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/).

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.

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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.

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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?).

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Y’all!!!

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.

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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..

 

 

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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 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.

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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.