In the Shadows of the Bright Lights
Making memories in Pahrump, Nevada
By Dan Christopher
The twists and turns of our RV trip through the western U.S. brought my wife, Sandra, and me to Pahrump, Nevada, a town with equal parts recreation and adventure.
An hour’s drive west from the glitzy Las Vegas Strip and about an hour east of Death Valley National Park, Pahrump clearly had plenty for us—from grape stomping to heart-thumping, high-performance auto racing.
A little advance research showed me that Wine Ridge RV Resort and Cottages earned perfect ten scores from Good Sam RV Club for facilities, restrooms and overall appeal. With ample space for our RV, the resort also had immaculate one-bedroom cottages and two-bedroom casitas—available for short or extended stays.
Sandra and I woke early to the rosy glow of an October sunrise. Well away from traffic, we relished near silence as we strolled outside to sample the ambiance of the desert foothills—a gentle breeze, wispy clouds overhead and meticulously groomed grounds. And from the sparkling pool and spa near the comfy clubhouse, there were breathtaking vistas of the sprawling Spring Mountains.
When she heard my stomach rumble, Sandra set out to make breakfast. “Okay, will it be eggs and bacon or pancakes and fruit?” “Surprise me,” I said, ready to consume just about anything after our long sleep.
With our children grown and happily on their own, the two of us set out to create fresh memories in this new chapter of our lives. We cherished every moment of this long-anticipated road trip. Pahrump didn’t disappoint, adding unique experiences to our adventure—including purple feet.
Remember that old I Love Lucy episode when Lucy hoisted up the hem of her skirt, jumped into a vat of grapes and started stomping? Well, welcome to grape stomping. We found it right next door.
After breakfast, Sandra and I strolled across the grounds of our RV park to Pahrump Valley Winery, a premier facility owned by Gretchen and Bill Loken. Bill proudly told us the winery has won more than 400 national awards during the past dozen years.
During the first weekend of October, two to three thousand people show up from all over the country for the annual Pahrump Valley Winery Grape Stomp. With a chuckle, Bill said, “We call it Woodstock for old people.” Some contestants make reservations a year in advance for a chance to act like kids.
“Sandra, we simply have to enter the contest,” I pleaded. She beamed, clearly ready for the action. Grape stomping was every bit as silly and sticky and hilarious as when Lucy did it. Entrants were divided into teams and urged to bring spare shoes to protect their feet from sharp grape stems as they breathlessly tried to extract the most juice.
Yet, some brave souls, myself included, let their tootsies go au naturel… and wound up with purple feet. The winners got trophies. I got a booby prize, a lot of laughs and one of those memorable moments we were looking for. Bill assured us none of the squished grape juice ends up being used in any of his Cabs, Zins, Merlots, Syrahs or other fine wines.
Those wines were also available at Symphony’s Restaurant, the winery’s 5-star restaurant, which had an easy style, genteel service, no pretentions and fair prices. Our panini sandwiches for lunch, accompanied by a glass of Viognier, were generous and delicious.
A 15-minute drive from the winery, we came upon Mountain Falls Golf Club—tucked away in a tidy planned community with cozy cul de sacs and tree-lined avenues. Even for weary grape stompers like us, we found the course easy to walk and stunning to see. With a backdrop of red rock mountains, the course was elegantly landscaped with lush rye greens that are challenging for seasoned players and forgiving for duffers like us. Having time for only nine holes, we ended the day in the club’s Grill Room for cool libations and coconut prawns.
Golfing and grape stomping were fun, but tickling 100 mph behind the wheel of a 460-horsepower 2016 Corvette Stingray Z51 was positively euphoric.
About 10 minutes from the golf club, Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club offered drivers of all skill levels two-day and three-day track courses. This was the full package for those feeling the need for speed on the longest road track in North America.
This was simply too enticing to pass up. After all, we were creating memories for our new chapter, right? And these memories were at speeds I hadn’t attempted since I hit the gas in my dad’s ’56 Chevy on a rural straightaway. (He never found out.)
Although Sandra joined some of the race classes and ride-alongs, she comfortably zeroed in on the gym, the spa and an umbrella drink on the shores of the four-acre lake that sparkled in the heart of this leisurely compound.
Meanwhile, back on the asphalt: Even seasoned drivers are humbled when they learn valuable lessons for everyday driving. Many of the tricks that are taught are the same ones learned by motorcycle riders, such as how to read your environment and respond to the unexpected. When I asked Chief Instructor, Rick Malone, about the one take-away he wants for his students, he answered without hesitation “Turn off that cell phone… especially on the racetrack!”
That was practical info, especially when I was carving my way around the cones and curves that taunted me on the track. Negotiating my first run though the course, when I thought I was setting a land-speed record, I was going about 40 miles an hour. At the end, I peaked at 101, for just a moment. No record, to be sure, but it was a rewarding sense of accomplishment, thanks to the skilled instruction.
From what we’d researched about the town, we had come with high hopes. Even so, we ended up being blown away. From the tranquility to the thrills, and the leisure to the laughs, we had a blast creating special memories for our new chapter.
Find out what adventures Pahrump has in store for you.