Obligatory Part Where I Hate on Vegas
We breezed into Las Vegas feeling like the crew from The Hangover; a pair of young, single idiots with money in their pockets and an unrealistic view of what we’d find in Sin City.
Maybe I’ve just become old and cynical, but I had rosier memories of Las Vegas from my first visit way back in 2009. This time around, despite being single and having the spending money to have the kind of debauched good time that movies like Swingers popularized, I left the city with a decidedly more cynical view.
I think this quote, taken from my personal Facebook the day after leaving Vegas, sums it up pretty well:
My Vegas experience saw me nursing a hangover, $1,000 poorer, and with no truly enjoyable memories beyond glimpses of glitter-stained cleavage.
Finding Redemption in Vegas Ghost Towns
To say that my Vegas experience was entirely unpleasant would be patently false.
While I didn’t find much joy amidst the human freak show that is Fremont or the vapid glitz of The Strip, there was one shining light from the trip.
Invited to explore some of the ghost towns near Las Vegas with Vegas Insider Tours, we got away from the cloying stink of desperation and loneliness and let the heat of the Mojave Desert burn away our own feelings of disappointment.
Picked up by our guide, Steve (who also happened to be the owner and the man who managed to convince me to go vegetarian for two months), we did a whistle-stop tour of the key Vegas sights: the Strip, Fremont Street, the shop from Pawn Stars…
Y’know, the big ones.
From there, it was bon voyage to the crowds as we traded neon for the salt pans of the Mojave. Glitter of a different kind.
Stop #1: Hoover Dam
Vegas Insider Tours, like LA Insider Tours, are all about customised private tours. When we expressed an interest in skipping the Vegas sights in favour of a bit more time out in the desert, Steve immediately suggested we swing by Hoover Dam and check that off of our bucket lists.
There’s not much I can write about this monumental feat of engineering that hasn’t already been written in a thousand guidebooks and a thousand, thousand TripAdvisor reviews.
Suffice to say, it’s pretty impressive, and I appreciated the opportunity to add it to the itinerary at the last minute. I don’t think I’ll ever make a third visit to Vegas unless it’s to check item #2 off of my bucket list.
Stop #2: El Dorado
Our first foray into the Nevada ghost towns would be a stop at the wonderfully rustic little mining ‘town’ of Techatticup in the El Dorado Canyon.
Little more than a general store and a ramshackle collection of slowly collapsing buildings, I couldn’t tell whether this place made me more homesick for my own sleepy little village (which can’t even boast a general store) or of my time living in the NSW Outback.
Guided by the property’s owner, who himself might have been right out of Wild West cinema, we were told about some of the ghosts who are said to haunt the town and the nearby Techatticup Mine where gold sent more than a few man to their deaths.
The mine itself is the highlight of the tour, a blessedly cool reprieve from the desert heat if you can handle the claustrophobia that comes from having several thousand tonnes of stone above your head.
The stories are the typical stuff – betrayal, madness, and greed mixed in with a little run of the mill stupidity.
While we didn’t see any of the mines purported ghosts, the stories themselves were a fun glimpse into a far less civilized time.
Stop #3: Oatman
With time getting away from us, our next stop would be the popular tourist stop of Oatman.
Less ghost town than it is town maintained in the style of the Old West, Oatman is nonetheless a charming spot.
If you can ignore the expensive modern cars and the ever-present phone lines, it’s easy to lose yourself in the idea that you’re actually somewhen else.
Dirt roads, bored burros, grimy glass, and chipped paint lend the place a kind of rustic charm that’s hard not to like, and its surrounds of towering plateaux and buttes makes for a pretty picture.
We feasted on deliciously greasy burgers, washed it down with some locally brewed beers, and bade farewell to the Old West in fitting style – with a fiery sunset illuminating the alien landscape.
Vegas Insider Tours were kind enough to offer me their Ghost Towns Tour on a complimentary basis, and I’m so glad we took them up on their generous offer.
Our day long exploration of the Mojave Desert and the ghost towns that litter the glittering plains was a lot of fun, and especially so because Steve was such a passionate advocate for the area.
When he wasn’t educating us about the desert and Nevada as a whole, we had a great time talking everything from travel to vegetarianism to everything in between.
I especially loved that, like our LA Insider Tour, it was customised. We asked to see Hoover Dam and Steve was only too happy to oblige.
To me, that kind of personal service separates the worthwhile from the underwhelming.
Have you ever gone on a ghost tour or visited a ghost town?
Want to read about another ghost tour experience? I checked out a Sydney Ghost Tour back in 2011.