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Taking a Tour at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas

Neon Museum

Naturally, when you think of Las Vegas the first thing that pops into your head is not taking a tour the Neon Museum. And if it is then you and I would get along fabulously. But I am here to tell you that if time allows and you have a general interest in Vegas/Americana history and a little kitsch, a guided tour at the Neon Museum is well worth your time (hint: a guided tour is the only way to experience the museum).

Neon Museum
Casino signs in the boneyard of the Neon Museum

I’ve already talked about my time at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas (with a larger photo gallery) here but wanted to write a post that was more descriptive of the tour itself. Since opening in 2012, the Neon Museum “boneyard” is gaining steam quickly with a over a record breaking 100k visitors in 2016 alone. Here’s what you’ll need to know if you plan to go on a tour.

What Should I know about Touring the Neon Museum?

The museum is located pretty far north on Las Vegas boulevard—even further north than (old) downtown Vegas and Fremont Street. They have a free parking lot but if you are traveling without a car (as most do in Vegas) you can take the double decker Deuce bus to get there as well. This is the mode of transportation I chose and it took me a little over an hour to get there from Caesars Palace which is about half way up the strip—so plan accordingly if this is how you choose to travel to the museum. Of course, there’s always Lyft/Uber/cabs.

You must book your timed tickets ahead online (and they will sell out quickly) as space is limited and tickets are not transferable meaning if you arrive early you will still have to wait for your designated tour time and if you arrive more than 20 minutes late you may forfeit your spot on tour. You’ll check in at the La Concha which is a very Space Age, mid-century former motel lobby. They have a small gift shop to check out while you wait.

Neon Museum
The old Stardust casino sign in the boneyard of the museum

From there, your guide will gather your group (small, I would say under 20 people) and you’ll head into what they call the neon boneyard. And this is where it gets cool. Your tour around the boneyard will last roughly an hour and your guide will tell all kinds of stories about the old neon signs you see—casino/restaurant/mob/Vegas strip history go hand in hand with these signs and you really get a feeling that you’re strolling through the golden age of Las Vegas—like the rat pack may be right around the corner. Still photos on tour are welcomed and encouraged, however, audio and video recording is prohibited. The museum does not let you wander the boneyard after the tour concludes so make sure you are getting those pictures in as you go along.

I chose a daytime tour in September and it was HOT. Vegas is the desert after all and you are outside in the open air for the tour so come prepared with a bottle of water (they also sell these in the lobby). The Neon Museum also offers night tours and a limited number of signs still light up (restoration is a lengthy and costly process) so it really depends on your time schedule and what you’re in the mood for.

Adult ticket prices are $19 for day and $25 for night tours (current February 2017). For other FAQs of the museum click here.

 

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Have time for a video? Check out this story about the lights at the museum from CBS Sunday Morning

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The Neon Museum in Las Vegas

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On my last trip to Las Vegas, I did something a little outside of the gamble-drink-dance-until-you-can’t-stand box. In fact, I would even venture to say that my excursion to the Neon Museum educational. Take that, Vegas.

Just north of the outdated yet nostalgic casinos and flashing lights that radiate from Vegas Vic and the Fremont Street experience, a humble museum visitors’ center is staged in the renovated space-age lobby of the La Concha Motel. The low key atmosphere is completely stripped away once you step outside under the blazing Vegas sun and make your way to the boneyard. Winding your way through the dusty alleys, you’ll see signs that you may have only read about and thought were long lost to history. The museum has the boneyard separated by casino, motel, and restaurant/wedding chapel/misc. signs and under the guidance of your knowledgeable tour guide (mine was excellent) you will be taken back to an era of Bugsy Siegel and $2 steak dinners after a long night at the tables.

Mind you, hardly any of the signs have been restored so you are looking at the effects of time and weather. But these rusted out monstrosities are not only completely amazing, they are the heartbeat of Las Vegas and should not be missed. I’ll let my sweet pics do the talking from here.

 

The Neon Museum

770 Las Vegas Boulevard North

Las Vegas, NV 89101

Getting there: Take the Deuce headed North and get off at 4th Street at Stewart. From there, it’s about a 1/2 mile walk

Tip: Take a tour in the early morning or at night to avoid the hot, hot desert heat. Take a bottle of water with you!

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Ghosts in the Desert

Rhyolite Nevada_ME_14

It’s a loooong and lonely road from Las Vegas to Tahoe. Really it qualifies as barren wasteland, a place so unusable that the United States military saw fit to blow it to smithereens with nukes at the height of the Cold War…now they just blow it up with conventional weapons and fly alien spaceships. This isn’t a critique of the Mojave, or Nevada or even US 95…I love it out there. But, let’s just say, it would take a lot for any sort of organized society to sprout up in the midst of the desert: like maybe gold, or silver.

It's a hot sun and a dusty road in the middle of a big desert
It’s a hot sun and a dusty road in the middle of a big desert

Along this road there was once a town called Rhyolite, I suppose it’s still there: albeit a shell of its former self. Today it’s one of a score of Silver State ghost towns, abandoned by man and preserved by the desert. It’s story, a familiar pre-internet meme: a glimmer of gold, a wealthy investor, a producing mine, a surge in population, a broader economic collapse, a loss of investment, a shuttered mine, a mass exodus.

At its height there were 5000 people in Rhyolite (some estimates put that at 10,000). That’s saying something considering how isolated it is today, much less 110 years ago. The town is named for the volcanic rock on which it’s built…and volcanism is important when it comes to gold. Charles Schwab would be the wealthy industrialist to bankroll the gold mine in this town. It was believed that there was an as yet untapped main vein of gold running north to south in these particular hills of Nevada…this would be the next great Gold Rush. And in 1904 a town was created.

There was gold, but not enough easily accessible to justify the investment. A great earthquake shook San Francisco, followed by a great fire that literally burned money. The economy of the West virtually collapsed. And the risk of investing in an as-yet-proven gold mine in the middle of nowhere became too high. The mine closed and by 1920…just over 15 years after the town came into existence…it was virtually no more. Banks and train stations and schools and houses and stores rotted under the merciless Nevada sun.

But someone saw beauty near Beatty. And a rather bizarre art exhibit was born. Rhyolite is now an off-the-beaten-path excursion, an attraction because of its dilapidation…and because of the Goldwell Open Air Museum. It’s most famous exhibit is The Last Supper. A creepy, ghastly depiction of Da Vinci’s famed painting. There’s also a random blonde girl apparently made of legos, and a brown beast of a miner picking at the invisible mine while his boy shaped like a penguin looks on. The place is made for peyote. Thank God Hunter S. Thompson never drove through.

Childhood obesity is a serious problem
Childhood obesity is a serious problem

But, beyond the shells of buildings (which are not pictured thanks to a quite embarrassing camera malfunction…I know it happens to every guy) and the random works of art, Rhyolite is itself a monument. Or rather a testament to the temporal nature of American culture. Perhaps these are not “ghost towns” because no one is left, but instead because they were so ephemeral. Merely an apparitional blip on the pages of history seen by few and interpreted by many.

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