I write to you today from Boracay, where I’ve traveled to a different country to spend the week dressing up like a mermaid, to tell you about a time I flew to the desert to see some painted rocks.
Seven Magic Mountains has been on my radar since it first went up in the Ivanpah Valley, seven miles south of Las Vegas. The two year installation by renowned Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone will close in May of 2018; lately, I felt the deadline looming. (I’ve since learned the piece may be moved to a park in Downtown Las Vegas at that time.)
So when I saw that there were no direct flights from Tampa to Los Angeles anyway, I decided it was the universe telling me to wedge a weekend trip to my beloved Las Vegas in between the two.
While widely celebrated among the art world, plenty of people I spoke to didn’t quite get the allure of Seven Magic Mountains. “I’m not normally into road side attractions,” wrote one. “Am I missing something?,” asked another. But I couldn’t explain it. Something drew me there.
I flew on a Wednesday evening and rented a car at the airport, a Las Vegas first for me. Over a late night dinner with my friend Diana, who runs the fabulous local company Vegans Baby, I urged her to join me. “Meh,” she said. “I’ve been before and I wasn’t really into it.” We’ll go at sunrise, I insisted. I promise to take new headshots for your business.
Sold! What can I say? I know how to hook an entrepreneur.
I set my alarm for 4:30am, giving myself enough time to pack all my cameras, pick up Diana, and navigate down I-15 ahead of the 6:12am sunrise that morning. While Google Maps clocked the work at only a thirty minute drive from my hotel without traffic, for once in my life, I decided not to cut it close.
When we pulled into the gravel parking lot in the middle of the vast valley, a highway and train tracks humming in the near distance, there was only one other car keeping ours company. “Wow,” Diana said simply, and I recalled her protest that the crowds were enormous the last time she’d visited. With over a thousand estimated visitors per day, she wasn’t exaggerating. I said “wow,” too, at the simplicity.
No security guard, no entry turnstiles, no bathrooms, no water fountains, nothing but a simple black and white sign with some background information on the work and the artist.
With half an eye out for the rattlesnakes signs warned us of, we practically skipped over to the seven towering totems, stopping frequently to take pictures and exclaim each new angle and view as our absolute favorite. Though I’d seen countless photos of the neon mountains prior to visiting, they felt brand new seeing them for the first time in person.
This “day-glo-drenched Stonehenge of sorts” suddenly seemed right — the totem shape and piled rock structure of the sculpture perfectly reflected the vast history and natural landscape of the region, while the bright neon colors would be right at home in the pop-art inspired and culturally rich Downtown Las Vegas. I was smitten.
Laying in the dirt looking up at the neon boulders shooting into the sky, I thought back to a special trip to New York City when I was in high school with my best friend and our moms to see The Gates in Central Park, another infamous piece of public art. The art teachers in my Upstate New York high school encouraged any of us who were able to make the three hour journey to see the 7,500 orange gates billowing in the park to do so, and so we had. Colorful, controversial, and surreal — The Gates and Seven Magic Mountains were both worth the trip.
Seven Magic Mountains artist Rondinone has been quoted as saying, “most people don’t know how beautiful the land is around Las Vegas, so I hope this inspires them to explore the city’s nature.” True — few make the journey just an hour away to Valley of Fire, Nevada’s stunner of a state park. And in five visits, I’ve yet to make it to Red Rock Canyon.
Financed by the Art Production Fund and Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art, Seven Magic Mountains is completely free to visit, yet the state tourism board estimates the project’s overall media exposure at $7 million — one million per mountain. I was fascinated to read that the three year process of making Seven Magic Mountains included having a state law written as a part of it’s creation! The law shields the creators of public art from liability if someone hurt themselves while “engaging with the artwork,” and is the first of its kind in the country.
When the sun was high in the sky and the parking lot finally filled with other cars, Diana and I called it a morning. We were both beaming. I rarely wake up at sunrise. This one was worth it.
It was a trip that, like Seven Magic Mountains itself, probably seems extremely silly and frivolous to some. Like going to the Philippines to go to mermaid camp, going to Las Vegas to look at very expensive painted rocks does sound a bit ridiculous. But I’ve also traveled to Bangkok simply to see Gone Girl in a movie theater, arranged a layover in New York because I was craving real fountain Diet Coke, and traveled back to the vacation island of my childhood to attend a Jaws festival. I’m strongly considering going to Croatia for the sole purpose of visiting an underwater winery I read about, and I’d get on a plane to any country in the world that the Spice Girls held another hypothetical reunion tour in.
Not every trip has to be an Eat Pray Love experience. Every time you get on a plane, it doesn’t have to be for something as noble as checking a world wonder off your list, summiting one of the earth’s highest peaks, becoming a divemaster or a yoga teacher, or tracing the genealogy of your family tree.
Life is short! It really doesn’t matter if someone else thinks your trip is silly or frivolous or a waste of time and money. If it makes you laugh or smile or feel content in some way, well, you do you.
Go see Lady Gaga in concert in Mexico. Fly to London to try nitrogen ice cream. Travel to Australia to do The Color Run. Go to Los Angeles cause one time in the back of a magazine you read about a cool bar there. Head to Colombia because you saw a Buzzfeed video about a hostel over the water. Go to Berlin because you want to take a picture of a wall you saw on Instagram. Whatever.
Granted, I have some professional pressure to keep doing big, important, epic adventure trips. In the last few years they’ve become fewer and further between for me as I focus on additional priorities, and there are definitely large portions of my audience that have tuned out as a result — and told me about it. I hate disappointing those people, but sometimes I just have to do my thing. And sometimes my thing is something that seems trivial or boring or downright silly to someone else.
And that’s okay.
Tell me about a stupid travel dream that you made come true — or are still working on!
I love this! And, as someone who can be quite impulsive when it comes to my travel dreams and must-sees, I totally get it! My sister and I ended up doing a 17-day road trip this past summer because I decided I wanted to go see the solar eclipse in Idaho of all places. I also booked an evening banquet dinner at Hobbiton in New Zealand for next year because, even though I’ve been there 3 times already, I want to see it at night! It’s the little things sometimes that matter, and there’s no need to apologize for it!
I love the idea of a spontaneous sister road trip to see the eclipse 🙂 Your trips are always so fun to read about!
THIS spoke to me so much, Alex!! Great piece. Have saved this part bc I love it so much:
“Go see Lady Gaga in concert in Mexico. Fly to London to try nitrogen ice cream. Travel to Australia to do The Color Run. Go to Los Angeles cause one time in the back of a magazine you read about a cool bar there. Head to Colombia because you saw a Buzzfeed video about a hostel over the water. Go to Berlin because you want to take a picture of a wall you saw on Instagram. Whatever.”
Aw, glad you loved this Emily! <3 Good luck chasing your own stupid travel dreams 😉
I really want to go here next time I’m out that way!!
Northern Lights are my top bucket list.
You’ve got till May 😉 Good luck! And I’d LOVE to see the Northern Lights for sure.
I’ve been contemplating a trip to Vegas for probably next spring, not solely but in large part because I want to visit this art! I have also (less seriously) considered a re-visit to Oslo because I missed one of the two sculpture parks in the city. And really, the reason I was in Oslo the first time was just ‘hey, Norway looks pretty, I like Scandinavian things…’
Okay, at first I quickly read this comment as, “Norwegians look pretty, I like Scandinavians…” and I was like YEAH GIRL! LOL. But yes I support this trip either way! Ha ha.
I did not know about this! Thank you for sharing! And life is short, go wherever your heart desires, we’ll be right here to read and dream about it.
You are too sweet! Thanks for putting a smile on my face!
Thank you for this! I’m normally an overthinker, but not when it comes to travel. Even though I’m leaving my job and moving 2,000 miles away at the beginning of the year, my friends and I just booked a trip to Iceland and Paris for my birthday in February. I’ve made all sorts of technically ill-advised trips over the last few years, but hey–no one looks back on life and thinks, “Man, I really wish I’d traveled less!”
What awesome friends you have to hop on a plane with you for your birthday! Rock on — it sounds like an amazing trip!
Fun, fun, fun!!!
Enjoyed this tremendously – thanks for going and sharing the experience.
Thanks for bringing me to The Gates all those years ago!
When I studied abroad I took a day trip to London and spent a RIDICULOUS amount of time trying to find the Harry Potter 9 3/4 platform. I was with a friend who wasn’t a fan and didn’t understand but I was set on it!
Ha, I love it! I am a crazy Jaws fan and have taken the tour on Martha’s Vineyard and loooove going to the different filming spots. I still want to take one of those Sex in the City tours someday in New York, too. So I feel ya!
Love this post. Sometimes you just have to do your thing. Once I spent a vacation in Spain visiting tiny fishing villages in Galicia instead of going to the running of the bulls. But I really enjoyed my trip and that’s all that matters 🙂
Also those rocks are beautiful!
Honestly, that sounds more my style too! You do you 😉
This is awesome – I can’t believe anyone would judge anyone else on their motivation for traveling anywhere… but I guess I am an optimist. One of my travel dreams that some may deem silly… visiting Sir Ian Flemming’s house-turned-hotel in Jamaica where he dreamt up Bond.
Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with Jamaica right now (and maybe it’s because I’m a lifetime movie buff) but that sounds AMAZING! Please do it so I can read about it.
I love this Alex (and I would love to visit this installation before it leaves!!) I love the Disney theme parks, and have recently visited my final one, Shanghai. Whilst also enjoying the other parts of the trip, it was always the thing I looked forward to most! I love to find Theme Park/Water Park attractions anywhere I’m visiting! Looking forward to hearing more about Mermaid camp!!
Nice Caroline! I have definitely become smitten with theme parks in recent years. I guess I’m a big ‘ol sucker for manufactured fun. It was literally designed to be enjoyed!
Thank you for the permission (unneeded as it is) to stop feeling silly for flying to San Diego for a long weekend to see U2- from Orlando! Love this!
Um, rockstar trip! That sounds amazing — and I LOVE San Diego and would take any excuse to return!
I have a goal to go one Baltimore Orioles away baseball game a year. I think it’s fun to look at the next years schedule and pick a place they will be playing that I normally wouldn’t think about traveling to. Then I get to have a fun little weekend somewhere seeing a baseball game and that makes me happy! Last year was Minneapolis and I really enjoyed it!
I love that Noel! That is such a fun thing to plan a trip around!
I wish I had known about this when I was killing time before a flight out of Vegas!
Ah, what a shame! It is so convenient to the airport. Next time… if next time is before May 🙂
Preach on, Alex!
Also, the Seven Magic Mountains are a HUGE draw for me to go to Las Vegas (a place I’ve never been over-the-top interested in). Hopefully we make it before May! No shame–they look gorgeous!
Pair it with a trip to the Neon Museum and you’ll be in art heaven! Vegas is so much more than gambling and drinking on The Strip!
I would love to visit this art, I’ve had it archived on Instagram since I saw the first photo about a year ago but alas, I do not have the time or money before it closes in May. Great to see and read your experience though!
I think I’m a random traveller his like you. There will be one ridiculous thing in a destination and I’ll plan my entire trip around it. I recently went to London just to explore an abandoned tube station.
Love it Steph! Sorry you won’t make it before this one closes… but I bet there will be another fabulous piece of art to travel to when you are ready!
Wow this article was surprisingly thought provoking! I think the little things are kind of the only reason to travel, come to think of it. If I go see the Taj Mahal and do a vegetarian yoga silent meditation whatever thing, sure that’s a “profound” thing but what if it does nothing for me? Life is short, so just do what brings you joy!
Also, I am really happy that you like my city so much! While answering the question “where are you from?” is long and complicated for me, my short answer is Las Vegas. The Seven Magic Mountains represents Vegas perfectly – bright neon ridiculousness working with the desert, rather than against it <3
Las Vegas is such a cool city to call home, you should definitely be proud 🙂
I booked flights to NY (from Europe) this year to go see a friend get married near Philly not even a week before the wedding – because it took me that long to make up my mind after having made exactly the same trip (minus the wedding) the year before. I had such a great time!
So yes! Considering the environment and trying to find the crazy without excessive flying would probably feel even better…but well. 🙂
Loved the photos!
Sometimes you just have to follow your heart 🙂 Even when it’s telling you to do something silly or illogical!
I lived in New York when the gates where there. I looooved them. So glad I was living there at the time. Just recently in Cambodia we went on a 10 hour bus trip from siem reap to kratie to see some of the last remaining Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong. That detour was so worth it. We saw a family with two babies and arrived just in time for a full moon festival with lots of food stalls along the river bank and people putting offerings in the river. But the highlight in Cambodia was swimming with bioluminescent plankton in Koh rong samloem. Which funny enough I saw on a random Instagram post and therefor the idea of we have to go to Cambodia was born. Two months later we went and had the best time.
Oh that sounds magical Caty! I actually considered the exact same detour when I was in Cambodia. Sounds like you made the right choice!
I don’t have any silly travel dreams. I want to walk with penguins, dive with whale sharks, explore rainbow coloured hills, learn Spanish in Argentina, and so on. None of these dreams are silly right? 😉
Ha, heck no! Ah, I want to go back to Peru to see those rainbow mountains, too 🙂
Rainbow mountain in Peru was so amazing! Definitely the highlight of our trip and I even enjoyed it more than Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.
I actually didn’t even know about it back when I spent three months in Peru… I’ve only heard about it since it became a hit on instagram!
Yeah Alex you are right! Life is too short so whether it is not an Eat Pray Love travel, whatever place or activity that pops in your mind, go ahead and be happy and have no regrets. Well my silly dream is swim with the whale sharks and be a mermaid for a day.
Love it Evan! Do you follow me on Facebook? If not, there’s some mermaid excitement going on over there lately!
Love this! I love that although you do travel “full time” you still hit up the quirky places that would be classed as too touristy by some bloggers. That’s why you’re my fav (fan girl cringe!) 🙂
Aw, Amy, thank you so much! Very sweet of you to say, no cringing allowed 🙂
Funky. I so want to go to there!
I love those unexpected side trips we can to work into our travels. Like how I’m contemplating a 3-day stopover in Marrakech on my way from Lisbon to Rome this Spring because it’s kind of in the middle. Sort of 🙂
Haha! I do the same. No matter how rushed a trip already is, I’m always like, hmmm, maybe I can just have an extended three day layover somewhere else on the way there?! I can’t help myself!
I love this! Seriously one of the sweetest blog posts I’ve read in a long time and got me itching to plan a trip soon 🙂
Aw, I love that you guys loved this one! Makes me think more about what kind of posts I want to write in the future 🙂
Ah I love this post!! People forget too often to follow silly dreams! Not everything has to be poignant. I went to Gibraltar purely to take the shortest crossing across the Mediterranean, but ended up loving Gibraltar itself. I went to Disney World for the first time aged 25, and the happiest photo of me in existence is with Rafiki. My highlight of a road trip around Oahu was exploring some filming locations from Lost. I went to Sweden just to see a funny shaped building lol. I’m even planning to go to a totally random town in the Netherlands because it’s got loads of Lord Of The Rings themed road names! Nothing wrong with that, right?! 🙂
I loooove the sound of all these trips! Especially Disney World cause that’s about the age I first went to Disneyland 😛
I don’t know about those other people, Alex, but I read your blog solely because you do you. It’s authentic and true. And, I learn about places, rather than just reading about the “must-hit” travel locales that I’ve read about a million times. Keep at it! This trip looks like it was really cool, and you had a unique experience… and you caught that sunrise just right! 😉
Thank you so much Jen, this is so sweet of you to say <3 You're the best!
Yes! I am so spontaneous sometimes too with my trip planning. Just following what the soul wants 😛 I stumbled across your blog a little while ago Alex and I love your stories and content! I am writing a post on “female travel blogs that will inspire you” and I would love to feature Alex in Wanderland. Please let me know what you think! 🙂
Of course, you’re always welcome to feature or link to me or my content. Thanks for thinking of me!
Oh I just adored this post Alex. I’m a bit sad because until now I didn’t realise this was a temporary art exhibition! I was hoping to get there one day but don’t think I will make it before it closes. But it was so interesting to learn the artist is Swiss and I am currently living in Switzerland!
I am a sucker for going to places just to see beautiful things, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all. But yes often it means an early start!!
I must admit I’m not usually one that’s good with the early starts… but this might inspire me to start trying more often 😉
First, I recently found your blog and I absolutely adore everything about it!
Second, thank you so much for this post!!! I am just finishing up a week trip in Vegas visiting my retired parents and you inspired me to wake up before the sun and make the mini-trek to this truly magical place! Waking up with the desert and the mountains was an incredible experience I won’t soon forget.
Thank you for sharing your adventures and inspiring this wanderlust-filled soul to have a mystical morning!!!
Ah, I’m so glad Karen! This made me smile 🙂 Thanks so much for reading — and I’m overjoyed that you love Seven Magic Mountains as much as I do!
Absolutely love everything about your blog. It has deffo helped us plan our past and future trips. Whenever I visit your blog, the design makes me smile also!!
Keep it up, you’re amazing!
Aw, thank you for giving me a smile this morning Hayley! <3