Virginia City, NV

A few weeks ago, as we journeyed from Stockton, California to Salt Lake City, Utah, my boyfriend recalled visiting some old timey town in the middle of nowhere Nevada outside of Reno. A little Googling brought us to Virginia City, Nevada and I can’t tell you how happy I am it did.

This city was once a bustling mining community at the height of the gold rush. Since then it’s fallen deeper and deeper into disrepair until the citizens really grabbed hold of making it a tourist destination. Despite that, everything is reasonably priced and I really think there’s something for everyone here.

Silver Terrace Cemetery - people are just dying to get in.

Silver Terrace Cemetery – people are just dying to get in.

We started our afternoon in Virginia City at the old Silver Terrace Cemetery. The price of admission was my favorite amount – free – and you could pick up a little pamphlet that gave you the story of the cemetery (as well as the fate of some of the inhabitants). Their pamphlet had this to say for the area:

Turn your “clocks” back to 1867 during the first burial here. What would you see? The ground was covered in purple and white clover and the site was described as the most beautiful burial ground in the state of Nevada, a tiny garden.

Those days are clearly gone, but it is a giant cemetery, full of old and interesting graves. If you’re interested, you can inquire about the Living Tour – Funtime Theater, which is a walking tour through the cemetery where the residents “come to life” and tell you about Virginia City in the 19th century. And if you’re really, really, really interested in the cemetery, you can get married there. You must give them 6 months advance notice (because this is such a popular spot???!?).

The Way It Was Museum - this type of place is the heartbeat of Roadside Americana.

The Way It Was Museum – this type of place is the heartbeat of Roadside Americana.

After leaving the cemetery, we strolled along the main strip for a while and took in some of the sights. We then went into the Way It Way museum for a whopping $3.00. This is one of those roadside-type of museums that always makes the true roadside roadtripper smile. An old lady took our $3.00 and reminded us not to miss the movie, which was a PBS-ish special straight out of the early 80’s, playing on a massive TV, probably from the same decade, in the corner. The exhibits all have computer print out descriptions (although they may have been typed on a typewriter actually) on them. On the grounds around the museum are several cool photo ops – including hopping into an old mine cart, standing next to a plastic donkey (which you are asked not to sit on or touch) and poke your head through a cutout of a miner. A nice way to while away 30-45 minutes (depending on how much of the movie you really want to watch). There is also a lovely wax couple in a surrey (with the fringe on top) that might give you nightmares. I loved it.

The Silver Dollar Lady

The Silver Dollar Lady

We poked our heads in several of the saloons after that, as most boasted something interesting to look at. The two main exhibits of interest were the Silver Lady over at the Silver Queen Hotel & Saloon, which was a large painting of a woman outfitted in silver dollars and The Delta Saloon and Casino, which houses the “famous” suicide table. Apparently several of the owners have committed suicide – making it more infamous than famous, I suppose. We also stopped by the Ponderosa Saloon to hit up their ATM and found a Bank of California walk in vault next to the ATM in the bar, which was robbed once in 1927.

Spooooooooky

Spooooooooky

My favorite stop of the day was the Washoe Club, where we went on an $8.00 ghost tour. We had a great tour guide, one who actually believed in ghosts and then enthusiasm in her voice for her stories showed it. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, I feel like there are two types of “good” ghost tour guides – excellent story tellers who can wrap you up in the stories and true believer who are just so enthusiastic that you wind up engaging their enthusiasm yourself. This chick was definitely the latter, and the rooms she walked us through were sufficiently creepy, even in the middle of the afternoon. The root cellar that was once used as a make-shift morgue really gave me the creeps. We also had the benefit of having a real crazy lady in the tour group with us, who was pretty entertaining to encounter as well.

My one regret is that I didn’t try the Gorilla Milk at The Palace Restaurant & Saloon. I just loved the name, but when I found out what was in it (tons and tons of alcohol), the middle of the afternoon before driving on to Reno did not seem like the time to drink it. Should’ve done it anyway.

$10.00!?!??! No.

$10.00!?!??! No.

And one little tip, if, like me, you’re always on the lookout for some kind of collectible during your travels (I’ve switched from pens to shot glasses), make sure to check out a few of those trinket stores on the midway. The shot glass I wound up buying varied in price from $4-$10 in different stores, for no apparent reason. Also, if you like old school candy and weird sodas, there are several stores offering both. We ended the day with an ice cream float at Comstock Creamery and it was delicious. Highly recommended.

So, if you’re traveling through northern Nevada, I highly recommend hitting up Virginia City. I’d go as far as to call it one of the spots I’d go a few hours out of the way to check out.

For more information about Virginia City, you can check out their website here. They even have an app you can download… am I the only one who thinks that a little weird for an old fashioned gold-mining town?

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Cambodian Buddhist Temple Statues – Stockton, CA

A recent stop on our tour took me to Stockton, California, where I had two days off to explore the wonders that Stockton has to offer. Turns out, about two hours would’ve sufficed. Nonetheless, if you are road tripping through Stockton, one interesting site to see is Stockton’s Cambodian Buddhist Temple (Wat Dharmararam). I’d like to just throw this out there, although it should go without saying, that I am directing you to a religious center and you should show the appropriate amount of respect, regardless of whatever you may believe in, while on their property.

Wat Dharmararam is free of charge, although each of their statues has a donation box outside of it. Similar to leaving a dollar for a candle in a Catholic Church, you can leave some cash (or other offerings – fruit and flowers seemed to be popular) at the different statues. Or you can feel free to check out the scene without donating anything. The monks we bumped into there were very chill.

Statues from Buddha's life. From realizing it's better to be good (and not feed people to crocodiles) to chatting with the king of the Giants (the blue dude in the corner).

Statues from Buddha’s life. From realizing it’s better to be good (and not feed people to crocodiles) to chatting with the king of the Giants (the blue dude in the corner).

First and foremost, I recommend you visit this site and print out the meanings of the statues, to get the full experience. As I learned there, this section of the Visit Stockton website won’t load on a mobile phone. If, like me, you neglect to do this, any of the monks will be happy to explain the story to you. The statues tell the story of Buddha, as well as some goddesses.

The goddesses, just chillin'.

The goddesses, just chillin’.

It was a very pleasant half an hour or so strolling among the statues. It didn’t hurt that I had a Buddhist with me who was able to explain what we were looking at. Mostly. Buddhism has several different sects, like other religions, and once in a while he would just shrug and say it must be a Cambodian Buddhist thing (ie. the alligator/crocodiles eating people in a pond and the blue creature talking to Buddha). Whether or not Buddhism is for you, I would highly recommend it as an excellent break in a road trip or just something unique to check out next time your in Stockton, California.

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Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX

A few weeks ago I got to sub on one of our other circus units and finally get out of California for a while (we’ve been here 3 months – that is a really long time in one area for a nomad). It was also my first time ever in Texas (other than catching connecting flights at Dallas-Fort Worth airport) and I was pleasantly surprised by the roadside oddity I found known as Cadillac Ranch (especially since it’s in my book 50 Places to See Before You Die and 50 Places That Are a Lot More Fun and I’m trying to get to every stop in there). This brings my grand total of weird car related roadside attractions to 2.

Tip - Bring a can of spray paint with you to the Cadillac Ranch and leave your mark.

Tip – Bring a can of spray paint with you to the Cadillac Ranch and leave your mark.

This was, by far, one of the easiest roadside attractions I’ve ever found as it is actually right on the roadside of the major highway (Interstate 40) going through Amarillo. You can exit either right before or after it and just go down the road next to the highway, park there and walk right up to the row of partially buried Cadillac’s covered in spray paint.

Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 as some sort of art installation project by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels. They buried the cars partially in the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt… like you do. Now some millionaire owns this land and moved the art installation from it’s original position onto his giant patch of dirt to keep it safe and cherished for many generations to come.

Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, TX

Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX

 Evidently, the thing to do is to visit the Cadillac’s and spray paint them. The fact that some local kid hasn’t set up a spray paint stand near the entrance is astonishing to me. I was totally unaware that you could spray paint these things and would’ve happily shelled out $5 for use of some spray paint to immortalize my visit… until it was painted over by the next day’s visitors. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, but not worth a big detour in it’s own right (unlike Carhenge – the more awesome of my two car related roadside adventures).

Another strange site seen by this intrepid Americana explorer.

Another strange site seen by this intrepid Americana explorer.

If you want to learn more about Cadillac Ranch, you can check out the website here.

Or for a more Texan tour of the area, check out Brooks & Dunn’s music video for Honky Tonk Stomp, shot on location at the Cadillac Ranch.

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Vote for Me!

So I’m trying to make the Top Site List Planets list of travel blogs, but I need 5 votes to make the blog list (although the more votes, the higher I am on the list). If you have 30 seconds, please click through this link and help me increase my blog traffic a little (I mean, really, isn’t the world a better place the more we talk about Wigwams and Foamhenge knock-offs?):

Click through here to vote at Top Site List Planet

Click through here to vote at Top Site List Planet

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The Wigwam Motel – San Bernardino, CA

Most people into unusual roadside attractions know that one of America’s hot spots in Route 66. With nostalgia crammed around every turn, you never know what you’ll stumble across as you cruise down one of America’s most iconic highways. While researching our travel plans when we were headed from Arizona to Fresno, CA, I found that right along the path was the Wigam Motel (thanks to roadtrippers.com). A friend wound up taking my car overland that week, so our plans were for naught; however, we wound up playing several towns not too from San Bernardino (Los Angeles, Ontario and Anaheim), so on the Ontario to Anaheim jump, Tim and I hightailed it over to the Wigwam Motel.

I slept in a wigwam!!

I slept in a wigwam!!

They were very accommodating to our late night check in (we had a six pack – 6 shows in two days – that weekend) and we wound up getting out wigwam for about $65 for the night, which was more than we usually spend, but I had been rambling about these wigwams for weeks at this point.

Wigwam Motel - San Bernardino

Wigwam Motel – San Bernardino

Each wigwam is it’s own private room with a bathroom. We had a queen sized bed, two chairs, a little coffee table, a TV and a refrigerator in ours. It definitely looked like someone decorated it in the 1960s, but for me, that just added to the charm. It was a tidy and clean room, so I felt comfortable in it. The next day we walked around and looked at the teepees and then went for a swim in their pool (small, but good enough to kill an hour of time or lay out and work on a tan) before checking out. Because of our late check in the night before, we hadn’t actually gone in the little room that is the main office – and it turned out it was a little gift shop. So pretty much anything you may collect, they’ve got one with a wigwam on it. The guy in the office was the son of the owners and is definitely a unique dude to have a conversation with.

Newest acquisition...

Newest acquisition…

If you’re into roadside Americana and are headed through San Bernardino, CA one night, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. I had a blast sleeping in a wigwam! There are also still Wigwam Motels in Holbrook, Arizona and Cave City, Kentucky.

To learn more about the Wigwam Motel, check out their website here.

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The Neon Museum – Las Vegas, NV

So my best friend Christine also has an inclination towards weird attractions and decided that we were going to The Neon Museum while I was in Vegas a few weeks ago. Although she kept referring to it as the Neon Graveyard. Turns out it’s actually called the Neon Boneyard and it’s where iconic (and not so iconic) Vegas neon signs go to die. Or not die, I guess, since tourists are wandering around looking at them.

Me & Christine Basking in the Neon Glow

Me & Christine Basking in the Neon Glow

The Neon Museum is well off the strip, so it takes a car or quite a cab ride to get there (it’s near the minor league baseball stadium). When you enter, it’s just a small room (apparently a part of an old hotel that the group saved because of its cool architecture and repurposed as their gift shop) where you can buy tickets for the tour and a surprising array of Neon Museum souvenirs (yes, I bought a shot glass). The tour price is a shocking $25 a person. Most shocking than that is the fact that there were 4 tours that night and they were all full… apparently Christine was not the only intrigued by the place.

Neon Museum

            Our tour guide was an interesting chick. Quite possibly the most awkward public speaker ever. And super, super excited about neon signs. A really odd combination, bless her heart. But we learned exciting facts such as: when signs come down, they all go to boneyards, but most are cesspits of glass shards and toxic vapors from the neon tubes, so the public can’t go into them; the oldest neon sign was from like the 30s and belonged to some woman who owned a small shack that sold cocktails and food; the Stardust had the highest neon sign for years, whenever another was built, they’d just throw a few more stars on top to top the other signs height.

Neon Museum

            All around, I can’t say I’d recommend it. I thought if admission were $5, it would be an incredible roadside attraction, as it is certainly it’s own little corner of weirdness, but at $25 a pop, it’s pretty much highway robbery.

If you want to learn more about The Neon Museum, you can check out the website here.

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Carhenge – Alliance, NE

Years ago, a good friend of mine (Siera) and I found an awesome place called Foamhenge near where we were going to school. I recently relived that adventure in a whole new light by checking out Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska (a mere 4 hours out of the way on our trek from Omaha to Colorado Springs).

Carhenge  Carhenge was actually built by the Reinder’s family of Alliance to honor the memory of their father. The family came together and constructed this replica of Stonehenge and the attached sculpture gardens shortly after the patriarch’s death. The sculptor was Jim Reinder, a gentleman who had spent some time in England and become fascinated with Stonehenge. He wanted to bring that awe and mysticism back to the states somehow, and when the family started brainstorming how to honor their departed father, Jim saw his chance. The sculpture only took a few weeks to build and it had its great unveiling on the Summer Solstice 1987 in a large festival hosted by the family featuring songs, poetry and even a play produced by the Reinder family.

Carhenge is now supported by a local group called the Friends of Carhenge. Many locals in Alliance were less than excited by the Stonehenge replica – considering it was made of junk and many thought it unsightly. They sponser an awesome little gift shop with tons of Roadside Trinkets for the road tripping aficionados and drinks and snacks (which is nice because Nebraska in June is H.O.T.).

Carhenge!! As far as roadside attractions go, I considered this one worth the drive. It falls into “classic American kitsch.” I mean, I just kept thinking, why would you even make this (answer to that above)?? But someone did. Not even one someone. A whole family.  The sculpture garden behind it was ok too, but definitely not worth a trip on its own. I felt like the family just had some extra cars and didn’t know what to do with them, so they half buried some and made random sculptures of a few others. The fish sculpture made from car parts, made by some random dude who won a $2500 prize from the family, was pretty cool.

 And if you come this far, you can drive about 2 miles further down the road (heading away from the city center) and check out a really odd little rest stop. It’s a toilet and a recliner on a couple of bales of hay. It boasted free Wi-Fi, but Tim and I couldn’t seem to pick it up on either of our phones or his iPad. Needless to say, we opted to use the facilities back in town.

Maybe just squeeze your legs together for a few more miles....

Maybe just squeeze your legs together for a few more miles….

 Carhenge Admission: Free (there is a totally optional donations box in the gift shop – I figured my shot glass purchase was donation enough)

 Address: 2141 County Rd. 59 Alliance, NE 69301

For more information about Carhenge, check out their website here.

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