I’ve lived here in Vegas for almost 15 years, and although I’ve explored southern Nevada more than most residents…I still felt like I was missing out. Nevada is a HUGE, vast state, and even my wandering ass had only really ever made occasional forays into the wilds outside of the U.S. 95. corridor between Vegas and Reno. I just knew there was some fucked-up shit out there, and I was super excited to explore it!
Now, a huge chunk of central Nevada is a no-go because it belongs to the U.S. Gov’ment as part of the Nevada Test and Training Range (you know, where they used to test aboveground nukes back in the day, and where Area 51 is). So my initial itinerary called for us to circle all around this no-man’s-land, heading up the 95 to Gerlach and Winnemucca, east over to Elko and Ely, and then down along the 93 back to Vegas. However, the weather turned nasty as fuck, and it ended up being too freakin’ cold up north for us to camp or even really enjoy ourselves exploring. So we amended our itinerary and made this a Southern Nevada trip…with the second Northern half to come later this year, when the weather warms up!
NOTE: I have a TON of photos from this trip posted on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wonderhusssy…so check that out, cuz I can only post so many here. Also, in keeping with my New Year’s resolution to start making more videos, I recorded several shitty travelogues along the way as well, which are all at www.youtube.com/wonderhussy. Please excuse their crappiness; I was learning as I went. The sound is shitty on some of them, and my hand isn’t as steady as it could be. But I’m learning!!!
Anyway, my trip started sort of unofficially with this photo shoot I had booked out at Death Valley…which technically isn’t part of Nevada, but it’s so close to the border that it might as well be. This awesome photographer from the SF Bay Area had hired me to pose for some super arty night sky stuff — he normally goes out with a startracker and does really bad-ass long exposures of the stars and whatnot, but he got the idea to add a nude model into the mix, so that’s where I came in.
I met him out at the ever-fabulous Amargosa Opera House hotel, right on the border of Nevada and California, where he had gotten us both rooms for the night so that we could stay out late shooting and then just come back and crash, without having to drive all the way back to Vegas. Nice! I’ve stayed in that hotel before, and it’s old as balls, crusty as fuck… and SUPER BAD ASS! They say it’s haunted, if you believe that kind o’ claptrap…but all I know is that it’s very atmospheric and quirky. It was originally owned by this eccentric ballerina from New York who retired there, and who even now at the age of 90 or so still performs occasionally in the adjacent Opera House. She even painted a mural of a fake audience on the wall, for those times when there was no one around to watch her dance. I love it!!
Anyway, I dug the shit out of this photographer the minute I first saw him sitting in the lobby, hunched over his laptop trying to buy Burning Man tickets. As you may know, the first chunk of Burning Man tickets went on sale Feb. 18, when something like 80,000 people logged in all at once to buy 40,000 tickets. Supply way exceeded demand, so a lot of people were left disappointed…even after sitting there on their laptops for an hour or more, trying to get through. Apparently, some tech-savvy douchers hacked the system and sneaked in ahead of the line to scoop up a number of the tickets…but the rest were bought the honest, old-fashioned way: by regular douchers and dickheads who don’t plan to contribute anything to the festival, but who just wanna go ogle naked chicks and fistpump. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! I personally know several people who fit into this category, and the balance is tipping so much these days that I honestly believe Burning Man is getting ready to jump the shark (you might say it already did). Anyway, I did get my own tickets as part of this art project I help out with every year…but I still need a vehicle pass, so if anyone has an extra one, hit me up (they’re trying to limit the number of cars/pollution from people driving up there, so they only issued a small number of car passes, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to drag my trailer up there now).
As it happened the poor photographer wasn’t able to get tickets, but he wasn’t really stressed over it since he’s been going to Burning Man on and off since like 1995, so he knew what the fuck was up. Anyway, he was a super cool dude and we hit it off right away — one of those emaciated, artsy Tom-Waits-type fuckers with a bushy head of fabulous gray hair and a penchant for Art and Adventure. A kindred spirit for sure!
We cruised around Death Valley all afternoon, shooting at this AMAZING little oasis called Darwin Falls, up behind Panamint Springs, where there’s a lush, semi-tropical little pool and waterfall year-round — even in the midst of the brutal, searing Death Valley summer. That place was amazing!
Then, once the sun went down we headed over to the low, rolling Mesquite sand dunes for the night sky stuff. The weather was pretty nice, fairly balmy, and I had my fabulous fuzzy new hot springs robe to keep me warm in between shots, so it was really pretty comfortable. The only bummer was, I forgot to bring some booze/weed/shrooms — of course I had no way of knowing I would hit it off so well with this photographer, so I hadn’t packed any…but it would have been wonderful to sit out on the dunes under the stars drinking wine and getting high.
As it was, we had so much fun shooting and talking that we got totally lost trying to hike back to the car in the darkness, and ended up walking along the highway for two miles, me in my bathrobe like Jeff Lebowski, him in this woolen peacoat and fedora like R. Crumb. This kooky old Brazilian photographer out in the dunes told us he’d been trying to wave at us with a flashlight to let us know we were walking the wrong direction, but we were so busy chatting that we never noticed. Oh, well — it’s never a bad thing to burn extra calories!
When we got back, we shot some more nudes in the hotel room and then sat out front of the hotel on this little patio, smoking and drinking and listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version of “Fanfare for the Common Man” late into the night. FAR OUT!!! It was one of the most surreal, and most fun, photo shoots I’ve ever been on. That guy is legit as fuck, and I can’t wait to shoot with him again!
Anyway, the next morning I was feeling pretty rough, but after chugging some coffee and bidding adieu to Tom Waits, I cruised back into Vegas by way of Pahrump, met my sister at my house, and we officially started our road trip around the Great State of Nevada. IT WAS ***AMAZING***!
From Vegas, we headed up U.S. 95 north, making a brief stop at the Sekhmet fertility temple to ask the Goddess for a blessing on our travels. While there, I finally got to meet the Priestess herself, this wonderful woman in a purple top who lives out there and cares for the shrine. She invited us to come back for one of the ceremonies they have out there, like the upcoming Beltane or the Spring Equinox, when a bunch of women all get together and chant and burn shit and whatnot. It sounds fabulous!
Then we continued up north toward Beatty, stopping for a late lunch and veering off on a side road to check out a ghost town one of the locals had told me was up a dirt road at the base of Yucca Mountain. You know Yucca Mountain — the site where they plan to store all the U.S.’s nuclear waste in the near future? Well, shit! I didn’t realize how close it is to Vegas — only about 90 miles, just outside Beatty. YIKES! Oh well, I guess they have to store it somewhere — and as I was about to learn on my road trip, central Nevada always ends up being the dumping ground for that kinda shit. The gov’ment doesn’t care about the random collection of kooks and rednecks out there!
Anyhoo, I never did find a ghost town up there — just a lonely old hunting cabin, so we continued on our way north toward Goldfield, stopping for a few sunset photos at the Junk Car Forest, and then continuing north thru town to camp out overnight at the fabulous, isolated little Alkali Hot Springs. I wasn’t sure camping was allowed at the springs, but the super-friendly kooky hippie lady at the Goldfield Visitors’ Center assured us that it was OK — the springs are technically on private property, but the guy who owns them doesn’t mind people camping there so long as they clean up after themselves. Awwww!
We set up camp by the springs and proceeded to enjoy a fabulous sunset soak, with the most amazing wintry landscape before us. When it got dark, my sis busted out a candle and these amazing colored glowing floaty balls she bought me as a gift — you set them in the water, and they float around the pool adding ambiance. Awesome! We soaked for awhile, then had a campfire and then crashed out pretty early. No one bothered us — it was a fairly quiet place to camp, except for the road leading to some mine nearby was pretty busy with truck traffic until about 8pm. After that it was very peaceful.
In the morning, I was enjoying a peaceful sunrise soak when this wild-haired old man showed up out of nowhere, asking very timidly if I was going to be much longer. I guess he was nervous because I was naked, but I just invited him in to join me in the tub, and when my sister woke up we all three enjoyed a nice, friendly soak with some excellent conversation. I just love the kinds of people you meet at hot springs — and the kinds of conversations you have! This guy was amazing — a vandweller with severe PTSD who can’t stay in any towns that have modern cars, the kind with alarms that go off when you open the door, because it sets off his PTSD. So he sticks to backwoods little towns where people drive old clunkers — like Goldfield! He had been camping out by the Alkali springs for a couple of months now, and he was a real fount of information — he told us that some Goldfield residents who don’t have indoor plumbing use Alkali hot spring as the town bathtub, coming out there to soap up and shave and everything!! YUK! But I guess someone also comes to scrub it out every now and then, because it was a pretty clean little pool. I recommend soaking here 100%!
After we finished soaking, he invited us across the valley to his camp, which he had set up near an abandoned old corral. He served us some super-crappy instant coffee and gave us some advice on filing mining claims — we met more miners on this trip; apparently backcountry Nevada is full of busy little beavers pecking and digging and gouging at the earth, trying to pry loose its sweet, sweet minerals. He also tipped us off to these amazing hot springs down in New Mexico that he said we could all go in on together, and buy from out under the current owner, some lady with whom he had a grievance over an unpaid debt. I took his cell number and told him I’d think about it.
Next, my sis and I headed back into Goldfield for some REAL coffee at the Dinky Diner, and then kinda bummed around town for a bit, looking at all the kooky art and artifacts laying around everywhere. That town is like a mini Jerome, AZ — full of artsy kooks. I love it! We also spent quite a bit of time chatting with the proprietor of this rockhound/gold panning souvenir shop
on the northern outskirts of town, who gave us a fairly in-depth lesson in gold mining, peppering his lecture with references to “Orientals” and “slant-eyes” before offering us a couple of Chick tracts. If you don’t know, Chick tracts are these SUPER-creepy little comic books that hardcore Christian evangelists hand out, trying to convert you from your sinful life of heavy metal/drugs/alcohol/greed/etc. I’ve collected them for years because they’re SO weird, but this guy was completely serious when he gave them to us, informing us that none other than the Holy Ghost had sent us to him to receive this message. That guy was a trip, but we burned those goddamn Chick tracts in the campfire that night. I prefer to keep to my current path of sin, thank you!!
After touring the evangelist miner’s stepdaughter’s new cafe that she’s about to open at the north end of town, my sis and I headed further north, for a late lunch at the fabulous grand old Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, where we had (what else but) Miner’s Stew, served steaming hot in these amazing bread bowls. OMG I have rarely eaten such a delicious meal — seriously, it was amazing! Again, as on our Arizona trip, we were trying to be cheap by eating only one meal a day, and camping for free whenever possible — so to that end, we next headed west toward the NV/CA state line to camp for the night at the barren, desolate Fish Lake Hot Springs, out in the scrubby desert near the town of Dyer. But before leaving Tonopah, we stopped in at the Tonopah Station, where you can roll the dice for a free hotel room — they have this cage at the front desk with three oversized novelty dice in it, and you flip the cage to roll the dice. If all three come up the same number, you win a free room for the night! So we thought we’d better at least try to win a room before heading out to camp. Of course, we lost — so camping it was.
But if you have to camp out, might as well be a badass place like Fish Lake Springs! It’s basically a big warm pond with an adjacent concrete soaking tub full of hot water, with some BBQ grills and a vault toilet nearby….in the middle of this vast, desolate valley. Not the most atmospheric soak, but still cool in its own way. I’d been there once before, last year with my frenemy Alex, and had always wanted to camp there…so I finally got my wish. We were really lucky with the weather — I guess it gets pretty windy out there, being as it’s located in the middle of a V A S T, barren valley…but on the night we camped, it was calm and pretty nice. Cold as fuck, though — there was snow on the mountains all around, and I had to add extra peppermint schnapps to my cocoa and put HotHands in my socks in order to sleep. But I survived!
Fish Lake’s soaking policy is sort of play-it-by-ear, textile-wise — after dark, we soaked in the nude with this cool Canadian snowbird couple, but in the morning we wore bikinis because there was a family with kids camped nearby, and we didn’t want to piss anyone off. Whatever! I really hate having to tote around a soggy bikini, especially in winter….but it was worth it. We had a great morning soak, then headed back out on the road toward our next destination — these remote hot springs in the mountains outside the town of Hawthorne. (Nevada has a TON of natural, undeveloped hot springs…so we aimed to hit as as many as possible on this trip.)
Hawthorne is this über-creepy little town in the middle of nowhere, NV that owes its existence to a U.S. Army Depot base that doubles as a munitions storage facility — they store the ammo in dozens of creepy, molehill-like bunkers in the desert all around town, and it’s all very Twilight Zone. The town milks the jingoist shtick by billing itself as the “Most Patriotic Town in America,” and indeed, everywhere you look it’s Red-White-n-Blue, Stars-n-Stripes. But overall, it’s a pretty bleak, blighted little outpost; I pass thru every year on my way to and from Burning Man, and I’ve always been fascinated by it. Since the weather forecast was for snow and sub-20-degree temperatures, we decided to bail on camping and get a cheap room in town for the night, and do a little investigating. But first, we headed into the mountains looking for these hot springs.
Walker Warm Springs are located in the eastern Sierra near the CA/NV state line, in the mountains west of Hawthorne and east of Yosemite. I had the GPS coordinates, but following them took us waaaaay out into this SUPER-remote valley, miles and miles from anything, and I lost my signal and couldn’t figure out where we were after awhile. We finally came across these two adventure-bro-types in a lifted pickup who told us that they had tried going to the same springs, but that the road was impassable, so we’d better give up (even though my sis has a 4×4 SUV)…so with much gnashing of teeth, we agreed we’d better just turn around and go back into town. Boooo! I hate giving up!!!
So we cruised back to Hawthorne and got a room for the night. The local casino, the El Capitan, is under renovation and is apparently becoming quite uppity, because they wanted $60 for a room that night!! We thought we could do better, so we headed up north of town to nearby Walker Lake, this huge bright blue lake out in the middle of the desert that has a really cool, crumbly old nautical-themed resort on the shore that I’d always wanted to check out. The whole scene was totally Twilight Zone — this huge, vast lake in the middle of nowhere, that no one ever uses, and which is said to have a secret tunnel at the bottom leading all the way to the Pacific Ocean by way of Malibu, thru which the U.S. Gov’ment transports top-secret USOs (that’s Unidentified Submerged Objects)…and then this shitty, crumbling motel on the shore. Alas, no one was at the front desk, and despite our repeated phone calls and buzzer-ringing, no one ever showed up. So we resigned ourselves to staying back in Hawthorne proper.
Back in town, we got a room at the super-cracky-looking Sand-n-Sage Lodge. The price was right, and the man at the front desk was SUPER friendly and cool — this sprightly, toothless little imp who made us feel right at home, even calling us in our room later that night to let us know that he’d be making breakfast at 7am. Talk about hospitality! The room itself was pretty gnarly, but clean enough — you can see for yourself in this video I made (remember, my video skills are VERY rudimentary, so bear with me as I figure this shit out):
Anyway, we chatted with the front desk guy for quite awhile — he confirmed the Walker Lake tunnel theory, going so far as to claim that “no one” has ever seen the bottom of that lake, it’s so deep — and then we headed to the El Capitan for some nasty-ass, greasy-spoon diner food. Then we headed across the street to the fabulously patriotic-looking Joe’s Tavern for a nightcap.
What a cool place!! I was afraid it was gonna be one of those surly locals’ bars that don’t take kindly to traveling big-city types, but I was very wrong — the bartender was cool as fuck, helping me figure out a palatable drink utilizing apple pie schnapps, and the other clientele were also exceptionally friendly. We met this cool black couple who had met and married in town — the guy was Wayne Newton’s bodyguard’s nephew, but moved to Hawthorne to be near his mom, and the woman worked at the US Army Depot. They both loved Hawthorne, even though they filled us in on the town’s racist history, when black people weren’t even allowed in the El Cap. But times changed, and in fact that’s where they met — dancing at the El Cap! What a cool couple — they kept offering to buy us drinks, but we were pooped so we headed back to to Sand-n-Sage pretty early and zonked out.
The next morning we got up super early to avail ourselves of the desk clerk’s breakfast spread. I tiptoed into the office to help myself to some coffee — I didn’t want to wake him, as his living quarters are right behind the office, but I think he waited all night for me to come in because the second I opened the door he magically appeared, all rumple-headed in his jammies, and kept me company as I ate and drank. What a nice man — I mean seriously! At the time of my stay there were only one or two other rooms occupied, so I guess he was lonely; he can’t leave the motel because he’s the only one in charge of the front desk, which is open 24/7, and the owner moved all the way to Reno, so she’s no help. I don’t think he ever gets a day off :/
After breakfast, my sis and I headed back into the mountains, determined this time to find those fuckin’ hot springs — ain’t no way two bros in a truck are gonna kill MY adventure, dammit!!! This time we had different directions, from a book, and we decided to take the road as far as possible and then just hike in once it got too burly. We needed the exercise anyway, after that gross-ass diner food the night before.We made it pretty far, to the point where it was only about another 3 miles or so…and we decided to just hoof it the rest of the way. But first, we busted out the camp stove and made some hot cocoa with plenty of peppermint schapps to fortify us — it was COLD as FUCK up there in those mountains, with snow on the ground (not enough, however, to melt for our cocoa water).
Sure enough, after about three miles of hiking down into this desolate wintry valley, we passed an old mine, a rusted-out schoolbus, some bloody cow entrails….and then at last came upon the Walker River, and this fabulous little stone soaking pool!! It was one of the most beautiful, isolated little soaking tubs I’ve ever seen — technically only 37 miles from Hawthorne, but they were 37 burly-ass miles. Although, apparently the Hilton sisters have been known to soak there, as their family owns a ranch nearby….so I guess it’s not that bad ass :/
Alas, however, it was SUCH a freezing cold day that we couldn’t get the pool heated up warm enough to actually soak in — so we just kinda got our feet wet, and then headed back up the trail to our car. Oh, well — it was still a fun hike! Here’s another shitty video I made showing the hike:
Next we planned to head up north to the tiny town of Austin, near the geographical center of Nevada, around which are clustered a shit ton of hot springs. But first, on our way out of town we stopped at the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum — a crazy collection of kooky bombs and weapons and shit that is out of this world!!! I’m here to tell you, that town is ALL kinds of fucked-up…but I love it! I definitely recommend stopping there if you’re ever passing thru that way.
Before heading out to Austin, which is very isolated and remote, we stopped in the fair-sized metropolis of Fallon to stock up on HotHands and schnapps and stuff, because we still planned to try and camp out at some point — even though the low that night in Austin was supposed to be about 18 degrees! It was around then that we aborted mission on exploring the northern part of the state — we decided to postpone that part for warmer weather, and focus on southern and central NV for this trip. We figured we could do one or two more motel nights up in the central area, then head back down south to warmer climes in the Mojave desert for more free camping.
So anyway, after taking advantage of being in a decent-sized city by getting some non-greasy-spoon food at an awesome Vietnamese place in Fallon, we headed east along US 50 — a/k/a The Loneliest Road in America. This highway is SO
desolate — at least the part between Fallon and Austin, and actually all the way to Delta, Utah — that the local communities decided to just roll with it and milk the lonely shtick as hard as possible. You can even get a “Loneliest Highway Survival Guide,” and have your “Loneliest Road Passport” stamped at the various podunk little towns along the way. FUN!!!
It was getting dark, and it was freezing, so we didn’t have time nor inclination to stop along the way at some of the awesome, lonely sites — Pony Express trail stops, salt flats, and this AMAZING-looking little bar with a lighted neon sign in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. I have to go back there sometime in the summer — it’s all BLM land up there, so you can camp for free!!! But because it was so cold and gloomy, we hauled ass straight for Austin, and got a room at the very aptly named Cozy Mountain Motel.
What a difference from the Sand-n-Sage!! This motel was the same price, but a world apart in coziness and cleanliness (I don’t mean to bag on the Sand-n-Sage; it was fine, but the Cozy Mtn Motel was AMAZING). So even though it was around 18 degrees that night, we were snug and warm — no HotHands needed!
In the morning, we got up and went
across the street for coffee at the International Hotel and Cafe — this AMAZING old building that had been built from the charred wreckage of the original International, over in Virginia City. The original International had been a seven-story palace where even Lillie Langtry performed, and in fact where the concept of the “Red Carpet” was invented (Miss Langtry didn’t want to get her dress muddy crossing the street, so they unfurled a roll of carpet for her that happened to be red), but it burned down in the silver boom years and they shipped the wreckage out to Austin, where they slapped together this new joint. It was an amazing place — one side was a saloon, with this ornate carved wooden bar that had been shipped “around the horn” all the way from London back in the day. The other side was a cafe, which is where we went for coffee.
When we entered the cafe, the frazzle-haired old proprietor was sitting at a table pontificating on terrorism and Muslims and whatnot. I guess he didn’t feel like getting up, so he told us to help ourselves to coffee — “behind the bar; cups are over there.” Nice! The only other person working there was busy cooking breakfast for this group of Aussie roadtrippers, and I guess they’re looking to hire a waitress…so for the meantime, we had to serve ourselves. I even stepped in and refilled everyone’s coffee, at one point — far out; I always wanted to know what it’s like to be a truck-stop waitress!! It beats being a lot lizard, I’ll tell you that!
After a few cups of coffee, the grizzled proprietor, Vic, gave us a tour of the saloon and chatted with us for awhile, asking us where we were off to next. We told him we were going to check out Spencer Hot Springs, right outside town, and he said he’d try to come out there and join us…but alas, he never did. Boooo! He was an amazingly crusty old kook, and I would have loved nothing more than to have had a nice long soak and conversation with him. Oh, well….another time, for sure!!
So anyway, we left town and headed out to Spencer Hot Springs, just south of US 50 near the NV 376 junction. WHAT AN AMAZING PLACE!! Kinda like the hot springs off the 395 near Mammoth Mountain in CA, these hot springs are located in a huge meadow that is dotted with a bunch of all-natural hot soaks, with snow-capped mountains all around. GORGEOUS — and again, it’s all BLM land, so in better weather you could camp out there for FREE!! I definitely plan to go back there in the summertime — it’s amazing.
There are three main tubs at Spencer, so we headed for the hottest one, where this lonely, hardy Canadian guy was camped out en route from a hockey tournament in Vegas to his home in the Bay Area. This guy was so hardcore, he hadn’t even bothered to put up his tent the night before — just slept in a sleeping bag with a woolen blanket inside, under the stars. Holy shit!! It was cold as FUCK out there — that guy was NUTS! We asked him if he minded us soaking with him — sometimes people just want to soak in solitude, ya know? — but I guess two naked chicks rolling in out of nowhere probably made his day. He turned out to be really cool, and we enjoyed a nice long soak with him, with some very pleasant conversation.
In the afternoon, we got out and dried off and headed on our way, driving a bit farther south to try and find this other soak in the area called Diana’s Punch Bowl, which is said to run out of the top of this cinder-cone type volcanic formation. It sounded badass…but alas, we ran low on gas before we could find it, and had to abort mission and head back down south to Tonopah I hate it when that happens! This is why I need a big, badass desert 4X4 rig, with jacked-up off-road tires and a 50-gallon gas can strapped to the back. Dangit!!!
Since we were back in Tonopah anyway, we decided to do one more motel night at the fabulous Clown Motel — always a fun place to stop over. But first, we went back to the Tonopah Station to roll for a free room again, just in case…and we both lost again (You might think the dice are rigged, but I have a friend who swears he won a free room once.) So, Clown Motel it was — I stayed there back in September, in one of the beat-up old smoking rooms, and it was pretty gross…but this time we got a nonsmoking room, and it was fine — somewhere between the Sand-n-Sage and the Cozy Mountain Motel. See for yourself:
Because we had a nonsmoking room, we headed to the graveyard next door to smoke a joint before going to bed. While there, I decided to look for the legendary tombstone of this early pioneer who supposedly died eating library paste (!?!). My sis and I stumbled around that graveyard in the freezing cold dark for at least an hour, but never did find that tombstone (I later found out it’s actually in the Goldfield cemetery)….but, at least I got some fresh air and was able to make another one of my shitty practice videos:
The next morning it was still FREEZING as FUCK outside, so we decided to head south at once — but first, a brief detour north to the old ghost town of Belmont, where it is said the Manson Family hung out for awhile just before committing the murders in L.A., when they were cruising around the desert trying to find a hidey-hole. Apparently they left some graffiti on the courthouse wall in Belmont, and we thought that would be pretty cool to see, so we cruised up to check it out. Belmont itself was pretty cool, but deserted…and alas, there was no one around to let us into the courthouse so we could check out the Manson Family graffiti. (They are trying to restore the courthouse, so they keep it locked up tighter than a nun’s….well, you know.) Boooooooo
From Belmont, we headed back down south to U.S. 6, which goes all the way from Plymouth Rock, MA to Bishop, CA (it used to go all the way to Long Beach, and was the longest highway in America!). We took U.S. 6 east to where it meets up with NV 375, a/k/a the Extraterrestrial Highway, intending to head south from there to Rachel, NV – home of the Little A’Le’Inn and the closest outpost to the top-secret government base at Area 51.
But before heading south on the Extraterrestrial Highway, we stopped at the junction with U.S. 6 because a friend had tipped me off to an amazing abandoned hot springs resort right there off the highway!!! This friend had in turn been tipped off by some locals in Rachel, who told him that the “KEEP OUT” signs could be safely ignored, and that it was a great place to soak. Boy, WAS IT EVER!!!!!!!!!
OMG, I have rarely (if ever) been to such an amazing place — right out in the open, in the middle of this vast, sunbaked desert valley, right at the intersection of two lonely, very infrequently traveled highways, this crumbling old hot springs resort sat fading in the winter sun. There was an abandoned old bar & grill, right down the way from a beautiful hot springs pool and changing rooms…all just sitting there, empty. I don’t understand how it ever got enough traffic to be profitable — when I say it’s in the middle of nowhere, I mean it’s in the middle of N O W H E R E ! ! ! ! See for yourself in this somewhat-less-shitty video I made:
I mean, holy shit!! That’s the kind of place roadtrippers dream about! And, as a bonus, there were all kinds of busted-up old buildings and shacks and shit around the area….a photographer’s paradise! Alas, however….the site is at least a 5 hour drive from Vegas, so it’s not really feasible as a nude photo shoot location. Although, if you really want to go there….email me I’m sure we can work something out!
Anyway, after soaking awhile and goofing around taking photos, we headed south down the Extraterrestrial Highway to Rachel, where we stopped in at the Little A’Le’Inn for lunch. We had originally planned to stay the night in one of their “motel rooms,” which are actually trailers with shared bathrooms for every two rooms, but you also get access to a free library of Alien Abduction VHS/DVDs….but the weather down south was much better, so we decided to save money and try camping out again. I had heard about this ghost town called Delamar down in a valley outside Vegas, so we thought we might try staying there.
But this redneck chick at the A’Le’Inn told us we were nuts — according to her, Delamar is haunted!! Apparently she used to do coyote-calling contests down there, so she knew what she was talking about….and besides being haunted, it’s also plagued by mountain lions. Yikes! Still, we forged ahead with our plan….because while I do believe in mountain lions, I don’t believe in ghosts.
On our way down to Delamar, we stopped off at Crystal Springs, this beautiful little wooded soaking pond outside the town of Alamo, right at the intersection of the Extraterrestrial Highway and U.S. 93. Alas, it’s fenced off and marked “PRIVATE PROPERTY,” I think because it was a stop for the old Mormon wagon trains back in the day, and some Mormon asshole is trying to preserve it. We sneaked in anyway, and it was beautiful — but the water is only about 80 degrees or so, so it was too cold to soak in, anyway. Let the Mormons have it, I say!
Then we continued on to Delamar. I can’t believe I’d never been to this ghost town — only about 2-3 hours from Vegas, but amazingly cool!!! The road in is pretty hardcore — for most of it, you’re just on a washboard dirt road through an amazingly dense and beautiful Joshua tree forest…but the last couple of miles or so, when you’re climbing up into the hills on the opposite side of the valley, are pretty hardcore. You’d need a 4×4 with offroad tires, for sure.
But my sister’s 4Runner made it just fine, and we rolled in at sunset to find the most amazing, beautiful ruins of a lonely little ghost town — tons of crumbling stone ruins shining in the golden light of pre-sunset. FABULOUS!!!!!!! We set up camp on a bluff overlooking the entire valley, and it was absolutely amazing. No ghosts or mountain lions or anything bothered us the entire night — we didn’t see a soul until the next morning, when two camo-clad rednecks blew through on an ATV. Totally desolate — and totally awesome!!
In the morning, we walked around picking through the ruins of the old buildings, scavenging for bits of broken colored glass and other goodies, like rusted-out old Levis buttons and shards of old pottery. It was a bonanza!! I collected a bunch of beautiful glass and stuff to use in the mosaic I’m planning for the cinderblock wall in my backyard — that way it’ll be an authentic Nevada mural, ya know? There was some pretty cool stuff out there!
On the way out, we stopped at the lonely little cemetery…and when we finally got back into cell range, I Googled the history of the town to find out what had gone down there. Apparently it was a gold-mining town, but it was nicknamed “The Widowmaker” because the gold was embedded in some kind of rock that created a ton of silica dust when it was crushed, and a bunch of miners died from Miner’s Lung That little cemetery out there did seem like a pretty lonely place to be buried…especially when you consider the fact that some of these asshole miners came all the way from Ireland and shit to make their greedy-ass fortunes. Dying and being buried alone in the desert was a big fear…and a reality for many. But, at least they didn’t die from eating library paste!!!!!
After leaving Delamar, we continued back south through the town of Moapa, only about an hour outside Vegas, but home to some very curious things. There’s a wild animal sanctuary out there called Roos ‘N’ More, where you can go play with armadilloes and meerkats and cotatimundi and shit…but unfortunately it wasn’t open that day, so we just checked out this freaky old abandoned warm springs resort out there that used to be owned by Howard Hughes, and supposedly all the Vegas showgirls back in the day used to go out there to tan in the nude. After Howard Hughes died, some Mormon asshole bought it and turned it into a “family-friendly” warm spring pool…but there was some kinda fire in 2010, and now the ruins just stand there, drained of water and useless to anyone. Boooooo!
From Moapa, we continued on through the freaky little Mormon town of Overton (we were on the Utah side of the state now, so everything was had a Mormon taint to it), stopping at a grocery store to stock up before heading into fabulous, incomparably beautiful Valley of Fire to camp for the night. Even though it’s only an hour from Vegas, I have always wanted to camp out at Valley of Fire, because it’s so astonishingly beautiful and otherworldly — it looks like Mars! The rocks out there are all red sandstone, with weird caves and holes and faces that would probably appear to you if you were shrooming…so it just always seemed like a fabulous place to camp out. And guess what — it was!!!
The only bummer about camping at Valley of Fire is, you can’t just throw down your tent anywhere — you’re limited to one of two or three designated campgrounds…and you have to pay for the privilege :/ Still, I ponied up the $18 Nevada residents’ fee…and it was worth it. We camped at Arch Rock Campground, the least developed campground there….and it was actually totally amazing. Each campsite is kind of tucked away into the red rocks, and feels very private and isolated…so even though we were pretty much back in civilization at that point, we could still pretend we were out in the wilderness. Fabulous!
Alas, I guess I got pretty fucked up that night…because for the first time in my life, I actually blacked out, and couldn’t remember anything after about 9pm. I didn’t even drink that much — just a couple glasses of wine, and then about 3/4 of my hot cocoa and peppermint schnapps — and then the next thing I knew, I woke up at 4am in my tent!! For the life of me, I couldn’t remember getting to bed…but I guess I did OK, because I had HotHands in my socks and I had even taken the time to wash my face with a wet wipe. But I didn’t remember any of it!!! The worst part was, I was on my period, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember taking out my tampon — I guess I did, because it was nowhere in evidence the next morning….but where the fuck was it?!?!?!? Yikes! I still can’t explain what happened — I hadn’t drank that much, but I guess I was just tired from being on my period or whatever. Hmmmm!
Anyway, I felt fine when I woke up in the morning — a little hung over, and still some menstrual cramps…but I wasn’t about to let that stop me from enjoying a fabulous, beautiful day!! The weather down south was beautiful — warm and sunny and perfect for hiking, so that’s just what we did — cruise around Valley of Fire hiking up to all the popular spots. They have ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks by Indians that are around 4,000 years old, so we checked those out…and then did some bouldering and scrambling on our own. That place is basically like a giant playground — the sandstone is easy to climb on, so you can romp around for hours like a kid on a jungle gym, not even noticing how many calories you’re burning. My kind of workout!!!
Then, just to spite the asshole ranger out there (they don’t allow nude photography at Valley of Fire, and in fact I’ve been kicked out of there before, mid-shoot) I climbed alllllll the way to the top of one of the rock outcroppings, and stripped off all my clothes so my long-suffering sis could take a fabulous panoramic shot of me NAKED AS A JAYBIRD, with all of Valley of Fire spread out below me. SUCK IT, ASSHOLES! I mean, come on — it’s not like the original inhabitants (the Paiute Indians) didn’t run around there naked anyway, back in the day!! Get over it!!!!!
After exacting my revenge thusly, I got dressed, climbed back down, and we headed out the back entrance toward Lake Mead, where we planned to get some food at the fabulously 1970s-nautical-themed Echo Bay Resort, and then find a place to camp out for the night. ALAS, I hadn’t been to Echo Bay since 2009, and come to find out the restaurant and motel are closed — the water level at Lake Mead has gone down so far that I guess business literally dried up, and the place had gone out of business years before
So we had to keep going to the next outpost that had a restaurant, which was Callville Bay. But the bartender at the restaurant there told us the kitchen was already closed, and all they had was deep-fried bar food. Well, by this point we were starving from hiking and scrambling around Valley of Fire all day, so we went ahead and ordered one of everything — deep-fried chips and salsa, deep-fried chicken tenders, deep-fried popcorn shrimp, deep-fried fish-n-chips. Y U C K ! ! ! I’ve never had a worse meal in my life, I tell you!! It was horrifying. I stuffed my face, but then immediately wished I could vomit it all up. And to tell the truth, it was so greasy that I probably could have…with minimal effort :-/
By now the sun was setting, and we were so exhausted and greasy that we totally pussed out on camping — we were only about a 45-minute drive from my house, so rather than unload all our camping shit and go through all that madness again, we cheated and went home to sleep in real beds at my place. But in the morning (well, afternoon), we got up for one final stop on our Southern Nevada roadtrip: the Goldstrike Canyon hotsprings, down by the Hoover Dam!
These hot springs are one of my all-time favorite hikes — you park at a trailhead just before crossing the Hoover Dam, then hike and scramble your way down a boulder-strewn canyon for about two hours until you reach the shore of the Colorado River. Along the way you pass several amazing, clear soaking pools full of piping hot water — it’s really a magical place! See for yourself:
After checking out the amazing view of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge down on the riverbank, we hiked back up the canyon to soak in the best of the hot spring pools for awhile, chatting with this awesome group of middle-aged redneck types who get together every year and kayak down the river, like my friends and I did last April, camping out at the Ringbolt Hot Spring beach for a few days. Talking to them really whetted my appetite to do that trip again — you put in below the Hoover Dam, then float downstream soaking at the various hot springs along the river, camping out at the most amazing of them all — Ringbolt, a/k/a White Rock Canyon hot springs. We had such an amazing time doing it last year….I think it’s time to organize another trip! If anyone wants to do it, hit me up!
After the rednecks got out and kayaked off on their way, this other amazing trio of kids got in to soak — a girl and two guys. One of the guys busted out a little camp stove, and set about brewing up a pot of artisanal tea — apparently, he runs some kind of super-hardcore artisanal tea shop in Seattle called the Bioluminescence Tea Lounge, and he offered to serve us all tea right there in the hot spring! It was amazing!!!! He even had a little teapot, and these little cups and everything, that he’d packed all the way down the canyon in his backpack. Fabulous!!! I guess his idea is to one day start an adventure-hiking-tea-tour-company….but in the meantime, he was headed on down to Flagstaff for a job as a lumberjack, for some ecologically-minded tree-cutting operation that only chops down invasive species like tamarisk, etc. FAR OUT!!!!!! Those kids were SO FREAKING COOL — like I said before, I just love the kinds of people you meet in hot springs
Anyway, that little tea ceremony in the hot spring pool below the Hoover Dam was the perfect way to wrap up our fabulous Southern Nevada roadtrip. Like I said at the beginning of this blog — Nevada has a reputation as a barren, nuke-ridden shithole…but I’m here to tell you, if you just get off your fat ass and leave the slot machines and boring-ass Vegas suburbs behind, there is a wealth of fabulousness out there to discover!! I LOVE IT!!!!! I daresay I had an even better time on this trip than I did on my Arizona roadtrip — and that’s saying a lot!!!
After hiking back up from Goldstrike Canyon, my sister and were super starving…but this time, instead of shitty deep-fried crap at Callville Bay, we headed to downtown Vegas to this amazing, blighted old shopping center near where I live called the Commercial Center. Back in the day, the Commercial Center was the place to shop for the Who’s Who of the Vegas Nouveau Riche…but nowadays, it’s this post-apocalyptic, bombed-out-looking ginormous half-empty strip mall that’s mostly home to swinger’s clubs, gay bathhouses and Korean karaoke joints. But it also happens to be home to this Thai restaurant that was once rated the #1 Thai restaurant in ALL of America by Gourmet magazine — so every wannabe foodie asshole and his mother goes there, thinking they’re being super clever and edgy by venturing into the “hood” to get “authentic” Thai food.
The truth is, though, it really IS super badass food — it’s just that the wait is always at least 30 minutes, so you have to have a plan. Our plan was, we went out in the parking lot and smoked a joint, then walked over to this western-themed gay bar called the Badlands Saloon for a drink while we waited. We got totally baked and buzzed, then headed back just in time to beat the fuck out of an amazing Thai dinner that was about 1,000,000 times better than that shit we ate out at Callville Bay the night before. BOO-YA!!! It was the perfect celebratory meal to end our fabulous, incomparable Southern Nevada roadtrip. Long may it live in my memory!
Now I’m back in Vegas, and alas, I don’t know exactly when my next adventure will be. My sister has been unemployed for about a year now, and she had originally given herself ONE YEAR to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Well, that year is about up…so I’m not sure what she’s gonna do. She still has a fat 401(k) and some savings she’s sitting on, but she’s a very responsible person, and it’s not in her character to stay unemployed for long. So, the future is uncertain: will she continue bumming around the Southwest with me? Or will she go back to work at some loathsome corporate gig? OR…..will she figure out a way to make money while traveling around with me on the road????
I’m gunning for option C!