Curiosity is our natural reaction when we are in a new place. In so many destinations we let ourselves be steered by the advertised tourist attractions. Are these the richest experiences or the most true to the local community? Not necessarily.
Many times following the well beaten path of advertised attractions is a mistake.
In small towns, it is easy to think that there is nothing to do because there are no advertised attractions.
This is where we found ourselves when we committed to winter for two months in Pahrump, Nevada. We’d been attracted by the warm winters and the inexpensive monthly campground rent at two resort-like RV parks. We now found ourselves living in a massive desert on the edge of Death Valley. The endless vistas were repetitive, monotone and textured. It is this canvas that we needed to create new memories on.
In the two months we were in Pahrump we had some unique experiences, none of them were advertised attractions. The threat of boredom is a great catalyst for curiosity. We knew soon after we paid our first month’s rent that we were going to have to dig deep to find the good stuff. We surprised even ourselves in what we uncovered.
woke to the roar of Lions
hiked and drove the Jeep on the vanishing Spanish Trail far into the desert.
had lunch at a brothel and one of the working girls took us on a tour of the play rooms.
discovered an ancient artifact and donated it to the local Historical Society Museum.
dug for gemstones while taking turns protecting ourselves with our shotgun.
bought a share in a gold mine.
went to Race Car School to watch novices race uber-expensive vehicles.
We will tell you more about these in future reviews, we promise.
Here are techniques that work well for us.
1. Get the lay of the land. John spends evenings scouring the Google satellite and street view maps to see what is within 60 miles or so. The satellite view over the bare terrain revealed green areas where there shouldn’t have been any green revealing a cluster of brothels tucked behind a small butte, a scratch on the naked desert that ran for miles across the rugged terrain revealed the fading horse trail of the centuries old Spanish Trail, a spring fed a palm oasis and Date Farm in a tiny hidden canyon.
2. Phone Apps. Our Audubon Society app on our phone was a great tool for identifying the beautiful migratory birds that we’d never seen before. They were wintering in the desert just like we were doing. Our Trail and bike apps gave us insights into places to wander. Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist had some suggestions too.
3. Locals. We talk to the locals. In a small community like Pahrump it doesn’t take a lot of time to glean some unique insights into what they think is special or unusual. We just ask the Bank Teller, the Grocery Clerk, the Librarian or our server at the local restaurant. This is how we came to be invited to meet Mike, a fourth generation Nevada native that has mastered Gem and Artifact hunting. His collection in his garage was amazing.
4. Read up on the local history. We learned that Butch Cassidy likely survived his gun battle in Bolivia, changed his identity, possibly had plastic surgery and spent his final years working at a local gold mine only to be buried in an unmarked grave. The gold mine we bought a share of is out a dirt track called Butch Cassidy Pass.
5. Drive the back roads. We would pick a direction and drive. We discovered wild lions being kept at a local property as pets and a private horse track at a rich rancho where on future dates we could pay to come and watch privately held horse races. We forged up desert washes and canyons until the jeep couldn’t go any further. We might not see another human in an entire day but did enjoy the company of wild Burros, Horses, Javelins and Jack Rabbits.
6. Use a GPS. If you don’t have a smart phone or a car with a GPS, buy a handheld hiking GPS. They are a great safety tool because they can get service when your phone can’t. We would enter Attractions and Restaurants in our GPS and some ideas that we didn’t know about popped up. We had a beautiful and inexpensive lunch at a private golf community club house, picnicked at another winery with our own lunch and enjoyed a surprise cocktail they had created. We used the GPS to save locations of places we found interesting places in the desert that we wanted to return to and it helped us to locate some hot springs we would have completely missed.
7. The Library. Local libraries are a great source of local knowledge. The Pahrump library had lots of local maps both geographical and physical terrain maps for picking places for us to go gem hunting and historical maps to show ancient trails that we would go looking for.
8. Listen. Just overhearing conversation in the grocery store line, restaurant conversation and other folks revealed unknown possibilities of discoveries yet to have. On one occasion we learned about water issues, land management and visions of what this community might evolve into.
9. Say Yes. If there is an opportunity to volunteer for a local event, Do it. See a flyer about a local Yoga class, Attend. A call for volunteers to clean-up day at the local park, Help out. If there is going to be a holiday parade, Go. Getting rid of a few items? Donate them in person at a little local donation center. Someone invites you to their home, absolutely, unequivocally Accept.
10. Act like a local. If someone asks us where we are from, we always respond, “We are from Here, Now.” or “We are new to the area”. Making ourselves open to learning about a place as if we plan to live there has yielded amazing opportunities. Just open yourself to the resources that are at hand and go explore. People are often willing to get to know you more if they don’t think you are just blowing through the area. Act like a local with local activities and everyone will assume you are one. You never know what you’ll find.
11. The local paper may sound old school but in many small towns it is still the best resource. It can be a great source of local gatherings and clubs. This is where we learned about the Gold Mine we bought into and the Local Historical Society Museum that we visited. The museum gave us a sense of the boom and bust times of the mining that had been there, native animals, the by-gone Cotton fields, National park access to springs and migratory patterns. We parlayed those insights into directions for our outings by foot, 4×4 and bicycle. We also had a feel for local concerns and it gave us food for conversations with locals. In Pahrump they had just fired the County Sheriff in the largest County in the United States. For the most part there currently was no law enforcement agency for most of this rural area.
12. Park Rangers: County, State and National Parks have Rangers with a unique perspective about the natural resources, trails and outdoor activities. Many County, State and National Parks have Docent led walks and activities. We have enjoyed a Full Moon hike, Star Gazing with experts, Archeological digs, Native Community cultural events, Architectural tours, Animal Rescue centers etc., often for free with amazing insights to both the park and the local community.
13. Farmers Markets: This may be the easiest and more pleasant. Local farmers markets provided us with person-to-person opportunities with the local food producers. Local Fish, Organic Meat, Honey, Seasonings, Flowers, Baked Goods as well as Fruit and Produce are all showcased at these markets. The sampling is great and normally the entire experience is just personal and fun.
Our Number #1 take away is Ask Questions with your reading, your conversations and the purpose for your activities. Your curiosity muscle will grow strong and these techniques will become second nature.
Google Earth – A Free and Mobile Amazing tool for getting the big picture.
Google Maps – Priceless, yet FREE.
Garmin Foretrex 401 GPS-This GPS is a serious safety tool. The fact that this is a Wrist Watch, has heightened reception in heavy trees and canyons and that the backtracking breadcrumb feature is a safety that we’ve come to rely on makes it the Swiss army knife of GPS’s.
The Audubon Organization website is rich, but what they squeeze into the phones apps is amazing. We can actually identify Birds on our hikes by listening to the various bird calls and see pictures right now, all in the palm of our hand. They also have apps that cover Mammals and Plants.
Find When and Where the local Farmers Market occurs in your area.
Search for Local Newspapers worldwide for FREE
www.TripAdvisor.com – A Global Resource for Reviews by real life Travelers. Suzanne is a Top Contributor to this site.
www.VirtualTourist.com – Locals sharing local knowledge they think others should know about. You never know what you’ll find here.
www.VisitorTips.com – This is the hotel brochure rack in a digital form it is a great resource for trip planning and discounts.