some state capitals I’ve been to have tiny, four- or even two-lane roads, and these are their major travelways.  It’s amazing that anybody ever gets anywhere.  Las Vegas must have some of the widest roads in the country–it’s not unusual for even a side street leading into a neighborhood to have six lanes.  Most major roads have eight total lanes, and some of our biggest streets could easily accommodate ten cars from side to side.  Our city planning is often slipshod, but someone hit a home run with the huge streets.

3.  Winter.  While it feels dangerous to even go outside for more than a few minutes for most of July and August, we’re in our best time of year now, in my opinion–our mild winters.  Yes, it does get cold here–the temperature will often dip well below freezing–but that’s nothing compared to the onslaught of snow, ice, sleet, and hail that most of the country will endure with grim determination for the next few months.  Meanwhile, Las Vegans will just have to put on a sweater and enjoy the peace.

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Sunset Regret

Two mornings ago, I saw one of the most beautiful sights of my life.  As I walked out to my car at six a.m. to leave for work, just as the sky was barely starting to turn from black to blue in the east, I saw the full moon, radiant, hovering just over the western horizon, its glow illuminating the highest ridges of the mountains in a haunting echo of light.

But I just got in my car and left.  Yesterday it didn’t look quite as good, and today, when I actually took a camera outside with me, I found that the moon had already waned enough that it was just an oblong blob, and far too high in the sky for its light to connect with anything.

So I wasted a chance to preserve–and share with you–one of the best things my eyes have ever been blessed with seeing.  But I’ve seen the moon like this on other mornings over the years, and I’ll remember this and try to find the scene again next month.

Defending UNLV’s New Freshman Orientation

Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that UNLV will begin a new class next year, a required freshman orientation course.  The class looks like a seminar designed to acclimate students to college life and work, focusing on the purposes of higher education and the skills required to succeed there. 

A local talk radio host ripped into it this morning, and the comments under the RJ story are universally negative.  But here’s why they’re all wrong. 

If this seems like a dumbing down to anyone, consider the caliber of students we now work with.  The decade-plus long experiment in Nevada with the Millennium Scholarship has filled our campuses with students who barely squirmed out of high school, who did it with lowered standards, and who now come to college with little financial investment of their own in it.  Many simply do not have the background to succeed here.  If UNLV wants to reduce its abysmal drop out rate, such remedial training is necessary.  Who can fault us for giving our students  the foundation they need? 

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Is It Time To Be Politically Incorrect About The Mentally Ill?

  • Last week, a 15-year-old girl walking home from a friend’s house in an affluent Las Vegas suburb was attacked, raped twice, and stabbed more than 40 times by a 19-year-old predator.  He then set fire to her corpse and left it in the desert. 
  • This murder was similar to the 1997 rape and murder of little Sherrice Iverson, who was unfortunate enough to be left unattended in a casino all night while her father gambled.  A then-18-year-old playfully made contact with her, then took her into a bathroom where he ended up twisting the 7-year-old’s neck. 
  • Also last week, a man walked into an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada’s capital, and fired at random with an assault rifle, killing four people–including three uniformed National Guardsmen–before killing himself.
  • And let’s not forget the shooting in Arizona this last January which killed six people, including a judge and a little girl who would have turned ten years old today, on the anniversary of 9/11. 

These four tragedies have something in common.  They were all perpetrated by people who were known by those around them to be mentally ill.  Continue reading

Two Views From Hilltop Campground

Here are two photos from my family’s campout this week at Mt. Charleston’s Hilltop campground.

Looking southeast from Mt. Charleston's Hilltop campground, into the Las Vegas valley.

Las Vegas sits at around 2000 feet above sea level; this campground, 8400 feet.  To help visualize the distances here, see that little white line sticking up from the valley on the right?  That’s the Stratosphere Tower.  It’s 1149 feet tall. 

I tried to get a shot of this view at night, with a mostly full moon hanging over the city lights, but my camera isn’t strong enough.

Looking northeast from Hilltop campground across the Nevada interior