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Notes from the West


I have been almost silent from the blog for the last week. The main reason is that I spent that whole week in the West. The proximate reason was to attend the Western History Association conference in Las Vegas. But since I dislike Vegas and because in Italian-dominated Rhode Island, we still get Columbus Day off, I realized I could take an entire week out there and not miss anymore class than I would have missed anyway. So I flew to Vegas, grabbed a car, and headed to Flagstaff. Spent a couple of days visiting the Grand Canyon (awesome of course), Sedona (super dumb place with amazing landscape ruined by New Age idiots), and other sites. I’m not writing this though to let you know about my travels. I’m writing it because outside of all this, it was a very interesting week, to say the least.

See, there are many Wests. Despite some general sense that is it a monolithic region, much of which is outside of public consciousness (who thinks of Nevada outside of Vegas, for instance), it is a tremendously varied place. And I definitely got that. I had a great time in Flagstaff that was highly enhanced by the guy who got his giant truck booted because he parked in a bank lot all day loudly screaming about Flagstaff liberals, as if it was the gays or whatever that made him park in private property all day. I had a wonderful drive from Flagstaff across the north side of the Grand Canyon to Vegas that allowed me to visit Sunset Crater and the puebloan ruins at Wupatki that also took me past LaVoy Finicum Road outside of Colorado City, Arizona. Finicum, as you may remember, is the idiot who got himself killed as part of the Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Glad to see he is being honored in that town that is most known for being the polygamist town where Warren Jeffs hung out marrying children.

When I got to Vegas, I had a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity. The conference set up a tour of the Nevada Test Site. This is the land north of Vegas where almost all of the nuclear testing in U.S. borders took place, both atmospheric and below-ground. It was….a very weird place. You can’t see too much evidence of the atmospheric testing since those bombs took place above the ground. But you know the houses you’ve seen in the experiments where they set up the mannequins to see what would happen to humans? The two farthest from the blast are still there and I got to see them. Although no one has supposedly ever gotten into the NTS, someone at some point spray painted an image of Garfield in one of them. You’ve heard of the tests where soldiers were placed down wind to see what would happen to them? I got to see the trenches where they waited for the bomb. I got to see one real nuclear blast crater–from a very late above ground test that was actually placed on the ground to see how they could be used for mining and harbor purposes. Staring down into an actual nuclear crater is not something that is easy to comprehend or describe. Yes, it’s just a big hole in the ground–about 300 feet deep–but it’s obviously so much more than that. All the subsidence craters from the below-ground testing are wild too–and they are all over the place out there. The tour guide was this 88 year old guy who had been at the NTS since the beginning. He was in good health and basically was wistful for the days of nuclear testing, openly bemoaning the test ban treaties, complaining about the liberals, and telling pointless Grandpa Simpson stories that ranged from throwing horseshoes with Edward Teller to the great deal he just got on a car. A remarkable day! Unfortunately, since it is an active military installation still, no photos were allowed.

The conference itself was great and included a panel on far-right western politics that I won’t really go into but you should be scared of the future if you aren’t already since these militias are not going anywhere except to be the armed guards of the Republican Party. But what the conference also provided was another once-in-a-lifetime experience. It turns out that Harry Reid is a huge western history fan. He recently endowed a chair in U.S. West history at UNLV and is a voracious reader. Given that, he agreed to give a talk at the conference! Now, this was a last-second thing and I had already booked my flight back. So I only got to see the first half hour of this. But I still got to see Harry Reid speak. I have some bad news here–Harry is not in good health. He is now wheelchair bound and does not have long for the world. He knows this. But his mind is still sharp as a tack. In what I saw, he talked about growing up in Searchlight and how awful the town was, which he fully admits. He then started telling stories about the mob, including how a bomb was placed inside his car and it was lucky his wife was not killed. Now I don’t know about you, but I could sit around and listen to Reid tell stories about the mafia all day.

Anyway, I had to leave right after that, but I figured any visits to closed off nuclear testing reservations and talks about former Senate Majority Leaders need to be reported to the LGM community.

No graves though, as I figure 95% of the people who have ever lived in Vegas are still alive and while there are no doubt interesting mobsters out in the desert, I ain’t digging random holes to find them.

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