Searching for soul in Sin City: Las Vegas rebirthed

in Ark Weekender/Lifestyle & Travel by

Vegas trippin’ can be a soul-satisfying experience, if visitors walk outside of its most partied corridors.

There are so many ways to consume a Las Vegas weekend. Whether, a pound of flesh, or two kegs of Tito’s vodka, most choose debauchery and glitter, or gluttony and hedonism.

But, outside of what is known as “the strip” of Las Vegas are options that allow you to explore the existential questions of life, like, “Why didn’t I leave the craps table when I was winning?” or “How did I make it back to my hotel room?”

For hangover relief and to connect with cool local people, take a trip to Pour Coffeehouse, a quaint shop that serves java, smoothies and healthy eats during the day while offering soulful gatherings at night.

Co-owned by Deborah Armstrong, a Bajan-born, Boston reared barista master who left a career in computers after thirty years, she opened Pour Coffeehouse to get away from the humdrum of being treated as a “name [rather] than a number.”

The caffeinated watering hole is a local treasure for artists too. On any given night, you can catch after hours sessions of soul singers, folk musicians, and poets. It is a space that caters to a local community often outshined by Vegas glitz; thus there, you will experience a piece of home.

Forest Bathing and Native Life

To find nirvana just on the outskirts of the desert city, travel two hours through ochre landscape on the historic Route 66 to Hualapai Reservation, located at the western rim of the Grand Canyon. Land occupied for thousands of years by the Hualapai nation, the Rez, spans over one million acres of largely untouched canyons, mountains, rivers, forests and parched earth.

On the way, you will drive through Joshua Tree National Park. The park, situated within the California desert, is one of two places on earth where Joshua trees grow. The other location is the Middle-East near Jerusalem. So plentiful are the Joshua, the area is more like a forest of the desert.

Considered sacred plants by Natives and Christians, stop and wonder at Joshua trees standing well over 20-feet-tall with 10-feet wingspans of prickly thorns. Perform what is called a “shinrin-yoku,” a Japanese term translated into “forest bath” which means to take in the atmosphere of the forest as way of healing.

While driving to the Hualapai reservation, the landscape, at times, turns into supple farmland. Signs along the road ask you to watch for cows and other livestock crossing the roads. Occasionally, cars will slow for a passing brood of cattle.

After traversing winding roads and mountainous highways, you leave the United States and enter the sovereign nation of the Hualapai. You cannot drive through, but must park, register and are shuttled through the Rez by an open trolly bus.

Over the years, the Hualapai developed a tourism package to explore the Rez, from rafting to helicopter rides over the western part of the Grand Canyon.

Like over 300 Native nations, the Hualapai are federally recognized indigenous nations within the US. They have their own laws, currency systems and social order. We, as US citizens, are just visitors.

The trolley stops a certain parts where you can see an old Wild West town, and even the traditional village of the Hualapai.

One of its most famous outings, is to venture on the Hualapai Skywalk, a plexiglass walkway jutting out of the mountain like a horseshoe. Visitors can look down at the plunge down the part of the mountain called, Eagle’s Point. The venture is three-minutes and some change and is really not worth the money spent; however, if you thrill from the visual then go for it.

Yoga on the Rocks

Inspiration at Hualapai comes from the landscape itself. At the some of the areas, strike into a warrior pose or just reach for the sky in a position learned at Yoga Candy.

Culture, History and Home

At the simulated Hualapai village, adobe structures show how desert living is cooler than you think. Nature-centered, traditional abodes made from earthen blocks show how Natives in the area naturally created cooler interiors that shave off at least 20 degrees of desert heat.

In the center of the village, a group of elders pass on culture with 15-minute song and dance rituals in their traditional language. Interspersed are nods to tradition and how it looks in the contemporary space, in order to present the past with the present realities of an indigenous demographic that works towards maintaining the tribe and economic viability.

History Lessons

If you come back from the Grand Canyon with a renewed sense of self, go to Ward 5 to the Harrison House, a once-revered lodging site for stars of a certain hue.

Many people do not know that Blacks owned significant part of the business supplying the service industry in Las Vegas, pre-desegregation. But, much like Los Angeles and segregated Harlem, hotels, restaurants and performance venues banned Black guests, yet welcomed Black entertainers. As a result, people like Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole, stayed in homes on the Black side of town. One of his residences was the Harrison House, a modest-sized home owned by Genevieve Harrison who rented out to performers until the Moulin Rouge Agreement in the 1960s ended segregation.

The house fell in disrepair. The city ordered for the house to be demolished, but somehow it never happed. In 2009, Katherine Duncan, a Chamber of Commerce member, purchased Harrison House for $32,000. She began to restore it a few years later and by 2014, it was registered as one of the national historic places.

Still with work to do, Duncan opens the home to military veterans trying to get back on their feet.

See and Sip

In the downtown area, you are by the strip, but not of the strip. Known as old Las Vegas, there sits Eclipse Theaters, a newly build luxury adult-theme movie theater that caters to cinephiles who love a cocktail and food other than greasy popcorn and Twizzlers with their film.

With a set of eight intimate-seating theaters that accommodate between 30 to 75 people, Eclipse specializes in showing independent film projects and movie premiers. The spacious venue, also opens up its lounge into a multi-use space in which Eclipse hosts salsa dancing, yoga and comedy. On Monday evenings, stop in for their jazz sessions.

Eclipse Theater

Woosahhh

Another drop in point is Yoga Kandy, a wellness institute started by body conscious instructor, Katricia Kelly. A native San Franciscan turned yogi, at the wellness center Kelly fuses her love of dope yoga gear with asanas. Her motto, “yoga in all sizes” becomes evident in classes where all body proportions flex and move to cool vibes. Wrapping up a Vegas trip by stretching out any kinks or stress, or perhaps, preparing you for a session of debauchery, exploring sin city with moments of sanctity, makes good soul food and memories.

Yoga Kandy owner, Katricia Kelly.

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