When we left off, my crew of West Coast travellers and I had just passed through Barstow, California with our Lincoln MKT EcoBoost test vehicle, and took a detour off the main highway to snap a few pictures of it as the sun set over the Mojave Desert. It is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever had the privilege of photographing. Having captured the last remaining rays of sunlight in our lenses, we decided to get back on the road and complete the journey toward Las Vegas for the Holy Grail of automotive shows: SEMA.
We settled in for the remaining two hours of the trip, and by ‘settled in,’ I mean we started pumping Tiësto and Armin van Buuren and other equilibrium-shattering trance music through the MKT’s ten-speaker SYNC entertainment system. We were going to the biggest party city in America after all… we might as well get used to that same incessant oontz-oontz beat that just keeps going and going, set after set, hour after hour, right?
Though SYNC is a full-fledged computer and nothing less, it does have its limits, as we discovered. The navigation system was calculating our route, average speed, and time remaining while we continued assaulting our eardrums with redundant basslines streaming from our phones wirelessly over Bluetooth, or from the Sirius satellite radio network, or from an occasional song from the USB-tethered iPod. That much load on the SYNC system’s processor did freak it out, delaying navigation inputs and even causing it to freeze once, which it had to solve by rebooting itself. There’s nothing wrong with SYNC as an in-car operating system; it remains one of my favorite automotive user interfaces. But to keep up with us bandwidth-heavy A/V nerds, a memory upgrade is in order.
After stopping for dinner at the Zzyzx Road interchange, we prepared for the most difficult part of the drive: scaling two mountains. Interstate 15 passes through Baker, the last real town before entering Nevada, ascending to the 4100-ft Halloran Summit, and then it finally peaks at the 4800-ft Mountain Pass. The climbing wasn’t really all that taxing, neither for us nor the MKT; the grades coming from the west are around 3-4%. But the descent from Mountain Pass is a steep 6% that lasts for 6 miles. That kind of downhill slope for that great of a distance can be very intimidating for someone who’s used to 100-foot elevation changes like we are in Florida. Several gravel run-off roads were provided along the more treacherous corners of the interstate to give tractor-trailers an area to stop in an emergency should their brakes overheat or fail, and the same thing can easily happen in a passenger car if the driver rides the brakes all the way down.
Lucky for us, the Lincoln MKT was equipped with Hill Descent Control like the new Ford Super Duty pickup trucks. By using the transmission’s manual-shift mode and rev-matching feature, it provides extra engine braking by downshifting one or even two gears as soon as you hit the brakes. That assigns some of the responsibility of slowing the vehicle down to the drivetrain to prevent overheating of the brakes. With the Hill Descent Control and careful brake modulation, we made it down from the mountain safely, and without ever using the accelerator pedal once. For six miles.
Before we had actually completed the descent down Mountain Pass, though, we noticed a distinct glow standing out in the pitch-black darkness of the desert ahead of us. Though Las Vegas is still some 60 miles from Mountain Pass, it’s actually possible to see it from that high of an altitude during the night hours. Some describe it as a mirage, the difference being that it doesn’t go away the closer you get to it.
Las Vegas, in fact, only gets bigger and brighter the closer you get to it. Much, much brighter. Though the MKT we were driving had corner-adaptive HID headlights, it was evident they weren’t really necessary as we approached the Las Vegas Strip. In fact, even the mandated use of headlights on the Strip isn’t really necessary. We officially arrived on the Las Vegas Strip from the south side, and our hotel was on the north side… so, my very first experience of Las Vegas was indeed cruising the Las Vegas Strip in our Tuxedo Black Lincoln MKT EcoBoost.
As I was the one driving, it was unfortunately impossible for me to stand up on my seat and hang out of the enormous Panoramic Vista sunroof that was optional on our MKT screaming “I LOVE LAS VEGAS!” at the top of my lungs. That was okay though… my companions took care of that for me.
Check in next time as we finally arrive and check in ourselves at our hotel, the Stratosphere, and get ready for our first day at SEMA.
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