When I looked over the itinerary for my recent Las Vegas trip with Travel Nevada, there were a few things that made me squirm in my seat. Was I really going to do that? And that? While everything planned was legal and relatively safe, some of the activities were definitely out of my comfort zone. Yet I reminded myself that travel is all about pushing personal boundaries, and Las Vegas in particular is the perfect place to leave preconceived notions behind.
And so off I trotted to the desert to race cars, shoot guns, and interview hookers. Yup, this would get interesting.
Ever since a particular traumatizing tumble off a moped in Thailand, I tend to shy away from motorized vehicles as a carefree form of entertainment. Sure, I’ve tried ATV riding in Peru and snowmobiling in Iceland, but I went so slow I actually tipped the guides extra afterwards for boring them. Yet there’s always a bit of a thrill to doing something that scares you. When we pulled up at Exotics Racing, my internal dialogue went a little something like this:
Anxious Alex: You know, I’ve seen Fast and the Furious and these cars flip over all the time! What are they even thinking letting someone who took four times to pass their driver’s license behind the whee–?!
Deep Thoughts Alex: Not to mention the repercussions of fetishizing luxury cars in an already consumer-obsessed society! Don’t you thi–
Adrenaline Alex: VROOM VROOM, Y’ALL!
Apparently my inner adrenaline junkie has been watching a tad too much Nashville.
Our VIP package included five laps around the racetrack in our choice of cars. My ride was a Porsche Cayman — perfectly suited to a girl who spent a summer working in the Cayman Islands! — or so I stated to the amusement of exactly no one at the track. After a safety briefing we piled into SUVs for a tour around the track with an Exotics Racing employee at the wheel, which was a crucial step towards making me a bit more comfortable when it was my turn behind the wheel. Finally, it was time for a helmet fitting (for maximum coolness) and meeting our instructors. And, you know, a quick browse on my iPhone to check insurance policy prices with Southern Cross.
And then, I was off.
Unfortunately I was unable to edit down the above footage due to a weird file formatting, but if you skip to the last three minutes or so you’ll get a good idea of the sound effects I emitted for the duration of my five laps — though you will miss me quizzing my instructor on which one was the brake. Despite all odds, I did push 100mph! (Noise barrier breaking high pitch squeals included.)
Final thoughts? I dug it. I was on a serious adrenaline high upon exiting the vehicle, and despite my nerves I absolutely felt like I was in good hands the entire time. With prices starting at $199 for five laps plus $30 for extra laps, I actually feel this is a pretty cool way for a racing enthusiast to experience driving a car they might otherwise never get behind the wheel of. While I won’t be signing up for a NASCAR audition anytime soon, I surprised myself with how much fun I had.
The Gun Store
Of all the comfort zone-pushing activities on the trip, visiting The Gun Store was the one I felt the most conflicted by. I have strongly-held beliefs about gun control and I wondered if I’d be able to enjoy a lighthearted tour of one of America’s most famous ammunition outlets. I actually considered skipping out entirely, though curiosity and the pursuit of keeping an open mind pushed me forward.
“Do you think they’ll revoke our Democratic party membership just for being here?” whispered a fellow writer, who must have sensed a sympathetic ear. And with a smirk and a what-are-we-getting-ourselves-into head shake, we joined our tour with The Gun Store’s very charming Emily Miller. She showed us around the retail store and explained the various shooting packages and gun handling classes the store offers, all while emphasizing safety and the staff’s high level of training and experience. Alarmist flyers advertising shooting courses outlined grizzly home invasion crimes with victim photos splashed across them.
I was mostly curious about who The Gun Store’s clientele is, and was surprised by the response — more than 85% of shooting range customers come from other countries. They are looking for an experience that, for better or for worse, they can’t have anywhere else.
So far I remained extremely skeptical, but Emily was about to win me over in the most unlikely way. I cracked a smile when we walked into the chapel and headquarters of Shotgun Weddings, where Miss Miller personally officiates over all ceremonies. “When I came up with the idea, I said to my boss, I’m only going to marry people if I can marry everyone. So we do it all — commitment ceremonies, gay weddings, you got it.” My liberal heart flush with fuzzies, I suddenly found humor in packages like the Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Wesson.
Again, I was amazed at the demographics. Out of about 75 weddings performed in the chapel, a vast number of them were Canadians.
Then it was time for our turn in the range. I winced when I saw one of the target options was a vaguely Middle Eastern looking soldier, and went for the innocuous bullseye instead. When choosing what weapon we wanted to shoot, I requested whatever was emblazoned on the t-shirt I had found in the back of my closet while packing for the trip. They informed me it was an AK-something or another, but that actually their models shot bullets rather than pink love hearts.
Well, I tried it. I give the staff at The Gun Store major props for their safety procedures and professionalism, but you won’t find me around another shooting range anytime soon. I personally found the experience of being in the room very unpleasant — the loud noises and the smells made me anxious, as did the concept. While customers having a unique and controlled experience like what takes place at The Gun Store doesn’t technically bother me, I couldn’t fully separate my core beliefs about my country’s gun crisis from what was going on there enough to enjoy it.
Am I glad I went? I’m still not sure. I do believe there is a virtue in keeping an open mind, but in the end visiting a shooting range did not square away with who I am or what I believe.
Touring a Brothel in Pahrump
Of all the drool-worthy draws to this trip — from tickets to a Cirque de Soleil show to a helicopter ride over a certain infamous canyon — I think the one I was most fascinated by was visiting Sheri’s Ranch brothel. My extensive travels in Southeast Asia have led me to see prostitution through a lens of exploitation, and I had a suspicion that visiting a legal brothel would challenge that. At the very least, it would be unique. Prostitution is illegal in the US everywhere except Nevada — or more specifically — except certain rural counties of fewer than 400,000 people in Nevada.
Located in Pahrump, a dusty hour outside Las Vegas, Sheri’s Ranch looked like a nondescript dive bar either very early or very late in putting up/taking down their Christmas decorations. Tours of the ranch are free, though tipping is highly encouraged. My first question to the two women leading our tour was what they’d like to be called. Prostitutes? Sex workers, perhaps? Or something even more politically correct that I wasn’t aware of? “I don’t care what they call me, as long as they pay me,” one of the women said flatly. I must not have hid my surprise well because she laughed and assured me kindly, “Hooker is fine.”
The women were extremely candid except when it came to two topics — details on the ranch’s security and exact figures on what they charge. Because each woman working at Sheri’s is licensed as an independent contractor, she sets her own prices and menu of services. Both women strongly emphasized that they were in complete control of their experience at the ranch and were never pressured to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.
The logistics of working at Sheri’s were intriguing. None of the girls employed by Sheri’s are local (“too much drama” explained the madam cryptically) and so they travel from far and wide to do their stints at Sheri’s. Our two tour guides hailed from Minnesota. Shifts last for a duration of 1-3 weeks, with a minimum of one week off before returning to the ranch. When at the ranch, women are on for twelve hours at a time, either 5am to 5pm or 5pm to 5am. In addition to giving the house 50% of all profits, the women must pay for taxes, a registration card with the local sheriff, their transportation to the ranch and back, their STD tests upon arrival, and necessities like new outfits and condoms (which are legally mandatory). On top of that, they pay a daily rent of $46 a day which includes room and board.
Most surprising to me was the fact that the women are forbidden from leaving the fence-enclosed property (the fence too is government mandated) once they have checked in — unless they want to pay for another expensive STD test on their way back. “There’s nothing out there except for Wal Mart anyway,” one of the girls assured us, while pointing out that they had everything they needed, including a gym and tanning bed, a beauty salon, a computer room, and movie theater onsite. Those facilities are in a private, employee-only section of the ranch. Not roped off to clients? The girls’ bedrooms, where they both sleep and service clients — another detail I was surprised by. There are certain themed “party rooms” clients can rent as well, including one featuring a hot tub and sponsored by Budweiser — seriously. Sheri’s Ranch is the only brothel in the US with a corporate sponsor.
I’m still no closer to fully understanding the complex issue of legalized prostitution or processing how I feel about it, but I know this: I left Sheri’s Ranch with my eyes wide open, and was reflecting on the conversations I had there long after we walked back out of the door marked Girls Girls Girls.
Travel can be transformative when it takes you out of your comfort zone and pushes your personal boundaries. I love that on this trip I did three things that I never would have chosen for myself. One made me confront a fear and surprise myself with how much I enjoyed it, and one reminded me that sometimes it’s okay to not enjoy something, and one made me deeply reflective about a complicated topic society often avoids.
One thing all three had in common? Only in Nevada. Seriously.
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Many thanks to Travel Nevada for hosting me, and showing me a new side of Nevada. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. This post was brought to you in collaboration with Southern Cross Travel Insurance.
Wonderful blog and I love your adventure. Been to Vegas few times but never thought of doing the stuff you mentioned in your blog. I would give it a try next time I visit Vegas.
Thanks Rajesh. These activities definitely aren’t for everyone but like I said, I enjoyed being pushed out of my bubble a bit.
Once in a while it’s worth pushing your limits little bit 🙂 i like your adventurous spirit and i hope to embark on a similar journey soon. I hope to get lots of tips reading your blog.
Oh, wow! The brothel bit sounds rough. It is hard for me to fathom that those girls only retain 50% of their fee in that line of work. Hair stylist have a better cut for their services. And the 1 to 3 weeks with a week off – menstruation…. wow!
Once they pay all their expenses I think they take home far less than the 50%, actually. The hair stylist comparison is pretty interesting. I was mostly surprised how little it seemed the brothel actually paid for — I guess security?
Not sure I’ll try any of these activities in my next trip to NV but, like you said, it’s really interesting to learn more about these three… is stereotypes the right word? Either way, thanks for doing the investigative work for all of us! 🙂
You are welcome! I guess all these activities do have pretty strong stereotypes attached to them, and it was intriguing to dive into those!
Those are definitely unique experiences! The Exotics Racing looks like fun and I had no idea you could visit a brothel?!
Not all of them! Sheri’s is pretty unique I think in that they offer tours to casual visitors, and you can drop by and have dinner or a drink in the bar. There’s actually a winery in the town too (post to come!) so it could make for an interesting afternoon…
How wonderful to hear your voice!
Ha, it is always funny to hear your own voice recorded! I never think it sounds like me.
I experienced similar emotions when I had the opportunity to shoot an AK47 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Other travellers were getting excited by the adrenaline that shooting a gun would offer them, but I couldn’t separate that adrenaline from my own personal views (which, from what you’ve indicated in your article, are very similar to your own) so I opted out and I don’t regret doing so. It’s a tough one though and I certainly don’t criticise you for being brave enough to try and keep an open mind and give it a go.
Was that at the Cu Chi tunnels? I was there too. My boyfriend at the time was an ex-marine and was excited to see the guns, show it to me, blah blah. I shot one round of whatever package he bought to appease him but I was pretty uncomfortable. This experience confirmed it, guns aren’t for me!
First of all I think it’s amazing that you wore a shirt with a gun exploding with hearts to a shooting range. I think you’re my hero. Secondly, I really enjoyed reading about your experience at the brothel. It’s definitely a tough and controversial subject. But I found it incredibly interesting to get a glimpse into the lives of some of Nevada’s prostitutes. The fact that they pay 50% of their profits on top of all those extra fees seems like an awful lot. Did you find out what they actually take home at the end of the day?
Ha, I was so excited when I found that shirt while I was packing. I never got any exact numbers from the brothel tour — they were pretty cagey about what they charge and what they take home. Understandably. I’m sure there is a vague consensus but they all charge their own prices as independent contractors, so each girl would be different.
FOUR times to get your driver’s license?! LOL! What happened?!
And another great, and interesting article! I’m glad that even though you may not fully agree with some of the things you do, you try them at least once anyway.
Ha, I couldn’t parallel park! It killed me! And thanks for the kudos, I think it’s important to try something before you knock it.
I loved reading this whole post. From “vroom vroom y’all,” to the Shotgun Chapel, to the Budweiser party room, your whole trip sounds like an absolute blast. I may just have to add Nevada to my list.
Ha, it certainly wasn’t your typical Alex in Wanderland post 🙂 But thank you! And yes, get thyself to Nevada!
Great blog, congrats!
Gracias, Mark! Thanks for reading.
Really great post. Well written, well delivered. It was a really unique trip.
Thanks Zoe, much appreciated! 🙂
wow interesting about the brothel, it doesn’t seem like the girls get to keep much of their money though! As for the guns, I’ve been shooting animals in the woods at my house since I was eight, and as a hunting family with only hunting rifles, I have a probably different view on gun issues that most liberals… but I will say, even I would be uncomfortable shooting in a space like that (I like to be in the wide open) & I have never shot a pistol or any of the big scary guns! My dad told me once – pistols are for nothing but killing people and I don’t want you ever shooting one… so I haven’t!
Yeah, growing up in a liberal east coast suburb, I had never even seen a gun outside a cop’s holster until I went to Southeast Asia! I am not comfortable around them, but I have family in the Midwest who are huge gun nuts and have loads of them. They were horrified to hear I didn’t know how to shoot and insisted I take some lessons 🙂 So they were pretty pleased when I texted them one of these pictures — guess there was a positive!
OK, living in Vegas for five years and I never did ANY of that stuff. I’d definitely skip the racing, but wouldn’t mind shooting a gun. And the brothel visit? I am fascinated by that lifestyle and its intricacies. I would have LOVED to go there. Very cool experience. And, sorry the gun didn’t shoot hearts!
Ha, yeah I mean could they get on that please? I’m sure it would be a best seller. Next time you’re in Vegas you should head to Pahrump for a tour and a wine tasting (winery post coming soon!)
I’ve never wanted to shoot a gun. I’ve had the opportunity, but always refused. I can understand that it is a controlled environment, but for every person that that kind of thing is an outlet for, it could also be negative encouragement for another.
The biggest shock from this article for me was the hot tub sponsored by Budweiser. I mean, I think every woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. If she wants to do it. It’s going to happen, so a controlled environment is better than the alternative. But for a company like Budweiser to sponsor it? That just baffles me. I’d be interested to know their reasons behind it. Strange CSR policy…
Great post Alex, thought provoking and fair.
I actually never even thought of it in that way Helen (about it being a negative influence on someone with violent tendencies), but it is a very good point. As for the Budweiser room, I was quite surprised as well! It was quite entertaining, the girl who gave us the tour was NOT a fan of the Budweiser room and was quick to inform us that she never took clients there, because, “hygiene.” So sorry, Budweiser, but Crystal is not a fan 🙂
Wow, one of the targets was a Middle Eastern soldier? Just reading that makes me uncomfortable…
This is probably the most thoughtful Nevada review I’ve read so far… Kind of surprising for an article about cars, guns and hookers!
Ha, I like to think of thoughtful as my specialty, Nikita 🙂 From speaking to the employees at The Gun Store it seemed many of them were ex-forces and probably saw combat in the Middle East. Not saying that’s an excuse, but I guess maybe it is an explanation. I still didn’t like it though.
What do you mean they didn’t have a gun that shoots pink hearts?! haha. I’ve always felt uncomfortable around guns… even ones in their little holster on a cop. It just makes me feel so uneasy. I’ve never heard of doing any of these activities, such a unique experience! The brothel… well, that sounds interesting too!
I know how you feel, Katie! I’ve been on the subway with cops and I’m just transfixed staring at the guns in their holsters, thinking of all the mayhem that could hypothetically break loose… eek. I thought I was the only one!
Looks like you had a blast. The car racing seems pretty cool and I would chosen the Audi R8 for sure. Great write up of some really cool alternative things to do in Nevada.
I don’t know a darn thing about cars, so I think some of that novelty was lost on me 🙂 It was interesting to see how differently they drive from my 2004 Honda Pilot, ha!
Wow this whole trip, just…wow. I’d love to drive a super-fast car, but the other stuff I’d probably have to give a pass. I’m right there with ya on remaining open-minded about those kinds of experiences, but somehow I don’t think I’d regret saying no to these.. Like someone said above, thanks for doing the investigating for the rest of us! 🙂
Part of me does regret going to The Gun Store because it just didn’t sit well with me even after, and I wish I could have been confident enough in myself to know I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I’m not sure. But I actually am really grateful for the opportunity to go to the brothel and talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise feel able to strike up such a candid conversation with. It was eye opening!
I can’t say that any of those activities interest me as I hate guns, am not into cars and I don’t particularly want to go on a brothel tour. In saying that though, I do think it is good to be open-minded and it is interesting to read about your experience.
Thanks Katie! I had a suspicion that the bulk of my core audience would also be a bit out of their comfort zones with these activities 🙂 But I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post regardless!
I would feel the same as you about the guns. We have tight controls on guns in the UK and I’m glad. I think I have seen Sherri’s brothel (or one very similar) on a Louis Theroux documentary years ago (don’t know if you’ve heard of him). I found the craziest bit to be that there is no separation between their personal bedroom and their sex worker room..!
I LOVE Louis Theroux! I’m going to have to go see if I can find that one online now, it sounds like something I’d be fascinated by. And yes, that part shocked me too. I was glad they did have a private place to “escape” to, away from customers, though it would definitely be nice if they had bedrooms that were not also a work zone.
Those were some seriously hot cars that they had out there … would have loved to have this assignment!
Sometimes work doesn’t suck 🙂
Hahaha, I think we need to hear from “Anxious Alex” & “Deep Thoughts Alex” more often.
While I won’t be rushing into any of these activities anytime soon, it was certainly entertaining & informative reading about them. To reference your last response to me, i think it is YOU who’s taking one for the team.
PS — you are adorable in that racing video!!
Ha, well if you consider constant high pitch screeching adorable then I agree, it’s pretty darn cute 😉
Wow, what an experience you had in the desert! Go you for kicking fears/discomforts in the ass & trying things you’d never imagined. Your honest thoughts and reviews are always appreciated.
– EYE think it’s cool you had a car called Cayman and lived on Cayman…haha!
WELL I’m glad someone appreciated that coincidence! Ha 🙂
Wow, Vegas for me is always dancing and pool parties but now that I know I can drive fast cars I might add other things to my agenda next time!
Although I probably wouldn’t take it over 80mph…
That’s what you think until you’re behind the wheel, girl! Vroom vroom! 🙂
This sounds like a typical Tuesday for us. Ha! Just kidding! Might just have to try out the car racing next time we’re in Vegas. It looks amazing!
Ha, I’m sure for some people in this world it is…. would love to see you two try out the Exotics Racing someday!
Love to try the car racing and the shooting range. Sherri’s Ranch would be interesting too but I don’t think I’d go an hour out of the strip to see a brothel 🙂
Check out my winery post! Might be worth it in combination with that 🙂
OK, now, if you’re going to quote Nashville on me, then you’ve got to get the placement of the apostrophe in “y’all” right. 😉
OH MY GOSH don’t tell Rayna about this! Consider me corrected.
Dude. DUDE. DUUUUUDE. OMG I would die to get on that exotics driving. I’m such a car person. UGH! Looks awesome.
Ha, then I wish I had you there to consult with! I was so clueless. I think I say in the video something like ummmm I drive an SUV? It feels different. Lol.