The Weird Things We Saw in Nevada

Weird things we saw in Nevada: Kitsch and Americana in the desert

 

There is a lot of weird stuff in Nevada. If a foreigner were to ask me what part of the United States to travel to where they could see the most unique Americana, I’d tell them to take a road trip around Nevada. Nevada is a desolate state, with pockets of decadence and extravagance (I.E. Reno and Las Vegas), loose laws and high security prisons, believers in alien life and leftover ghosts of Gold Rush days’ past. There are stretches of highway that go on for miles in between towns, which kept us nervously filling up our gas tank whenever it was only half full–just in case the next road was too long. It’s a state that will have you saying “what the fuck” at least once a day, but that’s the beauty of it. Here are the top weird things we saw in Nevada on our road trip in 2011:

 1. A sign telling us to report shooting from the highway

Shortly after leaving the small town of Ely, Nevada, heading south on Highway 50, we passed a sign with an 800 number telling us to report any shooting from the highway. Because apparently, people driving around in their cars shooting rifles at wildlife (and who knows what else) is a common enough phenomenon in that part of rural Nevada that there is a hotline to report it. Sorry, we didn’t get a photo. We also passed a high security prison and a sign telling us not to pick up hitchhikers. Noted.

weird things in Nevada

2. The Neon Boneyard

The Neon Boneyard is hands-down the coolest thing we’ve ever seen in Las Vegas. It is part of a small museum of Las Vegas past, with a fenced-in corral across the street where all the old neon signs of Vegas go to die. Reservations for tours are usually required, so plan ahead. Don’t miss it.

Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas
“Vegas Vic,” Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas

3. The Mermaid Lounge

The second coolest thing I’ve seen in Las Vegas is the Mermaid Lounge at the Silverton Casino. The waitresses dress in mermaid-inspired attire, there is a live jellyfish tank filled with moon jellies over the bar, and a giant floor to ceiling tropical fish aquarium next to the bar. The best part? They do live mermaid shows in the aquarium several times a day. The Silverton Casino is a little bit out of the way from the strip, but an easy cab ride. It’s more of a local casino.

weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas
weird things in Nevada Mermaid Lounge Las Vegas
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas

4. The Peppermill Casino in Reno

We stayed two nights at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, and ate at their Oceano Restaurant. It is an extraordinary neon disaster of a luxury casino, with multiple restaurants, bars, slot machines, and game areas. There are several types of rooms–we went for the cheesy 80’s spa suite in the Peppermill tower with a two person hot tub and a giant four poster bed. If you really want to be a high roller, you can book their “safari adventure” or “Roman opulence” suites complete with a hot tub in the living room and themed decor.

The amount of neon inside the casino really is astounding, especially in the Oceano Restaurant. We had to eat there just because it had jellyfish lights. The food wasn’t anything special, but it was a neon aquatic catastrophe that had to be fully experienced. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth stopping by to take it all in.

Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Weird things in Nevada Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno
Oceano Restaurant in the Peppermill Casino, Reno

5. The Shady Lady Ranch

We drove by a total of 6 brothels on our road trip around Nevada, and decided to pull over for a photo of this one. We were given notice of it’s location a mile beforehand from a hand-painted plywood sign on the side of the road in the highway. There is literally nothing around for miles.

It was a collection of travel trailers in the middle of nowhere. Classy.

Weird things in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Shady Lady Ranch

6. Rhyolite Ghost Town sculpture park

We wanted to see Death Valley National Park, and there is an entrance from Nevada in the border town of Beatty. Just before the entrance to the park is the Rhyolite ghost town, which is pretty interesting. In addition to the ghost town, you get to tour a sculpture park. Some of the sculptures really fit with the theme (ghosts with bicycles), but others are just really random. Such as the giant nude lego-esque lady with a big blonde cube of pubic hair towering over the desert. It’s worth a looksie.

Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town
Weird things in Nevada: Rhyolite Ghost Town

 

7. The Clown Motel

On the way from Beatty to Reno through Tonopah, Nevada we stopped to take a photo at the Clown Motel. Rates were advertised at $34.50/night and the rooms are clown themed. We would have totally stayed there had it worked into our itinerary. The creepiness of a clown themed motel in the middle of the desert is pretty high, but adding to it is a very old wild west era graveyard full of the bones of gold miners right next door.

If you stay here, you might not want to watch the movie Poltergeist close to the time of your trip.

Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel in Tonopah
Weird things we saw in Nevada: The Clown Motel (and goldminer grave yard) in Tonopah
Weird things in Nevada: The Clown Motel (and goldminer grave yard) in Tonopah

8. The Extraterrestrial Highway

One of the things we absolutely had to go out of our way to see was the Extraterrestrial Highway 375 that runs between Crystal Springs and Warm Springs. There is one tiny town called Rachel in the middle with an alien themed diner and hotel (The Little A’le-Inn). Don’t expect a gas station though, be sure to have a full tank when you start out.

The Extraterrestrial Highway is named for the reported UFO sightings in the area, which is also host to the mysterious super-secret Air Force test facility Area 51. I’m sure the UFO sightings are all related to the test facility….but what is the government doing out there, exactly? Don’t plan on finding out, there are signs around the property that state that the government has the right to shoot you if you enter their area.

In any event, it’s a sight to see.

weird things we saw in nevada Extraterrstrial highway

Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrstrial Highway
Weird things we saw in Nevada: Extraterrestrial Highway

 

Our week-long road trip around Nevada was one of my favorite trips with Paddy. It wasn’t another country, but sometimes it felt like it. I’m always on the hunt for the unusual, and the weird things we saw in Nevada were some of the best I’ve encountered. Sometimes I wonder if the desert makes people go a little crazy. The arid climate, the heat, the monotonous landscape and roads that go on for miles in the dry emptiness. It was fun, but I can’t tell you how excited I was to see green fresh veggies and leafy green trees when we got back to the Pacific Northwest.

Read about all our adventures in Nevada here: http://childfreelifeadventures.com/nevada-road-trip-2011/

Winter Driving in Iceland

 Winter Driving in Iceland: Tips on how to navigate the roads without ending up being a search and rescue statistic, or ending up with an expensive rental car repair bill

 

Driving in Iceland in the winter can be scary for even the most seasoned winter driver. The main reason is Iceland’s furious and ferocious winds, which have been reported to blow rocks off of glaciers and cars right off of the roads. Rental cars come equipped with snow tires but very little insurance, and there are places in Iceland on the ring road with absolutely nothing around for miles.

We drove around the southern part of Iceland in March with very little snow driving experience, and made it out alive. Here is our advice:

1. Pay close attention to the road conditions and weather reports

The most invaluable website during our trip was http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/, which we were checking several times a day. They keep the road conditions up to date and you must check to make sure your route is clear before venturing out, especially in the winter. You don’t want to end up a search-and-rescue tourist trapped in a snow storm. For an up to date weather report for the day, http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/areas/ is the Icelandic weather site. If a storm is predicted in the area you are planning on driving to, check with locals to see if they think going there is a good idea. If not, you may need to change your plans. On the day we wanted to go up to see Gullfoss the snow and wind wouldn’t let up, so we played it safe and stayed in. After we got back to the US, we read a news story about 50 tourists that had to be search and rescued up there the very next day. We were glad we stayed at our cabin and had a lazy snow day instead.

winter driving in Iceland
Winter driving in Iceland: Wind can cause snow to blow into the road causing very low visibility

2. The insurance is pretty much useless, but get the sand and ash protection just in case

Winds in Iceland can be insanely strong. Right before we went we read news stories of cars being blown off the road by the wind and rocks being blown off cliffs into people’s car windows. These are extreme examples, but the winds are strong at times and will blow sand and volcanic ash at your car, causing damage to the paint. The sand and ash protection doesn’t cost that much extra, and could save you some money in the event that you run into these conditions.

3. Park on a flat surface overnight, and don’t set your parking brake

Our car rental company told us not to set the parking brake overnight, or it would freeze and break off, and we would have to pay for it.

4. Go slow and let cars pass you if you are not used to driving in the snow

It’s okay to be the slow asshole on the highway if you aren’t comfortable or sure about the road conditions. I’m sure we pissed a lot of locals off on our first day out on snow-covered roads, but they drove around us and we made it in one piece. It’s better to take it easy than to risk an accident due to overconfidence.

Winter driving in Iceland
Winter driving in Iceland

5. Never slam on the brakes for any reason

Slamming on your brakes on an icy road is the best way to have your car spin out of control. If you need to slow down, take your foot off of the gas and downshift (this is where a manual shift car is a plus), and gently tap the brake.

We were driving along a snowy road in the southern part of the ring road, and I stopped the car to get out and take a picture of the white, desolate landscape. When I stepped out of the car and my foot hit the road I almost fell right on my ass. I didn’t fully realize that we were driving on a solid sheet of ice. Take caution and make slow stops.

winter driving in Iceland
Southern ring road winter wonderland: winter driving in Iceland

6. If you start to slide, don’t jerk the steering wheel

Aside from slamming on the brakes, the worst thing you can do if you start to slide is over-correct and jerk the wheel. Slow down by down-shifting and taking your foot off the gas, and keep a tight grip on the wheel to keep it as steady as you can.

7. Hold onto the car doors when getting in and out of the car

Again, the winds are the most dangerous part of driving in Iceland. They are STRONG. Strong enough to blow the door right off of your car. When getting in and out of the car, hold the door TIGHT to keep it from blowing back open. If the door comes off, you have to pay for it. Even the insurance with a $1000 deductible won’t cover it. And everything is more expensive in Iceland.

8. Never attempt driving on the F Roads in winter

Iceland blocks the F Roads (in the highlands in the middle of the country) off in the winter time, but every now and then some idiot will think his four wheel drive SUV can make it. Locals report seeing tire tracks around the blockades all the time. These people end up putting the lives of volunteer search and rescue workers at stake when they get lost or stuck. Don’t be a dumbass, just stick to the ring road. There are plenty of amazing sights to see there.

9. Bring a credit card with a chip in it for the gas pumps

Bring a credit card or debit card with a chip in it, and know your PIN number. Gas pumps won’t take American credit cards without a chip. We traveled just before the chip came out in the US, and we had to only use gas stations where we could pay inside. Some wouldn’t let us and we had to find one that did. Fortunately, in 2015 banks in the US started to put out chip cards, so hopefully this won’t be a hassle for you like it was for us.

Also, remember to fill up the tank before you attempt long stretches of road in between towns.

 

Iceland is a beautiful country. Summer is the peak visiting time, and the hotel, airfare, and lodging prices double June through September. We went in March, which is still winter in Iceland, and it was amazing. We didn’t get to see some of the things we wanted to because of the weather, but we had a great time in winter wonderland. Driving in Iceland in the winter was intimidating, but the snow tires made a big difference and we were cautious and everything went fine. If you plan on driving in Iceland in the winter, make sure you keep up to date daily on the weather report (it can change on a dime) and stay put if there is a big storm. Wind is the most dangerous factor in winter driving in Iceland, especially on the south coast. Stay safe and have a great trip!

Glacier on the southern ring road, Iceland
Glacier on the southern ring road, Iceland

Hiding Your Valuables While Traveling

Hiding your valuables while traveling: tips for keeping your stuff safe in your hotel room and with you on the go to avoid getting ripped off.

 

Needless to say, having your money, passport, or other valuables stolen while traveling can really ruin an otherwise great adventure. Even the hotel safe can’t always be trusted–they often have an override code for the staff to use when guests forget how to open the safe. Here are a few tips for hiding your valuables and lowering your risk of being a victim of theft while traveling:

1. Don’t keep all your money in one place.

Don’t bring all your money with you when you go out, and hide it in multiple places on your body and in your hotel room. If you get mugged, chances are they won’t take all of it. I also keep one credit card on me and one hidden in the room, just in case.

2. While walking around, keep everything on your body and well attached to you

Keep your money, passport, and credit cards attached to your body. Money belts, small purses hung diagonally around your body, etc help keep things attached. In the ankle of your sock, in your bra, etc. I just discovered a company called PortaPocket that makes little pockets you can strap to your ankle, arm, leg, waist, etc.

3. Use fake item hidden safes

Hidden safes that look like other items can be really effective ways for hiding your valuables. I would recommend the hairbrush or screwdriver safes over a soda can safe, however. You don’t want the housekeeper accidentally throwing it away thinking it is garbage.

4. Hide things in dirty clothes

I will often hide electronics or passports in socks in the middle of my backpack or suitcase, underneath all of my dirty clothes and underwear. I figure the chances of a dishonest housekeeper really wanting to dig  through all my dirty clothes are slim.

5. Hide money in personal products

Pill bottles (not see-through), empty re-useable shampoo bottles, etc. I often put cash and a credit card in a box of tampons (the small non-applicator style kind such as O.B.) and put the tampons on top of it.

Hiding your valuables while traveling--tampon boxes are a good hiding spot
Hiding your valuables while traveling

6. Find sneaky spots in your hotel room

Inside shower curtain rod or inside zipper covers to cushions are good places for hiding your valuables. Inside a ziplock baggie in the toilet tank might be okay, but I feel like this is the most obvious hiding location thanks to all the drug and crime shows. Also, ziplock baggies are not waterproof so don’t submerge your phone or electronics in water in them. Under the mattress is another one that is pretty obvious–if you do I’d recommend doing it only after the housekeeper has been by to make your bed and shove it towards the middle, not under the edge of the mattress.

Don’t forget that you hid stuff! You don’t want to leave it behind.

7. Tip your housekeeper

If the custom of where you are traveling is to tip your housekeeper, you should do this anyway. However, leaving a tip for the housekeeper may alter a disgruntled housekeeper’s view of you into an appreciative guest, vs another asshole tourist. Maybe not, but it’s always a good thing to do.

8. Use ATMs that are attached to a bank or embedded in a wall, preferably when the bank is open

As a side note, we generally don’t use stand-alone ATMs when traveling. I’ve heard too many stories about stand-alone  ATMs being fake or tampered with to read card info or steal your card and tell you that the machine is broken. In reality, someone comes and collects your card or card info later after you’ve left.

ATMs that are part of banks are always the safest bet. If you can’t find a bank ATM, one that is embedded into a wall is the next best option. If you can, try to withdraw your cash during bank hours–there is often a security guard or place to withdraw off of the street, and if your card does get eaten by the machine you can go in and get help.

9. Get a waterproof pouch for the beach

Never leave important stuff unattended on the beach. Get a waterproof waist pouch for your money, phone, etc and take it into the water with you. Lifeproof cases for phones offer extra water protection as well.

 

There’s never a guarantee that you won’t get ripped off when you travel, but don’t be paranoid–just be smart. Hiding your valuables while traveling is kind of an art, the key being not to keep it all in one place. Do what works best for you, and have a safe trip!

 

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

Inishmore, Aran Islands: One of the highlights of our trip to Ireland in 2012. Friendly locals, peace and quiet, and some amazing ancient ruins.

 

Inishmore in the Aran Islands was one of the very last places we visited on our trip to Ireland in May 2012. It was cut short to one day due to a horrible stomach virus Paddy got while we were in Galway, which was unfortunate because it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. When we make it back to Ireland, spending more time in the Aran Islands will be a priority. The natural beauty and remote lifestyle of the islands is a piece of Irish culture not to be missed, and is also host to some amazing ancient ruins.

To get to Inishmore, we took a bus from Galway to the Aran Islands ferry in Rossaveal, about an hour away. This was all included in our ticket that we purchased at the Galway ticket office. The weather had really begun to get warm for May, and we didn’t even need our sweatshirts anymore.

The ferry was supposed to be a straight through to Inishmore, the largest and most popular of the Aran Islands. The ferry to the other islands broke down, however, and we ended up making a longer sailing to stop at the rest of the islands. If we ever go back to Ireland, I think that spending more time on all of the Aran Islands will be a top priority. We only got a small taste on this trip, and they were beautiful.

The ferry was crowded full of daytrippers looking to come for the day and rent bicycles (no cars are allowed on the islands except those owned by locals). After arriving at Inishmore, we crossed the street from the ferry to a little cafe called The Pierhouse for lunch and let the crowds pass by. It was a gorgeous day and nice enough to sit outside in the sun.

After lunch, we went to find a shuttle to our B&B, the Kilmurvey House. We started walking over to where we saw the shuttle vans parked, and one pulled up next to us and asked if we neede a ride. We hopped in and for a few Euros we were driven to our destination in about 10 minutes.

When we arrived, our hostTreasa greeted us and told us that our room wasn’t quite ready yet, but would be in just a few minutes. We sat in the nice front parlor and waited. When we checked in, we were suprised with how large the room was. It was a beautiful, sunny room with hardwood floors and a huge king sized bed. The bathroom had a bathtub with jacuzzi jets and it felt like we had scored the honeymoon suite.

Below: front of Kilmurvey House

Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore

Below: our room

Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore
Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore

The Kilmurvey House was beautifully decorated in a very classic Irish B&B style. There were two front parlor living areas for guests, and a kitchen in the back for meals–breakfast is included, and I read that if you request ahead they will make dinner for you as well for a fee. The surrounding area is rural farmland, but there is a snack shop open during the day nearby.

Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore–view from our room
Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore
Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore
Kilmurvey House Inishmore Aran Islands Ireland
Kilmurvey House, Inishmore

One of the best things about the Kilmurvey House is that it is right next to the biggest attraction on the island, Dun Aengus. Dun Aengus is the remains of a prehistoric ring fort dating back to the Iron Age. It was starting to get really warm, so we changed into some lighter clothes (I was glad I got to go shopping in Galway, I hadn’t packed any tank tops, just as I hadn’t packed a scarf or hat) and walked over the Dun Aengus entrance.

It was about 3:30 and the parking lot was chocked full of bicycles of daytrippers. Dun Aengus is open until 6:00 PM, and we knew that the last ferry off the island was at 5:00, so we decided to come back in an hour. In the meantime, we took a walk down the road in the opposite direction. It was beautiful. We really wished we had another day to see the whole island.

The Aran Islands are also known for their knitting and textile skills, particularly for their beautiful sweaters. If you can afford it, the sweaters here are beautiful and skillfully crafted. There was a sweater store and another souvenir store next to the B&B, and I splurged on a hooded sweater for $100.00. There is also a cafe and a snack shop available next to the B&B as well.

We headed back to Dun Aengus at around 4:45 and there was only one bicycle in the parking lot. Everyone else had left to catch the last ferry. To our delight we had the entire ruins to ourselves. It was magical.

The pathway up to Dun Aengus is a bit of a hike, but unless you have a disability or difficulty walking, it’s not too bad. I was a little huffy puffy towards the top, but it wasn’t anything crazy. Just wear good shoes and be prepared for a little bit of a hilly hike.

One of the nice things about Ireland as opposed to the USA, is that they don’t have a bunch of fences destroying the natural beauty of the ruins and the landscape. If you fall of the cliff, that’s your fault, not theirs. Don’t get too close to the edge.

After a gorgeous hike up Dun Aengus, we headed back to our room to relax and refresh for dinner.

All the dinner restaurants are in town, but Treasa arranges a complimentary shuttle into town and back for guests for dinner. She drove us and another American couple to Joe Watty’s Bar for dinner. The four of us ate together and talked about past trips and our shared love of camping. The food was excellent. Note that the prices are a little higher in the Aran Islands, which is common for most islands in the world as food and other items have to be imported from the mainland.

Joe Wattys pub Aran Islands Ireland
Joe Watty’s Pub, Inishmore

Treasa picked us up at 9:00 PM after dinner, and we caught a gorgeous sunset on the way home. It just went behind the hill when we got out of the car, but I snapped a couple photos anyway.

New York and Ireland 482

New York and Ireland 483

New York and Ireland 484

The next morning, we had a fabulous breakfast provided by our hosts at the Kilmurvey House, and then were driven back to the ferry and bid adieu. We were sad to have to leave Inishmore so soon, and made a solid promise to return someday with more time. We really want to see the other Aran Islands as well, and get off of the beaten tourist path a bit more. We strongly recommend making Inishmore and the Aran Islands a priority on your trip to Ireland.