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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/27/20


Good morning! I figured I’d work in some movies, some books and some trivia in a short “travelogue…”



Last week we returned from Aspen by car. We did it over a little less than 13 hours, with stops for gas and relief (which put our average speed at 71 mph). As we raced through Western Colorado, were captivated by the scenery of Utah, briefly transited the Arizona strip and finished with the deserts of Nevada and California, I recalled earlier, more leisurely, trips with the family. These little tidbits are part travelogue but, as you’ll see, are part book review, part movie review, and part musing…



First and foremost, always leave early! We left at 5:00 a.m. Rule #2, bring lots of water and food. This is particularly true for the COVID-era, when you don’t really want to stop for provisions. Rule #3, start with a psychotic Sonnenberg at the wheel.



There is nothing quite like driving in the mountains during sunrise. The changing colors and light playing off the mountain landscapes is breathtaking. Being up so early makes one feel like they’ve cheated the day. We are going to get every minute of daytime. Highway 82 took us along the Roaring Fork River through the familiar towns of Basalt and Carbondale, meeting I-70 at Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Springs originally was named “Defiance,” a town of brothels, saloons, gunslingers and prostitutes. Isaac Cooper, one of the town’s founders, persuaded the other founders to adopt the more benign name of “Glenwood,” to satisfy the sensibilities of his wife. Teddy Roosevelt, Doc Holliday and Ted Bundy spent time in Glenwood (Ted was being held against his will…).



Colorado is a “transitional” state. The eastern third is really “Nebraska west,” the center a series of booming towns centered at Denver and running north through Fort Collins and south through Colorado Springs. Western Colorado is part of the great, beautiful American western landscape that includes Utah, Arizona, much of New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana.

Moving from east to west, one hits Grand Junction (named because it is the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers) and Fruita. Between the two is the majestic Colorado National Monument:

Fruita (named to generate settlers’ interest in migrating to engage in farming) boasts a great Dinosaur Museum. We visited this museum on several trips through western Colorado when the kids were younger. It is a “must see” to help understand the paleontology of the region and have a little fun break from the drive. Between the remnants of when dinosaurs roamed this former tropical zone and the road cuts that disclose the geological history of the Earth (as so vividly explained by John McPhee in Annals of the Former World), how can people really believe the Earth is only around 5800 years old?



Still in the early hours, the beautiful cliffs, buttes and outcroppings are spectacular, particularly in the early morning light. Eventually the road descends into Green River (named, not surprisingly, for the river!). Besides being home to Butch Cassidy, Green River also is a mecca for river rafting and an unusually lush spot in the otherwise fairly barren rocky topography. There is the John Wesley Powell Museum. Powell’s journey through the Grand Canyon and his other forays in the west are worth study. Powell is fascinating in his explorations after the Civil War (during which he fought for the Union, including at Vicksburg, having lost an arm).

As anyone who has taken a long driving trip knows, there are long stretches of open space with little respite. But the longest stretch of the U.S. Interstate Highway System without services of any kind is the 110 mile stretch from Green River to Salina. Salina is a place worth a miss…

Besides the great vistas, Utah boasts an 80 mile per hour speed limit! But if you go too fast, you’ll miss the turnoffs to Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef (yes, a national park with mountains that resemble the capitol building and an ocean reef), Bryce, and Zion. The Colorado Plateau has all these extraordinary national parks and National Forests to boot. Too much to delve into here…



After I-70 feeds into I-15 and begins its southwesterly journey to San Bernardino, one dips into Arizona for a brief 100 mile stretch before going through a stretch of Arizona north of the Grand Canyon and, so, separated from the population centers of the state. To understand how remote the area is, check out the book Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. This book is history that reads like fiction—both the story of the Church of Latter Day Saints and its offshoots and a murder committed by a fellow and his brother because “God told him to do it.” The Arizona Strip is a crazy area that is home to some small offshoots of the Mormon church. The story is true and riveting.

The trip through Nevada begins with Mesquite, the place where people coming from the east who hate their money the most can stop and lose it as soon as possible. It continues past Las Vegas to Jean and Primm, where folks from the West, similarly desirous of parting with the cash quickly, will stop.



Las Vegas has always had a strange allure—this crazy overbuilt, overwrought paean to excess, extravaganza and greed. I love a couple of good shows and nice dinners as much as anyone. But gambling doesn’t have nearly the attraction it did when I was younger. If viewed as entertainment, that’s fine, I suppose. But it preys upon the stupid, the poor, and the greedy. Quite the regressive tax…

These days, Las Vegas has to be on hard times. I’m curious how shooting craps, the most exciting of the “table games” (which is dying a slow death because people can’t remember odds), is doing with social distancing. After all, a crowded table, with people hooting and hollering as the dice careen across the table is what the game is known for. I’m guessing there will be a reset…

When jetting through Vegas, I saw a sign advertising a bar or restaurant called—I kid you not—Bugsy and Meyer’s! Yes, the very Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky who helped make Vegas what it started as—a 1940s and 1950s mecca for entertainment, established and controlled by the mob. How crazy that we name restaurants after mobsters… This of course reminded me of some of my favorite Vegas-related movies:

Bugsy. Brilliant. Another Barry Levinson hit, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. The co-stars read like a veritable who’s who—Elliott Gould, Ben Kingsley (Lansky), Harvey Keitel, Joe Mantegna… It’s historic, it evokes the time, and it tugs at your heart strings. Good guy gone bad and done wrong…? What a vision and what a story.

Casino. Star turns by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone in a Martin Scorsese masterpiece. Plus a small but important role for the great Don Rickles. While based on real people, it does not follow the story quite as closely as Bugsy. It’s brutal and long, but great. Together with Goodfellas, the best crime movies without the word “Godfather” in their titles.

Lost in America. Albert Brooks movies are thoughtful, cringe-inducing, and funny. The idea of him trying to convince a seasoned old-school casino manager (played with great snarkiness and humor by Garry Marshall) to just give the money back that his wife lost gambling is worth the price of admission. “Why do you think they call it Vegas? Vegas—Gambling. Gambling—Vegas.” You will never think of the phrase “nest egg” quite the same and you will marvel at the parallel parking at the end…

Oceans 11, either the original or the remake. Both were the definition of “cool” for their time. Oceans 12 and Oceans 13 also are worth the watch.

There are others, of course, like Leaving Las Vegas, with Nicholas Cage, Hangover, a fun movie far better than its sequels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas (really only so-so but it stars Elvis!), and Vegas Vacation…



Just as I started getting tired right about now on the drive, it’s happening in this Musing. Baker is a quirky place, midway between Barstow and Vegas. It boasts the “Mad Greek” restaurant and the “world’s tallest thermometer.” COVID-19 has set it on hard times. Here’s a great LA Times story about the strange place where one can purchase “alien jerky”:

In the middle of the Mojave, just south of Baker, stands a sign pointing to “Zzyzx Rd.” My father always said he’d take the detour to see what was there. I keep saying it too. It’s a 4.5 mile long road. It leads to a former mineral springs resort and spa, named by the promoter Curtis Howe Springer. Maybe I’ll still take a pass…



We used to visit Apple Valley when I was a kid, to pick apples and see how apple juice is made (not nearly as complicated as one might think—just squeeze…). Whenever I pass the roads named for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, neither of whom is known to this generation, it takes me back. Singing cowboys—gone—sad…

I like to think he’s out there riding on Trigger, Bullet running along by his side, roaming the prairies…

Happy Trails,


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