The Library Road Trip Goes to Las Vegas, Zion and the West


1/3/12 – The Library Road Trip continues! Walker and I are on the road again seeking further adventures and libraries in the American West. We had hoped to photograph the libraries of Las Vegas last summer when we drove across the US but couldn’t quite squeeze it into our very crowded schedule. Because Walker was home from college on his Winter break and because I have the week off before starting to teach again at Stanford we decided to do a quick trip to Las Vegas and the West.


After a nine-hour drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas we landed in the City of Grand Illusions at the Luxor on the Strip. It is always a shock to come here and I am always dazzled and disgusted at the same time. I can only stand to be here if I suspend the critical judgment part of my brain. Even then it is a struggle to enjoy the over-the-top fantasy of this City.


However, we are in Las Vegas to photograph its libraries. Through its libraries we hope to see the real city and real people beyond the Strip. The Witney branch library is a modern Southwestern design and beautiful with great desert landscaping. The neighborhood is poor and I try to avoid photographing the large number of homeless people that are suspiciously eyeing me. The next library was located inside the Galleria at Sunset Mall. The librarians are very friendly and explain that this small library was an attempt to bring a library to where the people go. Some patrons have difficulty understanding a non-profit space in a for-profit commercial mall. The library actually sells a few books to satisfy some patron’s need to buy something. The red Clark County Library was part of a large civic center. It was plain inside and had a lot of poor people using this non-commercial refugee in a sea of track homes and strip malls. The Supak Community Center and Library was located in a poor area of North Las Vegas, not far from the casinos. I photographed the outside wall looking up at the famous Stratosphere Tower, one the tallest buildings in the American West. We could hear people screaming as they plunged off the top on some kind of heart attack-inducing ride. At the same moment a woman was being handcuffed by the police in front of the library. I chatted with a Hawaiian looking man and found out that there is a large Hawaiian community in Las Vegas. In another part of North Las Vegas is the Las Vegas Library/Children’s Museum. I was a little nervous photographing the fascinating exterior because of the large number of dicey looking guys hanging out in front. The architecture of the library was so interesting that I set up my big 4X5 camera anyway, hoping for no trouble. While I was focusing the camera the library security guard with a large pistol on his hip came over. After speaking for some time I realized that this guy really liked to talk. I went ahead and took the photographs while we continued our conversation. It was only later that I realized that the presence of the guard made it possible for me to take the photos without incidence. Inadvertently, he was actually guarding me. Our last Las Vegas library was in the affluent western part of the City. The Rainbow library is a beautifully designed modern library that was perfectly lit in the later afternoon sun. We spent the remaining light in the spectacular Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. We headed back to Las Vegas after dark. We had dinner at a ritzy mall area near the Aria Hotel/Casino. We ate at Wolfgang Puck and had an extremely good and surprisingly inexpensive pizza. We strolled the Strip and enjoyed the Bellagio and Caesars Palace. It was a great way to end our stay here.


1/4/12 – After getting a late start we were happy to see Las Vegas in our rear-view mirror. We enjoyed leaving the sprawl behind as we drove on I-15 northeast to St. George, UT. We entered Utah’s spectacular canyon country as we drove to Springdale and eventually arrived at Zion National Park. Just outside Zion is the Canyon Community Center and Springdale Library. Incredible desert canyon walls dramatically rise all around this area. This is one of the most beautiful settings I have seen for a library. I hope that my photographs do it justice. Walker and I spend the rest of the afternoon and dusk in the Virgin River Canyon hiking to the Narrows. It is Walker’s first time here and I have fond memories of being here in the past. The canyon walls are breathtaking as the last light fades.


1/5/12 – What a day! Up at 5 AM I photograph the first light on the cliffs above the Springdale library. After an early morning drive though the canyon lands and Cedar City, UT we head west through remote Utah farmlands into Nevada. Pioche, NV is a great, little mining town in this remote southeastern corner of Nevada. The library was in a small storefront on the old main street. It had a Glen Beck book prominently featured in the Christmas window display. As we drive south to Caliente, NV the only radio station on the air featured Rush Limbaugh. It is curious how much Rush makes my blood boil. It is sad to think that this is the only thing on the radio out here. The Caliente library is in a classic old Union Pacific railroad station. The friendly librarian was re-shelving the books and had been hired to “get the place back in shape.” Walker and I spend the next four hours driving the famous Extraterrestrial Highway. Located next to Nevada Nuclear Test Site it is one of the most remote parts of the 48 states. During the drive we see no fences, no telephone poles and no billboards. We see very few cars and a lot of beautiful big skies and awesome open spaces. The only “town” in the area is Rachel, NV, home of the Little A’Le’Inn where “All Species Are Welcome.” Words and photographs fail to describe this part of the world. You literally have to experience this expansive, vast grandeur and infinite space. No wonder the aliens love it here. We hope to come back someday and stay at the Inn. At the end of the long drive we arrive in the mountains at the tiny, almost-ghost town of Manhattan, NV. We are really short on light so I give ourselves twenty minutes to photograph the library. It is an old high school located on a hill above the town and I choose one spot below from which to photograph. Walker trudged up the hill and met the two friendly librarians and the incredible interior of the library. Because of the shortness of time I decide not to photograph the interior. Besides the Librarian Tony told us that the library in nearby Round Mountain is much better. After quickly driving there to get the last light we find the library to be new but really bland. This is a growing mining community and the huge mine tailings dominate the valley. I feel terrible that we missed the opportunity to photograph more of a library with character in Manhattan. I am reduced to photographing the impressive solar panels of the Round Mountain library in the fading light. We drive on into the beautiful dusk and night through Nevada’s Basin and Range country. We end the drive in Reno after twelve hours of driving. All in all it was a great day with great libraries in an awesome landscape. The Road Trip lives on! In my next post I will finally put up some of the scans from this summer and from our Nevada Road Trip.







Filed under American Life, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library

2 responses to “The Library Road Trip Goes to Las Vegas, Zion and the West

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