There is something sort of eerie about the view from a plane hurtling through the sky between Albuquerque and Vegas, especially for eyes used to the green, gridded regularity of the farm-tamed upper midwest.
From great heights, one sees stone worn by time, and the ghosts left behind where water has left its mark. Every now and then, the meandering courses of both dry and wet rivers are thrown into sharp relief against the faint, perfectly straight tracery of empty roads. There are layered plateaus and ridges, sculpted by time and wear into almost fractal shapes. You look into the canyons, and they are deeper than you can see.
Sometimes, it feels like looking at the grave of an ocean that died ages ago; it’s almost possible to imagine the fish that might have drifted over the plateaus, when they were a different color under the water. To eyes used to aggressively cultivated views, the vast expanse of Nevada and New Mexico below the plane is forbidding and awe-inspiring and a little bit…sad.
When the works of human hands become most visible in this landscape, they feel a bit like the rear-guard resistance action they are. This land is not so much cultivated as it is overcome by human machinery and human priorities (which is, of course, sometimes a part of something disastrous — water shortages out here are as much or more our fault than nature’s).
When Las Vegas comes into view under the wing, it blossoms in the desert like creeping algae bloom in a shallow pond, feeding on the dead-ocean desert that would otherwise drown it, faintly obscene and impressive as hell.