Leaving Las Vegas

I have a handful of posts I want to make about the time I lived in Las Vegas. Mostly road trips – Manzanar, Mountain Meadows, Rhyolite, and Tonopah. But it came up in my facebook memories that I left Vegas a year ago on Jan 2nd, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about the road trip and all the shit we saw on the way.

We had originally planned on leaving Vegas on Jan 1, 2019, and we planned a route that avoided Denver cos of snow. Turns out New Mexico and Arizona get snow too. Who the fuck knew? Because of dangerous driving conditions, Lipstick and Buzz and their crew let us crash an extra day with them, so we ended up leaving the next day. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t gonna complain about extra time with the Lipstick Gang.

On our first day, we got a late start and drove almost straight through to Gallup, New Mexico. We didn’t stop much at all because we were trying to rush through a window between two snowstorms.

On Jan 3, we drove from Gallup to Amarillo. We passed through the Continental Divide, which is the largest hydrological (big, fancy word) divide in the US. Basically rain and water and shit on the west side of the divide drain into the Pacific, and water on the east side drains into the Atlantic.

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I promise I’m wearing shoes. Ballet flats are shoes.

A lot of our driving on days one and two were in the vicinity of old Route 66. We couldn’t help stopping at Russell’s Travel Center, which is a truck stop with a diner, chapel, convenience store, and of course a pretty rad museum. They sold yellow cotton candy that was labelled as Donald Trump’s hair. I didn’t eat it cos eew, but it made me giggle.

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Actual Elvis sighting.

The museum at Russell’s was centered around cars, and there were several there that made Middle Little squee in excitement. Surrounding the cars were a ton of fifties paraphernalia and Route 66 memorabilia. There were pinup girls, soda machines, racing flags, and pretty much anything else you could think of. It is worth a stop if you’re going through the area.

On Jan 4, we woke up in Amarillo. One of my favorite country songs is George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” so it did give me a little thrill to wake up there. Our first stop was Ozymandias on the Plains, which is a statue that is an homage to Shelley’s Ozymandias. I talked a bit about the poem in a previous blog post that you can read here.

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I met a traveller from an antique land…

We heard about the statue from Atlas Obscura, which I scoured during my trip planning phase in search of weird and fun things to see. The statute was created by local artist Lightnin’ McDuff, who was especially known for his found object art and unique sculptures. He passed away in 2018. It was one of several art pieces sponsored by Stanley Marsh 3 (he preferred the 3 instead of III) who is often referred to as a businessman and philanthropist and art lover. He’s most known for sponsoring the Cadillac Ranch, which is a sort of car-henge art project outside of Amarillo. I guess they talk up those things because it gets a little awkward if you bring up how he sexually abused kids pretty much his entire life. 

We also stopped at another weird art installation outside of Amarillo called The Stoner Patriot Peace Garden of All Faiths. It’s kinda in the middle of nowhere, but Roadside America has information on how to get there. It’s pretty easy to find, viewable from the freeway and accessed via a frontage road. Not really much is known about the creator, Richard Daniel Baker, but a fellow blogger shed a little light in this post, where she prints a letter by one of the folks involved in the project. I don’t know if I can adequately describe how odd and awesome and moving it was to be there, so I’m just gonna photo dump and hope that some of the essence of the place shines through.

We missed the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, but managed to stop at the VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas. I couldn’t find any information about the instillation, and the closest building was an abandoned hotel/store that looks like it shares a property. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a car-henge of VW Bugs planted face first into the ground at a 45 degree angle and covered with graffiti. There was an abandoned shed and a bunch of used tires nearby. It was a cool place to nose around and take pics.

Our last roadside attraction in Texas was the Leaning Water Tower in Groom. From its inception in the 1920’s, Route 66 was the biggest highway in the US until Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act in the 50’s heralded improvements the would eventually replace the old route. Route 66 crossed 8 states, went through three time zones, and covered almost 2500 miles. It wasn’t called the Mother Road for nothing. Entire industries sprang up around catering to travelers along the highway, and many businesses used gimmicky marketing ploys and quirky attractions to draw travellers to their businesses.

In Groom Texas, Ralph Britten dreamed up the idea of a leaning water tower to draw people to his truck shop. He bought the tower, and placed it into the ground at an angle, balancing it on two legs and filling it just enough to keep the center of gravity low. That’s probably a really dumbed-down version of whatever math or physics went into that, but I studied history and that’s the best I can do. Anywhoo, it worked. People would come into the truck stop, panicked, and tell him that his water tower was about to fall over, and he’d laugh and sell them some gas or talk em into buying food or whatevs. Using the water tower as a draw worked and his truck stop was really popular until, strangely enough, it burned down. The tower’s still there, though.

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The Leaning Tower of Water

On January 5, we went through Kansas. There’s not much to say about Kansas. At this point we were close enough to Nebraska to just want to get there.

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Kansas. It’s a state.

On January 6, we made it to our new home in Nebraska.

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The good life. Fingers crossed.

I have so many cool Nebraska experiences that I want to tell you about, but I’ll have to save that for another day. I’m too busy living… the good life. 😉

Coming up very soon will be a collaborative blog post with one of my favorite people, Elaine Eshelman, about our trip to Manzanar. You’re gonna love her. She’s a rogue anthropologist, a writer and an activist, a loud-mouthed rabble-rouser, and a general all-around badass. I can’t wait to do this post with her. Until then, check out some of her other stuff. You won’t be disappointed. As part of The History Explorers (https://www.facebook.com/thehistoryexplorers/) she posts youtube videos where she teaches her daughters the actual, factual history that often gets left out of schools. She also runs an amazing collaborative writing page called Shorties (https://www.facebook.com/shortiespoetryandprose/). You can check out some of her more personal thoughts on her blog Living In Outer Space (https://livinginouterspace.blogspot.com/).

Fly Me a River with my Worker Bee

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Post in which I take a trip with my favorite worker bee.

Guys. Guys. Are you still here? How did I go like eighteen months without writing a single blog? I’m sure I had to like renew my account or something during that time. And I didn’t write anything? *hangs head* I’m a damn mess.

In the past eighteen months I changed jobs, changed states, became cancer-free, had my cancer come back, learned how to drive in the snow, and completely remade my entire life, so I’m gonna give myself a motherfucking pass. It’s cold here, y’all. Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone. (I’m not lying. It’s the actual Nebraska tourism slogan, guys.)

It’s the first week of 2020, and I don’t usually do New Years revolutions, or resolutions, or whatever the fuck y’all do. But this year I did promise myself that I would do more things that I love in 2020. And I love History Things ™ and plan on doing a ton of them. I also love sharing History Things ™ with you all, so I’m gonna try and write here at least once a month. That’s my goal.

Also I don’t actually have a trademark on the phrase “History Things” and may have possibly inhaled too much albuterol to combat my cold-induced asthma which is acting up terribly in this frozen hellscape I find myself “living” in.  It’s okay though, I don’t really need to sleep anyway.

Nebraska is actually super-fun when it’s not winter, and we are coming up on one year here. I want to tell you about ALL THE THINGS. There is so much to do here, and I’ve done a ton of History Things already. But first, there are a few Vegas things I still wanna talk about. So I’m gonna drop them here over the next few weeks and then my future posts will be Nebraskawesome. Deal?

Today I’m gonna talk about the time that my fellow worker bee, Buzz, and I explored up high and down low. Up high to a navigation arrow on top of a mesa near Mesquite, NV, and down low to explore a city that used to be under Lake Mead.

I found out about navigation arrows when I was doing research for my first trip to Boulder City, which you can read about here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part 3). I was looking for info on the abandoned airport in Boulder City, and I came across some information on concrete navigation arrows, which I bookmarked and tucked away for another day.

So what are they? Basically they’re what’s left of a navigation system built to guide postal planes across the country in between WWI (when we knew enough about planes to keep them in the air) and WWII (when our navigation knowledge caught up). They were part of a system of Beacon Stations, spaced about twenty five miles apart on hilltops along airmail pathways. The beacons were for illumination and the brightly-painted yellow concrete arrows pointed the way to the next station. By WWII, navigation technology had improved, and the arrows weren’t as necessary. During the war, most of the beacons were scrapped for metal, but many of the concrete arrows remained. Tons of them are still there on hilltops waiting to be found.

When I told Buzz about the arrows, she wanted to go find one as much as I did. We looked at the Arrows Across America website, which has a listing of remaining arrows by state. We found a couple near Las Vegas, but the one in Mesquite looked pretty accessible and seemed to be only a short mile-or-so hike from a truck rest area off of I-80. Which is all well and good and everything but it was sooo fucking hot in the desert which is how I ended up driving my SUV on the top of a fucking mesa like I was a goddamned hero in an action movie or something rollin’ through the tumbleweeds. And I’m afraid of heights and I’m lucky my stupid ass didn’t drive off the top of the fucking thing. I COULD HAVE DIED.

But we found the arrow.

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Here’s pointing at you, kid.

Somebody had painted it orange fairly recently. I guess it’s a thing for people to go up to them and paint them every once in a while. Some people think it kinda ruins them, but I’m also pretty sure I never would have found it without the paint job.

This is my favorite picture of Buzz at the arrow. It could be an album cover. Also, isn’t she so fucking adorable??? I love my friends.

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I love her so much!

Honestly, I’ve done a lot of History Things, but this damn arrow was one of the best fucking things I’ve ever seen. I know I’ve mentioned before that I have a passion for dirty history. I like going out and seeing the shit that’s not sitting in a museum (don’t get me wrong – I love museums too!), especially if even if I might get killed in the process. There’s just something really satisfying of getting out there and doing history as an action. It gets me right in the god damned heart every fucking time.

Anyways, after the arrow, we drove into Mesquite and got ourselves dinner and then headed to the Lost City Museum in Overton, which I didn’t take any pictures of. It’s definitely worth seeing, and explores the history of the Anasazi, who originally inhabited the area around Lake Mead. I’m pretty sure I went through this museum when I was a kid, probably with my grandparents, as I vaguely remember a trip to the nearby Hoover Dam when I was a kiddo. Super shout-out to the museum attendant who gave us as bunch of info that prepared us for the next stop on our journey.

After an easy hour at the Lost City Museum, Buzz and I headed into Lake Mead to check out the abandoned city of St. Thomas.

You can read all about St. Thomas on the National Parks Service website, but I know that you don’t come to this blog for that kinda stuff. Read that on your own time. This is my time. I’ll give you the Vulgar Historian rundown. You’re welcome.

The area was originally inhabited by the Anasazi, but Mormons were the first white people to settle the area. The town was at the junction of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers, and it was a good area for farming which was what the Mormons were looking for. You might think that the men in the early LDS church were all about the multiple wives, but the truth is that farming was what really revved their engines. This place was great for farming, so they stayed. Thing is, they weren’t sure if they were in Utah or Arizona or Nevada. They lived there for a handful of years before Nevada was like y’all are in our state and owe us a shit-ton of back taxes. Rather than pay the taxes, they Burned. That. Shit. Down. and yeeted themselves back to Utah. Literally, they burned their houses down before they left.

A few years later, a new group of (non-LDS) settlers moved into town and took over a few of the abandoned brick buildings and set up a farming community. The town prospered, boosted by a railroad and then an auto road between Salt Lake City and LA. At its peak, the town had a population of about 500, and even hosted a president (I forgot which one) overnight.

In the 20’s the government decided to build the Hoover Dam, known then as the Boulder Dam, and paid the fine townspeople of St. Thomas to gtfo. Or, you know, learn to breathe underwater. Since the dam was gonna turn that whole area into a lake and all. By the time the dam was erected in the 30’s, most everyone was gone, but there’s always THAT PERSON, and so the final family had to evacuate by boat. AFTER SETTING THEIR HOME ON FIRE. What is up with these people burning down their fucking houses?

When the lake is full, St. Thomas sits 60 feet underwater. Since its submersion, drought has caused it to be uncovered a few times, most recently in 2004. The attendant at the Lost City Museum said he doesn’t think it’ll ever go back under in his lifetime. It’s California’s fault. Thanks, Obama. (Sorry I lived in Nevada for a while and old habits die hard).

One of the things about visiting a town sitting 60 feet underwater is that you have to hike 60 feet down to get to it. I am terrified of heights and didn’t realize I would be barreling down the side of a fucking cliff. Which was actually a gradual middling-steep trail, but my story is barreling down the side of a fucking cliff and I’m sticking to that. Buzz and I made it down okay and then hiked the maybe quarter of a mile to the townsite. The hike was almost all through sand, which was kind of fun but got into my shoes like nothing.

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The trail was a 2.5 mile loop, most of it flat.

Once we got there, there were a several abandoned buildings, all partially destroyed, and a few more visible foundations for buildings that had once been there. There were a few signs telling you what you were seeing, but not a lot. There was still a lot to see.

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Map of the different sites you could view from the trail.

I’m just gonna photo dump some of the pics from the trail.

Buzz and I had a great time and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We went slowly through the site, stopping at the different places and exploring. None of it was roped off, so you could actually go up and touch things. I’m pretty sure I touched everything there.

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Aren’t we adorable?

Afterwards, we hiked back up to our car, which took longer than it took to just run headlong down the trail. The anxiety kicked in on the way back up, but I did it and I’m proud that I did.

If you get a chance to go, it’s definitely worth the hike. I’d advise to go in the fall or winter (when it’s cooler), take LOTS of water, and probably bring a first-aid kit. There are no facilities anywhere so anything you need will have to be brought in with you.

This was gonna be my last Vegas post, but while I was looking for pics of this trip, I realized that I had a bunch of pics from my two Rhyolite trips and my Tonopah trip that I haven’t posted about. So maybe I’ll post them before I post about Nebraska. Or maybe I won’t post anything again for 18 months. Who knows? Not me.