So, Fallout: New Vegas does take place on the Strip quite a bit, but the enchantment of the game are the other areas, the places where you have to wander through to get to the Strip. It's pretty amazing, and I've said this before--to fall in love with a digital place, to make it a second home in your imagination, and then go to these places that actually exist and see things that made you feel so special...places you have already forged friendships and made enemies and gotten shot and killed monsters and places full of lore and history that hasn't even been written. It's even better than really truly coming home, because the home you make in the game is so protected--it's whatever you want it to be, no matter what.
We went backwards from the game though--first to Boulder City, then Hoover Dam, then Searchlight, through Joshua Tree Highway and dipping into Nipton, then up to Primm and Jean and finally our last destination, Goodsprings. If you're not familiar with the game, your character's story begins in Goodsprings, where you get shot in the head and buried in the town's cemetery. You're dug up by a friendly robot and begin to navigate the western terrain in the small, sleepy town. The game finishes with an epic battle on the lip of Hoover Dam.
Note: I would have better photos but my camera battery died forever on the trip, so all I had was my phone. Sorry!
Hoover DamWe stopped in Boulder City, which is actually one of my favorite places in real life despite being kind of crummy in-game. The local diner was so campy and Americana, it was perfect in every way for a road trip. I had a bowl of delicious chili and was pretty impressed with their cornbread. And can I just say, I LOVE the drive over Lake Mead and toward Arizona. That desert is something else. It just looks so unforgiving and jagged, like the earth's prehistoric teeth. The architectural marvel of the dam is just as inspiring...nothing makes me feel more patriotic than the monument with its big art deco angels and the sprawling tower under your feet.
Hoover Dam, incredible as always. I love the place, but holy shit don't ever go in July. It was so hot my face melted off and had to be stitched back into place. Funny story, my big floppy hat came off my head from a gust of wind, and went over the dam. It hovered there, swept upwards, came back to me, then went over the dam again!! There were some Asian tourists behind me who were screaming, and Derik was going noooooooooooo, while I just held out my hands with that sad kid face. When the gust finally dropped the hat on the ground near me and I grabbed it up, everyone clapped and cheered. My hat has seen some things!! I couldn't imagine hovering, suspended in air, over the edge of Hoover Dam, twice.
Driving the 95/NiptonWe cut through Searchlight (there was no nuclear waste, at least none that we could see) and back towards Nipton. It felt strange to go this way since we were literally doing the opposite of the game, but the Mojave is a treat no matter which road you travel. Nipton welcomed us with the same enthusiasm as last time and this time we got to play the lottery! (An inside joke in the game) Derik won five dollars and nobody busted my kneecaps and left me to die, so 10/10 would do again. I can't explain how strange it feels to walk this little hidden sleepy "town" (village) for a second time, knowing that people from all over the world do the exact same tour, paying homage to a game we all hold pretty sacred. Again, it just feels like coming home. And the pin we put on Nipton Trading Post's visitor map from Sweden, during Henri's visit, was still there!
If you've never traveled down the Joshua Tree highway that connects Searchlight to Nipton (I hadn't) I highly recommend it. Absolutely gorgeous place. So silent--we exited the car for a "Welcome to California" sign photo and it was the middle of the day, not a sound to be heard. Perfection.
PrimmI hated Primm in the game. It's just a shithole filled with prisoners and gamblers, so on my first New Vegas tour we gave it the bird as we drove by. This trip we had plenty of time to kill and I somehow, SOMEHOW convinced Derik to ride the roller coaster with me. In the game the coaster is inoperable, so I wanted to brag to everyone who annoyingly asked the first time "DID YOU RIDE THE COASTER?!?!" Well folks, that coaster SUUUUUUUUCKED. It was jerky, and fast (goes up to 90mph at one point) My false eyelash literally peeled off my face on the damn thing. I was not having a good time and felt so nauseated I questioned my resolve to jump off the Stratosphere!! I ended up somehow still liking Primm. It was the quietness of the Buffalo Bill casino and the tacky, small-town decor and locals gambling more than tourists. So it wasn't a total waste. Plus, my ruined neck and single eyelash were about to be soothed by the most magical place in the desert. Yes I'm serious. Goodsprings, Nevada.
I really can't express what this place means--either for me, or for any of the countless pilgrims who've made the trek. Like I said, it just feels like coming home. I was in awe. Henri was in awe. Derik, not one easily in awe, was....terribly in awe. We parked in front of the dear saloon and I walked around, showing him the inside and outside and General Store. I have only been to this place once in real life, but it felt like, seemed like, and from the smiles I got from locals, really looked like I had been wandering Goodsprings for years. The thing about Goodsprings is that in the game, who you were and what you did beforehand were inconsequential. Goodsprings was where the path began. I guess that's what home feels like, isn't it?
We sat down and got the delicious burgers, ate, marveled some more, and I took him through a (very short) drive around town. I had timed the trip purposely to arrive in Goodsprings at sunset, because of the magic that time of day holds as well as the perfection of being in the cemetery at nightfall (the character is shot, and later dug up, at night.) In the general store we were given a Nuka-Cola (staple from the game) and the young clerk told me that Chet, the storekeeper from the game, was at home. We discussed how he ended up in Goodsprings...he came from Salt Lake City and said it was the most peaceful and beautiful place he'd ever been. When he emotionally confessed how lucky he felt to look out the window every day and see a Goodsprings sunset, both Derik and I completely understood the sentiment.
On our way out we entered the cemetery and wandered around, again feeling that intensely familiar feeling. If I can try to sum it up....this is a place where we, as fans of the game, metaphorically die and are brought back and given another chance, to make things right, to carve something out of the wasteland. It's like a new beginning. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to actually standing on the spot where I die, and that's a very confusing feeling.
Confusing, and amazing. I got to feel that feeling with another human--my best friend in the entire world. Whatever hotel headache or long drive or lack of sleep or heat stress we felt was worth it to stand on our death spot and hug each other, thanking each other for ten long years of friendship and loyalty, reminiscing on that other life where a man in a checkered jacket told us the game was rigged from the start.