Posts Tagged ‘road trips’

Leftover Bits and Pieces from the Road

March 9, 2015

Most of the wandering on my trip took place in Nevada, as nearly all the sites I wanted to hit on this go-round were in the desert. There were some great ghost towns and haunted spots from my start in Missouri, for sure, but those only popped up at the rate of about one a day.

Like Texola, OK, where the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl pushed residents out, and the nostalgic Route 66 tourism (the juice that keeps towns like Seligman on the map) didn’t bring enough in. I had a great time tromping around through obviously unsafe ruins and poking into doorways where I probably shouldn’t have been.

abandoned building, with faded

Another day was for Picher, OK, an old mining town that the EPA calls the most toxic place in America, where only a handful of people refused to take the federal buy-out. I poked around the Picher Mining Museum (now empty, except for a strange tiny photo of an antique clock on one wall), respected the signs that told me a building was still inhabited, and walked all through the others.

window in faded wood, cracked glass, red brick

young couple spraypainting upright cadillacs

Not all the sites I headed for were ghostly. Visionary and outsider art has always been as much of a draw for me as the unknown and spooky, and this trip included a healthy dose of that as well. I’ve meant to hit up Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch in Texas for years, and I finally had the opportunity. Carhenge was a highlight of my last trip; there’s just something about the idea of big ol’ road trip machines sticking out of the earth in odd ways and covered in colorful paint that calls to me. Especially if you get to leave your own mark on them. The best bit was watching a young punk couple spray their names onto a car in the middle of the row. Before leaving, the boy came up to me and grinned, and let me know that they’d collected all the cans with leftover paint in them, and that I should feel free to grab a couple and go nuts. They walked off hand-in-hand.

sun peeking behind aluminum-covered 'castle' tower

The next day’s site wasn’t ghostly either, just awesome: Cano’s Castle, in Antonito, CO. 30 years of junk collecting and building, and the result is a glittering, towering, pile of awesomeness. Dusted in snow when I saw it, it was freaking astounding. I’m both a bit sad and a bit relieved I didn’t run into Cano, the marijuana & Jesus-inspired builder. Sounds like he has some strange views about women, and food. Still. Next time, maybe. There’s a sweet little narrow gauge railroad that runs up the mountains from there in the summer, and a return trip might be called for.



orange and nuts and note left for ghost in room 19

I didn’t find any ghosts at the Weatherford Hotel, in Flagstaff the next night, though I wasn’t looking too hard. Actually, the St. James, a few nights earlier, was the only spot where I spooked myself to the point of almost seeing something. My room was sans bath and at the end of a long mirror-lined hallway, which meant I had to run down creaky floorboards and past doors open to empty poker rooms with antelope heads on the wall every time I had to pee. I also stood for long minutes outside the most haunted room, where other visitors left offerings in the morning, and almost convinced myself I heard something. And I ate green chile, both for dinner and breakfast the next day, that flat-out changed my life. My mouth is watering right now. The Bay Area might be awesome for international food, but it’s severely lacking in southwestern tastes.

That was the first five days, bringing me to the desert and Nevada. The next day was when I really went a bit nuts.

Amargosa Opera House sign and doors, openingI spent that night at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel. It was a Thursday, which sadly meant that I missed the performance by one day. But I met the young dancer from Oakland who is carrying on the vision of the founder, a New York ballet star who renovated the little decrepit Death Valley theater and danced, regardless of whether she had an audience, every weekend. And I saw the wild horses that came up to her back door every night. And I met the hawk who spent his nights in the old barn, thanks to an introduction from a chihuahua-toting Modesto man who had been there for a week. If you think of this lovely old place as a historic hostel with private rooms, and you’re cool with that, you’ll love it.


I left at sunrise the next day to get to Rhyolite, where the old West ghost town wasn’t itself the attraction. Within the ruins lies the Goldwell Open Air Museum, where artists have scattered works here and there in the desert setting. The ghostly forms were, obviously, my favorite. They reminded me of my favorite building in San Francisco.

white ghostly forms against a desert background

On to Scotty’s Castle… but I made one quick detour on the way. I was geocaching this whole time, and that lovely little sport/game led me to some fantastic spots. But none compared to the Hard Luck Castle. The second cache, about 4 miles down the dirt road after you turn at the big attention-grabbing Tourist Attraction! sign, was located at a fantastic roadside shrine – and I simply cannot resist a roadside shrine.


HLCastleEntryWhen I got to the end of the road and met the shrine’s creator, I learned that it was built from the bed of a truck that cracked an axle when he was hauling his first load up the road to begin his castle. Oh, his castle. It looks pretty nondescript from the road – just a big round green bunker, with a bit of a tower in the middle where you can watch the stars – but as soon as you get closer, you start to see the amazing bits. This is your classic lone-man-builds-a-dreamhouse-in-Nevada-to-escape-the-government type scenario, and the tour will blow your mind. The great doors open to a circular room, with arched doorways leading off in various directions, and an immaculately tiled labyrinth taking up the entirety of floor. With a jewel in the center.

The main living room has not one, but two pipe organs, one rescued from a condemned church, one from a theater. It also has a 5-foot wide latchhook wall hanging, made by the builder during a long Tahoe winter (part of the reason he chose Death Valley). As you go through the house, the details overwhelm you: the conjoined HL logo with a naked woman on each side (pretty sure I spotted a – classy – naked woman in each room of the castle); the commemorative bricks placed (first, last, and in honor of departed dogs); the central fountain-filled courtyard, open to the observatory above and joined by a circular metal staircase; and oh lord, the white and gold bathroom dominated by a gleaming tub and a huge window with an expansive view of the desert valley. Simply amazing.

GoldfieldStationSo as I said, on to Scotty’s Castle – which, while part of a National Park and a Historic Place with an Entrance Fee and Picnicking Area and also Parking For Recreational Vehicles, was way less impressive. An engineering marvel, and a gorgeous deco building, but how can you compare a private tour that went into every room with a don’t-touch-anything, follow-the-guide, stay-in-your-pack-of-30-people tour? You can’t. I left early, and moved on to Goldfield, a town studded with geocaches, art cars, abandoned buildings, and historical markers. Perfection.

ClownMotelSignStill, I rushed through it, as sunset was coming and I had to get to my lodging that night: the Clown Motel in Tonopah. This was my last haunted hotel for the trip, and probably the one I was the most excited about. It’s like doubling-down on terror: not only do you have ghosts (well, maybe – the owner says any ghosts are just nearby, in the adjoining cemetery), but you also have clowns. ClownMotelClowns5Clowns. Lots, and lots of clowns. Over 500 of them in the motel’s lobby, a collection that went a bit mad. However, I actually found this one of the most peaceful nights of my trip. Aside from a clown holding my door number, and a tasteful pastel watercolor of a clown gentlewoman holding a parasol in an Edwardian dress above my bed, the clowns were mostly confined to the lobby. I slept like a log. No evil cackling or anything.


And that was my time in the desert. I spent one full day traveling a distance that you could make non-stop in about 2 hours. Bliss. The high point of my trip. I’ve always given Nevada a wide berth, calling it the one state within which I found nothing to love on my first road trip. I love the Arizona deserts of my ancestry, but the Nevada ones always felt truly empty to me, not conducive to living (or dead) souls. Man, was I wrong. You just have to go a little slower and be willing to off-road it a bit, and the uniquely-Nevadan spirits will show themselves.


I don’t even know where I am… in a Nyquil daze

July 3, 2010

Oy. My chest. A co-worker, describing the illness he recently got over, put it best: I have become a phlegm-monster. Or at least She From Whome Alle Phlegm-Monsters Flow. Seriously. There are things coming out of my body that surprise and horrify me. And they may try to take over the city soon.

But that’s enough of that. What else… let’s see… Lots of time on the internets recently…

I learned that there’s a fake door in Paris, installed as an art project years ago, that still stands to this day. I wonder if people send pizza to it, like the fake house near Paddington. I’d love to live near something like that. I’d decorate it for holidays; leave little notes on the door; challenge my friends to ding-dong-ditch one of them.

And I learned that New Zealand is the number 1 country to live in, if you want to avoid world conflict. Like that’s a surprise.

I learned that I’m desperate to travel again. I am so hungry for a road trip, I can feel my head starting to vibrate. I’m not sure how that equates, it’s just what came out. Actually, wait. Yeah. I get so high-strung and tensed-up that my head just starts to shake, and the only thing that knocks the shimmies out is an equal and answering road shimmy. Cure like with like. Or meet force with force. Or something. Just get me moving!

At the top of my list is Alaska. It’s one of the last 2 states I need to hit, and I’ve been wanting to drive north past Vancouver for as long as I can remember. Since I listened to Tom Bodett’s “The End of the Road” on a book-on-tape in my parents’ old station wagon. I must have been 10 or 11 when I first heard it, and it was the phrase and location more than the stories that stuck with me. Even then, before I could drive, I knew that if there was an end of the road somewhere, I wanted to drive there. And wow, huge google sidetrack. Publisher’s Weekly gave The End of the Road a horrible review! Brats. I think I’ll go re-read it, because I’m sure my 10-year old reading was much more valid than theirs.

Then comes Texas, a state of such girth that I feel I skimmed much too quickly over. Plus there’s this AMAZING new studio out there, MMOV, that I am dying to check out. But… it’s summer. And I’m still in good ol’ Tach, my valiant pickup, he of the absolutely-zero-frills, especially-not-AC-are-you-kidding. Therefore Alaska is taking precedence.

So. Anyone wanna go halfsies on the gas up and back? Quick trip to the Yukon? We just missed the midnight sun, but I bet it’ll be pretty darn awesome still. You’ll have to split the bed in the back of the truck with me, since I’m too cheap for motels. But it’s cool; I’m sure my phlegm-monster will have moved on to Manhattan by then.

Home, distracted

August 16, 2009

I just found an old piece of graph paper that I found in 2004 in the first rest-stop in Florida, just across the Georgia border. I should really scan it, but for now, a transcription.


Delaware – 10:26. Rolling Stones is the ultimate Gonzo Allyallie.

11:something AM, SomeWhere in America. Waltzing for Zizi little by little till we find our way. My smile has turned to habitual clenching of the jaw.

A culture born from the Nhile river, the cradle of civiliz evolved and blamed it all on pot. Weed is a synthetic response to all of life’s problems.

“Waves of paranoia. Creeping down my spine.” It’s 2 PM now and we’re well on our way. We’ve pushed confusion aside and swallowed paranoia. It’s not easy to avoid when your in a foreign state with a trunkload of drugs. But for now these thoughts of unsettling nature can rest; we’ve got Rage to calm us. Not calm. Sedate. Ever since I first discovered music, I’ve put it on so I wouldn’t need to talk. Vanishing is fun. The majority of this day was spent on I95 South, staring at the sky and communicating like never before. Road trips kick ass.

4:16 – We’re in South Carolina? Maybe? We’re being sleeted on. Jesus Christ Almighty. We’re coming nearer and nearer to our stated destination and there’s snow fucking everywhere! We have been continuously passing discarded cars, colored by some fanatic soccer moms in their menopause.

I just saw a crane flapping in a puddle of its own shit.

Still on I95 – Sting and the Police are soothing us now. He’s hel You all should thank him, he’s the reason I still retain the ability to write (breath, function, live; all with a human head) I, myself, am fine. AO-fuckin-KAY! but him? he’s fucking loosing it. He took too much to compensate for the loss of sleep. He’s driving after all. Now is not the time for that, not with a 3-ton steel box moving at 80 mph at his fingertips. Ha Ha, I trust him though – even if it is with my life. Edobz, don’t let me down.

“If by some fucking miracle we made it there alive… we’d have so much fun” – the help

No More Snow! We’re close. Green Life! We’re closer. 3 hundred and 33 and 3 tenths – reads the ‘trip’ meter.

We might actually… the sunset. It’s beautiful. I haven’t seen something so beautiful since I can remember. – – Red sky @ night, sailors delight.

Wait, I didn’t tell my parents I was coming here, did I? Is it 6 PM? feh, my body.