I have lived in Las Vegas for almost fifteen years, and while I appreciate many things about it – fewer bugs, easier planning of outdoor events, and…okay that’s all I can think of right now – the Midwesterner in me desperately misses living somewhere with four seasons, trees, and real thunderstorms. So whenever I need to feel like I’m anywhere but the desert, my husband and I take a drive up to Mt. Charleston, a little mountain town only a thirty-minute drive from our house.
The drive out of town takes you past the last subdivision of Vegas’ cookie cutter houses, where desert shrubs dot the landscape across the expanse of valley, until you take a left at the sign pointing to Mt. Charleston. This two-lane highway twists and curves across the desert, and Lance and I always marvel at the houses out there. They really are in the middle of nowhere – ranches and modern houses with no neighbors and no trees - so stark and lonely as we fly by with George’s head sticking out the window.
Soon the drive gets curvier, the shrubs taller, and the distant mountains bigger until you finally reach the little mountain community in the desert. They have a fire department, elementary school, library, and church, but no grocery or gas station. Their houses are cabins nestled in the trees in the valley or perched on the side of the mountain far above, accessible only by scarily-steep roads with names like Kris Kringle Road and Jack Frost Drive.
Lance and I always drive to the very end of the highway, which climbs and ends at Mt. Charleston Lodge, where we have breakfast in the A-frame restaurant. This week we took George with us and sat at an outdoor table with a complete view of the tree-covered mountains around us (I like to pretend we’re at a lodge in the Alps.). This is where I come in October to smell the Fall air and see true Autumn color while Las Vegas is still in its Summer. (Fall-ish weather comes to Vegas in December!) Or we’ll drive up in January and throw snowballs so I can feel like it’s Winter. Or in the summer we’ll drive up and hike one of the many trails to escape Vegas’ hot months. On the trails, just 100 yards off the road all sounds of traffic are gone, leaving only birds chirping and the wind in the trees.
One Spring, desperate for an escape from the city, I drove up to Mt. Charleston and hiked on a path for a while with George. The snow was still lying in the shadows of the trees, so I had to step gingerly to avoid slipping. Finally I found a thick patch of snow covering a dry river bed, so thick it made a mattress in the sun. I took off my coat, laid it on the snow, and then laid down on it while George looked at me like I was crazy. But it was great. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool snow through my jacket, and I laid there for a long time, trying to absorb the nature around me.
Lance and I ate our breakfast in our mountaintop seats and then took George for a walk around the Lodge, past the horses waiting for carriage rides and Native Americans selling jewelry, and through the small side streets lined with tall poles that in the winter let people know where the roads are when they’re covered with feet of snow.
George’s head was out the window of my car for the whole drive back to town. For a few hours, we had mountains, birds, towering trees, and an occasional chipmunk. Where do you go to escape?