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.

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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