Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capitalist National Treasure

Lake Mead and its dramatically falling water levels.   
     After having spent the last few days in Las Vegas, I could write about any number of social issues.  I could write about the dignity of women (and men), or lack thereof, in a city where people line the streets handing out prostitution business cards.  I could write about the unnecessary decadence in a city that draws its energy and water from resources that are being visibly depleted.  Take a look at the picture of Lake Mead, which lies behind the Hoover Dam.  Its water levels are dropping drastically due to shamefully wasteful practices in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  The once mighty Colorado River can no longer even make its way to the Pacific Ocean as anything more than a trickle.  I could write about the escapist behaviors that once set this city apart from the rest of the country but are now permeating American culture.  What happens in Vegas, after all, never really stays in Vegas.
     But truly, these are all things that I knew I would encounter in a town that proudly claims the title of Sin City, and as such I had no visceral reactions toward any of the nonsense.  Disappointment that Las Vegas is perhaps the city that is most indicative of American culture, yes.  But also somehow coupled with a sense of apathy. 
     I did get angry unexpectedly, however, upon trying to visit the Grand Canyon.  Perhaps ironic that events outside of Vegas actually got me more worked up than anything Sin City could muster.  My aunt and I decided to get out of the city and drive over to Arizona to see the West rim of the Grand Canyon which lies in the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  A foolproof plan, we thought.  We drove miles and miles and miles through the Mojave desert, surrounded by red rock and Joshua trees, and as we climbed higher into the mountains, by junipers and snow.  We drove carefully through 20 miles of unpaved mountainous terrain before reaching a road block.
     We were instructed to park and enter the visitor's center.  Evidently the tribe owns the land at Grand Canyon West, and they can charge whatever prices they want for people who want to ooh and awe at the magnificent natural land features.  They asked a paltry $45 per person to ride a shuttle the remaining few miles over to the rim.  And if you want to try out their SkyWalk, a glass bridge that extends out into the canyon so that you can look down into its mouth, well, you've got to fork over another $40.  Appalled, we turned around and drove away. 
This is the closest I was able to get to the Grand Canyon.
     I was disgusted with the idea that natural beauty should be commercialized like that.  As an AmeriCorps volunteer living on a stipend that comes to about $4/hour before taxes, I literally did not have enough money to see one of America's most distinctive features.  Here I was ready to be moved with awe at America's natural grandeur, my heart already swelling with national pride as we climbed into the mountains, and lo and behold, capitalistic nonsense shoves its foot right down America's throat. 


  1. On the one hand, you could argue that the Native Americans have the right to keep a tiny piece of the enormous whole that was originally theirs and which was taken from them; $45 to see part of the Grand Canyon doesn't really compensate for the fact that they all live on tiny pieces of the worst land the US Government could offer. But as I've often opined, it makes no sense trying to compensate today for the general wrongs of the past - it only brings divisions and hatred from that past into the present. I agree that America has lost the ability to assign value to anything without reference to the dollar. (I mean this in both the capitalistic terms and the cultural narrowness of Americans that forces them to see everything in their own terms, i.e. not any other currency.) Even if you could have paid to see it, could you enjoy it the same way? I doubt it - it would have been one of those "well I better love it" moments.

  2. going to go ahead and blame the ancestors for this one...

    also, andrew jackson. he's always a good one to blame.