I blame my wandering, travel hungry ways on my mom who, when I was growing up became restless and agitated if we stayed still for too long. Each Sunday and many weekends we’d take off into the mountains or go to the desert to explore unknown places on the map. Every summer she’d pack my sister and I into the car and drive us cross country to see our Great Grandmother DeeDee in Arkansas.
Last week, I hopped onto a plane at Salt Lake International Airport and forty five minutes later, landed in Las Vegas, Nevada. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the typical Vegas vacation. Shopping, gambling, drinking and wandering through crowded and confusing casinos seems like a gentle hell to me. So my mom, sister and I looked for some sights off the beaten path and the first place that came up was, The Neon Museum.
The Neon Museum is a museum of retired neon signs. Yep, just about every time a hotel is bought, sold or rebranded the Neon Museum adds something new to the collection. Essentially, The Neon Museum is the place where Las Vegas' neon signs go to rest. But somehow, in this outdoor boneyard of Vegas' neon past, these signs are reborn into beautiful sign-posts of bygone eras. We caught the last daylight tour, (they give tours at night and the signs are lit up) and it was so cool. The tour guide talked about the history, design and technology of the most famous signs and each story was surprisingly interested. This neon sign lens of Las Vegas history gave all of us on the tour some interesting insight and appreciation for the strange and sordid history of Las Vegas.
As a design and marketing nerd and a total nostalgia junkie, I was fascinated by the different eras of design we could see in each sign. From the Atomic Age design of the original Stardust sign to the Disney movie-inspired, giant skeleton head from Treasure Island, the last eighty years of graphic design can be viewed inside of this special little place.
Here are some of the photos from our expedition. PS - if you're thinking of visiting the museum- be sure to book your tour a day in advance. The Neon Museum has a huge collection and they are expecting to expand in the next few years so they can show more of the these neon giants.
Traveling, it's one of very favorite activities. Every trip starts off about the same, we pack up some clothing, something casual, something dressy, shoes for each occasion, sometimes shelter, (a tent), and in my case, way too much. We lock up all the doors in the house, making sure there are some lights left on so that someone thinks we’re home. Then we take off into the unknown, in the car or on a plane, where anything can happen. Really, there's nothing quite like a mid-winter escape to rejuvenate a cold, wintery soul. Travel gives us a chance to experience new people, places, smells and sights; some of which stay with us forever.
On my most recent trip, I crowded onto a big plane headed to Los Angeles with actors, screaming children, business women and men and a few members of the bike gang, the "Mongols". We waited for the wings to get de-iced with pink mystery chemicals, and then in certain uncertainty we took off into the air, soaring at 30,000 feet, with the plane bumping and floating and shaking over the stormy clouds.
We landed in Los Angeles and I headed straight to the Los Angeles Art Show where my boyfriend’s artwork was on display with hundreds of other amazing artists. The building was lined with people, taking photos, staring and curiously wandering from gallery to gallery, artwork to artwork. Through the crowds of people, the first site that caught my eye was an over-sized, red, shining sculpture of a sumo wrestler.
We wandered through the crowds to see the performance artist, Millie Brown lying naked on a bed of wilting flowers where she’d been laying in fast for 3 days while people hovered around her taking photos and staring at her like the object she’d made herself. Her face was serene and unmoving as we approached. A child ran up to look at her closely and then ran back to the shelter of his parents only to venture a bit closer again.
As we wandered through more galleries, Brad showed me to an exhibit that he knew I would love. It was a 4 artist show of Korean minimalist Dansaekwha paintings, a genre I was unfamiliar with, (though apparently it’s sweeping the globe), but a style of painting that I am striving towards in my own work. I was instantly taken in by these monochromatic minimalist style landscapes. The artist I loved most based his paintings on visions he’d had when he was lost at sea at some time in his life. He’d replicated a pattern over and over across the surface of the canvas in what appeared to be one color and monochromatic from a distance but upon further inspection was actually many colors, some of them incredibly bright and vivid. The overall effect of viewing these pieces felt meditative and soothing. I stared at them from a distance and then up close over and over again and the longer I looked at them the more relaxed I felt, until tears came to my eyes. It's amazing work.
We moved on to another gallery and I was taken in by the bright geometric sculpture of Rafael Barrios. At first glance they looked like holograms or 3D cartoons popping out of the walls and i had to get quite close to them to verify that they are actually 3 dimensional forms. They were incredible.
After the show, Brad and I wandered about LA for a couple of days and then a friend of mine visiting LA at the same time as me, scooped me up in her rental car. We left Brad in Silverlake to get his fill of yoga, good food and creative replenishment and drove south to go camping in Joshua Tree. It was raining all day in LA and as we drove out of town, the clouds in the distance just seemed to be getting darker. Along the highway we saw a flashing LED sign that read “Warning: FLASH FLOODS IN THIS AREA.” We laughed at this because the last time Natalie and I had gone camping, we were in southern Utah right after a huge flood that had basically closed down Arches National Park.
We drove on and on, and when we finally reached Joshua Tree it was dark. At the entrance of the park, we commented on how windy it was to the park ranger and he smiled and said, “Yep, and it’s only going to get windier! Better find a camp spot with some cover.” We asked him where this might be and off we headed, Joshua trees blowing in the wind as our headlights brushed over them in the darkness. The road curved and went on and on and our map seemed to be mis-marked or something because nothing seemed to be lining up. The wind blew HARD against the car and we cackled in glee and sped down the winding road. We finally found the turnoff we were looking for, Hidden Valley Campground, We quickly found a campsite and parked with our headlights shining on our set up area. There was a giant boulder, some large bushes and trees around the tent area and we nestled out little tent sideways between them all, threw everything in and drove back into town to find a bite to eat.
We ate at the Joshua Tree Saloon, which was surprisingly good. There were long haired, desert hipsters parked at some tables, old sun wrinkled men at the bar, a tall thin, a beautiful lady, clad in leather from head to toe sitting by herself in the corner and all kinds of other people. I was surprised to see anyone out at all but the scene in this warm, saloon style, California bar was rather lively. After we ate our dinner we headed back to our camp-spot. It had started to lightly snow and the wind was howling by this time. We climbed into our tent, figured out how to blow up our blow up pads and then, we hunkered down. The wind was sweeping over the boulder above us and whipping the trees wildly. Coyotes were yipping in the distance. It was hard to sleep. We laid there in silence, listening and listening and listening, the coyotes and wind taking turns at waking us up if we dozed off for a bit. Eventually it was light out and we ran to the car, cranked up the heat and high-tailed it to the nearest coffee shop.
Later that day after a hike, we drove around on the unpaved, sandy desert roads in our little Nissan checking out the abandoned shacks that spotted the landscape. The further we drove the sandier the roads seemed to get and we had to floor it several times to get through some deep spots. We could hear the sand whooshing across the bottom of the car as we sailed over deep sand, laughing and screaming once or twice as the car caught air over hills, flomped down into the sandy washes, and harrumphed up the other side.
The next day of we drove to Desert Hot Springs where Brad met up with us and we lounged about at Sam’s Family Spa, a 1950’s era hot mineral bathing spot. There was a giant wood carving of "Sam" at the entrance to the spa that looked very much like a shirtless cowboy Buddha and we quickly purchased some white towels with an illustration of Sam standing under some palm trees, looking real chill. There were four hot mineral baths, a cold pool and a heated swimming pool. Most of the spa goers seemed like retired folks who must have lived nearby. We laid in the sun next to pool for the rest of the day, occasionally shifting our chairs into the light as the sun moved behind the trees.