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A Diamond In the Desert: Finding Hidden Gems On the Way To Las Vegas

By: - March 30, 2016
Category : Places

For some reason, I’ve always had an affinity for driving through the desert. It seems odd that growing up in the midwest, a desert would be an appealing place to drive through. Perhaps it was inspired by seeing films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where a young Indiana stumbles upon a group of bandits who’ve unlocked hidden treasure troves in Arizona. Or maybe it was watching the B-movie horror film Ghost Town, about a sheriff who goes searching through a well-traveled path, only to discover that a hidden ghost town exists. Come to think of it maybe it’s all those things. Stumbling upon something you never knew existed, or seeing something for the first time in person you’ve only read about.

That was the case over the weekend. We decided to take an impromptu road trip to Las Vegas. The 250 mile drive from L.A. to Vegas can be extremely grueling if you don’t have the right company and/or music to keep you entertained. Lucky for me, I had both. (Also, it helped we came prepared with: Teddy Grahams, New York Seltzer, and Gushers.) I’ve taken the trip out there probably five times now, and each time I see something I hadn’t before.

As you know, much like road trips — I’m also a big fan of abandoned things. Especially Amusement Parks. There’s something gleefully spooky about them. It’s even more exciting when it’s the only thing on a traditional desert highway. I forgot I had seen it on the drive last time. An incredible abandoned water park sits in Newberry Springs, named the Rock-A-Hoola Water Park. After I got back, I immediately began to sift through the history of the place. The park looks like an overnight storm came in and blew away its pulse, while keeping everything else in tact. Weeds tangles around the sun-stripped structures. Rusted water towers. Sandblasted letters hanging above the parks entrance. Everything else seemed like it had just sat there, untouched. It was like you could still smell the popcorn and hear kids laughing as they rode down the slides. I didn’t know whether it had been there 10 years or 60. All I knew is that it made me want to see more things like it. I came to find out the park closed permanently in 2004. A modern day ghost town in plain sight.

Lake Dolores Water Park before it was renamed Rock-A-Hoola in late 90's.

Lake Dolores Water Park before it was renamed Rock-A-Hoola in late 90’s.

The water park as it sits today.

The water park as it sits today.

We didn’t get close enough to explore, nor did we have time for that. We were there and back within 26 hours. But it was indeed interesting, and looked like it had been quite the park in its hay day. You honestly get a great insight as to the massive scale even from the highway. It’s definitely something that will pop out among the desert joshua trees and bland rocks.

In a strange coincidence the town just adjacent to that is Calico, California which features the aptly named Ghost Town Road. The sign creates haunting imagery of some Old West relics.

After that, it’s the otherwise desolate drive. With the occasional tourist trap like the World’s Largest Thermometer in Baker, the oddity of Alien Fresh Jerky, and a few cool looking abandoned gas stations, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of sightseeing for entertainment. That is until you reach the unassuming Primm Valley….

Buffalo Bill's Casino

Buffalo Bill’s Casino

Primm is a town located 35 minutes from Las Vegas and features everything from a fashion outlet to a hotel with a roller coaster attached. It’s kind of that point when you realize, “Okay I’m almost in Vegas, but may have to pee before we get there.” But if you do a little digging it holds a hidden gem.

If you head across the road, a casino by the name of Whiskey Pete’s awaits ahead. To be completely honest when you first glimpse at it your first thought is “I should have brought a sponge, because this place needs a bath.” Don’t let that fool you though, inside of this seedy property lies a treasure that should honestly be in the Smithsonian or some historical museum. It is the car of famed gangsters Bonnie and Clyde.

The site is something to behold. It’s a combination of truly badass American culture combined with kind of a dark undercurrent. I mean, two people actually died in this vehicle. But the fact remains this is one of the most comprehensive free tours you’ll get this side of the Mississippi River.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde Car Primm Nevada

The car was riddled with over 100 bullets from Texas Rangers and local authorities.

Behind the car was a backdrop of other goodies including the history of Bonnie and Clyde, arrest record documents, and the outfits they were wearing on the day of their demise.

Clyde's Shirt 1934

Clyde’s shirt from May 23, 1934

The morbidly fascinating display is in such an odd location, you’ll wonder whether you stepped foot into a smoke filed time capsule. If you’re ever near the area it’s really worth checking out. I think they did a good job not to glorify the situation, but rather display how two people became wrapped up in a world of crime and got caught up in their perceived image. Pretty tragic.

After that stop, we were off to an adventure in Vegas. We ended up walking 15 miles, which isn’t that hard to do in Vegas. The buildings are massive, the strip is massive, and there’s so many things to see. Like usual, I had to make a stop at The World of Coca-Cola. The day ended quickly, and just like that we headed out of the bright lights of Las Vegas. Being able to look up anything on your phone and find out if there’s something unique about a town is great, but I’d rather stumble upon it accidentally. It’s the thrill-seeker side of me.

Also published on Medium.