Awe inspiring factor: 10/10
Slightly scary score: 8.5/10
Heat score: 9/10 (88 degrees Fahrenheit / 32 Celsius, in March!)
Vintage factor: 9/10
Crabbitt Credits: 10/10
Golly, golly, golly me. Death Valley.
Not being a landscapes kind of person (I’m more an old buildings, bit of history kind of person) I hadn’t given much thought to our journey through Death Valley, and as a result it blew me away like many unexpected things do.
...and once you pass the road sign instructing you to turn off your air-con so as not to overheat your car and to make sure you have plenty of water with you, and generally to try not to die from being somewhere human beings really shouldn’t be, I think I can add ‘scary’ to the list of adjectives too.
...and for those who have ever wondered what it might be like to meet your maker: go to Death Valley, find a spot, get out of your car and stand in slience, alone. 'Spiritual' is not a word I often use but I certainly felt tiny, got chills and it seemed like I wasn't alone!!
So, I think part of the reason I was so blown away was due to the context in which we saw Death Valley: just on the edge is a 'ghost town' called Rhyolite. We went there before we entered Death Valley proper. Yes there is a tiny bit more vegetation because it’s on the edge (and I mean tiny bit –the odd scrappy, twiggy bush) but, woah, this is still in the middle of nowhere!
These people dragged their belongings and families in uncomfortable wooden carts half way across a continent (and half way across the world probably) to set up home in the middle of nowhere (think Mars and you’ll be close). No water, no shade, no provisons. Boy-o-boy it must have been harsh.
Of those who headed west during the gold rush, some died in their pursuit of this goal. Some who survived their journeys had been forced to do horrible, unthinkable things to get through. Tough people, tough times.
...and that context is why Death Valley was so arresting!
Amazingly Rhyolite prospered and by 1907 had a population of at least 3000. It enjoyed electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. -That’s what gold can do!
But it declined as quickly as it emerged and by 1910, after the local mine began to produce less revenue, people began to leave.
What was left for Crabbitt to see?
First stop: derelict remains of worker's cottage (?). The bases from tin cans nailed to the roof were intruiging. From peering underneath it seems they covered the knot-holes in the wood. So, I'm guessing, helped prevent rain (ha!) and drafts. Neat.
Next stop: a shack a few feet from the house. What is it? Your guess is as good as mine!
Next: bottle house -an example of a property restored at various times throughout its life but most recently in 2005. Built in 1905 by a 76 year old man, made from disgarded bottles from the saloons in the town (mainly old Adolphous Busch -Budweiser- bottles). It was raffled off to locals for 5 dollars a ticket and won by the Bennett family who lived there for 10 years!
Next: Cook Bank building. Erected Jan 1908. It had electric lights, steam heating and a marble floor.
Next: Rhyolite train station. Finished in 1908 to the same plan as the train station in Las Vegas. No longer in use by 1917, the rails were pulled up for their iron in the First World War. It was used as a boarding house for miners in the 1930's and later became a tourist attraction as the 'Rhylotie Ghost Casino' and after that a gift shop.
Finally, a Union Pacific raiload coach. Apparently it was used as a gas station! No, I don't get that either!
Then there was our favourite: the curious, old, life-ephemera which were scattered about the place along the way..
So that's Rhyolite
and if that wasn't all other-worldly enough, and in case you weren't freaked out by the surroundings and the feeling that you really had met your maker on a mountain side in America...
...then to seal the deal:
next to the empty properties, the landscape and the atmosphere,
right amongst all this, the Belgian artist Albert Szukalski has chosen to erect a sculpture of 'The Last Supper' -no less- from ghostly, life-size, fabric draped figures in full size evocative glory.
So, like I say, if you want to get spritual, meet the Big Man, Death Valley is a good place to start!
...plus, weirdly, he's also done another one of a bloke with a bike!
That's Death Valley covered from the 2015 Crabbitt Odyssey, Las Vegas we did last time.
Next time we'll tell you what we made of Los Angeles (and as usual, you can be sure we'll throw in the vintage perspective wherever we can!).
Firstly and most importantly,
we got there with me, my OH, the other passengers and the plane entirely intact. This was a massive bonus and big surprise based on the millions of less successful alternative outcomes I had imagined in the days prior!
The daring cocktail-mix of gin, wine, white chestnut drops, Rescue Remedy spray, Kalms tablets and tablets that were something to do with passion flower from Holland and Barrett may have made me look like an obsessive nutter during the flight, but it seems to have done the job. So we're off to a good start.
So, Vegas. Oh-my-goodness. Who invented Vegas?? Who was this person? What were they thinking? I need to meet them...or perhaps I don't!
Las Vegas, as you may have heard, is crazy. Even more so with a strong dose of jet lag!
For those who haven't been, it is everything anyone has ever told you. The portions are huge, the 'all you can eat' buffets are bordering on obscene (at one point I think I may have almost hospitalised myself through over ambitious food-consumption), the lights are bright and abundant, the hotels are massive. The efforts to enforce fun and excitement upon you are spectacular.
The level of consumption of everything and anything is like nothing I have ever seen before, and for someone who spends inordinate amounts of time recycling, re-using, renovating and re-purposing, it's like nothing I particularly wish to see again! The fact that there is a gigantic public weighing scale outside a restaurant which boasts 'all guests over 350 lbs eat for free', says it all! Only in Vegas, right?!
However, in amongst the slightly hilarious erupting volcanoes and sweaty people dressed as Elvis and the fact that the air everywhere, even outside, smells sickly sweet like stale candy floss or marzipan (why is that??), I've got to admit there is something about it that is compelling: you certainly know you're 'on holiday' and you cannot help exploring further and enjoying the easy, 24hr, normal-rules-do-not-apply, meandering craziness of it all!
There are even some hotels that go a step beyond 'theme park' and are actually venturing back in to the real world (albeit on a long, diverted route via the land of out-of-proportion). But the Bellagio is a distant pumped-up relation of a European Hotel and so, kind of, are the Venetian and the Encore and Wynn tower hotels. I even found some examples of taste and good design (and real flowers) which was a (slightly snobish) surprise!
So, how on earth did Vegas get an 8/10 for Vintage Factor??
Well, that has got to be Fremont Street.
This is the original Vegas, where it all started at the beginning of the 20th century. Where the mobsters set up the first seedy, saw-dust riddled, illegal gambling dens from 1906 onward and where Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr drank during the Rat Pack days. If you're interested in the gangster stuff, there's a good museum all about it nearby: The Mob Museum
It's a slightly cranky 20min bus ride from 'The Strip' but it's home to the original casinos, the neon signs, the vintage gambling halls and proper, old coin-slot jackpot machines (the ones on The Strip are all credit driven). It has an old skool charm of its own.
It is home to the world famous 'Golden Nugget' (housing a real life gigantic nugget of gold) and the iconic 1951 waving cowboy sign (Vegas Vic) that we have all seen in all the films. You don't get retro like this in many other places...
If you're interested in old neon signs, there's a great looking museum in Vegas that houses the abandoned signage and displays for a lot of the now defunct casinos and hotels. There is some great stuff there. The museum has not yet realised its value either so it has not yet been sanitised and over displayed, this link will tell you more .
I should also mention Main Street Station Hotel.
Apparently it was built in the 70's and restored in the 90's, which is stunning because this place has all the feel of the grandiose dance halls, hotels and saloons you see in all the films. It just couldn't go unmentioned.
If this hotel is really that modern (which is a big surprise to me), whoever did the sourcing of furniture, fittings and general 'objets' for this place has a good eye and deep pockets!
According to Wikipedia it houses "a portion of the Berlin Wall, stained glass from the Lillian Russell Mansion, doors and facade from the Kuwait Royal Bank, doors from the George Pullman Mansion, Louisa May Alcott pullman car, chandeliers from the Coca-Cola building and Figaro Opera House, and various statues. The portion of the Berlin Wall is located in the men's restroom and has urinals affixed to it". It even has an100 year old train outside the casino complete with the private car used by Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. The two of them used the train to travel the country in Buffalo Bill's Old West Show from 1906 to 1917.
So that's Vegas. Interesting, extreme and, considering the Vegas I have described was only really settled in the last century, full of its own character, culture, history, personalities and stories...that's once you get beyond the candy coated veneer!
This is my Mum's childhood suitcase, untouched from when she last used it in 1963, complete with fab 1960's souvenir stickers, identifying 'Cunard' tag and luggage labels.
When she was just a kid in 1963 -don't worry, Ma, I'm not going to give away your age!- she travelled with her mum (my Grandma) and her little suitcase all the way to America to meet her Canadian Grandfather for the first time. They were there for 4 months.
They started on the West Coast and then got a train, just the two of them, through the mountains, all the way across the span of that gigantic country to New York on the East Coast (it took three days), where they eventually got the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship home. What an adventure for a young British kid and her ma!
....Well, this Spring Crabbitt and her 'Co' are re-living that adventure 52 years on! Wahhhhhh!!
We will start in Las Vegas, then to LA. We'll head up and explore the Pacific Highway to San Francisco and the West Coast and then jump on the California Zephyr and Cardinal trains through the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains which will take us across country to the East Coast (see artfully put together blu-tak and red wool map route in pic).
We will then investigate the restored town of Williamsburg (the location of USA's first permanent town of settlers). After this we scoot over to the Blueridge Mountains, have a coast along Skyline Drive, meet some real characters at Floyd Country Store (Bluegrass fans alert) before mooching on down to Charleston SC, Savannah Georgia and Finally Atlanta.
Phew! All this for a gal who is, without question, terrified of flying...I feel a few gins coming on.
We will hope to document our journey and discoveries here (with many badly taken photographs, no doubt) in a blog. Anything we see that is remotely visually striking or related to the world of vintage will, of course, get priority, but we intend to also do a brief informative feed regardless...but we'll see how it goes!
Anyway, links will be posted on facebook as and when we make them. Find us here or from facebook. Come along for the ride, read (and please do comment whenever possible) and we'll see what happens!
Now just to get that blinkin flight over with...