When last we left our intrepid adventurer Bertie, and his manchild keeper, they had crossed the Idaho border into Nevada. The delay between that post and this one could be attributed to real life interfering and taking up very much all of the manchild’s time, but I think we all know the truth. Seeing the Idaho Potato Museum of Potatoes was the peak. We were never going to top that.
But Idaho was our 35th state, there are still 13 more to go on this whirlwind adventure (or given the pace at which I’m recapping it, this mild-breeze adventure)
Our first stop is the ghost town of Metropolis, which is rather optimistically named for a town which only lasted 40 years. As I wander between the scant ruins that remain, I can’t help but feel the plaque commemorating the town slightly overplays its importance:
There is something that cracks me up though: it’s the end of February, it’s snowy and cold and we are in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive about a dozen miles from the closest thing approaching civilisation, on poor roads, to get here. And yet there’s fresh tyre tracks in the snow. Someone had been here pretty recently. This happens a fair amount in the US: no matter how staggeringly large it is a country, and how remote you think you are, there always seems to be someone just around the corner. Whether visiting insane Georgian commandments or the remote corners of Wyoming, there are just people everywhere. (In writing this post, I checked out Metropolis on Google Maps. There’s a car there. Maybe it’s just a bizarrely popular spot)
There’s still a long way to go today and the sun’s already setting. As I turn to get back in my car it strikes me that this is the kind of promo shot you would use to promote my dear old Chevy if: 1- it was worth promoting and 2- I actually gave it a wash at some point.
I point my shambling, dirty wreck of a car south and fill her up at the next gas station, because it has a cheerfully ominous sign as you go to get on the highway which warns you that this is the last gas station, the last bastion of humanity in a cold, uncaring world, for a couple hundred miles.
It turns out to be a little bit less Mad Max and a little more … driving down a road for a few hours. I arrive in Ely and stop for the night. (Google Maps describes my route as “Unknown Road to Elysium”, that’s going to be the name of my novel, no-one else take that). The next morning we continue our adventures in abandoned things: outside Ely is what’s left of a town called Ward. And what’s left are six stone ovens, built to supply the smelters (now gone) of the town (also now gone).
My path from Idaho has been broadly south all the way and if I kept going, I’d hit Vegas. The road I end up taking is a little more – how does one say? – pointlessly meandering. I head westwards and head along roads that are vast in their scale. Strips of tarmac surrounded by nothing, changing only when the geography demands it. Out here I hit several points where I am driving over 18 miles before a curve in the road.
The landscape and what’s dotted across it is so different from what I’m used to at home that driving along never became boring. Instead of fields, sheep, and sheep-filled-fields of home, there’s scrubs interrupted by a stray pumpjack (which Wikipedia reliably informs me is also called a “donkey pumper”, which I had originally thought was when a man—you know it’s not important). Atop a ridge sits an observatory and I’m jealous of what great stars they must be able to see out here.
I stopped at some point to take a picture of the view when I noticed that the road signs here, like their New Mexico brethren, were the most dangerous prey:
Far be it for me to speculate as to the mental state of someone who needs to shoot up highway advisories. They must have suffered some terrible trauma. What could possibly—okay, I confess, I know the answer. I’m about to get to Tonopah and I have to warn you: motherfuckin’ clowns are waiting for us.
If you have an aversion to motherfuckin’ clowns, look away now. Here, go look at this video of a mommy cat hugging a baby cat (a cattern I believe).
For the rest of you, for the mad and brave, if you’re in Tonopah, there’s only one place you can stay. The Clown Motel.
This is the original inspiration for The Shining, I assume. And It, too. Hell, Stephen King probably lives here. I, of course, am not brave enough to actually stay a night in this obvious portal to hell, but I did go into the reception. The outside was brilliantly bright and the change into the darkness of the reception left me blind for a few seconds. As my vision refocused, I started to see them, shapes in the darkness. There were clowns everywhere, of every kind. Porcelain clowns, clown dolls, Rob Ford, they lined the walls, covered every inch of shelf. There were clown paintings on the wall and a receptionist that was, you guessed it: a middle-aged lady. I mean, they still have a business to run. I couldn’t bear to befoul my camera with pictures of that place, so I retreated into the daylight.
As I beat a path out of town, I had to stop to regain my composure, but, more importantly, to gain this picture:
As I leave you to ponder that in your nightmares, I continue my path, heading south. I’m heading lazily towards another ghost town, down near the California border. Something catches my eye a few miles out though. Left at the side of the highway is:
It so captures my interest that, as I’m poking around and taking a look at what’s left, it takes me several minutes what’s on the giant sign a few metres away from the plane:
In hindsight that does explain some of the more, ah, specific graffiti. Nevada, so far as I can work out, exists to have brothels and casinos. I’d seen plenty of the latter in nearly every town I came across, but as far as I’m aware, this was the first brothel I’d seen. Mind you, considering how much more noticeable the plane was to me, maybe I’m not that brothel-aware. I head on through the town of Beatty (several cheap casinos and a Dennys) and out the other side to find the ghost town of Rhyolite. I say ghost town because it’s been abandoned, but I came across a wild herd of photographers there and a steady flow of traffic. I mean it was busier than a… than a… I can’t think of a good comparison.
Anyway, here is a picture of Rhyolite that, if Google is to be believed, is the picture of Rhyolite that people take.
But here’s a couple more anyway:
It’s about an hour or so before sunset and I’m awfully close to Death Valley, so I drift downhill towards the California border.
I trundle into Death Valley which, at this time of year, is less Death and more Pretty Pleasant Valley. I’m driving what must be the lesser used road as I inadvertently interrupt some filming (well, I guess I definitely am in California). I pass a 50s Cadillac with a small film crew around it and head on into the valley.
I stop in at the Furnace Creek Visitor Centre which, at 50m below sea level, is one of the lowest points in the US. A quick glance at the clock and the map gives me a new idea: to drive to the top of Dante’s Peak (1669m above sea level) before the sun goes down below the opposite mountains. I drive at a perfectly respectable and safe speed along narrow, dusty roads. In no way do I bound.
But I do screech up the twisty road just in time:
There’s no rush on, so I end up staying up there for a few hours watching the stars come out and the moon rise.
Next time: I make it to Vegas. I do not make it in Vegas.