Fact: We Find What We’re Looking For

VEGAS AND RED ROCKS: WE FIND WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR

By Angela Noel

April 10, 2018

Vegas reminds me of a little black dress I once owned. The dress served its purpose. Coupled with a pair of very swanky heels, it attracted the attention I craved. Wearing it felt like I’d stepped into a different world, one I wouldn’t inhabit nine-to-five.

But one day, when I put it on I no longer felt a thrill. The shoes hurt my feet and my back. The eyeballs that tracked my every move weren’t nice eyeballs. The dress had lost its magic. Or maybe, I’d lost interest in the kind of magic it was capable of offering.

Vegas and Me: A History

Like my dress, Vegas was a favorite of mine for many years. When I was little, my parents would pack us up for the five-hour drive on I-15 from our Southern California home to Circus Circus on the Strip. We went to waterparks and trekked out to the Hoover Dam for a tour no claustrophobic should undertake without medication.

As a college student, my friend and I went out to Vegas to try out our fake IDs and wound up sitting next to a masturbating man in a McDonald’s.

Later, my first husband and I visited several times. We stayed at the famously cheap Imperial Palace, or the motels along the Strip’s periphery. But, my ex is my ex because of things. Vegas didn’t help those things.

Red Rocks Canyon: Icebox hike
This looks like a face.

But the final straw for me and Vegas came after my second husband and I visited the day after we were married. We stayed at the beautiful Bellagio. We planned to see a show, try our luck at the casino, have some good meals, and a few free drinks. This was Paul and my second trip to Vegas together. The first time he’d been sick with the flu and I’d made fast friends with Bud Light while he slept in the hotel. We were determined that this second trip would be better.

But it wasn’t. Though I left Bud Light alone, I got a cold. We did enjoy the show, Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil. But riding up the Bellagio elevator with a prostitute and her John on two separate occasions made me feel icky. We literally left a lobby filled with families and children from all over the world and stepped into the uncomfortable small talk between a man and the woman he’d hired for sex.

We tried to make the best of it. For example, we spent a few hours working out in the very nice gym. We also ate an absolutely amazing meal at the rotating restaurant at the Stratosphere. But in the end, I left Las Vegas hoping never to return.

And yet, I just came home from Nevada, having enjoyed four days and three nights of near-perfection. So what changed?

My Own Private Nevada
Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
Gorgeous, yes? This is Red Rock Canyon

First, everything in the desert from the plants, to the weather, to the animals, all want to kill me. But that issue aside, it’s amazing. In my years of visiting Vegas I’d rarely left the Strip. Drawn like a moth to the flame, I thought the Strip was where the action was. I was clearly an idiot.

The trip started with a desire to hike in the desert. Paul and I looked at numerous options for a getaway weekend. California? Arizona? Both looked great but prices were high. I rejected Nevada the same way I’d have rejected a drink sent by one of the owners of the unwelcome eyeballs in my black dress days. Accepting Nevada as a destination felt like going backwards to a place that left me cold.

But then Paul found a fantastic resort-style hotel with a canyon view called, appropriately, Red Rock, twenty minutes drive from the Strip. Next, we planned a hiking trip to Red Rock Canyon. And then we booked an all-day kayaking trip starting at the Hoover Dam and working our way eleven miles down the Colorado River. This was a trip to Nevada that had nothing to do with the thin veneer of pretty overtop a sweltering mass of cigarette smoke and primal urges run amok.

Vegas, Red Rocks
Pondering a bit of the climb.

As a result, we spent two exhausting but wonderful days exploring. I managed a strenuous scramble over five miles of trail at Red Rock Canyon. We looked out over vistas and pointed out climbers snaking their way up sheer rock faces. I wouldn’t have thought I could do that hike until I was on it, delighting in each step despite the fact that under other circumstances such technical climbing freaked me out.

The next day, as we paddled down the river, we ported at spots where we could feel the hot water splashing from cliff walls into pools below. Four hundred years ago that very same water had come into contact with magma below the earth’s crust and it took those hundreds of years to rise back to the surface and fall like hot rain in the desert. We also saw young bighorn sheep taking a drink in the cold river.

Colorado River Hot Springs
The water in this spring is about 84 degrees, heated by the earth not the sun.

Paddling until my arms felt as if they’d fall off, when we reached the end, I literally fell asleep on a picnic table while we waited for the van to take us back to the hotel.

Now those were good days.

The Moral of the Story

Looking back on my years of trips to Vegas, I’ve won and lost (mostly lost) at gambling. I’ve seen almost all of the Cirque de Soleil shows (all very good). I’ve eaten at posh places and had the occasional $8.99 prime rib. Free drinks have been drunk. Sights have been seen. But in the end, the best of what Nevada has to offer has nothing to do with the Strip and everything to do with what had been there far before the first casino opened on Las Vegas Boulevard.

What we get from our experiences has much to do with what we’re looking for. When I wore my little black dress, or travelled to Vegas in my adult years, I yearned to get outside of myself, to be what and who I was not. But now, I yearn for the types of experiences that help me understand more of who I am, what I’m capable of, and where I have the privilege to be.

Hiking boots
My new red boots–better than any swanky high heels.

Today, if I pull on a little black dress it’s because it feels good and comfortable. I won’t wear the heels. I’ll probably bring a sweater. I’ll also buy my own drink or let my husband pick up the tab. When I return to Nevada, my new hiking boots in tow, I’ll wander the rocks and valleys, but I won’t be lost.

Not anymore.

Your turn: Have you been to Vegas? Or have you changed your mind about a place, person, or a thing because you decided to experience it differently?

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Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

49 thoughts on “Fact: We Find What We’re Looking For”

  1. Hi Angela, I’ve never been to Vegas but I think we’ve been on a similar journey. I discovered hiking when I was at uni, and found it was something that brought me such a sense of calm purpose, exhilaration, a way to meet the lovely people, and one of the best ways to break through essay-writing block. But at that time I also thought I needed to attract male attention, so wore the skirts, drank the wine, went clubbing, etc. (Dancing is still a pleasure but in a totally different way!) I am so glad I had the hiking to fall back on (ha ha) when I lost faith in the other stuff. I would hope my daughters don’t feel that urge to fit in, wear stupid shoes, etc, but maybe it’s part of life’s journey… Or they’ll have a different journey, with their different eyes!
    Your hike looks awesome, by the way!

    1. I think you’re right–we are on a similar journey. I wish I knew the secret to avoiding that whole “attractiveness trap.” You write about your own experience beautifully and I too am glad you had hiking in your back pocket so to speak. I love how you put that last thing: a different journey with their different eyes. But hopefully with just a little bit of extra wisdom from the experiences of the generations before them.
      Thank you so much for your awesome comment!

    1. I can’t wait to get those boots out on the trail! There’s nothing inherently wrong with any spot–there are some fun things about a trip to the strip. But, its a bit like eating chocolate for dinner. Might sound like a good idea until you’re awake all night with a tummy ache!

  2. What a fantastic piece you wrote, Angela. I love the transition from swanky high heels to comfortable hiking boots – from trying to be someone you’re not to feeling comfortable in your own skin. Your vacation sounded delightful, and it’s something I’d be interested in doing. I’ve heard that Red Rocks is amazing. Maybe I’ll finally have to book my first flight to Nevada – or maybe take another road trip. I’ve never been to Vegas, and I don’t plan on ever going. Gambling, drinking, crowds, and boisterous places are things I tend to shy away from and have no interest in ‘testing it out’. I’m happy in my natural places where exploration abound, where conversations come easy, and where I can enjoy myself and others. Thanks for sharing this beautiful article!

    1. Oh my, your family would LOVE this trip. Lots of kids were all over the trails. There were some folks going on a planned overnight trip along the Colorado and Paul and I were both jealous. It was definitely the perfect time of year too. I hear the Valley of Fire is even MORE amazing. I’m certain you’d love it.
      Seems like I, too, ought to get towards planning the next trip.
      I must admit, I did enjoy the distractions. Getting out of my own head has always been a challenge for me. But, when I liked the inside of my head better, it became a place I didn’t mind being more.
      No need to test it out, really. I think you know exactly who you are and where you want to be. 🙂

  3. I remember going to Las Vegas when I was 28 and absolutely loving it. I didn’t think I would, but I just ran around like a kid in a candy store feeding off of the vibrant energy of the place. However, would I now? Now that I’m older & whilst probably not much wiser, a little greyer round the temples? I’m not so sure. We grow up. We evolve. Different things attract us and your hike & paddle in the desert sounds absolutely divine. Invigorating almost. I’m much more of a comfy boots than a high heels kind of girl these days. Wonderfully written post Angela x

    1. Thank you!
      I’m certain that, had I not lived so close and been so often, I would have felt as you did at 28. There’s so much to love about a place built on amusement and intended to do just that–fill us all with a vibrant energy. But, then, just like you said, we tire. Things change. I found the experience in nature more like a nutritious meal than a hit of sugar. And I don’t know that I would have had the wisdom to appreciate that when I was younger for sure.
      Not every trip I made there was terrible by any means–or else I’m some kind of masochist for going back again and again. I think it’s just about discovering where the wellspring really is, not just where it seems to be.
      I think you’re love of comfy boots is just one more thing I love about you!

  4. Squeeee! So this is what you needed new hiking boots for!? They are beautiful and they will carry you to so many more beautiful views!!

    I feel the same about Vegas…Although i feel a little bad about it because I have never been there! I think when/if we go I’ll spend one night on the strip and then head straight out into the desert for some hiking. Your holiday looks like heaven to me!!

    1. You should check it out–it’s worth the trip and the Strip is not all bad. Just a little bit of a cubic zirconia in a sea of diamonds.
      On the hiking boots–I didn’t have them on the trip, but I wish I had. I bought them for our trip to Iceland. But I CANNOT WAIT to get them out on as many trails as possible.
      Thank you for your amazingness.

      1. Squeeee!! You are going to love Iceland soooo much! Will you hire a car while you’re there? If so, I have to tell you about y favourite place we visited there!!

  5. I enjoyed your retrospective trip Angela. I’ve never been to Vegas or had any desire to go do and less after reading your post! I do love the outdoors and the natural sights you’ve shown in your photos and would consider that destination. You have summed it all up perfectly. We change.

    1. Hi, Debbie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There is much to appreciate in the state of Nevada–so traveling there is a great idea (though you have so many wonders all around you at home!) The glitz of Vegas just isn’t despite the way it’s packaged, where the true action is at. 🙂

  6. Now that was a lovely post to read, Angela. I have not been to Vegas, yet I already know what shall hold my heart (and that is not the Strip). Some strange prescience 😉 I dropped by from Josy’s blog and I am glad I did.

    1. Hi!
      Thank you for stopping by to read the post! Josy is a lovely friend. I am so glad you dropped by. The natural wonder of the desert really is something to see.

  7. Angela – This is powerful! I felt a tingle in my spirit as you shared your transition of discovery from the tawdry to the magnificent. In the process of living if by observation and awareness we can learn what really sustains the human spirit, we will find a golden thread running through the tapestry of our lives. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your gift of the written word with us.

    1. What a wonderful wonderful comment. I hate to say it, but age seems to have taught me many things I wish I’d known when I was younger. But, we get it when we get it, right? No shame in that. I love how you wrote that, “a golden thread running through the tapestry of our lives.”

  8. I love the analogy about being more hiking boots than high heels…and those boots are beauties (mine didn’t survive the great muddy Easter walk so I’m on the lookout for new ones before Scotland!) Vegas was my first taste of North America; we were there four nights, thankfully broken up with a Grand Canyon stay in the middle!

    1. It sounds like you’re doing it right! Boots that die in service to their owner on a muddy walk are boots that die well. 🙂
      I also think it’s excellent that you enjoyed a trek out to the Grand Canyon while still experiencing what the Strip has to offer. It DEFINITELY is a unique place. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  9. Everyone has something to say about vegas. The outdoor areas there are stupendous, and I think everyone should visit the strip just as a cultural experience. But, my family flew in and out of vegas a couple of summers ago as our launching pad for a trip to Brice and the north rim. It was HOT, in the 112-115 range during the day and anytime outdoors was brutal. Walking the strip, driving around town, with the thousands of massage parlors, pawn shops and lurking prostitutes was a pretty big turn off for all of us–oh and the cigarette smoke 🙁 I can’t imagine going back there ever. The whole experience created sour bookends to an otherwise awesome trip to the southwest.

    1. I know the smoke is terrible! That’s reason enough not to go there. It does sound like you had a great time otherwise. I do agree that everyone has a Vegas story. I definitely have a bunch, but I hope all of the future ones are about the beauty of the landscape and not the yuck of the Strip.

  10. That is totally a face. 🙂
    And how awesome you’ve found a new undiscovered country for your inner and outer self among the desert lands you’ve known so long!

  11. The idea of hiking through Canyons sounds exciting. What a combo? play some casino and then get lost hiking in the canyons! sounds like a crazy idea!

  12. The black dress and those red hot hiking boots would be pure fire 🙂! Now this is the side of Vegas I wish I’d seen! I would have probably visited again. Nature helps us reconnect with ourselves and teaches us what’s really important. Nothing like a good hike to clear your head.

  13. My husband would love to go to Vegas. For his 40th he kept hinting that he’d like a trip to Vegas! No way could I afford to take him to Vegas…..so I brought Vegas to him. I hired a Vegas party group to host his surprise party. Everyone dressed up Vegas style. I seen more medallions and fake jewels that night than I’ve seen in my whole life. It really was such a fabulous night! All fake money of course! He’s 50 this year and I still can’t afford to take him to Vegas!! Sigh!

    1. That party sounds like so much fun though! As you read, Vegas is a spectacle, but there is so much more to experience that missing it isn’t something to lament. You get to do all kinds of awesome things right in your backyard.

  14. Love this!
    I’ve never been to Vegas, but I’d love to see all of it, from the bright lights and the Strip, to the desert!

  15. I tagged along to Vegas when my husband went there for a conference. I was reluctant and initially didn’t want to go. I have no interest in gambling. But I bought a book that highlighted other things to do besides gamble and I ended up having a good time. During the day I walked for miles, letting my cold Maine bones soak in the warmth of 90 degree, sunny days. I attended a play, picked out a restaurant for our evening meal, bought tickets for shows. We went to two Cirque de Soleil shows that were fantastic, and attended an old fashioned Vegas show with topless women and scantily clad men. We stayed at the Venetian and that was amazing. But the open prostitution and debauchery were hard things to see so out in the open. And it was sad to walk through the casinos seeing people glued to machines or game tables hoping to win back their losses, knowing it was not likely to happen. Would I go back? Probably – for the shows. But your vacation in the dessert sounds amazing and I would like to explore outside the city limits as you did. You and Paul are adorable!

    1. You did Vegas right, I think. The shows are awesome. I’ve seen some of those topless deals too. And I always kind of wonder about it–can it be comfortable to dance like that? Maybe it’s liberating? Dunno.
      The desert is really amazing. If you go back, that’s worth the trek.
      And thank you for the compliment about Paul and I–he is pretty cute. Though he did say, “why are you using a naked picture of me on your blog?”

  16. Yes. I’ve been to Vegas and I’m more of a nature girl than a gambler. I like the canyons and hiking and checking out the wild life. I love hiking. I could hike for days on end if I didn’t have other commitments. 🙂

    1. Awesome! I can’t wait to go again. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just be out in nature all day? That’s what our guide said he really wanted and why he picked his job. I’d be terrible at his job, but I see why he liked it!

  17. Loved the part about ‘trying out our fake IDs’! The Dude and I once went to Vegas when we were young and poor. I remember staying in a very cheap hotel (can’t remember the name, but the ceiling in our room had that sprayed-on sparkly globby stuff). We would play blackjack and win just enough to pay for our dinner. The croupier liked us, and gave us dinner vouchers, though, so we could stay put and keep on playing!

    1. Ha! That’s wonderful. One motel we stayed in was so gross I wouldn’t shower there! But those years are far behind me. Though I do hate to turn down free food!

  18. I’ve never been to Vegas. It used to be a bucket list item but not so much anymore. I love your hiking boots. And when someone says they have a thing about boots my first thought is about the hiking variety.

    1. That’s wonderful. I have heard that heels are going out of fashion. Women choosing comfort and athletic-style (and hopefully more active lives) than just the heels that are neither comfortable nor necessary. Not to say there aren’t pretty shoes out there, but I agree with you–let’s think of hiking boots FIRST.

  19. Great post. Never been to Vegas but it’s on my travel list.

    I suppose I have recently seen blogging differently. This is the downside or positive of stepping away from it. I think when I started blogging I was click / like hungry and all about the stats. It was my way of saying ‘world I have arrived – I am now a blogger / writer!’ Now after going back I feel different. I no longer care about the stats and it’s become more about using my blog to help others. How can I make a difference? I think the attention seeking part of me has gone away although I am not sure what has replaced her.

    1. That’s a great reflection and so true. Leaving behind that part of ourselves that wants a thing without really knowing if that thing is important or just SEEMS important is a major step. I can also relate to wondering what to name that replacement. Perhaps that can only happen in hindsight as we go about the business of living?

  20. Great post. I’ve been to Vegas and am not a fan. It has no soul (in my opinion) and the whole place is designed to part people from their money. YOur new version of Nevada sounds like much more fun. Thanks

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