THERE’S ALWAYS TREASURE
my time in clark county (vegas).
The Yucca stand in fields of desert terrain like old men defeated by the sun, hanging their head low in its shimmering, stifling heat.
They take hundreds of years to grow, so if anyone were to walk or drive by and knock one down. They’d be destroying hundreds of years of history that these plants have witnessed. Slowly they are reducing in numbers as the decades go by, and the US parks bodies are attempting to revive the desert ecological garden, but they realized it was an attempt in futility. These things will come back and grow when they want to, or perhaps they’re just waiting for us to die off in a few centuries, or millenniums.
These cacti have seen it all. The Native Americans, the Spaniards, the Mexicans, the Americans.
Now us, whatever the hell we are.
I spent 5 days in Vegas, mostly for vacation. I’ve always been drawn to the southwest desert. It’s like a place plucked out of my dreams, the terrains we’ve all seen thousands of times in movies, TV shows and photographs. They denote desolation, outlaws and spirits. I didn’t hear one red tail hawk cry. But I did hear gunshots.
At the outcrop of rocks in Red Rock Nevada, at the top of Calico 1 an enthusiastic American decided to discharge his gun about a dozen times. The beauty is that breathtaking. If I had a gun I’d probably want to shoot it too after a long summit to the top of one of the most stunning rock formations I’ve ever seen. You can see for miles in each direction when you get a little closer to the heavens in a hellishly hot place.
I wanted to experience as much as i could in my short trip. I saw the rocks, gambled a little, drank openly in public, and had a conversation with a Russian stripper, occasionally revealing secrets to each other through heated breaths close to each other’s ears. That’s the weird thing about Vegas, despite the heat you don’t mind sweating just a little bit more.
One of the main goals of my trip was to purchase some Native American art from an artist, or at least as close as possible. I saw that in old Vegas was a shop that sold Native art, so I made sure I that I was going to get there. After navigating an ocean of drunk tourists, I got inside and was shocked to see the usual plastic trinkets and cigar store indian tropes one would think disappeared. A Latina worked the till while an older African American watched over the store sitting on top of a ladder in the middle of it (for some odd reason).
I managed to find a corner filled with Kachina dolls made by Arizona Navajos (jackpot). There were dozens that were surprisingly cheap (about $40). All of them had descriptions of the meaning of each doll, but the one that didn’t have a description is the one I decided to buy. It spoke to me, completely covered in black holding a sword and with dark feathers adorning its head. At some point I will make an effort to contact the artists and ask the meaning, but for now it’s a mystery to me. It wants its story to be discovered. It wants me to work for it.
The Las Vegas area was an area where the Paiute people resided. They are most famous for their great Shaman named Wovoka who prophesied the end of the white man. As a result, they began to dance the “ghost dance” in an effort to acknowledge this dream. One problem, the US government took offence and subsequent events were typically horrific. Wovoka wasn’t in the Nevada area as the paiute were widespread, but his people were here.
Most of the Southwest tribes are of Athabascan descent. It’s a group that oddly shows up in the Southwest, Latin America, Siberia and Northern Canada. I am of that descent myself so I wanted to pay tribute to this area as much as I could.
The spot i bought this doll was in “Old Vegas”, “Downtown”, “Fremont”. This area is the exact spot the Paiutes first settled as this is where an abundant spring was. Their residence was the basis of what is now Las Vegas, which is what they were displaced for. As I went on a tour of the red rocks, the tour guide informed me that there’s only a few Paiute left with claim to the Las Vegas area.
“Few” meaning two.
Not two tribes.
In their 90s.
“Once their gone, that claim is gone.” is what he said.
It’s the old idea of the “disappearing race” that is very strong in the USA, The Natives are a bygone idea. Their ghosts wander these sin soaked streets, watching over your cocaine fueled conga lines. Of course if you talk to any Native American, the idea of their race as “disappearing” is ridiculous. It’s always been “out of sight, out of mind”.
I couldn’t help but be disturbed at this notion, that there are only two people left in this area with a rightful claim. This is probably just some romantic notion told by tour guides, when actually the tribe is about 70 strong. Perhaps he meant the two he was referring to were the oldest elders with the most valuable knowledge. Perhaps the last language speakers. Someday I’ll return and get the full story. But there is a functioning tribe there.
The contrast is stunning between the old town and the new strip. The strip is a never ending formation of thousands of people staggering along with drinks in hand, looking for a neon saviour to make them feel alive. We visited a shark tank with displays emphasising the importance of ocean species and their plummeting demise. Occasionally while peering into the tanks you’d get a glimpse of your own reflection, a peek into another endangered species.
Everything surrounding Vegas, in the Clark County mountains is all based on the search for a shiny savior. Previous was gold and silver, some mines sit abandoned in the hills to this day. Many prospectors died and dropped their loot, which was probably swallowed up by the earth again as payment. There are hundreds of trails, dozens of tiny ghost towns everywhere.
I saw an astonishing view of the Sierra Madre mountains. I asked the guide if there’s any treasure up there. He smiled, looked at me and said:
“There’s always treasure!”
It made me think that someday, when the Yuccas decide to return there’ll be a new civilization marvelling at the ruins where the neon lit streets slowly faded and the population moved on somewhere else.
For now, the yucca are turning grey, and begin to droop down. When you look out, it looks like old timers praying for us to leave.
Originally published at chicosez.tumblr.com.