Adventures in the Wild West, 2006: What Goes Pahrump in the Night?

“They didn’t name this place Death Valley without good reason,” I thought as I watched the brake dysfunction indicator on the dashboard flicker, and then steady into a continuous red glow. I looked through the windshield down the mountain at miles of hairpin turns disappearing into the distance. I was apprehensive.

Holly and I had been camping in Death Valley National Monument for three days. We had been filled with awe and glory at the magnificent views of sand dunes, fields of yellow wildflowers, mountains striated with varicolored purple and blue, depending on the sun and shadows. It was early summer and we seemed to be the last tourists in the area. Starting for home we saw no sign of civilization. The only life was a red tail hawk sailing through the sky and a coyote walking toward us looking for a handout.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Holly assured me, “I’ll follow the family legend of what Pop did at the top of a mountain when he went down hairpin curves in low gear to bring the car home safely.”

Sitting there with my teeth clenched, tense in all muscles, eyes glued to the road, I agreed that following that strategy was the best thing to do. Indeed, in less than an hour we were safely down out of the mountains and had reached a road sign announcing Shoshone, a town consisting of a Chevron station with tourist store, a flowering vine-covered pergola behind a thousand gallon butane tank, a tiny museum, and the Crow Bar eatery.

Driving down a mountainside with no dependable brakes was one thing, but going on to heavily crowded freeways at night was another. I refused to do that. We parked and went inside the gas station/tourist store to find a telephone. The only phone was being used so we looked around the Indian Trading Post—enjoying the wonderful hand made turquoise and silver jewelry, mineral specimens of geodes, amethysts, yellow, green and white calcite rocks, local wood carvings, as well as the usual tee shirts, and tourist trinkets. The phone was finally available so Holly called our 21st century roadside service.

When she was finally connected with the dispatch department she said:

We need to be towed to a garage. The brake idiot light went on.

Where are you?

We are in Shoshone.


Shoshone, California

Spell it please.


What is the address?

There is no address. It’s the Chevron Station in Shoshone, California.

[Sounds of consulting with a supervisor] What’s the nearest cross street?

There is no cross street. The only thing in town is the Chevron Gas Station.

Where do you want your car towed?

[Holly consulted the gas station manager.] The nearest town is Pahrump, Nevada.

What? We don’t like crank calls. What do you really want?

Let me speak to your supervisor, please.

After a lot more conversation Holly was assured a tow truck would be on its way, and since Pahrump was thirty-five miles distant, we were warned it would take more than an hour for it to get there.

We got a cold drink and went outside to sit in the pergola to wait. There was a couple there smoking, sitting about four feet from the propane tank under the sign that read




Holly pointed out the sign to the couple. The woman answered, “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s perfectly safe.”

We didn’t want to sit near them, so we crossed the highway to the Crow Bar Cafe and ordered tacos. A handsome youth served us water in Kerr canning jars and told us the outhouse restrooms were in back labeled COWBOYS and COWGIRLS.

The tow truck arrived and the driver, Craig, maneuvered our car onto his trailer and then invited us into the cab to ride to Pahrump. We grabbed essentials from our car and loaded ourselves into his truck.

Holly carried her three-foot green velour alligator over her shoulder. Craig asked, “Do you take that thing with you everywhere you go?” Holly answered, “Yes, I do.”

We struck out across the desert as the sun was going down, surrounded by dry landscape of sand and mountains. As we followed the narrow two-lane highway through passes and curves, Craig told us about Pahrump. It developed from an Indian village decades ago, and was now growing with new houses and population daily. The word Pahrump is from the Shoshone Indian language meaning “hit rock with stick and water flows out.” The whole area covers an underground lake.

We told him about the propane tank and the smokers, and he said, “Yes, that tank is famous for regularly leaking.”

It was almost dark when we came to a vast level valley, and he pointed out two prominent billboards pointing the way to the two brothels in town. Craig cheerfully commented, “It’s legal here, you know. See that road? It’s X-rated. You’re not allowed to go down it unless you are over twenty-one.” Then we drove by the garage where he worked. “It’s closed now, but in the morning we’ll take a look at your car and I’ll call you and let you know the situation.”

T4-PahrumpAs we were driving along we came into an oasis of bright multicolored flashing lights, buildings, and parked cars—a miniature Las Vegas Strip. Craig pulled into the parking lot of the Saddles West Casino and told us, “You can stay here tonight. I’ll phone you in the morning.”

Holly pulled out the cardboard box piled high with food, camping and cooking gear, and again threw the alligator over her shoulder. I grabbed sleeping bags and we walked into the casino. Grungy from three days of hiking and camping, with the box of aluminum pots and utensils hugged close to her chest, we looked around. The casino was crowded with elegantly dressed gamblers, the women in sparkling gowns, jewelry, and high heels, the men in cowboy boots, shirts, hats, and jeans. A live dance band was playing in the dining room accompanied by the clanging of slot machines. Tables were set with linen and silver.

We tentatively approached the cashier’s window. The man in the cage stared at us with a totally blank expression. The sign on the cage advertised Rooms from $150. Holly, clutching the box of camping equipment to her chest said, “Our car broke down in the desert and we were camping. Can you give us the cheapest room you have?” He answered, “I’ll give you one for $49.” “Great!” thanked Holly. We settled the finances with a credit card. An aged bellhop appeared to guide us to our room. He did not offer to carry our box of gear nor sleeping bags.

He led us to a far away room and when we closed the door after him we threw ourselves on the beds and turned on the TV. When we recovered we ate out of the cardboard box for dinner, and with a bathroom, bed, TV, and full stomachs we fell asleep for the night. The next morning we finished off the food from the cardboard box in our room and then called the garage. Yes, our car was fixed and Craig would come by to take us to the garage within half an hour. Holly stopped in the casino to buy a bumper sticker that read THINGS GO PAHRUMP IN THE NIGHT.

The ride home was uneventful. On our telephone answering machine was a message from my son Lee. “Hi, Mom and Holly. Lucille and I just closed escrow on a house in a place called Pahrump, Nevada. We want you to come and visit.”


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