Hockey in the Desert – 5 February 16, 2016

When they said Red Rock Canyon, they weren’t kidding about the red. It was our last day in Las Vegas, the day when the championship games were underway at the hockey tournament, and we were busing it past the arena to spend the afternoon hiking in the Mojave Desert, its rust-coloured hills soon visible beyond the subdivisions.

IMG_1859The day before, we’d been told that our competitors had called us the nicest team in the tournament, which is the first time I’d understood how lame it feels to be voted Miss Congeniality. We would have liked to win our division, or at least scrap our way into the finals, but being unable to beat 22-year-olds, even ones who were still drunk from the night before, we’d been left with the hike.

And—fine. Our imperturbable driver, Michael, waited gamely as 14 of us slowly assembled, ran back to the hotel for something, reassembled, broke apart and finally got on the bus. During our previous tournament in Iceland (where, by the way, we lost the championship on a shoot-out) we had called ourselves the Amoeba for our tendency to expand and contract, and at least that hadn’t changed.

Now it was a sunny 18-degree day in Nevada, and Michael sped us down the freeway past adobe-coloured tracts of houses, many of them new and not all of them seeming to be inhabited. I thought of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which lost me in the section set in the Vegas burbs, half empty after the 2008 economic crash and in her telling populated by improbable boys, molls, mobsters and drunken suicidal gamblers. Personal bias: I don’t think real people are either so predictable or so uninteresting, and wondered what was really going on in there.

But we were only passing by, and soon pulled up at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area, only 40 minutes outside town but blessed with clean, clear air. At the park office, we chose a 3.3 mile hike to La Madre Spring labelled moderate, since we only had sneakers, and Michael took us along the looping scenic drive to the trail head.

And what is there to be said about a hike up a gravel path between mesquite bushes and ground-hugging cactus? We passed dogwalkers but no wild animals, snakes or birds; a few weathered signs about the native people who had once lived there, and who had baked their bread in natural earth ovens; passed greenish striations in the hills and the dark openings of caves; watched the blowing clouds cast swaths of shade across the mountaintops, and finally reached a sluggish spring-fed creek at the top of the trail. After chatting for a while, we headed back down, doing up our sweaters and jackets against the growing coolness of the late afternoon, striations, caves, clouds coming at us in reverse.

Great beauty. Maybe some photos will capture it best:


Afterwards, dinner and the 11: 30 p.m. red-eye home to Toronto, red a theme right up to Air Canada Rouge. And, Air Canada, what are you thinking, packing the rows so impossibly tight on an overnight flight? Maybe you’ve invested in a pharmaceutical company? Impossible to sleep without being drugged. Impossible to sleep, period. I staggered off the plane, held upright by my wheelie hockey bag, recoiling from its stench of sweat and bad air.

Three-and-a-half days later, we were home. It felt like a week–in a good way. Will I ever go back to Las Vegas? Probably not. There are simply too many other places to visit. Next year, for instance, there’s a hockey tournament in Phoenix, at least if I haven’t hung up my skates.

In the meantime, real life.

Which Las Vegas is or isn’t. Can’t decide.