It was pure comedy gold.
In one corner: Wonderhussy…armed with 100,000 watts of Def Leppard, four bottles of cheap champagne and a stack of red Solo cups. In the other: a stretch limo full of dour Indian executives in town for CES. Some destination management dipshit had booked them a one-hour Vegas Strip tour, and my mission as hostess was to make sure they had FUN — of the “Vegas, Baby!!!” variety. Wooooo!
Talk about a challenge! I guess that’s why they called me — they knew there was only one woman for the job. And sure enough, despite the polite protestations (“Thank you but I do not drink!”), obvious lack of enthusiasm and probable exhaustion of my charges, I made sure those fuckers had fun — without blowing a single one of them. Mad skills, I tells ya!
Seriously though, I find this kind of manufactured merriment depressing as fuck: go to Vegas, get in a limo, blow out your eardrums, poison your liver — that’s Fun™! Disneyland, cruise ships, Hawaii…it’s all the same: Fun Places™ where people go to have Fun™, as dictated by the media and the Fun Industrial Complex; it’s more of a parody of fun than actual fun. And guess what? Your Fun™ is really just some douchebag corporation’s bottom line. Enjoy your McFun, fuckers!
New Year’s Eve is the worst for this. Most years, I cynically capitalize on the Fun-seeking masses by hiring myself out in some capacity — last year I served cotton candy to high rollers at a party at the Bellagio. But that turned out to be super depressing, so this year I opted to remove myself entirely from the equation, and get the fuck out of town. New Year’s Eve in Vegas is total amateur hour — 100,000 belligerent mooks and underdressed skanks coating the Strip in a sticky layer of piss, puke and pheromones. Screw that! Instead, I packed a bag and hauled ass into the hinterlands to spend the weekend far from the madding crowds…in one of my favorite lonely desert outposts, Tecopa.
If you’ve never been, Tecopa is a sunbaked collection of trailers and shanties clustered in the middle of a windblasted, lunar landscape just across the California state line, on the eastern edge of Death Valley. Thanks to a proliferation of natural hot springs in the valley, a few shabby little resorts have sprung up over the years, and people come from all over to take the “healing” waters and drink the mud, which is said to have one of the highest mineral contents in the world.
I don’t know about all that…I usually just go out to soak and party; the all-natural mudhole on the outskirts of town is one of the best places in the Western Hemisphere to shroom out. The water is hot, the mud is thick, and the sky is a ginormous bowl of stars; you can lie naked on a blanket and astral project from here to Uranus and back, all night long.
This time of year, however, it’s too chilly to really lay around naked in the desert…so my sister and I booked a cozy cabin atDelight’s, one of the resorts in Tecopa. A cautionary word: this is no “resort” in the Fun™ sense of the word. The rooms are shabby, the kitchens are decrepit, the mattresses are saggy and the bathrooms are spartan, to put it charitably. But the heaters work, the sheets are clean, and in my opinion the place has a quaint Bonnie-and-Clyde vibe. It’s as good a place to spend New Year’s as any — especially since it’s 90 miles from the idiocy afoot in Vegas.
The plan was to take mushrooms and party around a bonfire or something — several friends had ventured out for the night as well, so there was a sizeable group of us. One faction had signed up for the New Year’s Eve steak-and-lobster soiree over at the Tecopa Brew Pub, and the hippie contingent was across town at the new Death Valley Internet Cafe, streaming the Phish concert live from New York. I started out my night out with the hippies, since I don’t like beer — I’m not into Phish, either, but I am into the excellent fucking food they serve at the Internet Cafe! Two young guys from Vegas recently opened that place, and despite the unassuming name, they serve up the most amazing, high-quality foodie-food; the special that night was an amazeballs Beef Wellington. Seriously, if you’re passing thru eastern Death Valley, you must stop here for a bite; it’s that good, and the ambiance is unparalleled — totally Georgia O’Kesey, if ya know what I mean.
Anyway, around midnight all the various factions congregated around a bonfire for a few glasses of champagne and several tokes on the old pipe…but it was really a pretty mellow happening and not all that exciting, to be honest. I felt kinda bad, since my sister had driven all the way out from L.A…and it ended up being as anticlimactic as every New Year’s Eve, ever. But fortunately, things got way better!
The following morning, I woke up groggy as fuck, still high as a kite from the pot cookie I’d eaten the night before to help me sleep — that’s the trouble with edibles; you never know how long the effects will last. I hate being high first thing in the morning (especially on New Year’s Day), so I brewed up some black coffee to try and clear my head…but no sooner had I taken the first sip, when my friend Jag burst into the room asking if I wanted some mushroom tea.
Welllllll…..why not??? A group of us had planned another trip to Barker Ranch that day; sobriety wasn’t exactly essential. This time, we planned to approach via the eastern route, thru Death Valley, where we could attempt an overnight stay at the Geologist’s Cabin — an old stone volunteer cabin open to campers on a first-come, first-serve basis. This cabin is said to have a huge stone fireplace and a fully-stocked kitchen, full of 100-year-old pots and pans…and I’ve been dying to check it out!
So we packed up all our gear and headed eastward, intending to stop for a breakfast planning sesh at the Crowbar in Shoshone. Alas, a group of 10 European bikers had arrived just ahead of us, and the harried waitress informed us matter-of-factly that it would be an hour’s wait; I’ve never been impressed with the food or service at the Crowbar anyway, so this was really no surprise or disappointment, and we decided to just grab some muffins and coffee across the street at the Chas. Brown gas station and market, instead.
But astonishingly, that place was jam-packed as well — this was when the Powerball lottery jackpot was getting up there, so every half-assed Social-Security-sucking-senior-citizen from Pahrump had driven out to buy a ticket. (It’s true; despite the plethora of legal gambling options in Nevada, we have no lottery….so hordes of NV residents make the trip out to the CA stateline to buy lotto tickets whenever there’s a big pot. It’s truly bizarre; there are little quickie marts that cater specifically to lotto players just across the border in California, Utah and Arizona.)
Anyway, we finally got our meager breakfast and headed on our way. But no sooner had we turned off into Death Valley, than we were stymied again — this time, the main road we needed to take was closed off due to flood damage!! (Death Valley had historic rains back in October, which also screwed up my November Barker Ranch plans. D’oh!! Looks like I’ll never get to stay in that fucking Geologist’s Cabin!!)
So we all pulled over and had another planning sesh at the side of the road: me and my sister, my limo-driver friend Jag, and his neighbors — a super-cool off-roader couple who were driving an adorable little Suzuki Samurai, which they had hauled out from Vegas in their RV. Jag pulled out the first of many maps, and we all huddled around for a consult and a toke; since it looked like we wouldn’t be able to make Barker Ranch after all, it was decided we might as well just spend the day tooling around the backcountry, high as fuck!
Time to break out the mushroom tea, then! We passed around the bottle, taking a healthy swig or two apiece, and piled into two cars: Jag in the lead with my sister and I as passengers, and his neighbors following along in the trusty Samurai. We turned off the pavement onto the nearest dirt road, and headed deep into the heart of Nowhere for a leisurely Mojave Mystical Tour.
I’m here to tell you — driving around Death Valley in the winter sunshine, high as a kite, with the Beatles’ White Album playing on the stereo is nothing short of fan-fucking-tastic. A desert shroom cruise beats a Vegas Strip party limo ANY day of the week — if I’d have been able to take those Indian executives on this tour, they’d have enjoyed themselves 1000x more, guaranteed. In fact, if there was some legal way of starting a business where you gave your passengers drugs and then spent all day driving them around the desert in a minibus full of cushions and pillows with floor-to-ceiling windows and the Beatles playing on the stereo, you’d make a million bucks — GUARANTEED! Screw those Grand Canyon helicopter tours — this is the way to experience the desert.
We spent the entire afternoon cruising around dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, stopping every now and then for a powwow to consult our maps and to take another hit on the pipe and/or swig from the tea bottle. Jag had also brought along his old rifle, so some of us also took turns firing shots off into the desert: part Charlie Manson, part Zabriskie Point, part Happy New Year — 100% ‘Murica. Fuck yeah!
Sunset approached just as the shrooms were hitting their peak, and as luck would have it we happened to be right near the tiny little desert outpost of Death Valley Junction — home of the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, this bizarre, supposedly haunted old building where a 90-year-old ballerina from New York performs every Saturday night (she even painted murals of a fake audience on the walls of the opera house, in case no one shows up to watch her performance) . It’s a fantastic place — I’ve stayed there a couple times; and I definitely recommend it if you’re into weird desert shit.
I also recommend it if you’re shrooming out of your brains — especially at golden hour on New Year’s Day, with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. My friend Jag is classic Vegas, from an old school Italian showbiz family with excellent taste (his father was in Louis Prima’s backup band; his mother was a showgirl and one of the first female maître D’s in Manhattan, at the Windows of the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center) so he has excellent taste in food and drink, and only Veuve or better would do; we cracked open a bottle on the front porch of the Amargosa Opera House, and toasted the first fabulous sunset of 2016 in mad style. Viva La Vida! Viva Everything!!!
After polishing off the bottle, we wandered around the ruins of Death Valley Junction awhile — there’s an old abandoned Epsom salts processing facility, as well as a roadside Peter Lik pop-up gallery — and then finally piled back into our cars and convoyed back to the Death Valley Internet Cafe for another fantastic dinner, followed by a healing soak in the hot tubs at Delight’s. I had intended to drive home that night, but ended up bunking with my sister in the back of her 4-Runner — cozy as fuck, despite it being 30 degrees outside.
In the morning, I definitely intended to head straight home…but then Jag started talking about whiskey and coffee — a hardcore cowboy combo I’d somehow never really tried, but was now suddenly very thirsty for. Well, shit; it was only Saturday, and no one in our group had to work, so….it was all too easy to give in to the siren’s song of the desert, and keep the Mojave Mystical Tour rolling. So we packed up camp and headed back to the Internet Cafe for one more fantastic meal and a cup or two of whiskey-laced black coffee, and before you know it, Jag had laid out another fantastic itinerary for the day. I swear, that guy should be a cruise director!
Jag proposed we take the leisurely route back into Vegas, stopping along the way at Cathedral Canyon, then the Mountain Springs Saloon for one last drink, and then at a friend’s art studio on the outskirts of Vegas in Blue Diamond, before hitting a phở joint for dinner and finally, officially calling it a day. My poor sister was supposed to be heading the opposite direction, back to L.A….but found herself seduced into following the Pied Piper, at least for a little while longer.
Leaving Tecopa was hard enough; the Gypsy Time Travelers were wintering in town, and had their fantastical rig parked nearby, with a performance scheduled later that day which I would have liked to check out. Even worse, as we were heading to our cars we stopped to pose for some photos on an old stagecoach, and a gregarious and oddly charismatic local methhead happened along, tipping us off to all kinds of local wonders including a secret hidden bathtub-sized hot spring out in the desert, and a mountain shaped exactly like a 3-mile-long “corn-fed” woman — “ya can’t miss it!” This guy was amazing — I wish we’d run into him earlier, like maybe when we were shrooming! He would have been a great addition to our squad!
But finally we did break away, and all piled into our respective cars to convoy back toward Vegas. About halfway to Pahrump, just past the state line, we pulled off for a toke break at Cathedral Canyon — this decrepit old religious monument built back in the ’60s as a memorial for some poor guy’s dead daughter. Back in the day it was a real showpiece, lit by colored floodlights, with statuary and bathrooms and an Astroturf-covered suspension bridge spanning the canyon…but these days, the statues are mostly gone and the place is basically ruins. It’s still an eerie, evocative place to stop and drink a beer/smoke a bowl, though…so that’s what we did. It’s also the site of Quehoe’s grave; Quehoe, according to his grave marker, was the Last Renegade Indian of Nevada; he “survived alone” until 1919. As a half-breed, he never quite fit in himself, and was doomed to life as an outlaw, terrorizing the white settlers of the area; his grave was marked with decorative stones and a big, fat spliff. Far out!
Next on the tour, we continued along the Old Spanish Trail Highway and took the main road back to town, which goes up over the Spring Mountains before descending back into the Vegas valley. At the summit, we stopped in at the Mountain Springs Saloon — a sort of Wild-West biker bar in a small Ponderosa pine forest, just 20 minutes outside Vegas but a world apart. It’s one of those biker bars with dollar bills and bras stapled all over the walls and rafters, but they had a roaring fire going in the stone fireplace and the place was packed. What a party! We ordered up a round of whiskey and coffees, and before you know it we were back in the groove. Jag cranked up some David Bowie on the jukebox and I started chatting with some of the regulars; come to find out the bartender was a fan of my writing back from when I had a column in one of the local alt-weeklies. Small world!
Finally, my sister had to leave — it was faster/less traffic for her if she went back the way we’d just come, through Tecopa, so she very reluctantly broke away from the Mystical Tour and headed back home. The rest of us saddled up and continued on with our itinerary. Next stop: the tiny bedroom community of Blue Diamond, hidden in the canyons just outside Vegas, where Jag had an artist friend who’d invited us over to hang out in his studio for a while.
Holy hell, what an amazing place!!! I’d been to Blue Diamond before, but had never fully appreciated it; a collection of funky little houses right outside Vegas, but totally hidden from view by a low-lying mountain range, so it feels like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, tucked between Red Rock Canyon and Mountain Springs. It’s gorgeous; I need to get a place out there!!
Jag’s friend had a badass little studio with floor-to-ceiling views of the dramatic canyon escarpment, so we lit a fire in his potbellied stove and then lit a pipe, and spent a happy hour or two jamming away on his collection of musical instruments. The artist, whose name happened to be Phillip (Blue Diamond Phillip…get it?) played an acoustic guitar, and the rest of us took up drums, glockenspiel — whatever happened to be handy! I myself jingled my keychain, which made a really cool rain-stick-type sound, and we all danced around in the fading light, watching the sun set in the canyon. Blue Diamond Phillip and I bonded over our love of old-school physicist/bon vivant Richard Feynman — who, incidentally, would have been an excellent addition to our squad. If there’s one person from history I wish I could have met, it’s Richard Feynman; not only was he a mind-bendingly brilliant physicist, but he was also a concert-level bongo player (no joke) who had a lust for adventure and a fondness for drawing nude models. Plus, he was hot as hell!!
Anyway, the sun went down and we finally piled into our cars to cruise back into Vegas proper. What a great two days! I didn’t want it to end, but we all had to get back to the real world: Jag had to be up at 5am for his shift driving New Year’s revelers to the airport from a certain upscale Strip hotel, and I had to get ready for CES — the Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest and most loathsome tradeshow of the year, where I’d been booked to work as a booth model for a Chinese tech firm. The others had to get back to real life, too, so we made one final stop for a delicious Vietnamese dinner, and then said our good-byes.
But what an amazing way to start off the new year! Since coming back into town I’ve been mired in tradeshow hell pretty much every day; it’s the busy season for that type of work, so I’ve been making hay while the sun shines, so to speak — socking away cash while I can, biding my time until I can finally get away from the shitty fluorescent lighting and canned air, back out into the wide open spaces of my beloved desert. I can’t wait to resume the Mojave Mystical Tour!
And if you yourself are interested in such a tour, contact me for booking 🙂
Missed it, wish I had joined you. Just sat at home ate filet minion and drank crystal.
SJ you are fabulous.
We’ll do it again….u can come next time 🙂
Your distaste for “McFun” reminds me of the essay David Foster Wallace wrote, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Just replace you Vegas New Years with his cruise voyage.
Georgia O’Kesey – hahaha – I don’t think I know what you mean. Best I can come up with is it’s a psychedelic vagina-flower that drives a bus and hates Nurse Ratched.
YES! I would like to sign up for S.J.’s Shrooms in the Desert Ride Along Adventure.
that’s EXACTLY what I meant! 🙂
And I have read that DFW essay…it was ok!
Thank you for sharing another wonderful adventure!
I hope to share many more…stay tuned!
WH, I notice from your reading list that you have read “Helter Skelter” Vincent
Bugleosi’s (sp) account of the Manson Family. I would like to recommend what
I consider the best book on Manson et. al., “The Family” by Ed Sanders. If you can,
get a hold of the First Edition as later editions leave out some information about
“The Process”, due to a lawsuit by them. From Wikipaedia:
“In 1971, Sanders wrote The Family, a profile of the events leading up to the Tate-LaBianca murders. He attended the Manson group’s murder trial, and spent time at their residence at the Spahn Movie Ranch. There have been two updated editions of The Family, the most recent in 2002. The Process Church of the Final Judgement sued Sanders’s U.S. publisher for defamation over a chapter linking them with Manson’s activities. The case was settled by the publisher, who removed the disputed chapter from future editions. The Process Church then sued Sanders’s British publisher, but lost the suit and were forced to pay the defendant’s legal fees.”
If you do read it let me know what you think.
I have read The Family…..a long time ago, so I don’t remember much. I’ve read most of the books on Manson, and while I certainly don’t buy the “Helter Skelter” version 100%….I haven’t seen anything to convince me of anyone’s innocence.
desolate deserts and abandoned towns are the best to escape Fun(TM). one of my best NYE ever was in Randsburg just off Hwy 395. Partied in the only place in town called “The Joint” run by a 90-yr and her two “kids” (who were in their 60’s). Celebrated HNY at 9pm coincident with the times square celebrabrations in NYC, then me and 2 other people i’d met at The Joint went over to the house of one of the 50 residents in town to continue the party, howling to the other partiers across town, and watching the fireworks from the OHV crowd partying it up near Trona pinnacles. Next morning my new friends and i went to hike around Fossil Falls further up 395, and I ended the day soaking in a hotspring by Crowley Lake, surrounded by 1ft of snow and watching a storm build over the Sierra Nevada to the east. Best f**king new years in a long time!!!
That sounds EPIC!!!! I’m jealous! 🙂
I have been to “The Joint” in Randsburg. I still have a bottle opener from there. We of course smoked the requisite joint outside. Many bizarre places to explore out in the vast desert. The solitude and stars are all one could ask for on a road trip.
Love Randsburg! That whole area is full of such interesting stuff…
NYE parties up around Chicago weren’t too impressive either. ‘S why I always went
down to central Illinois for NYE. Didn’t do any weed or ‘shrooms…but did have an ol’ pal who had a still out back…and another who had an ol’ van. He found out that van could
sit on railroad tracks. Hell, he didn’t even have to air the tires down. He’d just line ‘er up at a grade crossing and off we’d go(8-). You should have seen us one night! There was frost on the rails and the hindmost wheels of the van slid off the rails. It must have
looked funny…six drunk assholes looking for wood blocks to drive up on. But we found some and ramped back up onto the rails(8-).
Now that actually sounds like some fun! No need for fancy parties, sometimes just hanging out in the woods is the best best 🙂