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Quirky Sites, Boulder City, NV

Louise Speaks:  On a recent trip to Las Vegas, we realized there were several stops along the way that we seem to have overlooked over the years.  So this is the trip we decided to stop and see them all.

Boulder City, Nevada is the last town you go through before Las Vegas when you are traveling from Arizona.  Along the main highway is Hemenway Park, which is home to some Wild Bighorn Sheep.  The park is host to what seems to be a residential home to a wild herd of bighorn sheep.  The sheep come down from the hills to graze on the manicured lawn of this city park.  The herd varies in size from small lambs all the way up to huge horned rams, and there are sometimes as many as 60 animals roaming the park.  The sheep are so common that residents in the area refer to this park as “Sheep Park”.   The park also offers views of Lake Mead, a picnic area and a huge playground.  In fact today, as the sheep were roaming the park there were children playing at the playground and walked around the sheep like they were a common fixture of the park.  The sheep were in bunches at several different areas of the park, so they literally are “everywhere”.

Once you are back on the highway, just about a mile up the road, you turn left into the downtown area of Boulder City.  Our next Quirky Stop was Area 52, an alien book store and coffee shop that also sells tequila shots.  Many of the books in the store are rare and out of print.  There is an alien who meets you at the entrance and talks to you as if you are invading his planet.  The store probably has the largest collection of UFO books, figurines, and Star War collectables I’ve ever seen.  There are games, stickers, and just “stuff”.  Not really worth a stop, but it was on our list.

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Boulder City must be a pretty artistic community.  There are sculptures and pieces of art along the sidewalks and in front of local business throughout the small town.  The one we were looking for was the “Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam”.  Alabam was a Hoover Dam worker who cleaned and restocked the outhouses.  The bronze statue depicts him as he often looked in life; with rolls of toilet paper draped over his shoulders.  He also totes a broom and other cleaning supplies.  The statue is right on the corner of the busiest intersection in town…what an honor.

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We were very disappointed that our last stop is no longer visible.  A restaurant in town was suppose to have a “Giant Whisk” on the roof of the building.  We searched through town and finally stopped and asked at the Chamber of Commerce.  Turns out the restaurant has gone out of business and the whisk is in the cities historical storage unit.

We visited the sites and we can now check them off our list, but unless you have another reason to go through Boulder City, none of these attractions are worth stopping to see.

 

 

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Hoover Dam Quirky Sites, Hoover Dam, Arizona/Nevada

Louise Speaks:  We have been to Las Vegas many times and have been to both Hoover Dam and the Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge / By Pass many times, but I never knew of the Quirky things until recently.  Since we are heading to Las Vegas once again, we decided to complete the list of Quirky sites and see them all today.

When going to Las Vegas from Arizona you must now go over the By Pass bridge and back track back to the dam.  It’s not like in the old days when you actually drove over the dam to get from Arizona to Las Vegas.  So we drove over the dam, found a place to park and then walked back to find all these quirky stops we just had to see.

Our first stop was the “Memorial to the Hoover Dam Dead”. Lots of men died during the building of Hoover Dam.  They fell from sheer rock faces, drowned in water, succumbed to dynamite explosions and many equipment accidents.  According to official accounts, no worker was ever lost to a concrete pour.  The pouring was only done 2 inches at a time, and there were lots of workers watching over each other for trouble.  While no one is buried at the dam, a memorial was constructed to remember the 96 men tallied as industrial fatalities.  A low-relief panel by sculptor Oskar J. W. Hansen, dedicated in 1935, shows a naked male emerging from waves in front of the dam.  A thunder cloud spits lightning bolts, stalks of grain sprout, and fruits and vegetables flourish.  The monument states: “They died to make the desert bloom.”

Only a few feet away from the Memorial to the Dead are the “Winged Figures of the Republic”.  These are a pair of angular, giant figures of humanoids with wings that stand 30 feet tall.  They guard the 142 foot American flag pole.  Sculptor Oskar Hansen, responsible for most of the dam’s various heroic and mythical artwork, made the figures from more than four tons of bronze. They sit on bases of black diorite. This stylish monument to the dam was dedicated in 1935.  In an odd astrological touch, the monument is surrounded by a terrazzo floor with a celestial chart which shows the exact position of key stars on the day the Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. The star map would assist a future civilization of giant flying humans to pinpoint the date as September 30, 1935.  The diagram shows the night sky the night the wings were dedicated.

The figures have been weathered to a green patina, but the toes are burnished to a soft gold by countless tourist hands.  You see rumor has it that on your way to Las Vegas, for luck you are to rub the angels toes…all 10 of them, with all 10 of your fingers.  So of course we did the rubbing….more than once.
Continuing walking along the Nevada side of the dam, and just a few feet from the Wings is the resting place of, “Dog of the Dam”. The story of this dog is quite interesting.  In 1932 a part-Labrador puppy with a jet black coat and a white blaze on his chest was said to have been born in the crawlspace beneath the first police building in Boulder City.  A laborer for Six Companies, the joint venture of construction companies building Hoover dam, began bringing him to the worksite while he was still a puppy, and he became a welcome addition to the workforce.  Political correctness did not occur to the men of the time, and they called the dog ”Nig.”The dog was as sure-footed as any mountain goat and made his way around the canyon and on the construction catwalks that the men used to navigate the dam.  Nig could climb up ladders and he followed the men into tunnels without fear.  Just as the men did, Nig arrived on the transport that brought workers from Boulder City where they stayed.  When the end-of-day whistle blew, Nig, too, lined up at the elevators to leave with the men.  But Nig was happy with just about any type of conveyance and sometimes hopped aboard the train servicing the area and was also once seen in the front seat of a black Cadillac belonging to an executive touring the site. According to Building Hoover Dam, an oral history of the project, the man’s wife was riding in the back seat, and the men were sure Nig was grinning.  The commissary even prepared meals for Nig, and just as they did for the men, they prepared a bag lunch for Nig. Each day Nig picked up his lunch with his mouth when the men did, and Nig left his lunch in the line where the men left theirs.  At noontime, he waited for one of the men to unwrap his meal for him, and he and the men all enjoyed their noon break together.

On February 21, 1941, it was unseasonably hot and Nig looked for shade under an idling truck.  Sadly the driver was unaware that Nig had crawled under the rig, and as the driver moved away from the site, Nig was crushed beneath the truck’s wheels. “Rough, tough rock-hard men wept openly and unashamed,” a newspaper wrote.  Nig was buried in a concrete crypt near the Nevada abutment and memorialized with a plague identifying him as a dog that adopted a dam.  But in the late 1970s the plaque became controversial.  A Wisconsin tourist complained to a Reclamation Bureau supervisor.  The on-site supervisor ignored the complaint but the fellow, a professor, went home to Madison, Wisconsin and complained to his Congressional representatives.

On March 21 1979, the plaque was removed; many Boulder City residents were very upset by this treatment of the “construction crew mascot,” and the local people petitioned Bureau of Reclamation to reinstate the plaque.  Eventually the locals prevailed, but a new plaque was put up that told the story of the dog who adopted a dam but it left off the dog’s name.  When the men poured the concrete in which to place the plaque, they took matters into their own hands.  They scratched the word “Nig” in the concrete itself so that everyone would know the name of the loyal dog who was beloved by all black and white workers alike.  As I had mentioned in the write up about the Memorial to the Dead, it says no one is buried at the dam, but Nig is and it is quite an impressive crypt, with plaque, picture and story.

Continuing along the sidewalk and just before you reach the Hoover Dam gift shop and the High Scaler Cafe is the “Hoover Dam High Scaler Monument”.  The monument includes the names of workers who perished during the building of the dam.  This larger-than life sculpture of a man scaling a rock wall represents a “high scaler.”  In the 1930s, fearless, dam workers would dangle hundreds of feet in the air, armed with jackhammers to jar loose rocks and dynamite to blast away at the canyon walls.  Lots of men died in this occupation and others in creating the immense structure that turns Lake Mead into electricity.

The bronze figure was created in the 1990s by sculptor Steven Liguori, in conjunction with a group of concessionaires who operate the businesses on government property around the landmark.  The statue was based on a photo, of Joe Kine, one of the last of the high scalers  who worked on the Hoover Dam project.  Upon completion the statue was presented to Joe on September 30, 1995, Hoover Dam’s sixtieth anniversary.  The statue was installed in 1998, and hangs against a dramatic cliff face.

All 4 stops can be viewed by just walking across the dam from the Arizona side to the Nevada side.  There is also a visitors center, a parking garage and tours below than dam can also be taken from this location.  Between these 4 Quirky stops, the dam itself and the By Pass Bridge, one could easily spend a good portion of a day here, especially if you have never been to the dam before.  Very interesting stop and a bit of history along the way.  Definitely worth a stop.


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Gold Point, NV

Louise Speaks:  Heading home and about 30 miles south of Goldfield is the turn off to Gold Point.  This is heading west towards California and is a main connector.  Our purpose to go to Gold Point was to see some castle that is currently for sale.  We never found the castle but thanks to the internet I was able to do some research and find out the history.  In 1998, Randy Johnston bought 40 acres of land adjacent to Gold Point.  Two years after buying the property, Johnston began construction of his “castle,” known as the Hard Luck Castle, and he has been at it ever since.  Originally a plumber, this self-taught jack-of-all-trades does most of the work himself, occasionally helped by visiting volunteers.  He lays block, sets stone and tile, fabricates steel and iron, installs plumbing, runs gas and electrical lines, builds furniture, harnesses solar and wind power, plasters, paints, grouts, maintains his own access road and handles whatever else needs doing.   From a foundation on bedrock, the 50-foot-diameter tower of concrete, stone and metal rises four stories, capped with a plate-glass cupola perfect for enjoying expansive daytime views and glittering night skies.  The structure encompasses 8,000 square feet from basement to cupola and consists of 22 rooms.  Walls are 126 inches thick with arches for solid wood doors with hand-wrought hardware.  Many windows pierce walls for light.  The living space includes a great room, dining room, two kitchens, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a wine cellar, a media room, an electrical room and a workshop.  A large shed outside houses a larger work space.   Johnston’s bastion utilizes power generated by the sun and wind, stored in banks of batteries.  Thick walls protect the house from extremes of cold and heat.  Vents channel outside air or rising heat to keep the interior spaces comfortable.  The structure has no fireplaces, odd for a castle, but there aren’t any ready sources of firewood nearby.  Cooking is done with propane in the kitchen and on a barbecue outside that burns wood pellets.  Water is trucked in from a spring near Gold Point on the far side of the mountains and is stored in a huge gravity-flow tank.

Johnston has the basic house completed, but finishing work remains to be done, such as grouting floor tiles and applying finish coats on many walls. He is installing two pipe organs in his desert retreat, complicated instruments he enjoys playing and maintaining.  He admittedly gets sidetracked when opportunities arise, such as his recent acquisition of cast-off parts of a vintage pipe organ, which he plans to use to increase the number of pipes in his organs.  He has made many recent trips to the coast to pick up the long lead pipes and wooden covers.  By the way, the unique property was on the market for $3,250,000 but has since be reduced to $1.5 million.  This is quite the deal since Johnston has invested over $3 million dollars in the property.  Johnston says he is selling the home because his health is failing and he wants to buy a 50-foot sailboat and just relax.  The entire Hard Luck Mine and Castle estate is for sale,’ the home’s website reads.  ‘Everything – and we mean everything – comes with the sale.  All the owner wants to leave with is his truck, his trailer, and his dogs.’

Johnston interrupts whatever he is doing to give visitors a guided tour of his unique home.  A donation of $5 to $10 per person is suggested at the end of the tour.  Not sure what the cost is as different web sites have listed different donations.  We would have gladly paid the donation if we could have found the castle.  Our mistake was that we went into Gold Point instead of taking a turn before reaching town.

Upon arriving in Gold Point, we didn’t even get out of the car.  There were tents camped everywhere and we have no idea why.  There were buildings but none looked livable.  We did see people, but they were just staring at as as we drove by.  We felt like we were trespassing and the first car they had seen in days…maybe weeks.  If they call this a ghost town, this is an accurate description.  It wasn’t until I started researching Gold Point and it’s history to write this blog that I’m thinking we should have stopped and looked around. 

The town of Gold Point goes way…way back.  A mining town turned ghost town.  Fast forward to 1960.  Mining continued up until the late 1960’s, when, at the 1000 ft. level of the Dunfee Shaft, a dynamite charge went off wrong and caved a large part of the ceiling in. Rather than put out more money, on what had declined to a marginal operation, the mine turned off the lights and closed the doors.  Other than an occasional lessee here and there, this was the last serious mining operation in Gold Point.  For the next 10 years, Gold Point was basically a Ghost Town and would have blown away piece by piece like so many other towns of the Old West had it not been for the loving and watchful eye of  Ora Mae Wiley and her friends.  Ora had come here around 1930 from Georgia to have a little look and see what the wild west was like. She met her future husband, Senator Harry Wiley, one of the founding fathers of Hornsilver, now Gold Point,  and stayed in Gold Point until her death, at the age of 83 in 1980.  In addition to mining, Harry,  served on the  Board of Supervisors from 1940 until he was elected to the Nevada State Senate in 1946, where he served until his death  in 1955.  The couple also operated a little general store and a Standard Gas station.  Ora Mae was Postmistress in Gold Point from 1940 to 1964.  In 1967 the 4th class Post Office closed.   Slowly, a newer generation of Gold Pointers started moving into town.  Today Gold Point boast of a population of 6 full time residents and as many as 6 part time residents.  There are a handful of other people who own property in Gold Point, but they are scattered around the U.S. and rarely make the trip out. There are a few others who live just outside the town limits as well.  Together, everyone watches out for everyone else and that is the reason there are no problems in Gold Point. When you visit Gold Point you may not see anyone, but rest assured they are watching you, and we sure felt that way today.

The  mercantile store  and grill have both gone through restoration.  Restoration of some of the other old buildings have been going on since the late 1970s.  Apparently there are two museums in town that are open to the public on most weekends.  Today is Saturday and like I said, if it wasn’t for the wind blowing, we would be seeing nothing move.  The story about how Gold Point got to be this tourist attraction, although I don’t see it, is quite fascinating.  In 1978 Herb Robbins  and his buddy, Chuck Kremin, pulled into Gold Point, which in 1908 was a flourishing gold mining town.  They found a handful of die-hards clustered alongside a gravel road proudly named Gold Street,  which is off the nearest highway, 190 miles north of Las Vegas.  Kremin stopped to talk to the first person he saw, and after several minutes, he called out to Robbins, “Do you want to buy property here?”  ‘‘Sure,’” Robbins recalled.  They later drove up to purchase 3 lots for $500 a piece.  Kremin took one and Robbins took two, and a few months later, they were part owners of a few empty lots in Gold Point.   Once Robbins got the lots, he got hooked, and his love affair with Gold Point began.

Property ownership grew from hobby to avocation.  In 1981, Robbins partnered with Chuck Kremin and Chuck’s brother Walt to buy the old post office, the general store and the home of former state Sen. Harry Wiley.  The price included all the antiques and furnishings.  Now they had a place to stay other than in a tent or trailer when they visited Gold Point.  Chuck Kremin soon stepped back from an active role, but over the next 10 years, Robbins and Walt Kremin  continued to buy any and all the buildings that were available no matter what their condition.  In 1986 Robbins purchased the cabin/home where he lives now and plans to spend the rest of his life in that very cabin.  Their plan was no more grandiose than to save a bit of Old West heritage.  Robbins and Kremin have spent years going through mining shacks, homes and businesses, trying to stabilize and rehabilitate them.  They have re-roofed structures, gutted interiors and added framing, drywall, insulation and electricity.   Visitors coming to Gold Point stay in their small RV park or the bed-and-breakfast, yes they claim to have a B & B, which are actually renovated miner cabins that are popular with European tourists.  They have decorated the cabins with old-fashioned wallpaper and furnished them, giving people who enjoy ghost towns a chance to stay in one.  This experience of breathing fresh life into this hamlet is not about the money.  Robbins and Kremin say they’ve spent far more than they could hope to recover in a lifetime.  Such is the price to preserve and share history.

For over 30 years now Walt and Robbins, with many thousands of dollars of their own money, have been purchasing building materials and working on all the different cabins and buildings. It takes thousands of dollars to rebuild and preserve even a small old miner’s cabin, and they have 12, not to mention the other bigger buildings, so it’s been a slow process.  Each year they find the price of wood products continuing to climb.  It takes a lot of different materials to save a cabin. The only thing they generally do to the outside is put on a roof. They try not to put on any new wood unless absolutely necessary.  Rolled asphalt roofing is usually applied first. Then as they get the extra money they put on the cedar shingles.  Inside is a little more complex.  These 100 year old cabins and buildings were built without any framing like they build today.  The walls are only as thick as the 1 x 12 inch board and bats that were used. They go in and strip the walls down to the original walls and then build a 2 x 4 frame inside.  This stabilizes the cabin tremendously. They can then install the electrical wires, insulation, sheet rock, paint and/or old newspapers or old fashioned wall paper, carpet, curtains and finally furniture.  Besides their own labor they are very grateful that they have what they call our Friends of Gold Point who occasionally come and donate their time helping them.

The Bed and Breakfast idea came a few years ago when they finally took the suggestions from different friends to let other ghost town enthusiasts stay in the old cabins that they had fixed up and take donations from them to help purchase more building materials. Throughout the year they are constantly purchasing building materials with this money along with their own hard earned cash.

Living here, may sound like a romantic notion to some, but make no mistake, it’s hard.  It’s a 60-mile drive to get groceries.  The nearest Walmart or Home Depot is a couple of hours away at best.  Before cell phones, residents had to drive about a dozen miles to the now closed Cottontail Ranch brothel to use a pay phone.  Now they have some service, and they have satellite TV.  And what happens when Robbins and Kremin are physically spent and can no longer maintain Gold Point?  Both are in their 60s now and have cut back on many of the activities they used to do in the town.  “When the time comes, everything goes up for sale, not necessarily to the highest bidder but to the person who takes care of it the best,” Robbins said.  “Buy it all, we’ll sell you everything with one condition.”  That condition is that they have to live here until they die.

These buildings were 100 years old in 2008.  Each building they save they hope  will see another 100 years.  This will be their legacy. This is what they wish to pass on to future generations to see and experience as they have over their lifetime.  So you see by reading all the history of Gold Point I wish we had stopped and looked at some of these buildings.  I generally research sites before Thelma and I go on one of our adventures, but since I didn’t plan this trip, I didn’t know what I was looking for.  I’m not sure this is a place I would return to, but the idea of staying in one of these mining cabins does sound adventurous and might be worth a trip back.