Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fabulous Bathrooms of the Nevada Desert

It's safe to say that most people visiting Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada are not there to see the bathrooms. I wasn't there to see the bathrooms either, I was there to see the red sandstone formations and the sweeping desert landscapes — or, more accurately, I was in search of an antidote to Las Vegas. Finding out en route that Valley of Fire was where they filmed Captain Kirk's death scene in Star Trek Generations was nerd-icing on the cake. Had I been there earlier in the year, the nerd factor would have been even higher, as I would have been on the lookout for the rare Golden bearclaw poppy, Arctomecon californica, which despite the name has never been found in California. Red rocks, Vegas remedy, Shatner, and rare misnamed poppies, but not bathrooms — after all, who goes out to the desert, much less anywhere else, to look at bathrooms?

But when confronted with a bathroom like this, how can you not take notice?

This bathroom has it good

Entering the Valley of Fire from the east, coming from Lake Mead, you have to pull over to pay the $6 entry fee (which happens to be the best $6 you'll ever pay). Most people will ogle the bizarre water-pitted rock formations that extend up the road, but if you turn around you'll find this bathroom sitting quietly in the most stunning, lonesome setting, not even appreciating how lucky it is to be there.

This bathroom was not a solitary occurrence: at nearly every stop in the park you can find a bathroom set amongst the most improbably dramatic scenery. At the rock formation called "The Seven Sisters," you get:


And this

And this

And then amongst all of this mind-boggling natural beauty, you find this:

Another fabulous bathroom

Further up the road you come to the sadly bathroomless Silica Dome, which is where Captain Kirk perished in Star Trek Generations after foolishly hurling his corpulent self onto a precariously dangling catwalk in search of an errant garage door opener [watch for yourself]. You can see why they chose to film Star Trek here: the terrain is otherworldly with stripes of colored rocks smashed together like Neapolitan ice cream.

View from Silica Dome

After a brief intermission at Silica Dome, the spectacular bathrooms continue when the road ends at White Domes.

Bathroom, bollards, and boulders

To continue your bathroom tour of the southern Nevada desert, why not visit the nearby Hoover Dam? Just over an hour away, Hoover Dam is one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations in the area, but again I doubt anyone comes to see the bathrooms.

Coming from the Nevada side as most visitors do (it's free to park on Arizona side, but you do have to walk a bit further), you're treated to a marvelously useless sign intended for visitors who somehow failed to notice the massive, impossible-to-miss, 1244 foot-long Hoover Dam stretching across the gorge.

Where's that confounded dam?

Oh, is this it?

Inside the dam gift shop, it's impossible to miss all of the dam jokes. You're greeted by an audio recording emanating from a mannquin dressed like a miner that's filled with multiple dam joks. T-shirst read "My Parent's Got Me This Dam T-Shirt," and mugs say "I went on the dam tour," etc., etc., ad nauseum. "Are you tired of the dam jokes?" I asked the guy behind the counter. Dam right he was. "Hey, where's the dam squashed penny machine?"

Found it

Back outside the dam gift shop, following the sign to the top of dam, you'll soon come to the bathrooms. Unlike the rather unassuming bathrooms at Valley of Fire, the bathrooms at the Hoover Dam are dramatic Art Deco affairs precariously perched on the very rim of the dam.

That's the dam men's room

Snazzy Art Deco ante-bathroom

The bathroom is small inside, but on the plus side the men's room has a pair of unusual Art Deco urinals that look like oversized athletic cups on raised pedestals (an example here). Oddly, they're free-standing and without any sort of stall wall, so anyone entering the bathroom gets treated to a straight-on view of someone peeing (I guess men were less pee-shy back in the days of the Hoover administration).

One of the more interesting bathroom views in the world

Dam towers

For me, there's no comparison between the crowded superficial tawdriness of Vegas and the vast beautiful terrain that surrounds it, but most people come to Vegas to gamble, drink, see a few shows, and never even think of setting foot off the Strip, much less driving an hour outside the city. No bathroom inside a hotel shaped like a cheap replica of the Chrysler Building can compare to the ones at Valley of Fire, no matter how glitzy. To put this in poker terms so the gamblers can understand, Vegas is a full house, but the Nevada desert is a royal flush.