On our way back from our first RV trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we decided that we’d look for an extra comfy hotel with a swimming pool for our last night. So we pulled into Las Vegas and found a good summer deal on the strip.
As soon as we were unpacked I regretted the decision. We had just gone from some of the most serene, beautiful, natural places into a setting that could not be more opposite. Yes, the pool was fun and no we didn’t gamble. But more than anything else, what struck me was how much I missed the quiet, the calm, and the real. After casting a line into a slow moving stream while watching a bull moose go by, it’s pretty hard for me to weather the neon lights and clamor of any city, especially the Las Vegas strip.
As someone who has spent a good deal of my time in cities (I worked in Hollywood a block off of Hollywood Blvd for ten years), I actually find cities somewhat invigorating. I love the mix of cultures, the energy, the bustle. But Las Vegas always depresses me. Sure some of it is the gambling (though I am not as ethically opposed to gambling as some). But mostly, it’s because it is all an illusion. It all looks and feels like it was created 10 minutes ago.
In many cities, one gets a sense of the generations of layers of culture, the history and the identity of the place, the sense of the people who have eked out a living and a life amidst the changing days. You can’t walk the San Francisco’s Chinatown, LA’s Olvera Street, or virtually neighborhood in New York or Boston without sensing that there is and has been life in all its raw reality.
In an odd way, that is also what I like about nature. I like the way that trees show both the charred rings of forest fires years past and new leaves. I like the way that the eco-system is both fragile and resilient at the same time. I like that if you go to a wilderness area there are no guarantees that you’ll see wild life or wild flowers because they are…well…wild. But you might. I love that nature is uncontrollable and bigger than ourselves.
This is exactly the opposite of theme parks and resorts. And as fun, amusing and even restful as those places can be (why some people think of going to Las Vegas as restful is beyond me…but some do…) what is missing is the ability to enjoy what is real. And enjoying what is real is becoming more and more of a rarity.
In Tennessee, The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is practically ignored today by the ten million people who visit “Dollywood” (Dolly Parton’s theme park) in nearby Pigeon Forge.
As the New York Times reported, “With shopping, attractions, and 9 live music theaters…many visitors here do not visit the national park a all or zip in and out for what locals call ‘a windshield experience.’ One visitor who never got to the national park said, “There was so much to do (in Dollywood) that I just ran out of time.”