Late September, 2009 - We continued down I-15 from Utah and traveled to
Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Interbike bicycle trade show, a week long
testosterone-filled bicycle love-fest for crazed bike junkies. The largest show of
its kind on this continent, I have attended enough times over the years that I
opted out this year. I chose instead to spend a quiet week alone just outside
Sin City at peaceful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area while Mark
and his son lived it up at the Imperial Palace on the Strip. They brought back
endless stories and photos, the highlights of which I'll share here (my Red
Rock Canyon notes are further down the page).
The amazing thing I noticed about Las
Vegas ages ago, while on a plane flying
away from the city, is that it is entirely lit
up with colorful lights at night. No
ordinary urban night sky, every
building is outlined in red or
yellow, green or blue.
Huge neon signs blast the
names of the casinos into the
night air, and spot lights
transform each building's
facade into a colorful canvas.
Mark took a few shots from the
window of his room at the
Imperial Palace, showing
Harrah's and the Venetian in
their evening finery.
Entering the Sands Convention Center for Interbike is like opening the door to
the most massive bike shop you can imagine. Acres and acres of vendors fill
the entire hall, showing off bikes, clothing, gear, and everything else that is
even remotely related to the bicycling industry. Vendors are situated in
international groupings, with China and Taiwan occupying a large piece of turf
at one end of the hall while the Italians dominate another. English is in short
supply when you enter these regions. Mark has a soft spot for classic Italian
bikes, and he made a beeline for the Pinarello booth where their new Dogma
was on display. This little puppy would set you back a mere $17,900. And that
doesn't include pedals. What a ride!
Ernesto Colnago is a
legendary Italian bike builder,
and he posed for a quick
photo. He has never owned a
car and routinely turns out
some of the most beautifully
crafted bicycles in the world.
His company has teamed up
with race car manufacturer
Ferarri recently, and their
collaborative effort was on
Over at the Trek booth Mark found the bike ridden by 2009 Tour de
France champion, Alberto Contador, on his winning laps around the
Champs-Elysee in Paris this past July. The ultimate overall yellow jersey
winner usually has a pretty good hunch he'll be the champion when he
arrives for the final stage in Paris, so his team goes all out with the yellow
trim paint job on the bike (and the yellow clothes, helmet and gloves as
well) for that stage.
Eddie Mercx of Belgium was arguably
the finest cyclist that ever lived.
Although he won just five Tours, as
compared with Lance Armstrong's
seven, he also entered every race
offered all year long, winning most of
those as well.
In contrast, Lance raced only a few races each
year, and those not to win but simply in
preparation for his Tour de France campaign.
What a thrill to catch the great Eddie himself
Interbike causes extreme bike overload, and it is
nice to get out into the regular world of Las Vegas
tourism. The Venetian casino and hotel is a glitzy
recreation of elements of Venice with a strong
American materialistic accent.
The ceilings are adorned with
elaborate, glittering artwork, and
outside the gondolas drift across
a languid pool.
The gondolas are authentic,
made in Venice. The gondoliers
are hired actors with good singing
Vegas never sleeps, and when
Mark staggered out for breakfast
at 7 a.m., he found himself face to
face with Alice Cooper. Mark's
sister had just seen Alice in concert in Michigan a
week earlier. And here he was again, in Vegas of
Not quite as dressed up in the early hours of the
morning, but showing every bit as much support
for the classic era of Rock on his T-shirt, Bob Roll
stood chatting with passersby at the show.
Famous as a great cyclist, but even more
infamous for bringing a distinctly low-brow
American slant to the brilliantly high-brow race
commentary of Brits Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin,
Bob is both loved and hated for his televised and
blogged analysis of The Tour.
Nearby, Lance Armstrong's legendary lieutenant,
George Hincapie, was hawking his line of clothes
and signing autographs as well.
Back to the bikes, Calfee had a phenomenal 21-
pound wonderbike for two. Made of carbon fiber
and intended for all-out tandem racing, you can
only wonder how it would support two full grown
men pounding on the pedals in a sprint finish.
Interbike is as much about innovation and
weirdness as it is about fast, sleek racing
machines. Bikes made of bamboo, odd cycles
involving more than two wheels and more than
one drive-train were on display all over the place.
The wooden bike made of hexagonally cut birch
caught Mark's eye. It looks to me like it is made
One more icon of the biking
world wound up in Mark's
camera lens: Chris
Carmichael. We turned to
his books for training tips
many times in years past.
Deriving his fame from
creating Lance's workout
plans, he is the master of
periodic and interval training
techniques and was here
promoting his latest book.
While the boys were nourishing their bike lust in
Las Vegas, I settled into a quiet routine of reading,
writing and bicycling in nearby Red Rock Canyon.
This spectacular National Conservation Area,
administered by the BLM, boasts a huge range of
red rock mountains. Revered the world over for its
top notch rock climbing, we hiked the easy Calico
Hills route together before Interbike began. This is
a simple hike along a gravel trail flanked on one
side by enormous red rock cliffs.
Once a vast land of sand dunes, not unlike the
Sahara today, the sand's massive weight caused it
gradually to solidify into rock while underground
streams oozed mineral deposits through the sand
and stained it many shades of red.
The desert vegetation clings on for dear life,
subsisting on rare sips of water in baking sun.
In places, using a bit of imagination, the mounded
domes of rock almost resemble sand dunes.
Clearly visible stripes show the shifting direction of
the winds over millennia, as the sand piled up one
way and then another.
Humans have been here for a mere blip in
geological time, a few thousand years as compared
to hundreds of millions of years. Along the Willow
Loop trail there is a rock wall with a few pictographs
of human hands. The hands were child-size by
today's standards, but they are clear and distinct.
What an unusual mark to leave for the ages. And
what kind of pigment did they use to stain the rock
for the next few thousand years, lasting through
rains, winds and desert sun? What did it do to their
hands?? Isn't ironic that for all our technical
sophistication, modern house paint needs to be
replaced every few years while these pictographs
have been here for eons.
A few miles from Red Rock Canyon is Spring Mountain Ranch State
Park. This ranch has been built and added on to by many owners over
the last 150 years. Starting with a "mountain man" and most recently
owned by Howard Hughes, the history is downright quirky.
started on the ranch
house tour, I got a
glimpse of some wild
burros in the grass.
There were all kinds
of signs on the
scenic roads in the
area warning drivers
about the wild burros. I thought at first I was
looking at domestic donkeys, but I soon learned
that these guys aren't just wild, they are also
wily and smart. This was the only green grass
anywhere around for many miles. After the
burros' persistence succeeded in several
break-ins through the fence, the park rangers had
finally given up and let them come and go on the ranch
property at will. These wild burros had it all figured out.
Afterall, who wants to eat cactus and brown prickly
shrubs when manicured grass is right there for the
A little roadrunner greeted me too as I pulled up to the
ranch house. He checked me out for a while before
The house at Spring Mountain
Ranch is humble. Various owners
have added wings and features to
it over the years, but it remains
essentially a small home. The
kitchen featured stainless steel
appliances, but I learned these
were from the most recent
owner, Howard Hughes, who
never lived here (and possibly
never even came out here!). He
removed the original copper
appliances and had his hotel
guys do a lot of renovating with
plain, hotel quality materials.
The previous owner, Vera Krupp, a pre-World War II German movie
star, added a dressing room to the bedroom suite. She is known for
having owned the 33 carat diamond that Richard Burton ultimately
purchased (at auction) for Elizabeth Taylor. That diamond seems to
have been a bit of a curse, as some armed robbers stormed into this
remote ranch and ripped the ring from her finger while she was
wearing it! She got it back six weeks later, however, and forever after
wore it pinned to her underwear.
Vera also had an ultra-private room built for herself, with a secret
access through the second "closet" door to the right of her vanity.
She was not to be disturbed when she retired to this room. It was a
tiny room with floor to ceiling windows on either side, a perfect
sanctuary for her quiet pleasure.
I had enjoyed my week of sanctuary too. When it came to an end, we escaped a 100+ degree heat wave that baked Las Vegas for
a few days by scrambling back to Cedar City, Utah, to cool off. When a cold front stormed across the west a few days later, we
ventured south again to the other side of Las Vegas. By then the temperatures at Valley of Fire were perfect.