Adventures in Mormon Country

I'm an American by Mike and Kit on Vimeo
I’m an American
by Mike and Kit on Vimeo

Poor Nevada!

Them California kale-munchers have infested our state to the point where the recent election saw marijuana legalized, new gun legislation passed…and our precious electoral votes go to Hilary Clinton!!

Around 99-100% of them commie bastards live in the Reno and Vegas metro areas — but the rest of Nevada still eats bullets for breakfast, like real Americans. Which is why I spend as much time as I can exploring the rest of Nevada — or as I prefer to call it, the REAL Nevada.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-12-49-07-pmI’ve already documented my travels through the western half of the state — up the U.S. 95 from Vegas to Reno by way of Beatty, Tonopah and Hawthorne. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in the northwestern area around the Black Rock Desert, and this past summer I ventured into the northeast as well, from Jackpot down through Elko and Ely. I’ve also explored central Nevada, from Austin down through Area 51, Delamar ghost town and Pahranagat.

But there was one chunk of east-central Nevada that I had never visited, and it was driving me nuts! So when my friend Dr. Kildare invited me to accompany him to that area to check out an old hot springs resort he was interested in leasing…of course I said yes!

Kershaw-Ryan State Park
Kershaw-Ryan State Park

We left Vegas on a sunny Wednesday morning, heading north on U.S. 93. This is a really interesting drive because after about an hour, the monotonous desert landscape shifts dramatically once you reach the lush, green Pahranagat Valley…and you feel like you’re in the midwest somewhere!

On our way up, we cut east across a 60-mile dirt/gravel road that winds through this amazingly beautiful country called Rainbow Canyon. Especially with all the fall colors, it was un-freaking-believable — and totally unlike how most people picture Nevada. We followed this road all the way into the little town of Caliente, which is where the hot springs in question are located.


the old Caliente depot
the old Caliente depot

Caliente is the biggest town in this part of Nevada, but it’s pretty podunk — just a quiet little Mormon circle jerk with lots of cute little houses with “NO ON 1” (background checks for gun purchases) and Cresent Hardy (Republican house candidate) campaign signs in the yards (this was a couple weeks before the election…unfortunately for the townspeople, 1 passed and Hardy was defeated, thanks to the big-city liberals).

The vibe in Caliente is pretty square, and not really conducive to operating a hot spring wellness retreat — which is what the current owners of the property are looking to lease it out as. I’ve been to several “retreat”-type hot springs resorts, but they are usually in woo-woo hippie-dippie areas like Truckee, CA or Crestone, CO — not in square-ass Mormon towns where the closest available kale is 150 miles to the south. It would be a tough sell on both sides — I’m sure the locals don’t want a bunch of naked progressives doing downward-facing dog on the lawn in eyeshot of THE CHILDREN, either.

Rainbow Canyon
Rainbow Canyon

In any event, the owner wasn’t available to show us the property until the following day, so we decided to continue on north for the night, then stop by again on our way back down toward Vegas. But since we were there anyway we thought we’d at least go take a peek, because we were really curious about the place — come to find out, polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs used to conduct weddings between old men and underage girls there!

Maybe “cult” is too strong a word — the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is a Mormon sect that practices polygamy; you know, like on “Big Love,” where all the sister-wives wear long prairie dresses with puffy sleeves and even puffier hairdos. Their greatest concentration is in the area around Colorado City, about 150 miles to the southeast…but apparently they venture up to Caliente for special occasions, like mass weddings. Our research indicated that Jeffs used to conduct his weddings in room 15, so we were especially interested in checking that out!

All-American by Mike and Kit on Vimeo
by Mike and Kit on Vimeo

We drove over and parked in front of the resort, which is basically a low-slung motel style arrangement of stucco buildings, one of which houses three or four private indoor hot spring tubs. There is a grassy lawn shaded by cottonwood trees, with a stucco wall surrounding what I assumed to be an outdoor hot spring pool. We were trying to peek over that wall to see for ourselves, when a young couple appeared out of nowhere: “We’re not open.”

Apparently this young Caucasian couple was fixing up the resort, living onsite as they worked. They were polite, but their manner was oddly stiff: he had on the standard rural uniform of jeans, Ropers, Mossy Oak-type cap, and she hung behind him a step, silent. The end result was a sort of Asperger’s American Gothic: awkward as fuck! I let Dr. Kildare do all the talking, as this was his gig…but for whatever reason he didn’t say anything to them about having talked to the owners; he just apologized and we left.

open-carrying your vagina is not OK here pic by Mike and Kit on Vimeo
open-carrying your vagina is not OK here
pic by Mike and Kit on Vimeo

We got back in the Jeep and drove over to the market to get some supplies, and were standing there on the sidewalk discussing the weird situation when this biker lady popped out of a little antique store a few doors down. She was one of those super-gabby types, and invited us in to look around her store…and while we were in there, she gave us an earload of her personal history and all the latest town gossip. She herself was a Vegas refugee who had fled a bad situation with some bikers in Henderson, and the weird couple we’d seen at the hot spring were the son and daughter-in-law of the hot spring owners…who themselves were said to be weirdo hippies. Interesting!

After extricating ourselves from the gabby biker’s antiques shop, we hit the market and then got the hell out of there, headed north to the even tinier town of Pioche. I had been dying to visit Pioche for some time; not only does my friend Shutterbug Studio’s mom live there, so I’ve heard all about it from him…but another couple I know from Vegas live up there too, operating a little cafe that I’d been wanting to check out, and they had invited us to meet up later that evening for a drink at the local saloon, which is supposedly haunted. Neato!

Campsite outside Pioche
Campsite outside Pioche

Dr. Kildare and I found a place to camp on the outskirts of town, set up, and then headed back into Pioche, which is a tiny little historic mining town perched on a hillside just west of the Utah border. Back in the day Pioche was the baddest of all the bad-ass mining towns; they say 72 people were murdered in town before a single resident died a natural death! At one point the population was over 7,000…but these days only around 1,000 people live in the area; it kinda reminded me of Goldfield, NV…with a dash of Jerome, AZ. It’s a really cool place!

Anyway, we went into the saloon and ordered drinks; there was only one other customer in the place, so it was pretty dead. This was the night of the final Presidential debate, but the TV was tuned to a baseball game — and the bartender and the one patron looked at us like we were nuts when we asked about it. I guess they were trying to prevent arguments or bar fights! So we just sat there chatting with the bartender, a genial young white guy with almost as many missing teeth as full-time jobs (the economy is tough)…until my friends showed up.

The old abandoned mill in Pioche
The old abandoned mill in Pioche

Now, these friends are people I knew in Vegas back in 2013 or ’14 — a rocker/photographer and his girlfriend, with whom I first went out to that abandoned water park outside Barstow. Really nice people; he used to be in a well-known rock band, and was best friends with legendary guitarist Randy Rhoades growing up…but now they run this amazingly funky little cafe in Pioche, out of a drafty old shack that used to be a blacksmith shop. In between serving up amazing burgers and lattes, they also make and sell amazing art using all kinds of funky, rusty old artifacts that they find in the desert. It’s a really cool place! (It’s called the Ghost Town Cafe; check it out if you’re in the area!)

We spent a couple hours bullshitting with them, then headed back to camp, promising to come back in the morning for coffee and burgers. It was really cold that night, probably in the 30s, but the rooms at the Overland Hotel (where the saloon is) were sold out…so we had no choice. Apparently town books up fast during hunting season!

After freezing my balls off all night, we packed up camp and headed back into town. But first we stopped to investigate this amazing abandoned mill — OMG that place was incredible! Unfortunately it was locked up too tight to get into, but I had a lot of fun snooping around the perimeter:

After exploring the mill, we went to my friends’ cafe and had a delicious lunch. The place was jam-packed with locals, tourists and hunters; the only other cafe in town is closed on Thursdays, so they were slammed. One party in particular really intrigued me: a young-ish couple and an older man, all dressed head-to-toe in camouflage, which indicated they were hunters, but the young couple both had dreadlocks, and the guy even had on a camouflage dread-wrap! Now THAT is something I’d never seen — a true conundrum! I always love seeing someone or something that can’t be easily pigeonholed.

Anyway, we finished our burgers and then headed on our way back down south. Dr. Kildare had arranged to tour the hot springs resort officially this time, but before we hit Caliente we made a slight detour through Panaca, the only other town in the area. I’m sorry to report that there was nothing whatsoever of any interest in Panaca — just a bunch of little houses with “NO ON 1” and Cresent Hardy signs in the yards. The landscape wasn’t even very interesting; as far as I could tell, it was just a Utah border town full of Mormons. YAWN/YIKES!

A different bathhouse, long abandoned, in nearby Moapa by Shutterbug Studio
A different bathhouse, long abandoned, in nearby Moapa
by Shutterbug Studio

This time, when we pulled into the hot springs resort, the young couple was waiting for us — and they had dressed for the occasion! The guy was still in his basic rural bro uniform, but the woman had dressed up in a blouse, slacks and kitten heels, as if to make a good impression. They both made good eye contact with Dr. Kildare, but neither looked at me once, even when I spoke…and even though Dr. Kildare had described me as his “hot springs expert” over the phone.

Almost grudgingly, the young couple gave us a thorough tour of the facilities — they showed us the interiors of all the rooms, which were charmingly old but in better condition than the rooms at Delight’s in Tecopa; the indoor tubs had a weird institutional vibe, and we never did get to see what was behind that big stucco wall. They even let us tour the rooms where they themselves were living; the woman had decorated everything in homey Walmart Mainstays chic, and it was fairly cozy. Everything was clean….but creepy as fuck, in a way I couldn’t even put my finger on. Anyone wanting to operate a wellness retreat here has their work cut out for them!

Creepy-ass hot springs resort
Creepy-ass hot springs resort

Finally, they even showed us room 15…which was where Warren Jeffs supposedly conducted his group weddings. This was the only room that has a private hot spring tub inside the room, so I guess that’s what made it so special….but these days it just smelled of Pine-Sol and broken dreams, and was really creepy and depressing. I wanted to try and take some video footage, but the couple was there keeping an eye on us, and I didn’t want to make things even more awkward…so I refrained. I hardly even took any photos!

Before we were even done with the tour, I’m pretty sure Dr. Kildare and I were on the same page vis-a-vis that place being worth leasing: HELL, NO! Ain’t no way, no how, that a bunch of anti-vax, Monsanto-hating blue-staters would travel all the way out there to stay at that place; they’d have better luck making it an elk-boiling resort for hunters. Dr. K thanked the couple (I tried to as well, but they seriously wouldn’t even acknowledge me) and we got the hell out of there — back on the highway toward civilization, which to us meant Vegas, and that’s really saying a LOT!

Railroad bridge in Rainbow Canyon
Railroad bridge in Rainbow Canyon

Anyway, now that I’ve pretty much been to every part of Nevada (with the exception of the far northwest corner), I can safely report the following about our great state:

  • There is a lot more to Nevada than casinos; we also have mines, brothels and Mormon churches
  • Most of Nevada is staunchly conservative; open-carrying a gun is welcome, but open-carrying a vagina will get you into hot water
  • there is a TON of natural beauty in Nevada that puts the dumb-ass Mirage volcano and the Bellagio conservatory to shame
  • the only espresso for 100 miles in any direction is at the Ghost Town Cafe in Pioche

And that’s it! If you are interested in checking out this particular part of the state, I’d recommend getting a room at the Overland Hotel, having lunch at the Ghost Town Cafe…and giving the Caliente Hot Springs Motel a wiiiide berth. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend visiting between March-September, so you can camp out at one of the many beautiful parks (Cathedral Gorge is just down the road).

Maybe I’ll see you there!






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