I don’t know why people think that Christmas should be all about the North Pole and snow and stuff, because I just found out that it’s actually a day to celebrate some dude’s birthday who was born in a barn in the desert. I think his name was Chris. But just like that Chris’s mom, my Mom didn’t make a reservation at any motels or campgrounds. That’s why she said we had to hurry up and drive all the way to Utah without stopping for adventures or else we may not find anywhere open for us to stay.
For the whole morning we drove under a grey and yucky sky that smelled like big trucks and cow poop. Finally, when we’d been in the Covered Wagon for so long that I was sure that Christmas had come and gone, Mom stopped for lunch and I got out and found that the sky was high up where it belonged, the sun was out, and the air smelled like dry. We kept driving until all the plants were shriveled up into pointy things, the sun started coming down behind us, and then Mom stopped for another potty break.
The place we stopped had rusty old timey farm stuff in front and Mom aimed the Covered Wagon at the big juice boxes that the Covered Wagon drinks its meals from. But when Mom looked closer she veered into a spot away from the juice boxes. “We can get gas like a dollar cheaper just a few miles away in Nevada!” she scoffed. Then she went into the building without me.
The building had signs about the fancy homemade candy and gifts inside, so when Mom came out I danced my anxiety dance and licked her face as I squealed, “Is this Santa’s workshop??? Is that thing with wheels over there Santa’s sleigh?”
“No,” she said. “That’s a tractor, and this is just one of those crummy gas station gift shops that can’t decide whether it’s a 7-11, an old fashioned candy store, or a tourist trap.” I didn’t know what a tourist trap was, but I’m glad Mom hadn’t gotten stuck in it, leaving me alone in the Covered Wagon forever.
As Mom walked me around the parking lot for my potty break, we came up to some strange humans that were standing very, very still. “Push button to start the show,” Mom read off of a sign. Then she pressed the button next to the sign.
Suddenly I could hear whooshing water, like there was a river going by. I didn’t understand, isn’t the desert supposed to be dry? Where did this river come from? We stood there for a few seconds staring at the odd-looking frozen humans, but then when they still didn’t move we started to walk away. When my back was turned I heard a human voice say, “Yeehaw! I just found gold!”
Mom and I turned back around to see that one of the odd humans was moving only his mouth while the rest of him stood still like a statue. “Mom! Quick! This guy found gold, but I think he’s a disabled person. I bet if I bark a lot to create a distraction, you could steal all the gold from him and then we could run away with it and he couldn’t chase us because of his disability. Then we’d be rich! On the count of three. One… two…”
Then, the frozen, disabled human went on, “Oh, I don’t mean real gold. I mean those delicious honey candies I found inside the store. Better hurry before they’re all gone.”
“Mom,” I asked, “did you leave a whole fortune of gold inside that store??? We could have adventured forever with that gold!”
“Um,” Mom said, “I think it’s a lame advertisement for overpriced candy. Did the gold rush even hit this part of California? I’m pretty sure that most of the action was 500 miles north of here…” Since Mom seemed to think that there was no gold at this gas station, we continued into the dark and the desert.
A little while later I saw more Christmas lights than I had ever seen in one place. It looked like a whole castle covered in white, and colored, and flashing lights on every wall of every building. “Mom! It’s the North Pole!” I said, staring out the window and wagging my tail.
“Um, I hate to disappoint you, Bub, but it’s just the Nevada border.”
“What’s the Nevada border? Is that like the customs station for the North Pole?” I asked.
“No, it’s just a casino,” she said. I didn’t know what a casino was, but judging by Mom’s tone of voice, it was something as boring as a 10 hour drive on the interstate disguised as something very exciting.
Finally Mom pulled off the freeway to where an island of lights glowed in the empty blackness of the desert. As we got closer I could read the sign said CASINO AND SMOKE SHOP and below that it said FIREWORKS. Mom stopped the Covered Wagon in a gravel patch across from the casino. When I got out, I saw rows and rows and rows of tombstones. Then there was a loud boom, and a bunch of tiny dots of light like someone had burst a nighttime skyscraper. What in the world was this place??? I thought about it… Casinos, lights, desert, Nevada, lots of dead bodies…
“Mom!” I said, “Is this Las Vegas???”
“No, of course not,” she said. “We went through Las Vegas like an hour ago, didn’t you notice all the hotels and billboards?”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought that was just a movie set. Why else would there be a screen every 0.1 of a mile and the buildings only look big from the front, but skinny as diner menus once you drove past? We didn’t even find a single dead body. I’ve seen CSI, and if there’s one thing I know it’s that everyone who goes to Las Vegas finds a dead body.” I’m an expert at traveling from watching so much TV. “So if this isn’t Las Vegas, then what’s with all those tombstones?”
“Um, those are Jersey barriers, like they put in the middle of the freeway” Mom said. “I guess they have to get stored somewhere, and some truck stop in the middle of nowhere is where they store them here.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “Then what’s with all the gunshots and lights in the sky?”
“Um, they’re setting off fireworks every couple of minutes. I think it’s advertising. I have to admit that setting off fireworks over a gas station in the desert in the middle of the night is better than those lame anamatronics at our last stop…”
Much to my dismay, Mom joined me in the back of the covered wagon and started making preparations for bed. It looks like we she planned for us to spend the first night of this adventure sleeping in a graveyard in Las Vegas listening to gunshots and watching exploding skyscrapers.
Oscar the desert Pooch