Listing the top five destinations in the desert of southwest Nevada could start and end with Las Vegas. In all of these essays, Las Vegas is easily the most interesting big city in the bunch. (Phoenix? I just think of it as one big strip mall. I could be wrong, but having visited a couple times, I doubt it.) As the 30th largest city in the nation (as well as the 30th largest metropolitan statistical area and the fastest growing one in the group) you’d expect Vegas to have some pretty cool things. In fact, off the top of my head, here’s a top five things to do in Las Vegas: 1. Play poker at Caesar’s Palace; 2. Go see Penn & Teller at the Rio; 3. Try one of the Stratosphere rides; 4. Go see the Cubs play the Rangers at Cashman Field; 5. Go swim at the MGM Grand.
(Maybe I’m just not familiar enough with Phoenix to write about it in this dismissive manner, as the sixth largest U.S. city has to have something other than Pizzeria Bianco. Maybe I’ll just have to do some research on that city in time for visiting for spring training this year.)
However, as much time and effort that’s been made into changing Las Vegas from desert to destination, it doesn’t feel right to lean on it as a crutch for this list. So, starting as you enter the state from Arizona on I-93, here are five things to do in the desert of Nevada outside of Las Vegas.
1. Tour Hoover Dam
I have a terrible fear of heights. I don’t like the edges of anything that rises far up into the sky. However, I like to push myself to fight against my fears, so I occasionally find myself on the top of a mountain, or on the side of a hot air balloon with a bungee cord attached to me. Looking over the edge of the Hoover Dam is one of those things I did to myself and I still remember not liking it one bit. The top of the dam is high, high, high up from the bottom. That’s why I’d prefer the dam tour from inside the dam instead of the damn top of the dam. Unfortunately, the tour includes a damn walk on top of the dam as well.
2. Hike to a hot springs
On the opposite side of the spectrum from high places is hot springs. I like them a lot as the idea of natural hot tubs that keep new water circulating into them appeal to me much more than the hot tubs you find at hotels and all the stuff that grows in them. The fact that you need to hike to them, often through beautiful country is an added bonus. Just below the Hoover Dam there is a hot spring with a relatively short hike (six miles round trip) that would be much more appealing in the winter months than the summer when the air temperature rivals the water temperatures. Of course, if six miles sounds like too much, there are many more trails with hot springs as the destination.
3. Visit The Resort at Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump
There’s a house in Kansas City where I went to a few parties that is a converted brothel. The carpet is red so that it matches the wallpaper. The glass table has legs made of little naked imps. The master bedroom has a heart shaped bed and it’s all part of the rental price and sits on a main drag in the middle of the city. Is that what a brothel is really like? According to this story, not so much anymore and you certainly won’t find it in the middle of a big city. You have to go to Pahrump to experience the African safari rooms and 60s pad complete with lava lamps to go with a full service sports bar. If you want a reason to visit other than to look around to satisfy your curiosity, there’s the Bordello Thunder Run where you can take your motorcycle to visit four different brothels complete with food and a poker tournament.
4. Stay overnight at the Gold Point Ghost Town
I’m a sucker for ghost towns especially ones that try to preserve the flavor of the town. If you visit Gold Point Ghost Town, all the money you spend there goes to restoring the city. You can stay overnight in a standard cabin for $99 and that includes an all-you-can-eat breakfast as well as the special ghost town amenities like a tour of the town and photo albums with 8,000 pictures of ghost towns. For $17 more, you get a family style dinner and lunch the next day. Just the idea of homemade ice cream for dessert makes me want to go as soon as possible. I love homemade ice cream even more than hot springs.
5. Explore Tonopah Mining Park
Lastly, to get a taste of what drove the creation of ghost towns, there’s the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. The site contains building from four mining companies and you can walk in any and all of the buildings to take a look. If you visit during Memorial Day weekend, you can go watch the Mining Championships with events like team mucking, spike driving and single jack drilling. Then again, I bet you could do those same things at Shari’s Ranch next weekend.
That’s my top five for the many places in the more rural areas of the Nevada desert. Any suggestions for things that I missed? Any restaurant/greasy spoon recommendations for the area? Just let me know in the comments.
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