"America's Creepiest Motel!"
A couple years ago, this motel came up on a list of haunted and unusual hotels. I laughed, shared it with Don and announced, "We need to put that on our list!"
When planning our recent road trip from Texas to California, we decided to slip in a stop at the Tonopah motel.
And yes, I did read reviews and articles. All seemed to claim Clown Motel as "America's Creepiest Motel". Don and I were not afraid.
Flurries were swirling when we pulled into the big lot off Highway 95, about halfway between Reno and Vegas.
The blue and white motel with clown sign, looked just as worn and curious as the photos I'd seen on the internet. I was surprised to see the dramatic mountain in the background and all the vehicles in the lot. At least the motel had some business.
We headed towards the office and opened the door to a blast of warmth and clown-color. Big yellow Ronald was the first to greet us, then my eyes went directly to the walls behind, filled with clowns.
A woman at the desk paused on the phone to say hello. She seemed annoyed with the person on the phone, but was perfectly pleasant with us.
Then the owner Bob Perchetti, entered and gave us a warm welcome. He'd been expecting us.
I'd called a month before and requested a room with lots of clown decor. He'd been very chatty on the phone and said he would book us for the Clown Suite.
The walls behind Bob's desk were covered in sticky notes and paper work, but framed clowns shared some of the space.
Acrobatic clowns and a parachuting clown, hung from the ceiling.
I peeked around as Don checked us in.
It was clear that most of the clowns were for pure decoration, but a few had real jobs, like holding books.
Bob finished dealing with a few staff members. One was holding a snow shovel and another held a stack of linens. Then the office was quiet. Bob had lots of time to talk. He was happy to answer questions about the motel. Bob wasn't the original owner who collected the clowns. But, when he bought the business 23+ years ago, adopting the clowns was part of the deal. Bob will be turning 80 years old soon and he's ready to sell the business. But he also needs to find someone willing to take over the clowns, as he did.
Bob laughed about all the attention the motel has gotten from being on a few TV shows, about haunted hotels. He casually brought up the fact that someone had recently died in the motel. I tried to unhear that bit of news, since we were staying over. But now I wish I'd asked. I can't find anything on the internet about it.
Bob is used to cameras in his motel. I'm pretty sure more people stop to take photos, than stop to spend the night.
I asked if he'd be in a photo with me. He thought we should pose near the human sized clown, seated in the corner. I guess I could have joined the smaller clowns and sat in Big Clown's lap. But I was trying to keep things non-creepy, at the Creepy Clown Motel.
Bob and Me
So we posed near the cluster of clowns. I took off my jacket so my very fine t-shirt, (from Angie's Circus Diner in Hugo, OK) could be seen! Then we chatted some more.
Actually Bob's stories of small town, Tonopah were more interesting than the Clown Motel history. He loved growing up in the once mining town, just a couple doors down from his Serbian grandmother. I loved hearing Bob talk about his grandmother first coming to Tonopah, as a mail order bride. And I had to laugh to hear that Bob was named after his Uncle Bob, who happened to go by the nickname, Bozo.
Bob and His Mom
There was a photo of Bob and his mom on a bulletin board. He said at 97, she still lives in the house where he grew up.
Every morning Bob eats breakfast in town, but he has coffee at his mom's, first. He talked about the importance of family, his own now and his good family memories from the past. Those memories included lots of gatherings with Serbian food!
At one point I remembered that I had a little clown in the car, that I'd brought along for the fun. (Props sometimes play a part in our odd overnights) I told Bob that the funny unicycle clown had been in my family since I was 6.
I explained that it used to have balancing poles for cycling back and forth on a suspended wire. Bob thought he'd seen a clown like it before.
Bob said there were 500 to 600 clowns on display.
Of course I had to ask if he had a favorite.
This sad little guy is Bob's favorite. He showed up at the motel one day, with a note. The note is kept under his foot.
I think of all the clown figurines at the motel, this is the only one I would have snatched up, had Bob been selling clowns. I always loved the real Emmitt Kelly, who created his little Tramp, Willie character... the first clown to break away from the "whiteface" clown image. I loved this sad little guy.
One Last Look
Don and I took one last look at the china, metal, crocheted, wooden, plastic collection... and took our key to the Clown Suite.
Up the Stairs
We had to cart our stuff up some icy stairs, but Bob said, we would have a good view of the Tonopah Cemetery from up there.
At the End
The last 2 rooms for some reason didn't have a colorful clown figure. All the others did.
Our room was at the end, but this sign was right between the last 2 doors. Who was Joe? Were both rooms suites?
We opened the door to our clown suite and saw a few clowns, right away. Our room at seventy dollars, was at least $20 more, than the other rooms. That seemed a bit pricey for an old motel... but we did ask for a room with clowns and by golly we got them.
We also had 2 beds, tons of space and a door adjoining another room. Maybe if you book both, you can have a super big clown party with some friends. Or I guess we could have knocked on the door, since we could hear voices and smell some kind of food cooking. We could have invited our neighbors over for a clown appreciation party.
Pondering the Guests
Actually, after doing some internet searching, I learned that "Joe" is a motel manager and he may have been the neighbor we heard, next door. Hmm? In the article I read, it said Joe lived at the motel, in the Clown Suite. Maybe he lives in both rooms and moves out of one, when there's a request. I'm not sure.. and I'm pretty glad I didn't know that at the time.
Don and I wondered about other guests. The truck filled parking lot, made it clear that most of the overnighters were workmen and such. Besides the work related travelers, I think the Clown Motel actually gets more guests who are interested in paranormal activity, than clowns. Luckily that doesn't faze me, since most of the historic hotels we visit, claim to have ghosts.
A Very Big TV
Our 2-bed room was spacious and the TV was huge. However, there were some room issues that most reviewers might gripe about. Yes, it needed new paint and carpet and there was a crack in the window, but it was clean.
I get it. If I were Bob, I wouldn't be wanting to put money into renovation before selling. Don and I were just pretty excited to have our oddball Clown Motel experience... before it's too late.
When will we ever again stay in a motel that has a cluster of colorful clowns displayed on the dresser?
When will we be able to pop some microwave corn, while a cookie jar clown, grins from above?
Washing up, With Clowns!
There were clowns dangling near the mirror over the sink. And look at the special make-up mirror! That's kinda fancy.
Most old motels don't provide magnified make-up mirrors! But then again, I would need that, if I had brought along some clown make-up.
Toilet Paper Delight!
This display on the toilet tank, put the biggest grin on my face.
First of all I expected no toiletries, but there they were... laying on a colorful circus fabric, right next to a crocheted toilet paper keeper with a plastic clown head!
There was artwork, too. I liked the triple-image-art with Emmett's, Willy character in the circus ring.
But what was the other one? With closer observation, it made me think of a fever dream, featuring an aged Emmett, floating with eerie cloud faces. We chose the bed furthest from that print.
Night at the Motel
We had a great dinner at the charming historic Mizpah Hotel, in town. That's on our list for next time.
When we returned, there was a nice layer of snow on the parking lot. That is not a moon in the photo. That is a mystery. I have no clue how that orb ended up in my photo?
Morning at the Clown
We woke at 6 am, to sounds of snowplows.
It was bitter cold, but I threw warm clothes on, over my p.j.s and wandered out with the camera.
The Clown with Snow
There wasn't a ton of snow, but it did make everything look clean and tidy.
I walked past the office, which I knew would be serving coffee soon.
I walked just a few steps past the office, to the old miners cemetery. It looked very peaceful on a snow covered morning.
The cemetery opened in 1901, when miners were hit with some sort of plague. Evidently, the father of the motel's original owner, is buried here.
My footsteps weren't the first. I saw some kitty paw prints when I stepped in through the gates. I was told later there is a local program that captures and fixes local feral cats. Many cats are fed nearby and call the cemetery home.
I studied Mr. Smith's grave for a moment. He was "murdered in his cabin, behind the Midway mine." Hmm? Maybe it was his spirit orb, that I captured in my photo, the night before.
We did it! We spent the night at the Clown Motel and I'm glad we did.
If we hadn't spent a good deal of time chatting with Bob, the whole experience would have felt much more bizarre. I wasn't looking for a creepy overnight, just a curious and memorable one. It certainly was!
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
For years Don and I have had our eyes on this place, right on US 50.
The rustic lodge with the neon sign, finally lured us in for a stay.
Rambling Roadside Lodge
You can't miss the place if you're driving to Tahoe from Reno. The highway nearly touches the porch.
There's something a little Route 66 about the front of the lodge, with cars whizzing by. But it's all pines, cabins, beach and lake in the back.
There's also a parking lot on the side and back, but that's a good thing.
It was a treat after staying at a South Lake Tahoe's Marriott, with 29-dollar per day, valet parking. We parked right by the restaurant's deck and used the stairs in back to reach our second floor room.
The knotty pine and vintage photos tried to welcome us, but there was a bit of an odd vibe to the upstairs. There were only 4 guest rooms in the lodge. It looked like one hall held old guest rooms that now house staff.
As we walked down the sloping hall towards our room, we passed a number of rooms being used as offices during the day. The Zephyr Suite at the far end was not booked, nor was the Bridal Changing Room, next to our room. We were pretty happy about that.
Our room wasn't luxurious, but it was spacious.
There was room to spread out, which you don't expect in an old hotel.
Both windows were open a crack, letting in some fresh air... which was needed. The furniture and TV were dated, but there was a built in with microwave, fridge and coffee maker.
The US Forest Service now owns the Zephyr Lodge and Resort, so the accommodations were more modest in style and price than most Tahoe resorts.
Our room faced the highway and Zephyr Cove Resort's RV Park. It was pretty noisy in the afternoon, but by nighttime, we had to pull the box fan out of the closet. It was too quiet to sleep!
I don't think there were any guest rooms that faced the back. They must be paying high rent for that office space with lake and mountain views.
Stairs Going Down
There was no elevator, but we did have indoor stairs. The lodge office was located in the gift shop to the right. I'm not sure about the grand doors on the left.
I'm guessing those fairytale doors lead to a banquet hall. There had to be some place for that bride to go after she changed into her gown... in the room next to ours!
This space between the gift shop and restaurant at least had a few couches, but there was no cozy lounging space, like you expect in park lodges.
That made me more curious about the history from a roadside inn to a lake resort.
There were lots of old photos, but I could find very little history on the lodge.
So many park lodges have young staff and they can never fill in the blanks. This photo from 1939, shows a sign saying "Zephyr Cove Beach" above the door.
Zephyr Cove House
Here's a photo from the menu. There's a brief mention of Andrew Gardner, who first opened the Zephyr Cove House in 1862.
I think maybe this house (or inn?) became a store with gas pumps and the resort lodge was expanded later. But that's sort of a guess. I can't believe in this Googling Age, I could find so little history.
Our Room on the Right
So all I know is, the resort opened in the '30's and our room, with 2 dormer windows was on the right, above the restaurant.
Pretty sweet looking building, even without knowing the history.
Behind the lodge we found cabins and a mile of beach. For a Friday in October the lake was lovely and quiet.
The M.S. Dixie II Sternwheeler had just come in from a tour. The paddle boats were all lined up, but the beach restaurant and store were closed.
A Few Tourists
The air was perfect down by the water.
I tried to imagine this beach in the summer when US 50 is jammed with tourists.
Bar & Restaurant
The recently updated dining room and bar seemed to be getting some local business in the afternoon.
Zephyr Cove has over 500 residents, so this might be just the place to go at the end of a work week.
Dining at 7
But the locals seemed to be all gone by 7. Luckily we didn't wait any longer, since there were a couple tables finishing meals. They might have been tempted to close had we not walked in.
We got a table right by the fireplace and ordered a Rueben and Cobb salad. The food and service was quite decent, but even with a fire we didn't feel compelled to linger.
I'll remember this lodge as a cute place, sandwiched in between a busy road and a lovely beach, with pine trees scattered here and there.
It had the potential of being a charming retro lodge, but the focus was definitely on the beautiful water. The neon sign is sort of an indication that some updates are still needed.
Virginia City, Nevada
It was close to Halloween when Don and I stayed at his fine hotel a couple years ago.
We really didn't need all the fake cobwebs and plastic skulls that decorated the town. The hotel was creepy enough on its own!
I would love to know more about the hotel when it was called Molinelli's.
I'm guessing that was around 1870, when Virgina City wasn't filled with tourists and costumed ghost tours guides. There were 25,000 living in the booming mining town then.
There are less than 900 residents now and tourism is what keeps the town alive. But most travelers just come for the day, to go on ghost tours or drink in the saloons. Some come for the shopping, which seems mostly to involve teeshirts and fudge.
But Don and I came for the whole experience. Which meant staying a night in a hotel that focused more on the saloon than the guest rooms, two flights above.
Check In, at the Saloon
I'm not sure if the cobwebs were just for Halloween or if that's a year round thing. We walked underneath them to check in with the bartender, who went by the name of Mississippi.
She wore a cowboy hat with horns and black sweatshirt with a giant shimmering, silver skeleton. Her denim painter's pants were covered with flower designs.
The Door... The Stairs
We had to step back outside onto the wooden sidewalk to find the entrance to the actual hotel.
We opened the tall blue door and headed up a steep staircase, covered in worn, flowered carpet.
And Up Some More Stairs
After we climbed 29 steps, we reached a narrow atrium, lit by a skylight on the third floor.
Then we headed up the last set of stairs.
You have to love the zany design of this old building. The hole in the floor, cleverly allowed light to shine from the skylight to the floor below. But it looked funny.
The shape of the carpeted floor, pointed like an arrow to our room #18. We could have literally bumped into our neighbors, coming and going. But, I don't think anyone else was staying in the entire hotel.
75 Dollar Room
Our tiny room looked as though it had been furnished with thrift shop decor. The limp blue pillow shams, stylish headboard and framed deer, just made us chuckle.
$75. might seem a little high for a place that required such a hike and showed no signs of updating. But we were pretty glad to be 2 levels above the saloon, which got pretty lively as the night progressed.Sugar Loaf
Plus look at our view, through the lace curtains!
And there were at least 5 mountain ranges beyond!
And we could keep an eye out on the boardwalk below. The couple strolling by the Bonanza Saloon looked like they were enjoying themselves in their western attire!
Don, on the right, was obviously wearing the wrong hat and jacket when we sat down for a drink and a little conversation with Mississippi.
The beautiful back bar was hard to see through the webs and decorative clutter. A rotating hotdog heater and a nacho cheese crock kept us reminded of the times.
Catfish Carl provided some music with his guitar and keyboard.
He also kept me entertained with some stories about the giant "Silver Lady" and the wedding chapel.
It was pretty fun stepping into this brick and stone walled chapel and picturing Captain and Tenille getting married here in 1975. I don't remember all their lyrics to "Love will keep us together..." but maybe the word humor was in there somewhere. At least I'm hoping they married here, with a good sense of humor.
I knew the chapel was still getting business because Mississippi answered a call at the bar just moments earlier. She said the man on the phone wanted to get married here. He also wanted Mississippi to have his proposal written on a chalk board when he arrived at the bar with his fiance-to-be.
The Silver Lady
And this is what I will remember most from the Silver Queen Hotel. This fine piece of art stood 15 feet high and 8 feet wide. 3,261 silver dollars went into this creation!
The pretty lady's belt was made of 20 gold pieces and her choker was made up of delicate dimes! The inside info that I learned from Catfish, was about the woman featured in the portrait. The man who had this portrait created, did so to honor his lovely wife. However, the "Silver Lady" found out her husband was cheating and killed herself. I didn't know that sad bit of news when I did my own sassy pose.
Early Morning Departure
Don and I crept down the stairs very early the next morning and left before dawn.
It wasn't fear of ghosts, although there are many stories. And it wasn't the lumpy bed. We were just eager to get on our way.
I don't imagine Don and I will ever choose to stay again. It's not a place that we would recommend. But I'm sure glad we got to experience this one. We left feeling satisfied and amused. It took a bit a nerve to bite the bullet and stay the night, but we did it!
The New Las Vegas
After one night experiencing vintage downtown Las Vegas at the retro El Cortez, it was time to step it up at The Venetian, on the glitzy strip.
I've been to the real Italian city, so I figured it might be hard to avoid rolling my eyes just a bit. It just seemed comical to attempt combining casinos with Venetian landmarks like St. Mark's Campalile. You can't take the Rialto bridge and put it over a street. I was pretty sure gondoliers and neon signs would clash.
But my last visit to Las Vegas was in 1980. I was in for a pretty big surprise when Don and I approached the recreated landmarks driving down the strip. I couldn't stop grinning and gasping.
"This is crazy! This is so fun!"
I still feel a little like I'm "playing grown-up" when valet parking. But when you want to play "rich grown-up" just come to The Venetian.
If you want to be "cool" on top of being a rich grown-up, then don't bump into people while staring at the painted ceiling!
More Art for Staring
There was no way I could snobbishly critique the painted ceilings or the marble floors.
This stuff was pretty grand. It didn't feel like a movie set or a carnival façade. I wanted to grab a European and say, "What do you think?" But in truth, most of the people rolling suitcases towards the reception desk appeared to be from somewhere like Nebraska.
To the Room!
Don and I were pretty excited to just hunt for our room. And that took a while, since there are 4,049 suites. I had to stop at smile at the sweet lion head, carved on the beam outside our door. When we opened our room, my grin grew larger as I took in the 650 square foot suite. Our twenty-dollar vintage suite at El Cortez was their lowest rate.
Our luxury suite at The Venetian, was the lowest promotional rate of $149. (not including tax and fees) We could have stayed a week at El Cortez for that, but we didn't have a sunken living room there. Or 3 TVs and a remote for the shades, or a scanner and printer.
Bed and Bath
The suite décor may not be "my style" but it had a fun and flashy feel that made me want to stay put.
I was determined to try out every conceivable spot for luxury lounging. Even for a brief moment!
But it was beautiful outside, so we left our comfy suite to wander before dark. To me it was more fun watching the gondolas than riding in them.
It's funny how many people look awkward in the seat facing the singing gondolier!
The rooftop pools looked very inviting, especially if you wanted to rent a cozy spot like this for lounging.
The weather was perfect and I would have been happy to spend an hour or two with a book and pina colada, but there was so much to see!
There was more inside exploring to do.
There were waterfalls with flowering trees. And there was shopping, under the fake glowing sky.
A Quick Margarita Stop
The fake skies at The Venetian made me lose total track of time. The late afternoon painted ceiling made us decide it was time for a margarita at one of the canal-side tables at Canonista.
The echoing voices of passing gondoliers entertained us, but we had the added fun of watching the security guard (dressed in Italian police uniform) use a pool net to scoop up the cell phone for a nearby diner.
So we didn't gamble a penny. The Venetian is the only casino/hotel I can think of where you are allowed to ignore the gambling world. However, Don and I did stop for glass of wine in the casino Bellini Bar.
With the game stuff behind us, we enjoyed a very fun chat with David the bartender. He gave us some very yummy nibbles of carmel -corn and spicy crackers while he shared about growing up in Las Vegas. We were thrilled to talk with someone from Vegas and I think he was pleased to chat at all. Everyone else at the bar was absorbed in electronic bar games.
St. Mark's Square
For dinner we made reservations at Canatello's, one of the restaurants in the recreated famous Venetian Plaza.
Once again we were under a fake sky that allowed dusk to linger...forever, while musicians performed near sidewalk cafes. The whole thing felt a bit like a distorted dream... a fun dream.
Good Food and Drink
We sipped Chianti and feasted on great Caesar salad, minestrone and prosciutto pasta. Watching gondolas in the nearby canal, and people watching on the Piazza was the best part of dining "outside".
But when I peeked inside at one point, I wasn't sure where the best table would be. The restaurant was huge and festive...and it's one of about 10 restaurants to choose from!
Before heading back to the room, Don and I stopped to rest the camera on the bridge railing for a photo with the timer.
Luckily we didn't have to fish the camera out of the canal, or that would have been our most memorable experience.
What was most Notable?
The overwhelming size! My feet felt like they'd spent a day at Disneyland when I went to bed.
But I think I will also remember being so pleasantly surprised at how much I could enjoy the reinvention of one of my favorite cities. Perfect weather outside (and in) didn't hurt!
Stop 3 on TX-to-CA Road Trip
This hotel was quite a change from the night before in Arizona. In order to enjoy a little contrast from our stay in peaceful Winslow, Don and I chose to spend the night in lively old Downtown Vegas.
We were pretty excited to find El Cortez with its retro neon sign! You can tell it's an original, since I don't think they have neon announcing coffee shops anymore!
El Cortez is the oldest, continuously running casino in Vegas! It opened in 1941 with 59 rooms.
Besides a bit of a façade update in 1954, the Spanish Colonial Revival building has remained pretty much the same. You just don't expect a casino hotel to have shutters and flower filled window boxes!
The hotel was owned by Bugsy Siegel and some other organized crime figures back in the day. You can't look at the place today without picturing the Rat Pack or maybe even Elvis.
Even though El Cortez has grown a bit by adding newer buildings, it still attracts a local and milder crowd, not wanting to mess with big, crowded casinos. In 1963 Las Vegas legend, Jackie Gaughan bought the place. If our trip had started one month earlier we might have bumped into him. Evidently until his death this past March, Mr. Gaughan (age 93) was living in an El Cortez penthouse and enjoying the casino daily.
This is how a casino looks if you've been drinking a while, or your eyes are irritated by smoke.
Actually I just took the photo too fast. I wasn't sure about casino rules and didn't want to make anyone mad. I took the photo from halfway up the stairs to the second floor where the "Vintage Rooms" were. This is the original building, so there were no elevators to the older rooms.
We reserved a vintage room for the true experience. They were located right above the original casino.
There's been a little updating, but not much...which is fine. It was just a quick walk up one flight to room 2273. I'm sure the original door didn't have a non-smoking sign, a peep hole or braille writing!
A Suite for $20!
We were upgraded for no charge, to a vintage suite. There really wasn't too much vintage about it. In fact I would have preferred 1940's furniture over the 1980's look.
But I was not about to be picky. This suite was TWENTY DOLLARS! I had seen a few reviews that mentioned casino noise or even smoke seeping into the vintage rooms. But there must have been a quieter, less smoky crowd down below. No complaints from us.
Don is posing, to show the spacious entry. We really did have a lot of room to spread out. We kept the drapes closed, however. No view with this room. Just roof and more building.
The bathroom was clean and tidy and just a little bit dated.
I haven't had a tub with a sliding glass door in a long time. You don't often get hotel robes, with 20-dollar rooms! That was a plus! But there was no time for robe-lounging. We had places to go and things to see.
No. Las Vegas doesn't make a lot of money off Don and me. We took the 5 -dollar gambling cards that we got as hotel guests and embarrassed ourselves with our gambling ignorance.
I had to flag down a black suited attendant about 3 times to ask silly questions about using the 25-cent slot machine! After a few minutes we were ready to step out to the neon lights on of Downtown Vegas!
Well, the signs weren't quite lit yet, but they were colorful anyway!
It's been 34 years since I traveled through Las Vegas. The downtown area on Freemont that I vaguely remember, was hard to recognize. The signs were still fun! They have some new neon thrown in with the old favorites.
The Freemont Street Experience
We wandered down Freemont Street from the hotel and enjoyed a little of the "afternoon life".
The Golden Nugget was a familiar sight.
The Mermaids Casino...
...was not a familiar sight. I had a hard time figuring it all out, since the street is now covered with a mall-like canopy. It all seemed confusing to my brain.
We wandered and enjoyed the colorful scene till about 5:30. Then the walkways began to fill with some odd characters, men in thongs and tutus here, a topless woman with a cape, there. We decided to move on and enjoy "nightlife" elsewhere.
Nothing better than returning in a taxi, after enjoying rum cocktails at Frankie's Tiki Room and seeing all the Cortez neon!
El Cortez is not under a canopy, so it felt more like authentic Las Vegas, standing beside the street. We had a late dinner that was quite decent at the Cortez Cafe and a quite decent night's sleep, before moving on in the morning.
What was most notable?
Price and Convenience! The room with all the meal & gambling coupons was $19.00 plus tax. That boggles my mind because it really was a comfy stay, even if we didn't make much use of all the nearby gambling and nightlife options.
The retro-ness is what I'll fondly remember. I love, love, love the look of the charming building with the turquoise neon signs. And I do appreciate a casino that still has penny coin slot machines!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!