November 28, 2022

Urban Cowboys: Destination Unknown

During our trip out to Nevada, Cultured Thug (CT) was kind enough to open up his home to a bunch of strangers he had just met on the Internet. We bonded throughout the evening together as we engaged in debate, shared personal stories, and cracked jokes in the warm embrace of the campfire. It was our first time meeting everyone outside of the online sphere, so in the tradition of the highly acclaimed Drunken Rants series, it was inevitable that we would all connect with our own alcohol-induced diatribes. As we rolled out of bed the next morning, foggy and feeling heavy-legged, we were disillusioned to what the day would bring. A difficult start but a bright finale would build connections and foster ideas that would influence our spirits for the future to come.

The Flight of the Car Keys

It was 9am and many of us were already up. We slowly worked our way downstairs and plopped ourselves on the couches to get into the groove of the day. Last of the Mohicans was playing on the television and it almost felt fitting with the sense of adventure we had in our bones, from my personal hike to see the petroglyphs at Sloan Canyon to our small band of adventurers exploring the rugged canyons of Red Rock National Park. The lessons of the movie relate to us the dangers of wanting to dominate our surroundings. Being open and finding ways to become wild with the land—maybe even integrate certain aspects of Native American culture into our own—will help us attune ourselves to the world around us. To listen to something primal deep within us and divine beyond us. We were mere wanderers in a foreign land, meditating upon the lessons our experience had to teach us. But even with a good-hearted soul, Nature and Fate can still exhibit the darkest of humors.

As we finally got ourselves settled in, we had to come to terms with the rumbling feeling coming from down below. These familiar post-party feelings are not one that will fix themselves. We need to eat! One of our members—Cultured Cook—took it upon himself to go out and buy all the food needed to whip up a mid-day meal for our small little army of companions. As he returns with a couple packs of chicken leg quarters and mystery bags of spices, veggies, and sides, we wonder who in the hell is gonna eat all this? We’ve definitely got the appetite but this might be a little over the top, so maybe we should share this cordial experience. Yet, we don’t even know if CT or any of the others are up, but if he was nice enough to invite us in the night before, hopefully he would be grateful enough to receive us on a surprise visit a second time. We don’t bother calling. We just start packing things in the trunk of the rental car. In the process, a couple others arrive and it helps us split up the number of people in each car so we can get over there more easily. In the middle of all of this, someone asks us about our trip to Red Rock. The day before I poked around the visitor center after our hike because I learned that they were selling some really great informational books and I wanted to browse them in person to bring home some good educational material to learn more about the area. Within a second my mind completely stops at the task at hand and I remember that the books I picked up are just right there in the trunk as well. Excitedly I pick them up and bring them inside to show everyone. These were some of the best guidebooks I saw for the Southwest region. One was very specific to Red Rock and covered everything from plant and wildlife communities, hiking ideas, all to the history of peoples who lived on the land for thousands of years. The other, while highly more technical, covered very similar topics but more generalized to the Mojave Desert as a whole. They quickly flip through the books and I struggle to conjure up in them the same enthusiasm I have for the natural world, but they found it interesting. However, we quickly realize that it would be best to focus less on distractions and more on our primary goal of refueling our energy tanks for the day.

The one car drives off. I check my pockets for the keys. Nothing. The car is locked. I go inside to see if in my fit of excitement I may have misplaced them within the house. We find nothing. This whole time I’m thinking about the last place I would not want to lose them and hoping for every excuse of a place to check so I don’t have to face that reality. But it was true, we locked the keys in the trunk!

We go back inside and with the frustration and stress rising, Kyle does a great job of bringing us back together and settling the mood. We weren’t even angry. We just felt really stupid and guilty for something so silly. Only choice we have right now is to get AAA on the phone and have them pop open the door so we can unlatch the trunk. We call…it’s gonna be 45 minutes till they get here. It’s at least in the 70’s and who knows how hot it’s getting in the trunk with all that raw meat. Hell it might even slow cook itself while we wait! “There must be a set of cards somewhere around here. It’s pretty much a staple of these kind of places,” Kyle says. We quickly rummage through the drawers and find a set. We begin to play a game that I’ve only ever done as a board game but is quite easy with a simple set of cards—Resistance, which after a few minutes of joking around turns into Feds vs Fascists. About 15 minutes in, we hear a knock on the door. Damn, that was quick! We are gonna get outta here! We open the door and a young kid is waiting and staring on the other side. He doesn’t say anything, so I ask “Are you the AAA guy?” He looks confused. Suddenly he looks over at Kyle and says “Hey I think I recognize you!” At this point, I’m thinking to myself that this guy is either a scam artist or a serial killer. He must’ve known the place was gonna have guests this weekend so he’s been plotting the right time to make his move. We stand there awkwardly for what seems like the longest 30 seconds in my life until the guy finally says “Is this the A3P group?” A breath of relief goes through all of us as we realize that this was another member—Z—we hadn’t met or seen on camera yet. We bring him in and get him acclimated and about 20 minutes later AAA notifies us that a guy is on his way.

We are all outside the place as we see the truck come near, but then for some reason he drives right past us. We’re just standing there watching him in shock and disbelief as to what just happened. By the time he turns the corner, we realize that maybe we should run after him to get him back on course. To our relief, he realizes his mistake and reroutes his direction. When he arrives, he goes through the usual routine of popping the door open. The car alarm goes off and we go to pop the trunk but there’s a problem. There’s no power to the vehicle and the trunk can’t be unlocked without electricity. Whoever designed this car must’ve been a real asshole. I know this isn’t the most common occurrence but why make it easier for the user to make a silly mistake that cannot be easily undone? Even worse is the latch to put the seats down are in the trunk as well. Our AAA guy did not realize what he was getting into that day. He pretty much tells us that’s about all the solutions he really has and any other workarounds would have to go through the rental company. We try brainstorming ideas amongst the group and in the meantime, I’m just dialing every line available for the rental but there is absolutely no answer. The look of helplessness and despair must’ve been enough for him to want to give things a second try. He comes back with some tools to work on removing the seats. We can’t get them completely off but maybe if we can pull them back just enough, we can at least try and get a look back there. Z comes busting through the side door and yanks the thing back—this quiet awkward kid is really starting to earn his keep—and although we can’t quite get a good reach to the back, we ask the AAA guy if he has any sort of magnet device. He comes back with an extendable rod and we fish around back and forth but still no luck. At this point, it really seemed like we had exhausted all of our options. I give the guy a 40 dollar tip for all his help since he certainly earned it. You can tell by the look on his face that he’s really not ready to give up. It’s almost like the energy behind everyone just wanting to solve the problem kept us motivated enough to push forward. We thought about what else might be back in the trunk that we might be able to utilize. Of course, every vehicle after 2002 is mandated to have a trunk release switch! Z is back on the scene to muscle this thing out of there. I nearly thought the seat was just gonna rip right off. Finally we hear a snap. It’s open! The car alarm goes off again. I go and see the keys and I’m just so happy to have them in my hands that I could care less about the alarm blaring in our ears. Kyle looks at me and is nearly about to grab the keys to turn this horrible noise off. After all that you would’ve thought that we were the A-team or something. A bunch of pale white guys gathered around a car with a Mestizo technician more than willing to bust his ass on whatever meager pay he makes. Certainly not a narrative that you often hear in these dissident circles.

A Break in the Noise

Once we all eventually get together, we have quite the laugh. My often misunderstood excitement around plants got me into trouble again. I guess it’s gonna cost me a few talking points off the Ecofuturist part of the platform!

Our meal encompassed a hearty North African dish of baked chicken with a special tomato sauce served over rice. If we weren’t already feeling this way before, the mood was even more lazy after the meal. It seemed like most people just wanted to relax and talk, maybe continue lost conversations started the night before. For me, I wanted to make the most of the trip. No matter how exhausted I was feeling, the excitement and adrenaline in my bones impelled me to experience as much of this place as I could during my short stay. It was getting late so maybe a shorter adventure would suffice. I kept seeing advertisements for the Hoover Dam in the airport and public transportation, so with it being only an hour away it seemed like a good late afternoon adventure. I ask around but nobody is biting. I’m really on the verge of just going myself when Icarus tells me of a trip that he’s going on with some of the guys in just about an hour. I guess they were looking to visit some of the places featured in the Fallout: New Vegas video game. I could really care less about all that. I just wanted to get out with some other guys and see the landscape.

Catch the Sun

We hit the I-15 south of Las Vegas on our way to Goodsprings. On my left I see what looks like the Sloan Canyon range I visited just the other day but it looks oddly different. I figure out that it is the west side of the slopes; a little different view from what I had on my way in the other evening. The whole drive I’m just taking in all the hills. I just want to get out of the car and climb every single one. Icarus and I ended up getting so distracted in conversation that we completely missed the exit to Goodsprings. By the time we meet up with the other guys they had already gotten a good feeling of the place. They climbed atop a hill with a nice viewpoint, visited Pioneer Saloon which was absolutely packed at the time, and walked around the General Store which was unfortunately closed. It was one of those places which could’ve been a good beer and food pit stop, but we had much more we wanted to see along this journey and the sun was quickly descending over the bright blue sky.

Our next stop was Primm. A small town on the edge of the California/Nevada border, it was really nothing more than a weird resort of various casinos. Why anyone would travel all the way down here to gamble rather than just go to the city, we could not understand. We stopped by Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino to get a good walk around the place but it was completely closed. So we walk around the lot and snap a few photos before we leave. Later when we all got back to our actual homes, we realized that we were just steps away from the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car over near Whiskey Pete’s where we initially met up. How are we ever going to recover from letting that slip through the cracks?

We planned our route back to Las Vegas by cutting through an old road near the edge of the Mojave National Preserve (MNP). We literally just looked at the map and had no idea what to expect. We saw what looked like fascinating terrain and a calling for the less worn track that we couldn’t ignore. Many of us at least wanted to catch a glimpse of the preserve, so although we knew we didn’t have enough time to stop, it worked out well.

The Mojave National Preserve is a unique stretch of land and is actually one of the largest preserves in the country. You’ll know immediately when you get there as the landscape drastically changes from the twiny branches of the Creosote Bush to a lusher green of Blackbrush Scrub. It supports a rich diversity of life within the region due to underground water springs and various plant communities unique to the region. Wildflower blooms are a most hunted sight for plant enthusiasts and hikers can often be surprised by bighorn sheep running through the hills or an astray lizard running across the pathway. The importance of conservation land is that it is not only an essential part of research for ecologists and scientists, but critical habitat to ensure the survival of life on this planet. However, just like humans don’t often stay in just one spot, the natural world needs space to move around as well. While isolated conservation space is a huge help to our environmental mission, it really is just a last resort to the even grander network of greenspaces needed for key species to survive. It is important that we make space within highly populated cities and bring more life into our backyards. Much of the home and gardening industry has dedicated itself to eradicating any moving creature from the spaces we frequent the most, but this is where we have the most direct control. Growing plants that can be eaten and nested in by caterpillars and bugs creates a healthy food source for an array of birds and predators. Providing a pathway for generalist and specialist pollinators to feast on nectar and pollen allows a diverse community of plant species to thrive in a specific zone.

The Future is Green

The sun is just barely giving off light along the horizon and as we go down this road we can’t help but notice a sign: “Town for Sale, 3M or best offer.” At first I thought this had to be a joke. This must be the kind of thing to bring tourists down this way for sure. And yet, we see the sign again as we arrive in town. We hear a little bit of activity stirring in the distance but the place seems like a ghost town. Remnants of failed businesses and dreams permeate the air: various restaurants have come and gone—while the latest Whistle Stop Cafe and Restaurant seemed to be thriving since 2018, it unfortunately found itself closing its doors right when the pandemic hit in March 2020; American Green, who in 2017 purchased the town to create a cannabis resort went downhill shortly after they attempted to liven up the place by installing a luxury teepee campground and bringing in Burning Man inspired art exhibits all seen in the distance; and the general store and hotel have both been utilized for different businesses but nothing has quite stuck. As we walk up the road towards the sound of people, a gentleman steps out and encourages us to go and look at the art displays before it gets too dark. The desolation itself is sad but almost quite beautiful. Being so isolated from the big towns makes it difficult to attract a lot of customers and interest to the area. However, for someone with a unique idea, there may be a niche that could take off in this interesting spot.

The history of failure incumbent in Nipton is one that would make most people turn their heads at the prospect of transforming this town into a success story, but there seems to be so much opportunity if given the right attention and the right buyer. In an area with so much to discover from the natural world, the possibilities in Nipton are endless. Past stakeholders have really honed in on the idea of capturing the tourist industry in this remote place, and with the popularity of ideas of sustainability and operating on a more self-sufficient basis, this town could be a model for the future. The core of this transformation would be to extend the mission of the nearby Mojave Desert Preserve into a place for conservation of local plants and wildlife and develop an independent and sustainable food source for the town. An outdoor botanical garden with signage and local guides would showcase an educational experience on the importance of keystone species and their role in the local ecosystem. Information on the threats of urban growth and invasive species on declining wildlife and plant populations would be central to the mission of preserving species under threat. Books on the natural history of the area and even self-published literature could be sold in the Trading Post and would be key for further engagement on the topic. In all, the Trading Post would act as a gift shop that would encourage the sale of locally and sustainably sourced gift items and educational materials to spread the message and even help people experiment with green concepts on their own. Local artists and craftsmen could sell their work through this outlet and maybe even encourage activities like artist’s retreats or the development of an artist community in town. Although edible plants would be integrated throughout the property and botanical garden, another area would be set up solely for food operations. Based on growing native and traditional plants that Native Americans had used to survive, these products would be integrated into the traditional menu for the Restaurant and could be turned into packaged goods that would be sold in the General Store. The crux of this new Nipton is that its not just a tourist destination where people come and go, but is a welcoming place where they want to stay and engage with what it has to offer. They become not just tourists but active participants in the mission of the place itself. For those looking to stay in more standard lodging, the Hotel would be the first choice but the luxury teepee cabins could be a romantic getaway to help those who want to feel more connected to the outdoors. Extensions to our mission of protecting the environment would be the installation of solar panels and other green energy sources in all buildings as to not put a strain on the local environment. Maybe with enough lobbying of the government, the old railway line could be used for sustainable transportation back and forth to Las Vegas, encouraging even more visitors and participation in this little eco-village. While complete self-sustainability in this tiny town would be an amazing dream, the beginning of a new idea would have to be flexible. In such a remote area, it would be difficult to operate at 100% mission goals, but spreading awareness on key issues is a critical part to driving action in other areas across the nation and world. The core of the business model is to keep money flowing and things running, but with this it would allow the Nipton community to take small steps towards its full goals and a better world.

As much as we want to dream about taking on a project of this capacity, it truly requires a full team of people and significant cash flow to get things off the ground. A place like this with a history of failure is quite high risk and would need someone who was willing to put enough money into the place and even be willing to lose money for some time until business picked up. It’s a shame that for decades nothing has really took off here, but I hope that the next buyer has a unique dream that can finally be realized in “magical and historic” Nipton.