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Houston v. Las Vegas, Part 1

3 Jan 2012
Two months ago, I was on the road. All my possessions in Houston were shipped or stored, and I was heading to Las Vegas for my new home. Having lived in Texas continually since 1969, and in Houston since 1981, I knew it was time for a change.

The sociocultural differences  not to mention climatic and geological differences  are staggering. My culture blog will be devoted largely to documenting American sociocultural differences as I discover them through the Las Vegas  Houston lens. In many cases, its more like a Nevada  Texas lens. What is it like to live in the desert West after living in the marshy South? What is like to live in a way station with few pretenses to moral goodness, after living in a Bible Belt state where most people pretend to moral superiority, but rarely live it? Read on.

Most noticeably, the big difference is geography and climate. Houston stays warmer in the winter  most of the time, though this week is different  but Las Vegas is hotter in the summer. Houston is quite muggy  the summers are like outdoor saunas  because of its posture at the nexus of a coast, marshland, and the East Texas forest. It is subtropical and one of the greenest (florally speaking) cities in America. Las Vegas may be one of the brownest, and driest. The amount of brown is staggering. This summer in Houston, brown meant dead grass and trees: as many as 60 million trees estimated dead in this summers drought. The threat of an inner-city wildfire was real. With brown carrying the connation of dead and dying, it is hard not to feel the Las Vegas area lacks wildlife. The wildlife is not absent, merely different  and hiding. This weekend I checked out the Red Rock Canyon area, which is popular for hiking. There are desert trails, mountain trails, box canyons, and water sources hidden in the canyons. Wild burros and horses abound like deer in Texas. The dominant tree may be the Joshua, which looks like a hairy cactus; in Houston, the pine tree. Given Houstons propensities to host hurricanes, the reverse may be a better fit: the tall pine trees, with their shallow roots, are easily destroyed by harsh storms of the type that Nevada rarely sees.

Finally, Houston is flat (elevation, 15 feet), while Las Vegas (elevation, 2100 feet) is in a valley surrounded by mountains; the nearby Hoover Dam is more than 400 feet higher. These are mountains that disappoint, though: brown and sandy, they resemble giant dirt hills more than stony mountains. For real mountains you must drive at least 45 minutes out of town, to Mount Charleston (79 degrees in the summer when Las Vegas is 100). Even better, travel 3-1/2 hours to the Grand Canyon, or to Sedona, Arizona, where I spent Christmas week. All the talk about electromagnetic vortexes is pure silliness, but the area is special nonetheless.

Now that Ive scoped out a number of promising areas for meditation and Tai Chi practice, my next step is to find exact spots, and use them. The magic in the stillness of the desert cannot be ignored.


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