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From the Archives: Exploring the American Southwest in 1993

We're revisiting Shirley Slate and Harry Basch's RV roadtrip, complete with safari outfits, poetry readings, and seafood dinners in Tijuana

By Erin Meanley Glenny

Our quarterly travel section has grown in the last few years, both in page count and style, thanks to Senior Editor Archana Ram. A story we published on the American Southwest only 26 years ago illustrates just how much has changed in travel and how we cover it. For one thing, we actually recommended that readers call their travel agent.

In the October 1993 issue, “A Taste of the Wild” offers a quick tour of the Southwest, although writers Shirley Slater and Harry Basch didn’t technically visit every place they describe on one trip. The article begins with a coyote encounter outside the couple’s casita at The Boulders near Scottsdale. Next we meet a cactus wren and a red cardinal. (Not a spa concierge or food tour guide in sight.) They run into a lot more nature—plus some mule deer—before moving on to the Grand Canyon and mentioning a 9:30 steam train from Williams, Arizona (still in operation, but the departure time is now 30 minutes later).

Operating sometimes from their Winnebago motorhome and sometimes in greater luxury, Slater and Basch describe ski resorts in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, highlighting “gourmet skiers” in Deer Valley who feast on “smoked-shrimp quesadilla or shiitake mushroom-and-spinach lasagne.”

Then they meander over to Sin City, where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express has just opened at the Las Vegas Hilton, and Siegfried and Roy’s “elegant white tigers […] seem so at ease in their glass-walled habitat in the [Mirage] lobby.”

About to open in 1993 are two “super-colossal hotel projects,” the Luxor Hotel Casino, “shaped like a—guess what—pyramid,” as well as the 5,000-room MGM Grand. Slater and Basch place themselves on the outside looking in, not sure what to make of all the supersizing (a word that had just entered our lexicon the year before). “It’s not that we enjoy big loud casinos—we don’t even gamble—but the idea of seeing 3,500 slot machines lined up in one 171,500-square-foot casino is intriguing.”

They continue to marvel: “Thirty stories of emerald-green towers will loom over a 14-lane car entry outlined in fiber-optic lighting. (On second thought, maybe we won’t drive in—certainly not in the Winnebago.) The parking lot is tactfully described by one hotel official as ‘the size of the Excalibur Hotel.’”

Finally, they touch upon La Quinta and the Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park, ending on exotic naked mole rats. “Eat your heart out, Las Vegas.”

What first appears to be a glamour-shy exploration of the American Southwest has a colorful backstory. Slater and Basch are a married couple. They are former TV actors (she, bit parts on The A-Team, Dynasty, T.J. Hooker; he, Star Trek, Get Smart, Falcon Crest). Based in LA, they wrote regularly for San Diego Magazine, taking cruises, train trips, and more. They also cowrote the travel books Frommer’s Exploring America by RV and RV Vacations for Dummies.

And while we may rag on the seemingly outdated ways of the past, we’ll admit that everything old is new again. We’ll be publishing a road and train trips feature in our March issue, covering Southern California, the Central Coast, and yes, the Southwest and Vegas. Suddenly the Winnebago doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

From the Archives: Exploring the American Southwest in 1993

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