Holy shit, I’ve had so many bizarre adventures lately that I don’t even know where to start! I just got back from a doozy of a working road trip — from an abandoned brothel to a biker rally in Reno to a tradeshow in San Francisco, plus a day in an isolation tank at a New Age wellness retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains — and along the way I met so many kooky characters and fucking weirdos that I would have a really tough time shoehorning it all into one blog. So, I’m splitting it into two parts: I’ll address the biker rally and the other stuff in a few days; meanwhile, here’s what happened on my trip to Tonopah and Goldfield…and at the abandoned brothel!!
As mentioned in my last blog, a lady photographer friend hired me to take her out to an “unusual/photogenic spot” in the desert for a one or two day trip. Well if there’s one thing I know, it’s unusual/photogenic spots in the desert; the hard part was choosing one! I ended up suggesting we go check out Goldfield, NV — a weird little semi-ghost mining town about 3 hours north of Vegas that I pass thru every year on my way to/from Burning Man, but have never had time to stop and explore. It always looks so tantalizing as I pass thru — lots of rusty old cars and mining equipment, plus plenty of dilapidated old buildings; I was totally stoked for the opportunity to go check it out in detail!!
Meanwhile, there are few people I would rather make such a journey with; this lady photographer friend is simply amazing — a grouchy desk clerk at one of the more run-down no-tell motels on the north Strip, who also happens to be a chainsmoking ex-New York stand-up comedienne with a mild case of misanthropy. She tells it like it is, in language as salty or even saltier than my own, and truly doesn’t give a rat’s ass. In short, a woman after my own heart!
I picked her up at her apartment one Sunday morning in late September and we headed north up U.S. 95, straight into the heart of the windswept desolation that is central Nevada. A monsoonal thunderstorm had just passed, so the sky was scattered with clouds — an unusual sight around these parts, but absolutely perfect for photos (she’s a photojournalist, and you can see more of her amazing Vegas street photos at http://vegasimages.tumblr.com/). A clear blue sky is nice, but not very interesting for photos…ya know?
I took my role as tour guide very seriously, pointing out all the attractions we passed along the way: “There’s Creech Chair Force Base, where pimply-faced jug-eared recruits sit in darkened trailers all day jerking joysticks, blowing shit up halfway around the world in Yemen.” (I should know; I dated one of them.) “There’s the Goddess Sekhmet Fertility Temple, erected by some barren old hag who, while on vacation in Egypt, prayed to a statue of Sekhmet that if the Goddess would impregnate her withered old uterus, she would erect a temple in her honor out in the Nevada desert, just upwind from a U.S. Gov’t-sanctioned zone of death and destruction.” Ironic!!!
Then, just before we hit Goldfield, we stopped at a particularly interesting archaeological site: an abandoned brothel!
As mentioned in my last blog, before heading out on this trip I had tapped into the collective knowledge of my database of Facebook friends, asking if there was anything particular I should see while in Goldfield; one photographer friend tipped me off to this abandoned brothel. Apparently, despite (or maybe because of) its remote location, it used to be Howard Hughes’s brothel of choice…and since it had only been out of business 5 years or so, the place was still pretty much intact. So my lady friend — we’ll call her Ninotchka — grabbed her camera…and in we went!
***Note to photographers: this brothel is private property and is surrounded by a chain-link fence…so don’t even think of trying to trespass here!! Ninotchka and I were lucky and didn’t encounter any cops or homeless murderers…but you never know. Be advised!***
Going inside this brothel was a trip!!! The location is so remote that no one really fucks with it, I guess…so the place was pretty much as it had been left on the day the ladies vacated the premises; there was still a coffee can on the kitchen counter, and the mattresses and everything were still in the bedrooms, a thin layer of dust covering everything like a musty silk stocking. Just like at the abandoned Rock-A-Hoola water park, it was as if the decision to flee came suddenly.
You never know if a murderous methhead is lurking around the next corner in places like these, so you have to be careful! Neither Ninotchka or I had a flashlight, and I had lent both my stun guns to my friend Justin for one of his wacky pranks, so we were unarmed and in the dark…but we still ventured in, tiptoeing gingerly around the premises, looking for interesting artifacts and photos. I got a flyswatter and a swatch of the amazing Alphonse Mucha-print wallpaper as souvenirs 🙂
Some graffiti artists had been in there at some point, and the place was pretty busted up…but it wasn’t really that bad, considering how long it had been sitting there abandoned, the jizz-stained mattresses baking dry in the desert sun. We poked around in every room, and I insisted on getting naked and posing for a few photos while I was at it, Ninotchka obliging me despite her stringent warnings not to sit on anything. But my name is Wonderhussy for a reason — I ain’t skeered of no dusty old brothel mattress!
Anyhoo, after a few photos we climbed back in my truck and went up the road the rest of the way to Goldfield. As mentioned in my last blog, Goldfield was at one time a booming gold mining town — in the early 1900s it had a population of 20,000, making it the largest city in Nevada, and it even hosted a Lightweight boxing championship match between Joe Gans and Oscar Nelson that drew a crowd of 8,000. Once the mine ran out, however, the place dried up like that Sekhmet lady’s uterus…and these days fewer than 300 kooks, artists and hermits live out there, hunkered down in cabins and RVs and all manner of ramshackeldy desert fortresses. Fabulous!
Our first stop in Goldfield was this Junk Car Forest some artists had erected out there — basically, a patch of desert valley with a bunch of rusted-out clunkers buried nose-first in the sand, standing up like graffiti-covered metal trees. FAR OUT! This place is AMAZING, and is free to enter and take photos at. It would be an amazing spot for a photo shoot — anyone who wants to hire me, hit me up! This time of year is fabulous for outdoor shooting around these parts 🙂
After exploring the Junk Car Forest awhile, we rolled into downtown Goldfield to check out the Santa Fe Saloon, home of the alleged “World’s Meanest Bartender–” the one my friend had said was really bitchy to him when he asked about the Great Goldfield Flood of 1913. (He asked her “How did Goldfield flood if there’s no river?!” to which she snarled “Ain’t ya ever heard of fuckin’ rain?!” then muttered, “Take yer city money and spend it somewhere else!!”) I was really looking forward to experiencing her bitchy shtick, especially since Ninotchka can be pretty gruff herself and as an ex-New Yorker, doesn’t take no guff from no one. Would there be a fight?! I certainly hoped so! It’s been 108 years since Gans vs. Nelson — high time for more fisticuffs in Goldfield, I’d say!!!
The Santa Fe Saloon is off a side street, about 1/2 mile east of the highway…so they have a big billboard advertising the turn-off, and this billboard also advertises it as being the “Home of the World’s Meanest Bartender.” Hmmmm. That much ballyhoo reeks of carny shtick; was this bartender really mean? It appeared so; I went inside ahead of Ninotchka, who was outside taking photos, to ask if they served food. The bartender, a gruff, bespectacled woman with a no-nonsense haircut and a Chicago Bears sweatshirt, drawled, “I got some frozen pizza.” I was looking around agape at the astonishing display of old-timey bric-a-brac they have in there, so didn’t answer immediately, so she repeated herself, louder and angrier: “I GOT SOME FROZEN PIZZA.”
“Ah, ok! Thanks!” I scurried back outside and relayed this info to Ninotchka, who was delighted — so we both went in and ordered drinks at the bar. We were very polite, so the bartender was cool…but when Ninotchka asked if she could take her photo, she firmly declined: “I don’t allow my picture to be taken.” Fair enough!! But OMG, I accidentally captured this elusive creature on my cell phone, when I was taking some establishing shots of the saloon interior. Whoooooops! She didn’t see me though, so she didn’t freak out or anything. And honestly, at this point…I was pretty sure this “World’s Meanest Bartender” stuff was pure shtick.
Either way, after a drink, Ninotchka and I passed on the frozen pizza and soldiered on ahead to Tonopah instead, where we could get some real food and a room for the night. It’s only about 20 minutes farther north up the 95, so no biggie. We hit up the diner at the Tonopah Station Casino for some good-old-fashioned diner breakfast food, and chatted with the waitress, who used to work in the bomb disassembly plant up the road in Hawthorne, this creepy military town an hour farther up the road that is home to all the unwanted, retired munitions of the US Army. Seriously — the desert up there is dotted with dozens of bunkers built into the desert, each containing god knows what kind of explosives. WEIRD!
After dinner, we went over to the registration area for the hotel — speaking of carny shtick, they run this game out there where you can “ROLL THE DICE FOR A FREE ROOM!” The front desk has this little birdcage-type thing with three oversize novelty dice in it, and you spin the cage to roll the dice. If all three land on the same number, you get a free room. I personally know someone who has won before, so I know it’s not rigged….but neither Ninotchka nor I were lucky that night. But it was all good, as we didn’t really want to stay there anyway — we wanted to stay at the CLOWN MOTEL!!!!
OMG, this Clown Motel has been on my bucketlist forever — every time I drive by it (on my way to and from Burning Man each year) I literally start drooling with lust: a beat-up-looking old dive motel with clowns all over the facade, like they’re trying to scare away business instead of lure in customers. AWESOME! I love contrarian shit like that 🙂 That’s Tonopah for ya!
We drove into the parking lot in the dark, and it was really creepy: the manager’s office is a tiny little wood-paneled room chock full of hundreds and hundreds of clown figurines, clown dolls, Precious
Moments clowns and one or two extra-terrifying life-sized clowns sitting around in chairs. Kind of like your grandma’s house, if she lived in a double-wide out back behind the Barnum & Bailey Bail Bonds Office. YIKES!
Still, we asked for a double room. “Smoking or non-smoking?” asked the clerk. “Smoking,” Ninotchka replied (as previously mentioned, she is a chain-smoker…plus she had brought me two joints for my birthday, so we were looking forward to getting baked with those).
At this, the clerk handed us the key: “Why don’t you go check out the room first, then come back and let me know if you want it.” DOUBLE YIKES!! As mentioned, Ninotchka is the desk clerk at a super shitty motel herself…so she knew what he meant by that. But when we went over to check out the room, it wasn’t that bad: stained carpet, torn curtains, two black velvet paintings of clowns on the wall. I’ve stayed in worse…well, actually no I haven’t, but it was cool. (Note to future patrons: the smoking rooms are old and beat-up and haven’t been remodeled like ever. But the non-smoking rooms are updated, and presumably much nicer.)
So we took the room, and then walked next door to the historic Tonopah cemetery, where all the early pioneers are buried: victims of the flood, victims of the 1911 Belmont Mine Fire, victims of life in general (suicide, influenza,
eating library paste) (really!!). We got high among the old tombstones, then went back to the room, baked out of our gourds, and had a loooong discussion about Abba. Did you know Abba has a song about an escort agency? Ninotchka used to be the phone girl at an outcall service, so she knows all about it — in fact, she knows a ton of interesting stuff about the escorting biz, and has a lot of good
stories. In fact, the last time she came up U.S. 95 this way was in the company of a black pimp who was headed to buy weed in Portland — she accompanied him for the adventure, and had to pretend he was her servant when they tried to check into one of the rural redneck motels out there and met resistance (the rednecks weren’t going to rent them a room until Ninotchka dropped her suitcase and barked to the pimp, “Take my bags, boy!” Then they were welcomed with open arms.) (That’s Tononpah for ya.)
Anyhoo, the next morning we’d had enough slumming with the clowns, and headed back down into central Tonopah to have breakfast at the über-swanky Mizpah hotel. This hotel is simply astonishing — a grand old fully restored turn-of-the-century luxury hotel that is said to be haunted by a ghost called the Lady in Red. Alas, the hotel has been so meticulously and luxuriously restored that it’s a bit pricey to stay at…but it has a fabulous lobby area with an amazing, elegant bar, all filigreed robber-baron-chic. I wonder who the fuck stays there?! The rooms were about $150 I think, and this was a Sunday night in the off-season. Crazy!
We loitered a bit in the lobby, checking out this amazing collection of framed personal checks endorsed by various celebrities (my favorite was a check made out for $3 to “Valley Shoe Repair” in 1979 by Jamie Lee Curtis) and had breakfast in the cafe, then walked around checking out downtown Tonopah. There’s not all that much to see, but it’s a cool old town with a lot of history, so it’s definitely worth a visit — and the star-gazing is said to be exceptional, since it’s far from any urban light pollution. We even drove around and checked out all the back streets, too — we really covered that town!
Then we headed back down toward Vegas, stopping in one more time at the Santa Fe Saloon — and this time, the bartender was even less grumpy, so I’m saddened to report that her reputation is almost definitely 100% shtick. Booo! After drinks we stopped at this kooky art car museum on the highway in town, where some old Burning Man vet stashed all his old art cars when he retired to the desert. I had a long and interesting conversation with his daughter, who sort of runs the place, and she told me about a bunch of kooky desert shit including the story of this poor deluded shaman.
The story was sparked by this map they had hanging on the wall of the State of Nevada — the map was color-coded to show all the land that is privately held, vs. US Military land and BLM (Federal Bureau of Land Management) land. It was crazy — around 85% of the state was yellow (BLM land), with tiny pockets of white (privately held land) around Reno and Vegas. The other 13% was all US Military land — the big government base where they used to detonate atomic bombs and stuff (and which Area 51 is part of) stretches all the way from Vegas to Tonopah, pretty much! Nuts! I had no idea it was that big.
Well, one time not too long ago, this poor addle-brained shaman had a Vision that if he would only walk all the way from Hawthorne (the munitions bunker town) to Mercury (the base headquarters, down near Vegas), and if he would only plant a willow branch every mile or so, if any one of the willow branches took root and started to grow, world peace and harmony would ensue. So this poor fucker did it — he walked all that way, toting all those willow branches….and for what?! The Middle East is ready to blow, and Russia’s not far behind…not to mention the mess in Africa. WTF!
Anyhoo, after listening to that downer tale it was time to get the fuck out of there — I had to drive to Reno the very next day (for the bike rally), and that night I was also having a sort of birthday party at a local gay bar that I had to get to. (It was my birthday that day.) So we hauled ass back to town, and I dropped Ninotchka back at her apartment. But we had such a good time, and made such good traveling companions, that we decided we need to figure out a way to get some funding somewhere to do a tour of the entire state of Nevada — all the weird little towns in in the middle that everyone passes by, like Ely, Pioche, Caliente and Battle Mountain. Real fucked-up towns, ya know?!
Ninotchka was gonna try and pitch our road trip to some local magazines, but if they won’t fund it, I’m turning to you guys: I’ll do a Naked Nevada Kickstarter campaign, and go around posing nude in every Nevada town with a population over 5. There really aren’t that many towns, so I’d only need about $4,000 to do it — so watch out, that may be coming soon!!!
Anyway, I raced home, freshened up, and hit the “birthday” party — it wasn’t really my birthday party, but the local Burning Man community was having a get-together that happened to be on my birthday, so I sort of piggy-backed onto it to avoid the suicidally awkward unpleasantness of last year’s botched birthday “party.” It worked out great, since there were a couple others who also shared the same
b-day, and they got us a cake and everything. Awwww! Also, they had a costume exchange going on, so I was able to unload a bunch of leftover wacky shit from my garage sale. Winning!!
And then, the next day I headed back up the 95 again to Reno…but I’ll tell you all about that in a few days. STAY TUNED! 🙂