Motels and hotels I remember

Second in a series.

White Pines Motel in Ely, Nevada

I wanted a solo road trip this time. It was late summer, 2000. It was the weekend that Burning Man was going on, out in the Nevada desert, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Burning Man. It might have been fun, it might not… mainly I didn’t want to spend my whole weekend in one place. I wanted to be mobile.

I’d rented a car for the weekend, decided I’d just drive. South and west mostly because Portland is in the northwest corner of the US and there’s so much that is, well, south and west of Portland.

A couple of weeks before, I’d read in the Oregonian Travel section about a hotel called “The Little A’Le’Inn” (get it? “Alien”) in Nevada, near the famous Area 51. I couldn’t remember the name of the town it was in at the time, but it sounded like a good goal. I decided, mentally and without any more research, that I would spend one night in the Little A’Le’Inn. I didn’t save the article – all I remembered afterward was that the inn was located in a town in Nevada, near Area 51, in a town… um… with a woman’s name… that starts with an “R”.

So, fast forward to the Friday of my long weekend. Getting the rental car was a hassle in itself, as I did not have a credit card at the time and therefore Hertz wouldn’t honor my reservation. Hertz referred me to Dollar, where the girl behind the counter was very pleasant until I casually mentioned, in passing, that I might take the car to see Hoover Dam. She balked at this and refused to rent the car to me. Apparently their contract and insurance doesn’t cover me if I travelled beyond any state that borders Oregon. Hoover Dam is right on the Nevada/Arizona border, and this was enough to get this girl (I do not remember her name) to deny me a car.

I had to wait for the manager of the office to show up to approve the rental. The manager was quite confused as to why the girl wouldn’t rent to me, as she took me at my word that I would honor the rules. I guess the girl was just abusing her petty power… Very frustrating.

At any rate, now I had the car, and once I stopped to get my luggage from home, I was on the road. I had an atlas, and at my first dinner stop, in Eugene, I pulled it out to locate my destination. I didn’t see Area 51… but then, I didn’t expect it to be listed in my atlas at all and didn’t even bother looking for it. I checked the lists of town names, and settled on Ruth, Nevada.

Yeah. That sounded right. Woman’s name, starts with an “R”.

Ruth was very near the Nevada/Utah border, in the northeast corner of the state, and looked to be a tiny town. Perfect.

Google Maps shows that it’s 814 miles from Portland to Ruth, but it shows a different route than I took. I drove south as far as Eugene, where I stopped to buy some CDs (had no music with me, since I wasn’t really into music at the time but needed something to keep me awake), then cut over to Klamath Falls, and then took back roads to cross over into Nevada. Then south until I found highway 50, and that took me east. The drive itself wasn’t that interesting; I remember seeing signs in K-Falls protesting the “theft” of water from there, and I remember using a porta-potty just after crossing into Nevada that was the only structure for miles and miles; I also remember driving across the flat desert towards a cliff wall that seemingly dominated the landscape for an hour or more, and then having to drive up the face of it, at right angles to my previous direction, before continuing on.

Night fell while I was still several hours from Ruth. The rocky, flat desert gave way to mountains on either side. I tried listening to the radio to see if I could get some local flavor but couldn’t tune anything in. Clear night sky, stars like bright diamonds, rocky cliffs on either side of me, and utterly alone with no traffic in either direction; I could definitely see this as the location of an encounter with alien life. I told myself ghost stories in my head to set the mood.

Then I passed what looked like lights from a trailer park off to the right side of the highway. It was past me before I realized what the lights were, and then the highway curved down and around a left-curving corner…

And, passing into a valley formed by the cliffs on either side of me I was dazzled by the neon lights of casinos and hotels, all effectively hidden until the last moment by the mountains.

I had reached Ely, Nevada – which my atlas told me was the next town after Ruth. I must have missed it!

It was late, nearly 11 PM, so I drove slowly through town, looking for a motel to stay in. But almost every motel or hotel, large or small, showed “NO VACANCY”. Maybe that had to do with the swarms of bikers on motorcycles, everywhere? It was like a Harley-Davidson convention or something. Black leather jackets with elaborate insignia were being worn by almost every human being I saw.

I passed through town and didn’t find an open hotel. I knew if I went much further I’d end up in Utah. I briefly considered crossing over just to spite that girl at Dollar… but I was tired. Maybe tomorrow.

Resigned to sleeping in the car, I drove back through town to stop and get something to eat. I went into a convenience store, picked up some beef jerky and soda and water and chips (road trip food) and, when I walked back to my car, spotted the sign at the White Pines Motel across the street come on – it had been dark just moments before.

And the sign showed “VACANCY”.

I sprinted across the street, dodging noisy motorcycles, and went into the office.

“Wow, you’re our first customer,” said a bathrobed, baseball-capped beard behind the counter.

“You have rooms tonight?” I asked.

“Yep.” He started to get the paperwork. “Power just came back on. Been out, all up and down the street. This is not the weekend to miss any business!”

“Right,” I said, “the motorcycles.”

“Hell, it’s Labor Day weekend! Pretty much make our nut for the whole year tonight!”

The motel was a semi-circle of maybe eight or ten one-story rooms, around a gravel driveway. A concrete fountain that had probably been purchased at a Wal-Mart somewhere was in the middle. The buildings had a Western motif, almost like a log cabin. I could see that maintence wasn’t the highest priority, but since this was the only room in town, it beat sleeping in the car. I drove the car across the road and parked in front of my room.

The room was tiny, and panelled in fake wood, with a carpet whose color, even in bright sunlight, would still resist description; in the dim yellow light of the one lamp, it was no color at all. The sheets on the bed were about the same, but appeared to be clean, although the blankets had several burn marks from cigarette ashes. Home, sweet motel room. I wondered about the previous occupants and drifted off to sleep.

Next morning, I took the quickest shower I could (just armpits and a-hole) and wrote a quick note in my journal before checking out and finding breakfast at a nearby casino. I flirted with the waitress, a fellow Oregonian college student bound for the U of O in a week or two.

I thought about my plan to stay in the Little A’Le’Inn. I guess I’d missed my opportunity. I decided I’d drive back along Highway 50 to find Ruth, get some pictures, and then move on. Still had several days before I had to be back at work. I was bummed but not too bad; I was playing this all by ear, anyway.

After breakfast, I drove back west. I found a sign, pointing south, along a side road, that said “Ruth 0.5 mi.” A half-mile from the highway, I found a… settlement. Just as I had thought from my brief impression last night, it was truly just a collection of trailers and mobile manufactured homes. Lots of large satellite dishes. One of the trailers looked like a store of some kind, and I needed directions, so I went in.

While getting a couple of bottles of water and some more jerky and Red Vines, I eavesdropped on the conversation between an older lady behind the counter, and two more older ladies and an older man on the customer side. Two of them had just come back from a vacation and were talking about it and showing pictures. The conversation was interrupted when I brought my purchases up.

“Say,” I said, “I’m looking for Ruth.”

One of the ladies, the one with the pictures, spoke up. “I’m Ruth.”

Confused a moment, I tried again. “No… I’m looking for Ruth, Nevada.” They all laughed (probably tell that joke to every tourist that comes through). “It’s supposed to be near Area 51…?” I offered, helplessly.

Again, they all laughed. “Son,” Ruth told me, “you’re lost. You’re at least 200 miles from Area 51!” She pulled out her pictures. “We just got back from there! Want to see?”

Stunned, I leafed through the pictures. One was of Ruth standing in front of a green traffic sign reading “The Extraterrestial Highway”. Another was of Ruth standing in front of a white pre-fab building with a silver flying saucer on a pinacle above.

“That’s the Little A’Le’Inn!” Ruth proclaimed. “I won fifty bucks there! Those slots are loose!”

“See… that’s where I was trying to get to,” I explained. “But I guess I got lost.”

“It’s in Rachel, Nevada,” the store proprietor said.

“It’s clear down south,” Ruth said.

“That’s about as lost as you can be, and still be in the state,” the man said.

I groaned. “Oh… I see. All I could remember was the letter ‘R’!” I laughed along with the rest of them.

I got directions from the group, and after arguing a bit, they agreed that the man’s (wish I could remember his name; he was Ruth’s boyfriend) directions were the best and easiest to follow. I headed back through Ely, and drove south, still trying to at least get a picture of this fabled motel…

But that’s a story for another time.