Monsters and Dust

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Chapter 2: The Desert and Insect Omens


One day in Vegas there must have been about 1000 ants in my laptop. They streamed out of the keyboard when I turned it on, and I killed a few hundred before I got tired of keeping track. An hour later I was still slaughtering them as I wrote emails to people I might have been staying with along the way. I also gave accounts of my slow drive through Death Valley, and a strange experience in the partially dismantled Stardust on the last day it was open.

The Stardust had always been my favorite casino. Its design was a time capsule of cold war ideology, with a giant sparkling mushroom cloud shaped sign and a utopian space travel theme that was inevitably dated within the same decade it was built. I made a blurry photograph there of some dismantled slot machines.xx

Later I drove out towards Frenchman Mountain, the largest mountain on the east side of Las Vegas. When I was younger I thought it was named this because of the upward-turned face I would often see in the mountain. As I got older and spent time in other parts of the city, I realized that the face disappeared when I was outside of my neighborhood. It was a perspectival illusion that reminds me of the foreshortening techniques used in some newer casino architecture.xxi Illusion or not, I found the face again from the other side of the mountain, only with a different expression.

Frenchman Mountain is the site of what is called The Great Unconformityxxii, a geological aberration where 1.7 billion year old rocks are visible in the layers of earth, but somehow 1.2 billion years in the middle are missing.xxiii I had gone out behind this ancient mountain to photograph the famous glow of Las Vegas.xxiv The contrasts of these dramatically disparate time frames seemed important, with some of the highest concentration of old stone and new architecture. Maybe if I took the same picture now it would be a bit dimmer with all of the demolitions that have happened since 2006. The Strip now has its own lesser Unconformity, a missing architectural period after its phase of large-scale casino implosions, with an average of one per year from 1992 – 2007.