The neon hub of the American West is Las Vegas. An oasis for many, plopped just outside the California / Nevada border, in an otherwise inhospitable zone if it weren’t for the constant intravenous drip of water and tourism capital.
As Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi outlined in their manifesto, Learning from Las Vegas, the “ugly and ordinary architecture, or the decorated shed,” epitomizes man’s ruin. My interpretation of this architectural masterpiece is man’s inability to create anything that competes visually with the natural world, just beyond the boundaries of this neon wasteland. This is not a cynical view of development, or architecture in general, rather a point of departure for this particular trip.
“The human argument for setting aside vast stretches of the American desert as parks and preserves and wilderness and plain open space always includes the importance of unspoiled vistas. As the only real difference between Las Vegas and Death Valley is that we made a strategic decision to fill one with casino hotels and insurance company headquarters and neighborhoods while leaving the other more or less intact for the mutual benefit of humanity and the plants and creatures and ecosystems in such a mostly wild place.” Ken Layne, Desert Oracle, #016.
Death Valley prides itself on being the Hottest, Driest, and Lowest National Park. It, along with the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, is one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures exceeding 120ºF frequently during the summer months. In fact, the highest temperature ever recorded was 134ºF (56.7ºC) on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek. As its name implies, Death Valley is indeed made up of a series of basins, bordered by mountain ranges, of varying geologic characteristics. From the striped strata of the Last Chance Range, to the colorful, mineral-rich Funeral Mountains and the alien-like, almost science fiction-native, Amargosa Range.