Monday, October 25, 2010

Raining in the Desert

I'm in Las Vegas right now, visiting my son Ceilee, my daughter-in-law Tosca, my two-year-old granddaughter Taivyn, and my five-year-old granddog Zeus. After spending the weekend together, Ceilee and Tosca went to work Monday morning while I stayed home with the wee folk (though at 70 lbs, it's a stretch to attach "wee" to Zeus). Mid-morning I went for a walk with Taivyn & Zeus, and that got me thinking about where I was and about today's adventure in word play…

Raining in the Desert
Oddly enough, I arrived in Las Vegas only to experience overcast skies and chances of rain. As they average less than five inches annually, this was noteworthy. I had left northeast Missouri Thursday evening, where we'd had a solid month of sunny dry weather—great for the harvest, though highly unusual for fall. While dodging scattered raindrops this morning, it occurred to me how odd it was to be seeing my first moisture-laden clouds in a month only after traveling to the desert. Weird.

In addition to steadily rising temperatures, it's my sense that the weather is also rising in degree of predictability. Dry in Missouri with rain in Nevada is a rather clear demonstration of that phenomenon.
Reining in the Desert
My son lives in recently built housing in the southwestern part of the city. As it expands, Las Vegas has gotten in the habit of gobbling up the surrounding desert, one tract at a time. When the housing bubble burst two years ago, Vegas was one of the hardest hit cities. In consequence, there's been contraction the past 24 months and the desert has held its own. When I walk around the block, two of the edges of my rectangular circuit border raw desert. It's striking how sharp the contrast is.

When I look to the east I see a fully developed housing complex, typical of suburban developments anywhere (though with a Southwestern motif, featuring earth-colored stucco exteriors and tiled roofs). When I look west, I see pristine desert, with hardly a speck of vegetation or human disturbance. I was perambulating a schizophrenic boundary between a Chamber of Commerce brochure and a National Geographic photo essay.
Reigning in the Desert
Ceilee & Tosca have been in Vegas for nearly four years now and love it. They recently bought seven Cricket stores (selling cell phones, not insects), which they are hopeful of using to springboard into an
entrepreneurial career in business. Knowing their drive and talent, I expect them to succeed.

The environmental reality of Las Vegas is crazy (how can there be a metropolis of two million people living smack in the midst of the desert—where everything except the attitude is imported?). The answer, of course, is that proximity to Hoover Dam makes it all possible, with its cheap electricity and impounded Colorado River water.

Given that the water is now fully subscribed (the Colorado River no longer has an outflow into the Sea of Cortez) and that you can't do anything without water, it's hard to picture how Las Vegas can return to anything like its pre-bust halcyon days of boom town growth. Regardless of how the crisis in second mortgages shakes out, where will they get the water?

Reigning in the Dessert
As it happens, today is my birthday, so it was my call to cap off an all-you-care-to-eat sushi dinner extravaganza with servings of green tea ice cream. And this on top of having indulged in a couple flavors of Ben & Jerry's the night before. Yum! My dessert bowl runneth over.

Reining in the Deseret
Nevada borders Utah, and both states have a substantial Mormon population. In fact, Las Vegas was originally developed as a Mormon settlement in the 1840s, centered around artesian spring waters helpful in sustaining wagon train travel to the West Coast. This was coincident with Brigham Young's efforts to colonize Utah, but it didn't last long. After experiencing trouble with the local Native Americans and also with pioneers moving through the area, the Mormons pulled back to Utah in the recall of 1857—when the true believers were admonished to come to the beehive state and laager there against the unwashed.

After that, things remained relatively quiet in Las Vegas until it was developed as a rail head and officially designated as a city in 1905. After gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, Las Vegas started down a path that led to its current persona as Sin City, which is more or less the antithesis of the highly moral, family-oriented Mormon nation, otherwise known as the Deseret.

While Mormons still make up about 12% of the current population of Las Vegas, and enjoy the business opportunities characteristic of a city with a wide-open reputation, they have little influence on the city's determination to be associated with gaming and glitzy entertainment.

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