A pair of outdoor museums, an extinct volcano, a geyser and a spooky motel full of clowns made Travel Nevada’s inaugural list of the state’s “seven weirdest wonders.”
The seven rural attractions are marketed to visitors by the Nevada Commission on Tourism and will be part of an ongoing promotion for the state.
The Tourism Commission launched a determined spring campaign last year with a new focus on attracting visitors from Portland, Oregon and Chicago.
Mikalee Byerman, director of marketing for Travel Nevada, said these two cities were identified as having growth potential for the Nevada travel market by consultants in the state.
“Recent insights from our study and audience data reinforce these recommendations,” Byerman said. “We are now moving forward with these plans as our changing budget is now determined for the remainder of the fiscal year. We regularly review data to determine optimal audiences in the drive and fly markets, but these are the two that rose to the top when taking search, access considerations, and sentiment analysis into account.
The state suspended spending on promotions to attract tourists until leaders were satisfied that visitors were ready to travel again after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attract the curious
Now that traveler confidence is returning, potential visitors to the Silver State are incentivized to see seven things they won’t see anywhere else.
“We see through our research that travelers are looking for places to visit that satisfy their curiosity, and this Weird Nevada list really highlights some of the lesser-known attractions in the wider travel industry,” Tracie Barnthouse, Head of public relations for Nevada Travel, said in an interview.
“These are places that only exist in Nevada, which makes them especially rare and attractive to people looking for great travel stories. There are so many great places and we couldn’t include them all, but they are obscure places in our state,” she said.
His favorite destination on the list: Garnet Hill, east of Ely.
“Where can you go to find garnet gemstones all over the floor?” she says.
Surprised to be “weird”
A local resident was surprised that Garnet Hill made the “weird list”, thinking it might get even weirder in the years to come.
“We think Garnet Hill is a pretty mundane place,” said Shadrach Robertson, tourism ambassador for the White Pine County Chamber of Commerce. “This is BLM land. You go out and dig your own garnets. Rockhounds like to go out there and dig into the side of mountains and they can keep whatever they find.
There is speculation that even more garnets may be on display in the future, he said.
“I think it will be even weirder in a few years if and when the BLM blows up the top of the mountain to expose more garnets,” he said. “It’s speculative at best at this point, but the conversation over the last five years has been that it’s the plan to do it in the next three to five years.”
Here is the list of the seven “Weird Nevada” sites, in order of distance from Las Vegas:
“Extraterrestrial Research Center, near Alamo, 100 miles away. The silver quonset shack in the middle of the desert has a two-story silver alien statue at its entrance and is the gateway to the Nevada Alien Highway, Nevada State Route 375, Area 51 and its community closest, Rachel. The Alien Research Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, and has a gift shop with extraterrestrial clothing, hats, mugs, magnets, and other knick-knacks.
— The Goldwell Open Air Museum, 4 miles west of Beatty off State Highway Route 374, 109 miles. Goldwell has seven major art structures, including a ghostly life-size version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”; a 25-foot pink lady built of cinder blocks; a 24-foot steel prospector and a penguin; and a shiny tangle of chrome car accessories. The 8-acre site was created by a group of Belgian artists, led by the late Albert Szukalski, who were drawn to the remote upper reaches of the Mojave Desert to pursue an unconventional artistic vision. It is open to the public all day, every day, with no admission charge.
The Last Church International Car Forest near Goldfield off US Highway 95, 171 miles. Another open-air gallery, the forest of cars includes more than 40 graffiti vehicles, most buried by the nose. Created by longtime Goldfield resident Mark Rippie, who successfully sought to break the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest car forest, his efforts were later joined by artists Chad Sort and Zak Sargent. The area is open 24 hours a day and has no entrance fee.
— Clown Motel, 521 Main St., Tonopah, 198 miles. The motel has the world’s largest collection of clown figurines – 2,000 – on-site. The 31-room motel is adjacent to Old Tonopah Cemetery, where many of Tonopah’s first silver mine workers were buried after they died in a mining accident – the Belmont Mine fire of 1911. The grounds Clown Motel was developed in 1985 by Leona and Leroy. David, children of their father, Clarence David, a clown lover who left a collection of 150 clowns in his home.
— Garnet Hill, 6.4 miles east of Ely off US Highway 50, 237 miles. Garnet Hill Recreation Area was once an active volcano that erupted 32 to 40 million years ago and littered the landscape with almandine, a type of garnet semi-precious stone. Although it is recommended to bring a shovel, rock hammer and gloves to extract the garnets from the surrounding rock, many are visible on the surface of the ground and do not require excavation. Garnet Hill is also one of the best places to view the gargantuan open pit copper mine and colorful tailings dumps of the nearby Robinson Mining District. The recreation area is open to the public free of charge.
— The Republic of Molossia, 226 Mary Lane Road, Dayton, 402 miles. Molossia has been designated an official, independent, and sovereign country within Nevada for over 40 years. The 6.3-acre country has its own bizarre laws – guns, tobacco, plastic shopping bags, catfish, “fresh” spinach, missionaries and vendors, onions and walruses are considered illegal contraband – and its currency, the valora, is tied to the value of cookie dough. Visitors can even get their passport stamped, as Molossia is recognized as a micronation. His Excellency President Kevin Baugh and his First Lady reside full-time in Government House, Baugh’s personal residence. Tours are offered once a month, April through October, usually on a weekend, and must be pre-booked. Tour dates can be found on the official website of the Republic of Molossia.
— Fly Geyser, off State Route 34 near Gerlach, 477 miles. The man-made geyser was created in the 1960s when a geothermal energy company attempted to tap the hot springs of the Hualapai Thermal Flats and inadvertently created a 12-foot cone of calcium carbonate spewing water at 200 degrees. The geyser is constantly sputtering, depositing minerals and allowing the growth of multicolored algae on its surrounding natural terraces. In 2016, the non-profit Burning Man Project purchased the Fly Ranch Geyser and ranch, providing limited public access tours of the geyser and surrounding wetland ecosystem. Friends of Black Rock-High Rock guides accompany visitors in small groups, a minimum of 10, for a 2.5-hour tour of the grounds. Tours are $43 for adults and free for children 12 and under.