They look man-made—60-foot-high columns of basalt rock shaped into remarkably symmetrical hexagons. But Devils Postpile in the Sierra Nevada Mountains wasn’t carved by some industrious ancestor. It was formed around 100,000 years ago, when an enormous lava lake contracted and cracked as it cooled, leaving striking columns of rock that were polished and revealed by a glacial flow thousands of years later. Today, they’re awe-inspiring—and just one reason to visit the Devils Postpile National Monument in eastern California. The park also includes the 101-foot Rainbow Falls, hiking trails and the San Joaquin River, a designated wild trout river where anglers can catch their dinner before camping nearby or perhaps spot one of the park’s resident black bears. Park is closed for the winter and reopens for summer in mid-June. Day visitors must park in the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and use the shuttle. —Sarah Feldberg
Oatman, Arizona & Quinntopia Bed & Barbecue
Just across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada, the former gold mining town of Oatman, Arizona, has 135 residents and all the old-school charm and cheesiness you want from a historic stop on Route 66: mock gun battles in the street, a haunted historic hotel (where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent a night of their honeymoon!), sidewalk egg fries, “unionized burros” that sidle into town from 9 to 5 every day and the “seventh wonder of Oatman,” Quinntopia. Jim Quinn’s three-room “bed & barbecue” is just like the town of Oatman itself—friendly, a little funky and full of good, questionably factual stories. “It’s the best barbecue in town, because it’s the only barbecue in town,” jokes Jim, who runs the guesthouse with his puppy, CJ. “In the morning, I give you juice, coffee and an aspirin, and I kick your ass out at 9 a.m.” Because just like the burros, Jim’s got a schedule to keep. Prices vary; $100-$125 per night for “the works.” 333 Rockhound Hill Road, 928-768-3065. —S.F.
No, that’s not the surface of a far-away, alien planet. That’s Nevada, specifically the Fly Geyser, a partially man-made marvel in the Silver State’s Black Rock Desert.
The geyser, named for the surrounding Fly Ranch located just over 20 miles north of Gerlach, was created in 1964 when a geothermal energy company was drilling test wells, according to local lore. The 200-degree water found at Fly Geyser wasn’t hot enough for energy production, so the company closed up the well … or so it thought. The geyser kept erupting, and with each blast minerals—specifically calcium carbonate, the same stuff seashells are made of—were deposited onto the desert surface, resulting in the geyser’s growth, according to UNLV Life Sciences professor Brian Hedlund. He says the structure now stands around 8 feet high, on an elevated mound.
And those out-of-this-world colors? Hedlund and research assistant Jeremy Dodsworth cite thermophilic cyanobacteria for the green hues and iron precipitation for the reds. Sorry nerds, no kryptonite here.
While this wonder lies on private land, prospective visitors can request permission to tour the space by writing a letter (yes, a letter) to Bill Spoo, who handles all of Fly Ranch’s visitor inquiries. And while we don’t recommend trespassing, the geyser can be seen from the accessible road outside the ranch. —Mark Adams
Want to see Fly Geyser for yourself? Write to:
Bill Spoo c/o Bruno’s
P.O. Box 70
Gerlach, NV 89412
Turns out, you don’t need to visit Hawaii or Washington to get up close to an old volcano. Next time you’re driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs, skip Barstow and head through the Mojave Desert. A few minutes after you turn right off Kelbaker Road onto the old Route 66, you’ll pass Roy’s Motel and Cafe. Instead of turning south onto Amboy Road, continue west toward that towering black mass a couple of miles ahead. That’s Amboy Crater.
Estimated to have been formed about 80,000 years ago—and, according to the Bureau of Land Management, which looks after the site, to have erupted as recently as 10,000 years ago—the Crater makes for a scenic and relatively low-stress hike past jagged rock formations. Give yourself 60 to 90 minutes each way if you plan to reach the rim, a fantastic spot from which to snap photos of the interior “lava lakes” and the surrounding area in all directions. And be sure to wear sunscreen and bring water, because even though the volcano has long since cooled, its desert home can still be a brutal environment for the unprepared. —Spencer Patterson
Part of Great Basin National Park, this natural attraction is the ultimate quandary. On one hand, the marble caves demand to be seen, their stalactites, stalagmites, creepy-crawly species and claustrophobic confines simultaneously beautiful and spine-tingling. But so much damage has been done to the ecosystem since it was discovered by Absalom S. Lehman in 1885, you almost feel guilty setting foot inside. So delicate is the environment that you’ll be screened before you can enter. If you’ve been in a cave or mine in the last year, you’ll have to either change your gear or have it decontaminated to prevent White Nose Syndrome, which has been threatening the cave’s bat population.
And because of the cramped conditions, leave behind all personal items that could scrape material off the cave walls—purses, backpacks, strollers and camera bags are a big no-no. It feels like a hassle, but trust us, you won’t be complaining once you’re inside. Tours offered year-round except major holidays; advanced tickets encouraged, $8-$10 adults, $4-$8 children 5-15, free for children under 5; (775) 234-7517.—Ken Miller
Lyon County Museum
Before television, iPads, iPhones and everything else digital, families took on the peculiar tradition of making decorative art from the hair of kin, creating ornate memoriam works to hang on the wall. The hair wreaths—composed of braided, woven, knitted and crocheted strands from family members—were a sort of especially intimate family portrait.
At the Lyon County Museum in Yerington, Nevada, 80 miles outside Reno, hangs a fairly large-scale hair wreath, completed by Margaret Nichol in 1860. Made from the heads of nearly a dozen family members, it contains intricate ornamentation and hair-rendered flower bouquets. Beautiful—and perhaps, hair-raising. 215 S. Main St., Yerington, Nevada; 775-463-6576. —Kristen Peterson
What’s better than a ghost town that still has residents? A ghost town that still has residents and one of the most unusual “castles” in the West!
Austin was founded in Northern Nevada in 1862 as a silver-mining town, and although its heyday is long past, it still boasts 340 residents, as well as three churches and the ultra-strange Stokes Castle. The three-story granite tower was built by Anson Phelps Stokes, a larger-than-life figure who made his money from silver mining and the railroad. Modeled after a medieval tower Stokes saw in Italy, the “castle” had a fireplace and large windows on each floor … and a battlement terrace on the roof. Stokes intended the structure as a summer home, but his family used it only once, shortly after it was finished in 1897. It has never been used since. How much money he spent on the home, or why he basically abandoned it, remains unknown. For more information on Austin, call (775) 964-2200. —K.M.
Temple of Sekhmet
If labyrinths, moon celebrations, maypoles and the ancient Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet are your thing, a trip to the Temple of Sekhmet near Indian Springs should be on your to-do list.
Dedicated to the powerful, lion-headed warrior in 1993, the temple emphasizes feminine values, and its grounds feature a sweat lodge, a guest cottage, gardens and a statuary set in the desert landscape with a backdrop of mountains. Taking a stand against the Nevada Test Site and its “wounded earth,” the Temple of Sekhmet, also known as the Temple of Goddess Spirituality, is a place of devotion for men and women and runs on a gift economy—chores and donations, monetary or supplies.
It’s open daily to the public. Overnight stays can be secured in advance by contacting the resident priestess. Spiritual nights, day visits or new- and full-moon potluck celebrations (as well as an upcoming Earth Day celebration April 20) are just a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas. Open daily, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Three miles north of Indian Springs on U.S. 95, 200 feet back from the left side of the road, 569-0630, sekhmettemple.com. —K.P.