22 Aug 65 : Zion, hail and Vegas : Barstow, California

This continues the letter dated 20th August 1965, which began:

Dear family,

Sunday 22nd August 

Barstow, California.

We had a very uncomfortable night at Zion National Park. The site we were on, as I told you earlier, was surrounded by high rocks, and the night we were there we had a terrible storm – thunder and lightning and huge hail stones. We have heard so much during the last week about erosion etc, that we knew that there was quite a chance of rock falls.

When the hailstones started we were convinced it was rock and got quite worried. Many people took refuge in the toilets, but we stayed in the van. The storm raged from about 5 a.m. till 8.30 am. Miraculously we survived it.


Great White Throne, Zion National Park, Utah P16.jpg
Tony’s postcard, captioned: Great White Throne, Zion National Park, Utah. Nearly twice as high as the tallest building in the world, the sheer walls of spectacular Great White throne in Zion National Park rise 2,447 feet above the floor of the canyon.


Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park Utah
Tony’s postcard, captioned: Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park, Utah. A trio of lofty peaks, the Three Patriarchs tower above the meandering North Fork of the Virgin River (which the Indians called Mukuntuweap) deep in the heart of Zion Canyon.


We looked around Zion Park and then set off for Las Vegas. We arrived there at about 4:30 pm after driving through what must be the most Godforsaken place in the world – Nevada.

We drove through mile after mile after mile of absolute nothing, parched, dry, hot and horrible – a few sage brushes and a lot of cactus, and dry cracked brown earth – and that’s it!!! It was terribly hot especially down in the valleys. A dry hot gale was blowing – and dust with it.

Our oil change was long overdue and we decided to do it reluctantly and ended up absolutely filthy and scorched. We finally arrived in Las Vegas and headed straight for the swimming pool, but we couldn’t swim as there was a show on, but we sneaked into the shower room and stole a shower – which was great.

We have both been drinking gallons of water. The weather here is so different from the East. At the moment in Philadelphia it’s 90 degrees F and 99% humidity. Today, here, it’s been 98 degrees (in the shade) and 9% humidity which is very dry. It seems to dry you up and we both have sore throats.

We spend a very pleasant evening in Las Vegas. After cooking a meal in the municipal car park we changed (put on shirts and long trousers) and went out to investigate the place. It really lives up to what it is said to be – the Gambling Capital of the World. We walked up the famous strip and went into most of the world famous hotels – the Sands, the Dunes, the Stardust, the Thunderbird, and the Mint.


Early 1960s postcard – Sands Hotel, Las Vegas


Here all the big stars appear and terrific shows are held. Also of course here the big gambling takes place, and we saw some big money being played. I saw one woman win $200 for 10 cents on a one-armed, and one fellow playing with about $30,000 in his hand.

There must be millions of one-armed bandits in Las Vegas, and they all have free entertainment to lure you in – and some of it is very good too. It certainly is a very colourful and exciting place to be (the neon signs are fantastic).

Also, there is another ‘racket’ – quick weddings. This is peculiar to the state of Nevada, and in Vegas there are hundreds of little chapels where you can get married right away for $5. They all try and outdo each other and offer free gifts and free recordings etc. We saw some people who had just been married and were on their ‘honeymoon’ in the gambling halls!!


Las Vegas Nevada Fremont Street - Casino district P1
Tony’s postcard, captioned: Fremont Street – Casino District. Las Vegas, Nevada. Sparkling neon – whirring wheels – rattling “bones” – make 24 hour excitement in the world’s largest gambling center.


Early 1960s postcard – Stardust hotel and casino, Las Vegas


We were very mean and didn’t have a ‘flutter’ all night, but nevertheless had a very enjoyable evening. We left there at about 1:30 am in the morning and planned to travel all night to Los Angeles, however we started to have trouble with the engine of the VW which started to pop and splutter and wouldn’t pull, so we had to pull in and stop for the night.

We thought it was plug trouble so decided to do the plugs, but when we got the tool kit out found we had lost our plug spanner. We then waited for other VWs to pull in – two did but had no plug spanner either. We then spluttered painfully on to the next town where we borrowed the necessary tools, and we did the plugs and points. We wanted to get the thing right as our next stage of the journey was across the Mojave Desert.

We thought everything was OK, but after a few miles had to turn back as the trouble was still with us. It turned out to be carburettor trouble, and the nearest Volkswagen agent was on the other side of the desert, so we have spent most of today crawling over the Mojave Desert.

We made it, and are at present spending the night in the desert just outside a place called Barstow, which is in California. We will take the VW into the agents in the morning when they open, and hope that they will quickly be able to sort it out.

We have just had a session over the planning table and our plans have changed again. We shall now finish up our trip in Los Angeles, instead of San Francisco. So would you write from now on to General Deliveries, Main Post Office, Los Angeles.

We shall be in San Fran. early this week and will pick up any mail you have sent there, and will then be going down to Mexico, and then back to LA – where we will try to get on a boat. The reason for this is that this is the first port of call for these boats from New Zealand, and we feel that we will have more chance at the first call, rather than the second, as someone else may have beaten us to it. I hope all this makes sense to you!!!

To be continued… 

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2 thoughts on “22 Aug 65 : Zion, hail and Vegas : Barstow, California

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