Mom has always wanted to take pictures of me standing in something called a slot canyon. The problem with most slot canyons is that they are usually illegal for dogs to visit because they’re in fancy National Parks or other places where dogs aren’t welcome. But you can do pretty much anything you want in Las Vegas, so of course the home of the gas station slot machine was the place to find dog-friendly slot canyons.
Where we started hiking wasn’t like a slot at all; it was wide open sandy desert with dry rivers filled with boulders and different sand running through it like roads. We started walking down one of those river-roads toward a line of naked mountains. Usually mountains are nice to stare at, because their furry lumpiness is calming and peaceful, or their rocky pointiness holds your eyes and inspires them to look for a way to the top. But the mountains in this part of the desert are different. They’re ragged and sandy, and nothing lives on them except for forlorn scrubby brush. Mom says that mountains and canyons tell the story, both about how they were built and how they are fading away. But the story of the mountains in this part of the desert doesn’t make any sense. The lines of their puppyhood are all twisted in unlikely ways, and the mix of rocks and colors are like the unbelievable details in a liar’s story that all seem like they came from somewhere else and don’t fit together. You can’t trust mountains like these, and so I don’t want to climb them. Like anything that gets my hackles up, I give them a respectful distance.
We walked through the river of sand and rocks until we found an old road, and followed that until we found a big sign. “What does it say, Mom?” I asked.
“It says that gem collectors are welcome to take anything that they can get with picks and shovels.”
“What are gems?”
“They’re shiny rocks, but I don’t recognize the names of the gems they list on the sign. Maybe we’ll find a cool rock to take home as a souvenir.”
“You mean slot canyons give prizes, just like slot machines?”
Up ahead we could see a strange heap of something that was sandy and all the same color, but not the color of the mountain sand, or the flat sand, or the river sand. It looked like the sand pile at the bottom of an hourglass. “What’s that?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. It looks like a slag heap or something from a mine.”
“What’s a slack heap?”
“It’s the pile of rocks they get rid of when they’re looking for gems. Even in a mine there are a lot more boring rocks than there are valuable ones.”
That made me sad. Did anybody ever spend time with all those rocks and try to get to know them? “And what are those black things piled up on top, and down the sides?”
“I was wondering that myself…” Mom said. “At first I thought they might be cows, but they’re not moving.”
“Sometimes you say the dumbest things, Mom. What would a cow be doing all the way out here in the middle of all this sand?”
“Making a sand castle?” Mom suggested. As we got closer, we could see that the black dots were humongous tires, like the kinds you see on farm trucks and construction machines. They were piled high on the slack heap, were sliding down its side, and there were even a bunch of them poured into the dry river below.
“What’s with the tires?” I asked, sniffing one and then backing up suspiciously. I don’t like it when things are not where they belong. Once I saw a tire (just a little one) on the trail between the golf course and the beach, and I refused to walk past it. Mom had to drag me to the other side using the leash.
“I have no idea!” Mom said. “They’re too big to carry, so they must have fallen down from the slag heap. Maybe people use tractor tires in mines these days?”
“I didn’t see any tractor tires in Snow White,” I pointed out.
We turned off of the road and climbed down into the dry river that the tires were in and followed it away from the slack heap and toward the mountains. Here the lines of flakey rocks came down off the mountain in stripes like the slashes at the beginning of an internet address. When we stepped on them, the slashes crumbled like they were fake, for looking but not touching. Mom climbed up the side of the rock to where there was a square cave with a fence in front of it. I hung back and gave the cave space, but she climbed around the fence and peeked inside. “What is it?” I called to her from a safe distance.
“It’s an old mine. It’s half boarded up, but you could climb inside.”
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“I don’t know, gems and stuff maybe? There used to be a lot of mining around here back in the gold rush days. I bet it was easy to build mines with nothing but picks and shovels in all this sandstone.”
I looked at the crumbly rock flakes all around me that had fallen off the mountain, and the big boulders that had fallen into the wash below. With enough time, I could probably tear down this whole mountain with my bare paws. “And how did they keep the walls and ceilings from falling?” I asked.
“Well… pretty much the only thing I know about mines is that they collapse. It’s the most terrifying thing that I can think of, getting trapped in a collapsed mine. I don’t know what would be worse, being buried alive, or being behind a collapse and surviving but being trapped.” Mom looked back into the dark hole that kept going and going beyond where the light reached like she was hypnotized.
“Can we go now?” I shivered. I didn’t want to explore the mine, even if there were prizes inside.
Soon after that, we found the slot canyon. The walls of the mountain closed in so tight that the space to walk through was narrower than an inside hallway. It looked like the creepy hall from some vampire’s castle or something. I stopped and waited for Mom in the spot before the mountains closed in. “Are you sure you want to go in there?” I asked.
“Indubitably!” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s like the Labyrinth. You never know what kind of magic you might find around the next bend!”
Mom seemed to have forgotten already that the Labyrinth was a story about something “terrifying and traumaitc” behind every bend. I didn’t want to be a wuss if Mom was being brave, so I walked with her into the creepy hallway. It turned out that it wasn’t so bad once we were in there. There weren’t any burning torches on the walls or ghosts flying through the air or anything. It was more like a swooshing racing scene in an action movie, with quick turns and sudden surprises. Or like if you took a submarine ride with a really bright light through a dog’s intestines. A few times we came around a corner to find a tall rock blocking our way. I took a running leap and tried to climb up one, but I didn’t quite make it to the top. I stuck to the wall for a second like a scratching, clattering gecko before I fell in the puddle at the bottom. I didn’t want Mom’s help, and thought we could just turn around and look for gems, but she grabbed me anyway and hoisted me onto the ledge. Then she climbed up after me like the lizard she is.
The next rock wall was even trickier. The floor of the canyon in front of us was a flat rock that stuck out like a balcony, just taller than Mom’s head. Under the balcony was an empty space with nothing in it but air and some big rocks that had fallen there and there was nothing for a flying dog to bounce off of. To one side, through the best possible climbing spot, dribbled a tiny little waterfall. Mom chased me down the slot until she finally caught me and picked me up like a forklift. But when she got to the ledge, she was still too small to get me over the lip. She would have to step up on a big rock a little taller than her knee to get tall enough to push me to the top. Mom isn’t usually so much of a wimp that she can’t step onto a stair with one leg, but she also doesn’t usually walk around carrying a solid, 60lb beefcake of a dog either. So it took us a few gentle up-downs before she got it right. I made her stand like that for awhile, balancing on one leg and thinking about what she’d done, before I finally let her put my front paws on the ledge and shove my butt the rest of the way to safety.
When we came out of the slot, I thought we would be on a different adventure, like a dramatic scramble up big boulders like yesterday, or maybe a climb up one of those deceitful mountains. But the slot opened back up into another wash and we kept walking up river like before. Finally, we saw a Karen that pointed us up a little path out of the wash. We followed her, and found ourselves standing in the middle of the slippery, muddy Colin Firth desert with nothing really to see and no obvious path to follow. We wandered around through the desert for a little less than half a mile until the red line on mom’s phone said that we were supposed to climb back down into another river wash. Mom looked at the way down, and then looked ahead in the direction that the map line pointed. “I don’t get it,” she said. “The map says we’re supposed to climb something, but I don’t see anything nearby that looks worth climbing. We only have like half a mile to go, so it’s not like we can climb one of those big mountains or something.”
“So what do we do?”
“I think we’ve already found our treasure. The rest of this hike has been pretty lame. Let’s go back down the slot,” Mom said.
As we walked back across the desert, Mom stepped on a rock that looked solid, and the “rock” slipped away with her leg still on it. What was left was Mom on the ground at the end of a smudge drawing a line back to where the “rock” had come from, and showing that the “rock” was really made of mud itself. When Mom stood up and looked at the mud-rock, she leaned over and picked up a white rock that was sitting next to it. It was a sparkling and pure white the color of white dirt. She looked at it closely, and then she held it up to her face. Then, she licked it. It was just a little lick, but humans don’t usually lick stuff that isn’t food like dogs do.
“Eew! Mom, what the heck are you doing?” I asked.
“I wanted to see if it was salt.”
“It’s not salt! It’s a rock, dummy!”
“You’re right, it’s not salt. It doesn’t taste like anything. I think it’s gypsum.”
“What’s gypsum? Is it made of gypsies?
“Gypsum is the stuff those white sands in New Mexico were made of. It’s one of the softest minerals on the planet.” Then she threw the rock against another rock, and even though the other rock was mostly mud, the gypsy rock broke into pieces. “Yup, gypsum. I sure hope gypsum isn’t poisonous.”
When we got back to the slots and came to the places where Mom had lifted me before, she climbed down to the bottom and stood sock-deep in a puddle. Then she reached up tried to grab at me, but I wasn’t about to get caught in that trap again. From below, she couldn’t lift me off the ground like she could on the way up, and so every time she grabbed one of my legs, I wriggled and backed up. She stepped her second sock into the puddle to get closer, the better to grab me with. Before she could reach up, I jumped over her shoulder and onto the dry sand behind her. Then I kept running, leaving Mom standing sock-deep in the puddle like a sucker.
When we got to the balcony with the tiny waterfall and the little cave underneath, Mom blocked my path. “Nuh uh,” she said. “It’s too high.”
“What?” I said. “You think I’m not man-dog enough to jump?”
“Don’t even think about it!” she said, but I was already thinking about it, standing at the edge of the balcony and looking for a landing zone. Mom held up the “wait” finger, and climbed down onto the step we had used before. Then she turned around and reached for me. I backed up. She told me to come, and I came closer, but just out of her reach. She patted the rock next to her, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Finally, she climbed back up and put the leash on me and it was Game Over. She pulled me to the spot she had been patting, and when I got there, I saw that there was a step I could climb down, and another, and another. I followed the same path Mom did down to the floor below, where she took the leash back off. After that, I made sure to be the first one around any corners so that if there was another cliff to get down, I could jump off it on my own terms.
When we got back to the Covered Wagon, Mom made food while I napped in the blanket-mountain. Usually on our Covered Wagon trips we have to keep driving after every hike, but we planned to stay in Las Vegas for one more day. We had no idea how we should spend the afternoon, with nowhere to go. “How about we go walk down The Strip and just see The Other Las Vegas?” she suggested. I love walking down crowded streets and adopting new Friends, so I was into it.
We drove out of the empty desert and toward the tall buildings. As we got out of nature and into people things, I was less excited. “Eew, it’s all porn shops, pawn shops, and fast food restaurants,” Mom said.
“Look, a McDonalds!” I said. “Can I have some McRotguts?”
“Dude, there are like 3 cop cars and an ambulance with their lights on in the parking lot. I am NOT stopping there!”
We could tell we were getting closer to The Other Vegas because the tall, shiny buildings were getting closer, but when we pulled off the freeway and got down to the ground, we didn’t see anything exotic at the street view. It was just the same McDonalds and pawn shops and porn shops that we saw in the not-famous Las Vegas, only supersized. “Gross. What the heck are we doing here?” Mom asked. “Let’s get out of here.” It took us 10 minutes and almost a mile to turn around and flee The Other Las Vegas, but once we did, we felt much safer. Instead of visiting hundreds of adoring fans on The Strip, I sat in the Covered Wagon while Mom sat in a Starbucks in the supermarket doing her computer things, which made her feel safe.
Oscar the Slot Beast