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Imagine a place where the earth is red, the air is scorched, and the cactus jump.

It’s filled with rusted-out vehicles and a handful of wooden buildings that are an amalgam of old and new. The place is called Nelson, Nevada. It’s only 45 miles southeast of Las Vegas, but tucked inside Eldorado Canyon it feels worlds away.

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Jim and I just got back from a road trip through the American West, hunting down relics from old ghost towns. Nelson was one of my favorites stops.

We didn’t really know what to expect as we pulled up to an old Texaco station-turned-tourist shop and headquarters of the Eldorado Canyon Mines Tours. A sign outside read: mine tours, canoe rentals, snacks.

We walked into the rickety wooden structure — and were met with scorpions encased in amber necklaces, whole tortoise shells, rusted out metal tools hanging from rafters, and a sepia collection of other Wild West curios.

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A white-haired man with a leathered face and bright blue eyes stood behind a dusty counter with bar stools and an old sign for a soda fountain that had long since run dry.

“Excuse me sir, do you have any snacks?” I asked him.

He nodded to a corner. “We don’t have much. I need to go shopping to replenish my stores.”

I walked over to a mostly bare set of shelves that had a few packaged granola bars, Rice Krispies treats, and Snickers. While browsing the selection, three people came in together, signed a paper, and gave the man behind the counter some cash.

After they left, I picked up a granola bar and brought it up to the counter. It was $1.00. I gave him four quarters because I could tell he didn’t have much change for the $10 bill I offered him first. I asked what the three people had wanted. He smiled, lifted his head, and told me Nelson is a famous photography and filming location.

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I found out that he wasn’t originally from Nelson, but had been living across the street for nine years. Nine other people live in the town. I was surprised. At first glance, I didn’t realize that any of the buildings in town were currently being lived in. (After returning to cell phone reception and civilization afterwards, some quick research on wikipedia told me there were 37 people living there in 2010).

It feels even more empty than that.IMG_1124

I asked if the buildings were original to the mining settlement. Some of them were, he said, but anything more than a single story was built afterwards to look old.

“That’s why people come here from all over,” he told me.

I asked the old man if we could wander around, and if there were any fees? He said that if we were just “goofing off” to go right ahead and explore. He said that there was a fee for professionals who were doing photo shoots.

With a twinkle in his eye, he sent us off to goof off with a warning of the jumping “Cholla Cactus” — pronounced choy-yah. And rattlesnakes.

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We spent then next hour exploring and taking pictures. And I loved it all, but my favorite part was just talking to this desert man who decided nine years ago to live in this harsh and remote spot.

Photo shoot practicalities:

For photos, weddings, and movies contact Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours at 702-291-0026 to set up appointments.

According to a Las Vegas based photographer’s blog, it’s a $20 fee for 2 hours, and all participants are required to sign waiver forms.

— Laura Rowley

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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