CLOUMN: Mirth and wonder in Beatty, Nevada

Trip to Nevada proves to be an eye opener.

It’s normal to expect a town to fence out wild animals.

Beatty is one of several tiny towns strung along Nevada State Route 95, like beads on a string through the high desert between Las Vegas, Death Valley, Area 51 and Tonopah.

About two weeks ago I drove through there for the first time since I lived in Nevada in the mid ’70s. I remembered the desolate landscape passing by like one long continuous Dali painting – there’s a reason Area 51 is located out there – but I didn’t recall much about the towns.

The first sign of civilization upon approaching Beatty from the south is a large, rectangular, blue building with no windows.

“Nude Girls” and “Bikinis” are painted in big white letters across the front wall. A couple motorcycles and pickups parked out front indicated the place was probably holding its own.

The pavement wanders between two small hills and over a cattle guard into Beatty. Maximum speed on its main street, that cuts 90 degrees right just past the Atomic Inn and the Death Valley Subway restaurant, is 25 mph and best heeded if you don’t want to hit the wild donkeys wandering all over the road.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about crashing his car into a herd of sheep in Fear and Loathing in Elko. Subdivisions around Reno have herds of horses running loose all over, but southern Nevada is crawling with wild donkeys, corralled in the towns by fences and cattle guards on the main roads because, I guess, it’s just easier to fence in a small town than fence out the rest of Nevada.

Except Area 51. That’s all fenced.

Area 51 (the U.S. government still says it doesn’t exist, but anyone can Google Earth it) is actually an area around Groom Dry Lake where they test aircraft. It’s nestled in a big chunk of the state that includes gunnery and bomb ranges, nuclear weapons test ranges and other bases where they do things they don’t want people without proper security clearances gawking at.

For the record: I don’t believe they keep aliens or alien spacecraft out there, but I’ve long had a strong suspicion there is a base, beyond the fences and white pickups patrolling the area’s perimeter, where they’ve trained a small army of Elvis impersonators who face their baptism of fire in front of drunken audiences in Vegas before being shipped off to perform around the world promoting the American way of life.

This innovative form of mind control appears to have been successful in Ontario and Japan. (The Flying Elvises and the Red Elvises being the most ambitious efforts of the program so far. The U.S. government denies Elvis Ranch exists too.)

I hit the brakes so my wife and daughter could snap pictures of a family of three donkeys – mom, pop, and youngster – that scampered across the path of the car to gobble up a weedy looking green bush on the side of the road.

They looked so gentle and I wondered how much provocation it would take for them to start kicking in the car door. (A man knows a bear can turn mean, but you never know what an animal that shows no fear and looks like a cross between a horse and a jackass might be thinking.)

There were a couple bars with people stumbling in and out, a Denny’s restaurant that looks like a castle, a highway junction to Death Valley and the Shady Lady Ranch (which advertises “toys”) and Angel Ladies (advertised services includes massages).

People on the streets had that walk people get in party towns when they’ve had a bit too much to drink and sort of hang on to each other and rock back on their heels when they point at something.

I spent the rest of a long tiring drive that night, peering down that dark highway while my wife kept lookout for small herds of donkeys threatening to leap in front of the car.

A couple days exploring Beatty is definitely on my bucket list.

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