Las Vegas, Nevada was an interesting pullout on my professional career path and on my personal road as well. The city had never been on my road map of places to move to but rather to move through. Yet I moved my family there in the late 90s to get away from an abusive job situation in Albuquerque, New Mexico and to pursue a new career with the Bureau of Land Management. I was moving from a situation where I’d hated my job but loved the area where we lived, to a place where I would love my job but would always feel uneasy about our living situation.
The job was glorious. Chief of Visitor Services for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a miniature Zion just to the west of the city. An Eden in the Mojave. And a stepping stone to a top management position. But in order to work at Red Rock, we had to live in Las Vegas. We found a decent place in a 1970s neighborhood on the west side of town, just off of Interstate 95. We could hear the constant drone of the freeway from our house, but within just a few blocks we had access to just about every franchise and big box store imaginable. People moved in and out of the neighborhood all the time so we never really got to know our neighbors very well. But we had a glut of amenities.
All in all, it was never a very good fit. With the exception of Red Rock, it was a real chore getting out of the city to any decent open space. And there was no historic charm anywhere in Vegas, unless you count the old casinos on Fremont Street. There was also the horrible traffic, the bad air, and the omnipresent slot machines in every Walgreen’s and Safeway. There was the feeling that the city was constantly on the move whether you were on board or not. And each week, as I drove out to the cliffs of Red Rock, I would see more and more desert being gobbled up by development. We would leave town for two weeks on vacation and when we came back there would be entire new neighborhoods of faux Spanish style houses and sound walls erected. And maybe a new strip mall or two.
It was impossible to have a decent garden on our property since most of the western part of the city is built on sterile alluvium. And the summer heat was even too oppressive for this sun worshipper. The best thing about living in Las Vegas was that southwestern Utah was only two hours away. Still, there were moments. Quiet ones mostly in hidden canyons or springs. We found a nice, co-op type preschool for Lindsay to attend. We enjoyed shopping at Trader Joes. And there was the one afternoon when I was driving back to town from the Valley of Fire State Park along the winding North Shore Drive of Lake Mead. And Louis Armstrong was playing West End Blues on the radio as I navigated around Joshua tree- studded buttes and red clay washes. The sun was low in the sky and, at that moment, it was the most beautiful piece of music I’d ever heard in a most beautiful stretch of desert.
Our stay in Las Vegas was mercifully short – less than three years. When it came time to leave, we practically drove out ahead of the moving van and didn’t stop until we were just outside of St. George, Utah. Still, had we not lived there and experienced that strange and improbable environment, we might not have ended up here where nearly everything fits just right.