Mormon the Explorer

When I was a wee, baby, barely-adult person, I wrote a silly story called “Mormon the Explorer” about the exploits of Mormon and his bestie monkey, Manywives, and their attempts to thwart the evil Logic the Fox who was always trying to explain away their religious beliefs (“Logic, no explaining! Logic, no explaining!”). Of course, there was an accompanying song, set to the tune of the Dora the Explorer theme, that contained memorable lyrical gems such as “Grab your ten speed, let’s go!” Not my most shining literary moment, probably. Later on in life, I met actual Mormons, who are mostly pretty cool people. Or, maybe I should say that I met some pretty cool people who are also Mormon. Like, I’m not an actual fan of the Mormon belief system, or any organized religion (especially ones that consider LGBTQIA+ people to be sinners), but I’m definitely interested in Mormon history – both large picture and small. And I’m lucky enough to live in an area (Las Vegas) near the Western frontier of Mormon settlement.

A couple years ago I read Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier by Mary Ann Hafen. It’s a really short read chronicling Mary Ann’s life as a child in Switzerland, her family’s conversion to the LDS faith and subsequent immigration to the US, their journey across the plains in one of the last waves of handcart pioneers, and her life on the Mormon frontier, first in St. George, Utah and then in Bunkerville, Nevada. She wrote the book with the help of her son, LeRoy Hafen, who was a well-known historian and a professor at BYU. Mary Ann’s granddaughter was Juanita Brooks, another notable Mormon historian who is one of my history crushes. She was the first Mormon historian to write extensively about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which caused a lot of tension between her and the church. She feared she would be excommunicated for the book, but she chose to tell the story anyway.

If you’re interested, this is a really interesting paper about LeRoy Hafen and Juanita Brooks. It’s really long, though. I also recommend this biography about Juanita, I’m reading through it right now. I currently have a quote from that book as my Facebook cover picture.


Hashtag relatable.

Anyhoo, when I first read Recollections, I noticed that Mary Ann married a guy named John Reber (he died a couple days after their wedding in a tragic carriage accident). It just so happens that my bestie Crazypants Clems is a Reber by birth and comes from that area, so I got all excited about that connection (she’s descended from John’s brother, Samuel). Whenever I visit her, she indulges in my insane thirst for the history that she probably gets tired of hearing old people talk about at family reunions and whatever.  I’m very lucky to have friends that put up with my insane passions. And hopefully blog readers that put up with them as well because I’m gonna be writing about this stuff a lot cos I have several trips planned this summer to do some Mormon the Exploring.


Crazypants Clems and I. We’re even happier to see each other than we look. I ❤ her.

It just so happens that I went to Mesquite on Wednesday to see Crazypants Clems and the entire Clems family (minus the eldest child who is fucking married already wheredidthetimego???). She took me out to lunch at Peggy Sue’s, showed me the new Mesquite Library, and took me for delicious cookies and soda at The Splash Pad. But, just in case I doubted how much she really loved me, she also took me to the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum in Mesquite. She really does love me.

I highly recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area. 10/10 would recommend. Not only was the museum pretty cool, but the museum administrator was super-nice and willing to answer all of our questions. Even the ones we didn’t ask.

One of the first things that the Clems kid noticed was that there were pictures of her ancestor, Samuel Reber, hanging up by the door. One of the first things I noticed was that there was a freaking whiskey still in the very first display. It surprised me because I don’t know a single Mormon that drinks (do they even exist?).



The first room of the museum housed a collection of items that were used by pioneers and early settlers, mostly arranged in glass cases. Along the back wall was a cowboy exhibit with pictures of the Bundys and other (in)famous area ranchers. The museum used to be a hospital, and there was a cool exhibit of medical stuff, including a list of babies that had been born there. Crazypants knew half of the people on the list (and is probably related to half of the people she recognized). We also noticed a smallish exhibit of Native artifacts, but I’m planning a trip to the Lost City Museum very soon so I’ll learn more about Native culture there. There was also a really cool film projector that had come from the old movie theater, as well.

I’m just gonna do a photo dump.

We saw a lot of cool things. We also saw some not-so-cool things.

I guess blackface was a popular design motif in Mormon pioneer culture. And contemporary white culture in general, if we’re gonna really be honest.

We got to see a picture of Mary Ann Hafen’s family, as well as an antimacassar that Mary Ann (or her daughter, Mary, it wasn’t clear) crocheted.

There were probably 40 photos along the wall of life in the Virgin Valley from pioneer times through the 1940’s or so. I found this awesome picture of Juanita Brooks among them. I had a historygasm when I saw it.


Behind the main room were several rooms that were set up like rooms in a pioneer home – a kitchen, a bedroom, and a sitting room. The sitting room was where I found the antimacassar. It was on a couch near a record player that played these thick, hard rubber records. The lady working in the museum (I didn’t get her name but she was really very awesome) even played one for us. Behind the museum was a little outdoor area with a family outhouse that had three seats, including a small seat for little booties. A path led to a shed-type building that housed exhibits on ranching history and military service.

Of course, my favorite room in the museum was the library/archives, so I wanna talk about that for a minute. It was just a tiny room with a few books and a whole lotta binders of stuff. Two filing cabinets in the corner caught my eye because they were labelled “to be digitized” or something like that. When I asked about them, I was informed that the majority of their collection was digitized online and accessible to the public. Be still my fucking heart. That’s not the norm for museums here, and certainly not the norm for these kinds of small-town museums, so I was pretty surprised. Oral histories are my jam, and those of you who don’t do much historical research have no idea what a fucking pain in the ass it is to deal with them sometimes. It takes hours to listen to something that you could read in literally minutes. And transcribing them – well, I’m fairly certain that’s the punishment in one of the levels of hell. There’s something Sisyphean about the constant cycle of listening, typing, and rewinding with no end in sight. So I’m always super fucking stoked when I find oral history transcripts online.

You can check out their archives here. Their larger website is here. While you’re at it, like their Facebook page here. They post mystery items every week, and it’s fun to guess what the stuff is.

I’m gonna come back to this museum later in the month. My platonic polycule is letting me take them on a Mormon history trip, and we’re gonna start in Bunkerville with Mary Ann Hafen’s grave, see the Dudley Leavitt monument, hit the Virgin Valley Museum, and then head up to St. George for the Brigham Young Winter House and Juanita Brooks’ grave. We’ll top it off with a visit to the Mountain Meadows Massacre site.

Stay tuned.

Oh yeah, you can read my other post about Mormon History here: First! And Mormons and Stuff..






History Is My Love Language

I’m typing all this on my iPad because I can’t find the cord to my laptop. I think I left it at work, but who knows. Yesterday my friend, Lipstick, and I went on an adventure. This is us:


The Vulgar Historian and Lipstick Go on an Adventure.

She took the picture. She’s the pretty one. I’m the one with the awesome hair.

We did a lot of talking and driving, and one of the things we talked about was our love languages. We both have the same love language – cuddling and history adventures. Lipstick called it something else, like, umm, quality time and physical affection or something. But she prolly read the whole book. I only read about four pages.

We also discussed a much better book, Anne of Green Gables, which we both love with all of our wistful little hearts. And we vowed to be bosom friends forever since we are such kindred spirits. Hopefully that means plenty more adventures ahead!

Yesterday, we kind of had a vague plan to do history stuff since Lipstick likes that kind of thing as much as I do. We heard there were some old buildings in Searchlight, but we didn’t see much interesting. We stopped in and got jerky at Gus’s Really Good Fresh Jerky, which definitely lived up to its advertising. The brisket was amazing. The Searchlight Museum hadn’t opened yet, and we were hungry, so we decided to head down to Laughlin for lunch,

Unplanned trips are the best, and I had never been to Laughlin before. Apparently, it was named after this dude, Don Laughlin, who saw the potential for tourism in the area, and bought up some property and opened the Riverside Resort. Most of Laughlin looks like it was built in the 1980’s, but that’s just a visual observation and shouldn’t be taken as a fact or anything. There was a statue of Mr. Laughlin in town that we got out of the car to look at. The statue had cobweb boogers that needed to be cleaned.


Lipstick was in charge of finding a place for us to eat lunch. She chose a place called Bumbleberry Flats, and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. But she liked the name and it was close, so away we went.

The restaurant was in a place called Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall, which actually was built in the 80’s.

When we pulled up, I was even more skeptical. It was very old-west-saloon-and-brothel themed. It had that kind of western Main Street false storefront thing going on. The casino itself was actually closed, but the hotel and two restaurants were open. River Rick is the casino mascot (known as Laughlin Lou by some), and he’s pretty much the same dude as Vegas Vic of the Pioneer Hotel here in Las Vegas. I didn’t get a picture of the sign, but they have a weird rock art landscaping portrait that I did snap a pic of.


We went inside, and it was a 20 minute wait to be seated, which was surprising since it was a Monday afternoon. The hotel sits right on the river, so we went outside and looked around while we waited. It was gorgeous, y’all. The river was a beautiful blue-green and there was a cool breeze coming off the water. Lipstick and I sat on a bench and just soaked it all in.

After some time had passed, we went back inside and were seated after a couple of minutes or so. I have never been so happy to be proven so wrong about a place. The food was fucking amazing. We shared a bowl of chicken pot pie soup that was so creamy and buttery that I could barely stand it. And it had a little square of puff pastry on top that was like two orgasms in a row. I ordered the pecan french toast which was just about as perfect as it could be – crunchy on the outside and creamy and buttery and cinnamony on the inside, covered with pecans and maple syrup. Lipstick got cheddar bacon waffles with chicken and Louisiana honey hot sauce. Hers was pretty good too. If you’re ever in Laughlin, stop by Bumbleberry Flats, you won’t be disappointed. While you’re at it, stop at the hotel gift shop on your way out. They have candy cigarettes for fifty cents, which were somehow the perfect end to a perfect meal (since I gave up real cigarettes back in 2012).

After lunch, we headed back north and ended up in Nelson, Nevada. We stopped just past Nelson and did some hiking up through an area that was pretty much a tin can graveyard. We saw some cool stuff – giant sheets of metal on the ground, something that looked like a furnace, and a lizard that was too quick for me to get a picture of. We had so much fun that I forgot that I wanted to visit the graveyard. I’ll have to save that for another day.


After we hiked around Nelson, we went a couple miles down the road to the Eldorado Canyon where they have all this old stuff rusting in the desert. They do mine tours and rent kayaks too. It’s private property, but they let you go out and explore if you want. You just hafta stay out of the restricted areas and you can’t take professional photographs or go in the mine without paying.

Signs in the parking lot direct you to check in to the general store before doing anything. We needed water, so that was gonna be our first stop anyway. The lady at the counter was super-awesome. She was really friendly and knowledgable and funny. She told us to watch out for rattlesnakes because they had caught 16 so far this season. She also showed us a binder of pictures of dudes who didn’t listen when she said not to touch the cacti. Yup, she had “binders of men” – XD. She said that women never seemed to come in with cactus spines stuck in them, but it seemed like the lads couldn’t help themselves. For the record, here’s the cacti she was talking about.

Don’t touch me or the cacti.

The site had also been used for a bunch of films and stuff. There was a book of pics from movies shot there, as well as musicians who had performed there or visited there. There were even a few shots of models from ads that were shot out there.

I don’t really know how to describe what the place was like. Like if the stuff on the walls of Cracker Barrel took steroids and started a resort for other old oddities, it would be this place. It was really jarring and surreal and completely fucking awesome. Lipstick said she could envision an entire season of American Horror Story shot there, and I completely agree. We’ve vowed to return to do the mine tour.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was looking at everything with my for-real eyes, but here are a few.


There was this one weird marker that told the story of Queho who was a murderer who had somehow escaped justice and had been found dead in a cave some 20 years after his murder spree. So of course that piqued my interest and I wikipedia’d it when I got home. Queho was apparently a mixed-race Native American who either killed, or was blamed for killing, several people in the Eldorado Canyon area, including his half-brother, between 1910 and 1919. Prospectors found his mummified body in a cave in 1940. I guess the Elk’s Club thought it would be totes cool to exhibit the body one year at Helldorado Days (WTAF Elk’s Club?!?!), but the District Attorney at the time managed to get hold of the remains and give them a proper burial. Here’s a pic of the marker that tells a little bit of the story. Which is interesting for another reason that I’ll get into in a sec.

Satisfactory! is the best I can hope for.

If you look at the bottom, you’ll see that the marker was placed in 2006 by The Queho Posse Chapter 1919, E Clampus Vitus. Well, friends, I’ll tell you, I didn’t know what in the fuck that meant. So I turned back to my good friends wikipedia and google and found out a little more.

So E Clampus Vitus (ECV) is a historical fraternal organization dedicated to the study of the old west, particularly mining. They call themselves “Clampers.” I got all this info from wikipedia, and you can read it yourself, but here’s the short version… The order started sometime in the 1800’s and a whole bunch of notable white dudes were members. Currently, they all wear red shirts and more pins than a TGI Friday’s waitress. The group seems to be a mixture of serious historical inquiry and drunken mirth-making. It sounds very much like a white-dudes-with-beards thing. I’m not a dude, but drinking and history and fucking around are my jam, so I’m curious. These kinds of things fascinate me, but I’m planning adventures at the moment so I’ll have to come back to this. If you, dearest reader, know anything about it please post in the comments.

The Queho Posse Chapter is the ECV chapter in Las Vegas. They’ve done a shit-ton of historical markers, which you can look up on their website. I peeped their fb group, and the only name I recognized was Mark Hall-Patton, which surprised me not at all as MH-P is a mirthful, bad-assed white dude historian with a beard. Fun fact, I met MH-P through church. Another fun fact, Lipstick had Mrs. H-P as a prof at uni. Isn’t the world small and weird and just as lovely as fuck-all?

Anywhoo, I didn’t mean to make this entire blog post about ECV. I just happen to get distracted rather easily.

After we were done in Eldorado Canyon, I took Lipstick to the abandoned pet cemetery in Boulder City. I’m not going to go too much into detail about that because I’ve previously written a bunch about it here. It was just as hard to find and just as big as it was last time I was there, and we explored a section that I didn’t get a chance to see last time. Here are some pics:


I want my grave to read “Fatums” when I die.

If all of that isn’t creepy enough, this grave has a fucking hole in it. Katie Dog, where are you? That’s a good girl….. aahhh fuck, it’s a zombie.


So, um, yeah, we saw that movie and we knew it was time to nope the hell out of there. Lipstick said she was glad I hadn’t taken her out to the desert to kill her and make her into delicious blood sausage. I could never do that. She’s like one of those really pretty desserts that you can’t take a fork to because you don’t want to mess it up. However, I don’t think she was reassured much by Katie Dog’s possible resurrection, so it was definitely time to go home.

We’re already making plans for a return trip to Boulder City to check out some museums, and I want to show Lipstick the abandoned airport. And of course another trip to Nelson for the graveyard and the mine tour, plus our friend Chewie was talking about an abandoned boat dock which sounds kinda cool too. And we have trips to Lake Mead and LDS Dixie coming up as well. This is gonna be the summer of historical adventure, so buckle up dear reader, it’s gonna be an amazing ride.

History really is my love language. I’m lucky for all the beautiful souls in my life who fill that bucket. ❤

Segregation in Neon

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I haven’t posted in like a year because I’ve been living this rich, full, super-busy life. By “rich,” I mean we’re always broke. By “full,” I mean I have three kids who always want something. And by “super-busy,” I mean that those Facebook games are demanding, y’all.

I realized the other day that we’re living on borrowed Vegas time. We were supposed to leave a year ago. We got an extension so DivaTeen could graduate (she did, today), and we are supposed to be leaving for the great unknown this fall. We’re hoping we can stay here for a bit longer, but nothing is certain. And there is a lot that I want to get done while we’re still here. So I’ve got a couple of trips planned and I’m gonna be blogging about them for my entire 2 or 3 readers.

While Diva Teen was applying for scholarships, she had the opportunity to do some community service. We prefer to do things for organizations that benefit local people and don’t get a lot of money or funding elsewhere. We try to stick to smaller, community-based organizations. She does a lot of volunteer work already, but we aren’t great about keeping track of what we do. And the scholarship wanted like actual records and signed sheets and other unreasonable, boring shit. So, we reached out to a couple of friends in the community and were directed to a group called the Rights Society that was working on a community garden project. She also did stuff with Food Not Bombs, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Nevada Desert Experience, but I wanna talk about the stuff she did for Rights Society today.

The Rights Society is a local Human Rights group that works on a variety of projects here in Vegas. They’ve worked with voter education, criminal justice reform, mental health issues, food distribution, and direct action, just to name a few. I peeped their website and they do SO MUCH STUFF. The folks we met were really great, too, so if you haven’t checked them out yet, do so immediately. They have a website, and they’re also on Facebook.


We spent two days at the garden learning how to lay irrigation pipe and filling up planter boxes with soil. It was a lot of fun, and I feel like we learned a skill that will be helpful in the future. The guy who taught us how to lay pipe could probably have done it a thousand times faster without our “help” but he was really patient and just super freaking awesome. Biggest thanks to everyone we met there!

The place where the community garden was being installed was Harrison House in Historic West Las Vegas. In its heyday, Harrison House was a boarding house for Black entertainers during the 1940’s and 1950’s. At this time, casinos on the Las Vegas strip drew high-profile Black performers, such as Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, and Sammy Davis Junior. However, the strip was segregated, and Black performers were not allowed to stay on strip properties. After they finished their performances, they would come to the Westside, relax at one of the Black clubs and stay in boarding houses such as Harrison House. Fun Fact: Las Vegas was referred to as the “Mississippi of the West” because of segregation. Which is not a fun fact at all. It’s a super-shitty fact that’s all-too-common in our country’s racist history.


In June of 1955, the Moulin Rouge casino opened in the Westside. Its hotel was the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas. It was extremely popular and drew many notable performers, both Black and white. Unfortunately, the owners filed for bankruptcy after about six months. The Las Vegas strip, itself,  remained segregated until 1960, when widespread threats of protest forced hotel owners, city officials, Black civic leaders, and state politicians to meet together to discuss desegregating the properties. In March 1960, the then-closed Moulin Rouge casino was the site of the Moulin Rouge Accord, which ended segregation on the strip.

There are tons of great articles on the Moulin Rouge Casino. Check out this one from Smithsonian, this one from LasVegasNow, and this one from the National Parks Service.

Another fun fact (this one is actually fun): The Moulin Rouge sign was designed by Betty Willis, a designer who worked for Western Neon. During her time there, she also designed another famous sign, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that stands at the south end of the strip. The Moulin Rouge sign currently lives in the boneyard of the Las Vegas Neon Museum, which I happened to visit with my parents just yesterday. It’s hard to get good pictures of the sign because it’s SO HUGE, but I managed a few shots. You’re welcome.


After segregation ended in Las Vegas in 1960, Black boarding houses like Harrison House became unnecessary. Genevieve Harrison, who owned Harrison House, died three years before the Moulin Rouge agreement was signed. The home fell into disrepair in the decades after her death and was ordered to be demolished by the city in 1983. Somehow, the demolition never occurred, and it was purchased by Katherine Duncan in 2011 who deeded it to Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce. Harrison House is now a community center and a museum – with a garden.

You can find out more about Harrison house on their website or Facebook, or go in and talk to Ms. Duncan if you get a chance. She is an absolute treasure trove of information. I can’t find their hours online, but their contact info is on their website, and I know they are open most days for tours.

I write these blog posts and I try to wrap them up with some kind of little message or insight or whatever, but I’m kind of struggling here. It’d be really cool if I could be like, “And that’s why segregation is bad, thank goodness it’s over.” But I can’t. Because this shit is still happening today. Like right now.

I mean, sure, people of color can legally go places and rent rooms (unless it’s an Airbnb, I guess, then the neighbors might call the cops on you if you’re not white enough). They’re allowed to go into cafes and eat with their friends (but not Starbucks). Neighborhoods have been desegregated for years, so it’s totally normal to see a mixture of folks in your average suburban neighborhood (okay, maybe not in Las Vegas neighborhoods). Recreation segregation is definitely a thing of the past – people of color can absolutely have access to public recreation spaces (oops, not in Oakland).

And that’s the point, you know. We don’t really have de jure segregation anymore. Like, our laws don’t typically mandate segregation (although I would probably argue that our entire fucking country was founded on white supremacist ideas, which is woven into all of our societal systems, including our system of laws). So instead of saying, “It’s illegal for you to be here, non-white person,” we just say, “You don’t belong here. You don’t belong in our restaurants, or our public spaces, or our neighborhoods. And if you are here, we’re gonna call the police to make us feel safe. Even though it might mean that they kill you. Because we don’t even really mean ‘All Lives Matter.’ We just don’t like it when you say ‘Black Lives Matter.'”

I don’t really know how to wrap all of that up into a neat little message, you know?


The World is Watching

A year or so ago, DivaTeen discovered the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and her world turned upside down. She told me that I needed to listen to the soundtrack, that I would love it foreverandeverandever, but I kind of held off. I am always wary of the way that popular culture presents history, and I get irritated by little inaccuracies and inconsistencies. I mean, I was happy that it ignited a passion for history in my daughter. That’s what good pop-culture history is supposed to do. But for myself, I didn’t really want to dive down that rabbit hole and be disappointed.

I freely admit that I was an idiot.

I ended up needing some songs for a racial justice workshop series that I was helping to facilitate, and DivaTeen again recommended Hamilton. So I listened to a couple of songs. And then I listened to a couple more. And now I’m hooked. DivaTeen often asks me if I’m a Hamilfan, but I’m not sure fat middle-aged women should call themselves Hamilfans. But I do listen to the soundtrack at least once a week in my car.

I was reminded of Hamilton last week when we went to the Hoover Dam. Specifically the song “History Has Its Eyes On You” from the first act. It’s basically George Washington talking about how history was watching what was going on and how you don’t have any control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” During the dam tour, the guide noted that the marble floors, art deco styling, and observation balconies were created during the building of the dam specifically because they knew that the world was watching and would want to come see history being made. And they did. They came by the thousands, by the millions, to see this marvel of modern engineering. Today we view it as history. And we discuss how it should be presented. And we talk about what has been left out of the story (anybody who wasn’t white, for starters) and what should be added. But when the dam was being built, they were actually making history. And they knew it. They knew that history had its eyes on them.


Pretty little dam gizzards from the tourist observation deck.

And it got me thinking, you know, because we know when we’re making history. We know when we are in the thick of these insane, life-changing moments. And we’re in one now. For those of us who are in resistance to this current administration, we are all making choices today and every day about what our movement looks like and what our actions will be. What our country will be. What it means to be American. In a large part, we now tell our own stories. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what my story should say. I have a horrible habit of overanalyzing every situation to the point of inaction. And I don’t think I want my legacy to be “She thought about shit but didn’t do shit and wasn’t shit.” My actions might not be THE narrative, but they are part of my narrative. And my narrative is part of the larger narrative.

So is yours.

On Friday afternoon, I went to the 1st Annual March to Reclaim King’s Radical Legacy hosted by Minister Stretch Sanders of All Shades United. I thought it was important to take the kids so that they could learn a little bit about what the Civil Rights movement was about and how the struggle in the sixties wasn’t the end of anti-Black racism in America. It wasn’t even a pause, and I wanted them to see that the struggle continues today. And I wanted them to understand that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t just fighting to end segregation, but for economic and social equality as well. Mainstream history presents Rev. Dr. King as a benevolent grandfather figure who non-violently brought equality to Black America. It doesn’t teach that Rev. Dr. King was considered one of the most dangerous men in America in his time. That he was a “criminal.” And it doesn’t teach that “non-violent” isn’t the same as “peaceful,” or that non-violence was actually exceptionally violent and that the perpetrators of that violence were most of mainstream white America. And it certainly doesn’t teach the history of anti-Black racism in America that began with slavery, morphed into Jim Crow, transformed into segregation, and is still with us today in many forms – including economic inequality, police brutality, and mass incarceration. It doesn’t teach us any of that shit.


Min. Stretch Sanders at the podium.

I thought it was important for my kids to learn about these things. This is their history. More importantly, this is their community. So I brought them along while I met up with some folks from our local Showing Up for Racial Justice group and the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation to participate in the rally.

At the rally, we listened to a number of really interesting and inspiring speakers. Then I had to take Middle Little home because his autism had him all overstimulated. DivaTeen stayed with friends (thank you, friends) who took her home after the rally. They marched and listened to more speakers. All of the speakers were great, but I have to give a special shout-out to one amazing young man, Dylan, who blew me away with his eloquence and his fire. Such an amazing young speaker making history at such a young age. I hear people complain a lot about the the entitlement and laziness of the younger generation, but all around me I see people like this awesome young man and it fills me with hope. This generation is going to BE the change. I believe it.

It was a wonderful, uplifting, inspiring rally. It was amazing to see people of all different shades, all different ages, all different abilities, backgrounds, and social groups – such a diverse group of people – come together in the spirit of hope and service and power and change. Some of them were clearly seasoned activists, and some were taking their first tentative steps towards showing up, towards speaking out, towards being the change that they wish to see in the world. Each one of them making a bold step towards writing their own story. Hopefully one of many steps. Hopefully marching towards a tidal wave of change.

So I’m curious… what will your story be? Will you sit back and watch whatever unfolds, or will you add your spark to the fire? Will you shape history, or will you allow yourself to be shaped by it? What you do today could affect untold futures, so what will you choose to do?

Remember, the world is watching.

The Damn Airport, the Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 3

You can read about the damn airport here.
You can read about the damn dam here.

This post is about the damn pet cemetery.

After spending all day at the Hoover Dam with my bestie Crazypants Clems and the Clems family, my kids and I decided to make one last stop before heading back to Las Vegas. It was starting to get dark, but that’s probably the best time to visit an abandoned pet cemetery. Right?

I first read about the pet cemetery on this post on the Places that Were blog. If you decide to go, bookmark that blog post because there is a map that you can click on and it will navigate you right to where you need to go. This is important because the pet cemetery is in the middle of the fucking desert right off the highway a couple miles south of Boulder City. And you’ll miss the little dirt road turnoff if you don’t know where to go. Plus, the entire blog is hella cool.

When you pull off the highway, you’ll see a fence and a couple of these signs. Some of the burials were fairly recent, so I don’t think anyone gives a fuck that they’re not supposed to bury their pets here. The entire stretch along the freeway is fenced, but it’s not electric (I touched it) so you can just crawl through the fence to access the cemetery. That’s what the kids and I did. #momoftheyear

I’m pretty sure it’s all BLM land and there weren’t any “No Tresspassing” signs, for those of you that are concerned about that sort of thing.

The place was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be – it was at least several acres. And most of it was really run down. I plan on returning, and I will definitely wear boots. There are lots of rusty nails and sharp things to step on.

I did a little reading up and learned that the first pet burials took place in the 30’s. I guess there was some kind of local effort to make it an official pet cemetery, but nothing ever came out of it. It is protected land now – my guess is desert tortoise – which is why people aren’t supposed to bury pets here anymore.

Most of the graves I saw were from the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the headstones were clearly homemade and others were pretty elaborate. Many of the markers were either missing or too faded to read.

This was one of my favorites. Our pets are our best friends, aren’t they?

I thought this one was cool because his tags are mounted in the stone. I bet he was a pretty boy.

Here is a family plot. They lost three dogs in three years. Sitting on the headstone, unattached, is a shell bracelet. I wonder if the Townsends still come to visit Chris, Merry, and Nora.

This one had an open bible on the grave with an angel watching over it.

This rusted, collarless bell was actually the saddest thing I saw there.

Some of the websites mentioned that there were rumors that the mafia buried people here, but you can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting something with a purported mafia connection. So I’d take that with a grain of salt. The scariest thing we came across was the sunset, and when the sun started to dip behind the mountains we hopped the fence and headed home. I’ve seen that movie before, and it didn’t turn out so well.  No way in fuckity-fuck was I gonna be caught there after dark.

It was a good day. One of the best, actually. Forty is going to be fucking awesome.

The Damn Airport, the Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 2

You can read about the damn airport here.

At the airport, we got a text from Crazypants Clems that she was coming into Boulder City, so we headed towards the Hoover Dam to meet her there. On the way, we stopped at the Memorial Bridge, or as I like to call it, the Bridge of Nope. Because there was no fucking way I was walking out on that thing. The kids did, however, and took this pic of the dam.

View from the Bridge of Nope.

 We hiked back down and Middle Little checked out a neon green Corvette and a white Ferrari in the parking lot. The white Ferrari was most definitely NOT a Porsche as I was very not-so-kindly informed by Middle Little who seriously and rightly doubts my intelligence when it comes to motor vehicles. We met the Clems family at the bridge and then headed over to the dam. After we peed in real bathrooms (not the kind that were basically holes in the ground) we went down and paid for the $30 tour. Splurge, baby. You gotta treat yourself to the finer things every once in a while. We had an hour and a half to look around before our tour group got together so we hung out in the visitors center.  I also may have played a little Pokémon Go.

The first thing we did was watch a movie. I don’t remember a whole lot about it except for some line about touching the calloused concrete skin of the dam and watching the water sparkle like jewels behind her crown. I’m pretty sure that the script was written by a romance novel writer. However, I tried the “touch my sparkling jewel with your calloused concrete skin” sexytalk with my husband when I got home and he was not. turned. on. at. all.  

What a diverse group of white people!

One of the things I noticed about the visitor’s center, and it carried throughout the tour, was that everything was presented from a really Eurocentric point of view. It was all about taming the raging wild river with American ingenuity and making the desert bloom. As if nobody was here and there was all this wasted water and then white people came and made everything better. Yay white people! The presentation reminded me of when I visited Little Bighorn in the eighties and it was all like CUSTER! CUSTER! CUSTER! oh yeah and some Indians too. Except here there were no “Indians too.”  From a public history standpoint, I found the presentation extremely troubling, particularly given the history of the struggle of Native Americans for access to water rights to the Colorado River. Struggle that is still happening today. Not to mention sacred spaces and other lands that were covered by lake water as a result of the Hoover Dam and other dams on the Colorado River. The story of American ingenuity and engineering is great and all, but why are we not also exploring what the cost is and who pays for it? 

So it was kinda fucked up.

After going through the visitor’s center, we took the tour through the dam and power plant. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but there were a couple of things that I found interesting.

Oh look, here are the Native Americans. Appropriated in the floor designs.

The floors were fucking amazing. They were made of terrazzo marble or some shit. The marble was black and white in the power plant and pink and white inside the dam. 

Straddling the power plant and the dam.

They used a designer named Allen Tupper True to help with the interior, and he designed the Native American themed (but still very Art Deco-ey) floor inlays. You can read more about the design here. The Hoover Dam wasn’t the only thing True did. He was pretty well-known for his murals, his design on the Wyoming license plate, and his Native American inspired artwork. He made quite a bit of money selling paintings that depicted Native American life before contact with whites. No, I’m not kidding. He’s actually kind of an interesting guy, and if artwork of the American West is your thing, you can check out this website

Another thing I really loved about the dam tour was being inside the engineering hallways inside the dam. It was cool because you got to see marks in the wall left by the inspectors and how the concrete blocks that make up the dam were grouted together. As cool as the marble floors were, the cramped little tunnels felt more real.

Math is only cool when it’s graffiti.

Ventilation tunnel created by pouring concrete over a cypress wood mold.

Where two blocks come together. Brass tacks inserted to gauge alignment upon settling.

After the engineering part of the damn dam tour, we went to the top via the crowdedest little elevator imaginable. Everybody else looked around. Being afraid of heights, I mostly freaked out while everybody laughed at me. Then we went to the old visitors center and watched the presentation there which consisted of a really fucking cool papier-mâché-or-something topographical map with lights narrated by someone in “booming nineteen-sixties authoritative male” voice. It might have been my favorite part of the whole damn thing.

What is this? Why is it so awesome! Where has it been all my life? AND IT HAS LIGHTS THAT LIGHT UP!!!

 By the time the last presentation was over, our sore-assed feet were ready to walk the fuck back to our cars. So we did.  And we grabbed lunch. And laughed a lot. And talked about cat hair pie. And hugged. And made plans to meet in a couple of weeks to hike out to a concrete arrow and I’ll tell you all about that later. And I’ll tell you about the awesome freaky pet cemetery tomorrow. 

Also, I’m sorrynotsorry for all the damn/dam jokes. They’re kind of like penis jokes – when you come (heh-heh) across one, it’s really hard (ha) not to say it. Plus, they made me laugh when I was like seven and visited the dam the first time and they still make me laugh all these years later. 

The Damn Airport, The Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 1

I haven’t been blogging for a long time, and I felt bad about that.

Then I came on here and saw a post that I had started and never finished, and I felt bad about that.

But this month is my birth month, and I feel good about that. I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks, and I feel really good about that.

My Mormon bestie, Crazypants Clems, wanted to take me out for my birthday and she asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to do something history, and she suggested the Hoover Dam since it is an hour away from me. And I loved the idea. We planned to meet up there early-ish so we could do the Dam Tour .

Of course, I immediately planned a couple of side trips to see what else there was to see in and around Boulder City. I especially love what I call “Dirty history,” which is history that isn’t yet museumized. You know, those funky little places that are kind of off the grid and don’t show up in glossy brochures? Those places make my heart happy.

I found this cool little blog called Places that Were and decided that I was gonna check out the abandoned airfield in Boulder City and the Pet Cemetery just south of town. The website was super-awesome in that you could look up shit on your phone and then just click on the map of the location to get directions to where you were going. Which was really helpful because the pet cemetery was in bumfuck nowhere and really hard to find. Using the map on that site allowed me to know exactly where to pull off the road onto the shitty dirt road street that led to the field of death pet cemetery.

There’s a lot to get through here, so I’m gonna just give my basic impressions and then link to sites where you can get more information.

We visited Bullock Airport first thing in the morning. It’s right off the main highway that runs through town (93?). You wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s behind a trailer park and some buildings on the side of the highway. I turned in at the back of the old hangar and parked there. In front of me was one of the old runways (above right) and then across the runway are a bunch of concrete slabs where buildings used to be (above left). The runway is pretty much dirt and gravel now. with some more solid asphalt or concrete in the center. Which is appropriate since it started out as a packed-dirt runway and it’s pretty much returned to that state. The only people who are using now it are the people who are dumping old TV’s, shopping carts, and whatever in the grass and whoever was camping out on one of the concrete slabs (we saw remains of a camp fire). It’s not super junked up, but I’d recommend wearing boots if you go out exploring. Same goes for the pet cemetery.


X marks the runway.

The airport, named after Noel Bullock, was built in the thirties and ran continuously through the late 40’s, with TWA providing commercial service. It was also used by the Navy during WWII and had an ammo depot onsite. After TWA stopped running service, the airport was under intermittent use by local flying clubs and whatnot until 1990, when the new airport was built further South. When I was reading about the airport online before actually going, I thought it was weird that TWA provided service to Boulder City into the late 40’s. Like why the fuck are so many people going to Boulder City in 1945? But then when I took the dam tour, they mentioned that today the Hoover Dam is considered a side-trip to a Las Vegas visit. But in the immediate years following the 1935 completion of the dam, it was the primary destination for many travellers. In fact, the airport offered flyover dam and Grand Canyon tours as soon as it opened. In the 1940’s, people came to Nevada to see the dam, not Las Vegas. In that context, it makes sense why there would have been a commercial airport in Boulder City.

There are a couple of buildings still standing. One is the terminal, in use by the local Elks Lodge, which I did not get a picture of. The other is an old hangar bearing a plaque honoring Paul Fisher of the Fisher Space Pen for donating funds for the hangar’s restoration.The Fisher Space Pen was used by NASA because the pen can write in space. It can also write on butter, which is far less impactful, but also far more interesting. Paul Fisher lived in Boulder City towards the end of his life, and died there in 2006.

The hangar was locked up pretty tight, so we didn’t get to see the inside. Sadface. But if you’re in the area, then I think it’s worth stopping by and taking a look. It’s kind of neat to see the bones of the buildings and the runways and imagine what it was like when it was bustling with people coming from across the country to see the dam.

I’m going to take a break today and write about the Boulder Dam tomorrow, probably. If you’re interested in reading more about the airport, check Paul Freeman’s Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields site (scroll down) or Boulder City’s Lost Airport on Places that Were.


Hawthorne’s Swanky Schools

At the beginning of the Summer, I had this plan to visit some of the sites in Nevada that were built as part of New Deal projects. There’s this really awesome website, Living New Deal, that has basically a database of sites that have been submitted by history-lovers around the U.S. You can search for sites by state or by type of project, and it will give you a list of stuff that you can go see (if it still exists). And it’s super-cool because it’s participatory history. If you know of a site that’s not on there, you can submit it. Or if you go to a site that is on there, but find out more information, you can submit additions to the record. So the site relies on all of us to add to the knowledge.  Pretty cool, huh?

I said that my plan was to visit some New Deal sites in Nevada, but I haven’t really gotten started yet and summer is almost over. I’ve been kind of waiting until DivaTeen and Middle Little were both out of school. One is on a 9-month school schedule, and the other is on a year-round schedule, and it fucking sucks. So we haven’t got a whole lot accomplished. Middle Little gets out in just over a week, so I plan on seeing as much as I can between then and when school starts back up three weeks later. It’s important to me that I get them out there and show them that history doesn’t just live in museums. It’s everywhere. And you can touch it, and breathe it, and live it.

I did get to make a few stops during my June trip to Reno after my stepmom passed. And one of the places we stopped was Hawthorne, where I really wanted to see the town of Babbitt.  I wrote a post about it, and you can read it here. But I also wanted to see some New Deal sites in Hawthorne since I knew that a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was located there in the 30’s.

The Living New Deal site listed a high school in Hawthorne as a New Deal site, and it seemed pretty easy to get to.  You can see the listing here. If you click the link, you’ll notice that I took the picture on the listing. I took it while we were there and submitted it later.  I am super-fucking-stoked to have contributed something to the project.  Even though it is a small something. Don’t douche all over my parade.

Mineral County High School, Hawthorne, NV.

The school was built in 1934 by a $55,000 grant given through the Public Works Administration. It’s still in use today. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The trim is yellow and black and has this neat thirties vibe. If I were back in high school, I’d totally want to go there. Except that I never want to go back to high school because I was weird and socially awkward (as opposed to how normal and socially adept I am now *snort*).

Getting back to 95 from the school, I turned onto 6th street and stumbled upon another badass school. The Sixth Street School was not a New Deal program, although some of the later expansions were federally funded. The site was originally home to a school built in 1886.  Fifty years later, in 1936, the current building was constructed. It has some really neat Art Deco architectural elements. It was designed by Willis Humphrey Church, an architect and the son of an art history/classics professor at University of Nevada, Reno. Church was a brilliant architect, and he co-authored the book Masterpieces of Architecture in the United States with Edward Hoak. But he was also an alcoholic and spent quite a bit of time in the Napa State Hospital in California. He died in 1969. (Source: University of Nevada, Reno). The building is still in use today, but I don’t think they’re using it as a school. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Check out the Art Deco details. Freaking sweet, huh?

Man, I really want to go to Reno and find out more about Willis Humphrey Church. I also want to learn more about the treatment of alcoholism in the first half of the 20th century. Did all alcoholics get treatment at psychiatric hospitals? Gah, I hate not knowing things.

Anywho, that’s pretty much all I wanted to say about Hawthorne. It was pretty awesome.


Cooking the New Deal: Apple Pan Dowdy

A couple of years ago, I read Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt, which is a microhistory of… umm… well, salt. I assure you it is so much better than it sounds. Salt is some fascinating shit. In fact, I liked it so much that when I heard he had a book on pre-WWII regional food, I snatched it right up.

Then I let it sit on my kindle for ages because I was too busy to read it and I had too many other books I wanted to read more. And now I’m kicking myself in the ass because it’s really good.

The idea for The Food of a Younger Land (click the link to view on Amazon) began in the Great Depression. You may have heard of it. It was basically ten years of economic hell, unemployment, starvation – all that fun stuff. It lasted from 1929 until about 1939, but it wasn’t really until the war industry boom that things really turned around for us. And people who were affected by the Great Depression remembered that shit forever. It left an impact on them that never really went away. If you have a grandparent that won’t buy a band-aid to save their life unless it’s on sale and they have a coupon *raises hand,*  they probably were alive during the Great Depression.

There were a lot of ideas on how to get us out of the Great Depression. President Hoover, who was in office at the beginning of the Depression, thought the best thing was to save businesses from collapsing and let money “trickle down” to workers. He believed in volunteerism and neighbors helping neighbors, and he felt that giving aid to the destitute was a bad idea because then they would lose their self-worth and it would discourage people from helping each other out. The people, in turn, built a shanty town outside of Washington DC and called it “Hooverville.” I guess that tells you what they thought of Hoover’s ideas.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, he had very different ideas on how to deal with the Depression. There is a lot of argument over whether FDR’s policies actually got us out of the Depression, or if the depression ended because of a commitment to deficit spending during the war, but either way, the assistance that FDR offered the American people undeniably made life during the Depression somewhat better.

FDR’s New Deal programs are large and complicated, and I’m not going to get into all of them here. You can thank me later. But I want to talk a second about the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which was prolly the biggest New Deal Project. The WPA basically put millions of people to work by finding a buttload of public works projects for them to do – building things like community centers, parks, swimming pools, auditoriums, and all kinds of other stuff.  One branch of the WPA, Federal Project Number One, focused solely on encouraging cultural growth by employing people in the arts, producing creative works, teaching the arts, and preserving historical records (shout out to the WPA historians!). The Food of a Younger Land focuses on one part of Federal Project Number One, the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP).

Over its eight-year span (four years federally funded, and four years state funded), the FWP employed over six thousand writers. Zola Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Saul Bellow are just a few of the notable authors who worked on FWP projects. The most successful project to come out of the FWP was the American Guide Series, a series of guidebooks for travelers detailing the then-48 states in the U.S. After the success of the American Guide Series, the next large-scale FWP project was slated to be a series of books on local cooking, broken up by region. At the time, before the Internet,  freeways, chain restaurants, and fast food joints on every corner, most of America’s cooking was homegrown, seasonal, and regional. The cooking series was meant to showcase regional cooking, give histories of local foods and recipes, and offer exotic glimpses into different, but still American, cuisines.

Unfortunately the bombing of Pearl Harbor put a stop to the plans for a regional cooking series. Unfinished, the notes, half-written manuscripts, and assorted collected information sat in a box in the Library of Congress for decades. Kurlansky’s book tries to make sense of those assorted notes and manuscripts that were submitted, and in doing so it offers a snapshot of American food right before our cuisine changed completely. Before the war industry gave us new ways to package and preserve now-“convenient” foods. Before highways connected us and spread regional fare nationwide. Before chain restaurants and fast food joints dominated our culinary landscape. And I gotta say, it’s pretty awesome.

So awesome that I decided it might be fun to try some of these recipes out. So, as I go through the book, wich will be slllooowwwwllllyy because I’m reading five or six books right now, I will occasionally make posts trying out some of the different recipes or foods in the book. These posts will be titled “Cooking the New Deal” because I’m not very creative. The first one I’m going to try, right now, is from the section titled “The Northeast Eats” in the subsection “Vermont Foods” and it is an Apple Pan Dowdy recipe submitted by Cora A. Woods.

There are two things you should probably know off the bat.

1. I hate cooking. I’m a shitty cook. I make no claims that I know what the hell in doing because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,

2. I have no clue what Apple Pan Dowdy is. I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like or taste like so try it at your own risk.

OK, this looks pretty simple. The first thing I need is a crust. Fuck, I don’t have any crust. Can I just buy one? No, that’s cheating. I decided that I’d use this crust recipe from “Simply Recipes.” They haven’t steered me wrong yet. I used the butter one because butter is delicious.

I need to get The Pioneer Woman to come take pictures for me. this is not very interesting.

So I don’t know how many apples a quart is so I used about seven cups. I used Fuji because they were cheap are my favorite. At this point I was so pissed off because somebody had taken apart my apple peeler/corer/slicer and put it back together all wrong. And I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. And I am fat, so I was sweaty. But  then I figured it out and had fun spinning the apples around. I made the recipe exactly like it was in the book, although if I make it again, I’ll probably halve the white sugar and add brown sugar because I like brown sugar.

Making an old-fashioned recipe from the Kindle app on my iPad. Dont judge.

In case you’re wondering, this is the Apple peeler/corer/slicer I have. I love it.

Fuckfuckfuck. The recipe doesn’t tell me how to fucking cook it. I don’t know what I’m doing. After guessing careful deliberation, I cooked the Apple Pan Dowdy at 375 degrees for about an hour. Then I chopped it up with a stainless steel knife and cooked it for about 20 minutes more. The recipe calls for a silver knife, but who the fuck has a silver knife just sitting around?

At least the knife is silver colored. That counts, right?

I’m assuming the lack of ice cream in the recipe was an unfortunate omission on the part of Aunt Hetty. I rectified that in the final product.

Aunt Hetty, whoever the hell she is, would be proud.

The verdict: Not bad. I’m still not sure how this isn’t apple cobbler. There was a lot of crust, which would normally be awesome because the crust is the best part. Except that I put too much water in my crust, so it was not very flaky. It needs more than a “dash” of cinnamon, and I stand by what I said earlier about the brown sugar. But overall it was pretty good. The husband, who is a bit of an apple pie snob, loved it. So I guess that makes it A-OK. If you decide to make it, it’s super easy. It’d be easier with a Pillsbury crust, though. Just sayin’.

If you liked this and want me to keep cooking, let me know in the comments. Otherwise I’ll have to find something else to amuse y’all. 😉

I’m off to bed. Good Night!