With Mud Season soon upon us, it’s customary for mountain folk, many who live and breathe tourism in order to dwell in the thin air, to take a temporary leave. Some of us will attempt to be learned travelers in the spirit of evolution. But given that only 37 percent of Americans have passports (half of which are used traveling to Canada and Mexico), a few of us will opt to be garden-variety tourons — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Embracing the endangered rubber tomahawk store, the fanny pack worn frontside and sturdy white walking shoes, here’s to all we do.
1. Pancho Villa, Gilligan’s Island and fizzled neurons
I, uh, know some people who many years ago planned to see a professional wrestling gig in Denver. Let’s just say that the people who knew where the event was had ingested a substance with hallucinogenic properties, and let’s just say they got crazy lost and for reasons that have yet to reveal themselves, ended up at Denver’s venerable Casa Bonita. The copious servings of assembly-line Mexican food can have a satisfying and sedative effect, depending on your needs, but depending on what else is going on in your head, the headhunters and the guys who high-dive into the 35,000-gallon lagoon every 15 minutes can make things neurologically dicey. “Man!” someone reportedly said, “Are they going to make us do that?” But seriously, if you’re on a Colorado stay-cation this year, put the “World’s Most Exciting Restaurant” in your game plan. There’s a reason Cartman was willing to kill Butters to get a chance to dine here.
2. Forget the Grand Canyon
For the price of a couple tanks of gas (let’s hope you’re not driving the Santa Fe for this) and the $5 admission fee, most of us are close enough to enjoy the world’s biggest hole at Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine. For a century, the Kennecott Copper Corp. has been digging 250,000 tons of rock out of the mine every day. “A mountain once stood where this huge bowl is now,” a sign boasts. Two-and-a-half miles wide and a half-mile deep, the hole could seat 9 million people if it were a stadium.
3. Whorehouse for the ages
The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho, made the quantum leap from whorehouse to history one night in 1988, when rumors of an FBI raid sent the ladies running out the door for good, leaving everything, down to the packages of red light bulbs, cigarette butts and kitchen timers for each room — in their original places. On your tour, you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of the lingerie that had to stay behind, the price list on the wall (“Eight minutes, fifteen dollars, straight, no frills”) and the frequent-flier rug collection (repeat customers were asked to BYO to facilitate cleanup). In the Oasis’s heyday, the staff made upwards of $2,000 a week, although the museum owner says she doesn’t show the price list to children.
4. Wanderlust? Not so much
With 1,939,159 passport holders in 2010, California holds the U.S. record for people who think they might want to cross the border for whatever reasons. Meanwhile, folks in Wyoming are staying put. Perhaps the winds in Rawlins and Casper blow people around enough to kill any wanderlust, but only 19,738 Wyomingites have passports (yeah, yeah, we do know that California has more people). Compared to Americans at 37 percent overall, 75 percent of the residents of the U.K have passports, as do 60 percent of Canadians.
5. Don’t be them
Actual tourist questions at Grand Canyon National Park: “Was this man-made?” “Do you light it up at night?” “Is the mule train air-conditioned?” “Where are the faces of the presidents?”
6. Class it up a little
I know most of us are tent and pension folk, but in the event that we might do something classy for a change, here’s the deal: The Prevost 2012 Santa Fe motor coach is what you’ll want to be in as you summon the highway ghosts of Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac. With an MSRP of $1,920,896, it will likely boast (they’re still working out the details, and most coaches have custom additions) a residential refrigerator, mini wine cellar, king bed with a power recliner, master closet with suede-lined shoe racks, power sliding kitchen island, touch-screen monitors all over the place, integrated doorbell with audio and visual components, heated floors and his-and-hers bathroom sinks. There’s more: You can get it for $1,439,000 if you work the right deals, bringing your monthly payment down to $12,150.78. If you want to bring a car, consider the Vantare Platinum coach, which has its own slide-out garage that holds a small car. The 235-gallon gas tank costs a mere $1,000 to fill, and for all this, a mere $2.5 million.
7. Lonely out there
Fodder for Stephen King’s “Desperation,” Highway 50 through Nevada is better known as the Loneliest Road in America. In the 409 miles from Fallon, Nev., to Delta, Utah (roughly the distance from Paris to Zurich), you’ll encounter just three small towns: Austin, Eureka and Ely. Years ago, an American Automobile Association spokesperson famously warned the traveling public “not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.” Naturally, all this attention about Highway 50 being lonely has given it plenty of company over the years, so while you might drive until you hallucinate, you won’t be the only one on the road.
8. Avalanches, roadkill and motorhomes
We have the recession to thank for the historic decline in highway fatalities (people are commuting to work less and otherwise traveling by car less). True enough, but that doesn’t take the natural hazards out of some of our most dangerous stretches of highway. Topping BuyingAdvice.com’s list of most dangerous roads is U.S. Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton, Colo. The two-laner has wooze-inducing S-curves through three passes in the San Juans, contains major avalanche zones, is a popular place for RVs to travel at perilously languid speeds, and is a great place for some really big roadkill. Highway 550 outpaces the 101 and 405 freeways in Los Angeles, as well as Atlanta’s I-285 at I-85 interchange, which occupy the second and third places as most dangerous pieces of U.S. road.