You’re flying into Las Vegas, and you can’t help but wonder: what’s happening here? The plane tilts, rolls. You’re floating over some beautiful open land, and the mellow browns and blues of a desert landscape calm your nerves. Impressive peaks ripple across the dusty earth. Mount Charleston is sprinkled with snow. You’re thinking you didn’t expect the area surrounding Las Vegas to be so impressive, so natural, and then a strange body of turquoise water comes into view: Lake Mead. Its edges have taken the shape of finger-like tentacles digging into its surroundings. Without this water, you know that Vegas—as it is today—couldn’t exist. And knowing this makes you feel kind of creeped out.
Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake and water reservoir in the United States. It extends 110 miles beyond the Hoover Dam, but it is currently way below capacity and has been shrinking alarmingly for the past decade. Come on—Vegas is in the middle of the desert, so the water that supplies it has to come from somewhere. I’m sure there is a lot of debate going on about what will happen to Vegas when the water runs out, but with less snowfall (less snowmelt) and higher temperatures, it’s bound to run dry. Soon.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Las Vegas crops up on the horizon, and if you’ve ever seen it from a plane—or even from some distance on the road—it seems kind of strange how it does that. Like this fantastic, energy abundant place just grows from the ground, out of nothing. And once you deplane, it starts to feel even freakier. Take the Venetian, for instance. An unnaturally clear and blue waterway weaves its way around the outside of this monstrous hotel. This fabricated waterway carries gondola riders from outside directly into a high-end shopping mall, which has a ceiling painted with a scene of the sky.
I know I’m sounding really curmudgeonly here. I mean, how many people go to Las Vegas for the purpose of enjoying its natural elements? I know…nature’s not the point of this place. But as I sat out on a patio overlooking the fountain at the Bellagio (spurting off every half hour, synchronized to the sounds of classical music), I couldn’t help thinking about how we people relate to the natural world.
Even in the most inhospitable places, we still want a bit of natural beauty. And Las Vegas seemed to be saying that we’ll harness it, fabricate it, just to keep it—even if it’s contrived.