Three distinct distillery tours

We can’t hike all the time. All three of these, though, involved some walking. And drinking. We do that too.

Recently I had the opportunity to tour and partake at three different spirit distilleries in and around Las Vegas. We’ll start simple, and let things escalate out-of-hand as they will.

Desert Diamond Distillery

Just outside of Kingman, AZ, towards the airport, you can find Desert Diamond Distilleries, [https://www.desertdiamonddistillery.com] which has a tasting room, distillery tours, and monthly dinners after which you taste whatever spirit the owners are most proud of that month.

The $7 tour is simple and straightforward: You learn how the bar came from a restaurant in Las Vegas, and the rat Pack leaned upon it, you see the giant copper still from Germany,  you see the warehouse.

Desert Diamond mostly makes rum and that rum is worth the journey. They want $20-50 a bottle, and you are getting that quality.

They have been dabbling in whiskey, and that is quite good, but still quite pricey. I felt I paid $75 for a $50 dollar whiskey. But it is, by a good margin, the best whiskey I’ve found distilled in state.

They make a cheaper corn whiskey, and a vodka, neither of which I have tried.

The owner pouring you one…

Across the river in Las Vegas, the distillery experience gets bigger and crazier and more expensive.

The Mob Museum Speakeasy

In the basement of the Mob Museum, [https://themobmuseum.org] they have a “speakeasy”. This is a real bar, but you can only get into it with ($30) admission to the Museum. OK – there is some side door that you can get in with a password from the website, but we had tickets, so you are on your own with that.  For an extra $15 you can sit in on the tasting and prohibition lecture. In that setting, we learned a little about the distilling process (they make some beer, moonshine and rum on site) and a good deal more about the birth of bootlegging in the US, and how this financed the first national crime syndicates. Or so I suppose. I couldn’t hear half of it over the music from the speakeasy next door.

The samples were microscopic, and unimpressive. Moonshine is just moonshine. The rum did not stand above any of its big-batch $20/bottle competitors. I’d tell you about how they tasted in the cocktails from the speakeasy, but we stood for 15 minutes without getting any staff attention and moved on.

Las Vegas has no shortage of places you can pay too much for cocktails. (We ended up at Circa where we were served within 5 minutes on a Saturday night.)

The museum (properly called the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement) itself is all kinds of clever, (it has won awards) but it is three stories (plus basement) of wall-wall crime and mayhem, and I burned out on which middle-aged white guy went to jail for shooting which middle-aged white guy.

Like most museums, the information comes in isolated paragraphs next to displays, but you can put together the narrative that Prohibition allowed street level gangs to become or become co-opted by national gangs, and how the feds ignored them until the 1950’s when congressional hearings (that’s the whole 2nd floor) forced them to do something. Portions of the Kefauver hearings actually took place in the very courthouse the central presentation is in. There’s a section on the mob in Vegas, and an equally large section of the string of cowboy sheriffs patrolling those same streets.  By the time Whitey Bulger was leaving a trail of bodies around Boston I had lost interest.

You can buy the moonshine for just over $20/mason jar in the gift shop. I did not.

Lost Spirits Distillery

On a brighter note, across the freeway inside Area 15, (which is an experience all of its own) you can tour the Lost Spirits Distillery [https://www.lostspirits.net ] which tries to make the distillery tour into a Disneyland experience. The problem is that they are still in a converted warehouse, and while they are clearly trying their best the compromises, like having to ride the trolley across the parking lot to the second building, are unavoidable.

They still want $55 a head.

Lost Spirits claimed to have found a method to age spirits without actually aging them through the use of light.  You can see on the tour the contraption bathed in the lights of what I happen to know are commercially made theatrical lights. However, I can’t say what sort of lamps they put in them, nor would they tell me. That’s the secret, I was told. You can also see more regular stills and get a sniff of the big barrel full of must that they keep in the open for visitors.

In addition to seeing some of the distillery equipment, there are themed rooms with tasting stations, where you can taste the various products, mostly high-proof rum. There’s a candle-lit forest, a Victorian “Dorian Grey” room, the Havana Hologram Lounge (which has some cool projections) and the submarine, which is legitimately a triumph of scenic design over budget.

Curiously, Lost Spirits does not directly sell the booze they just demonstrated on site.  They will ship bottles, when available, starting at $30/ bottle plus, plus.

Even though I am a fan of museums, scenic design and giant copper pots in all shapes, I wouldn’t repeat any of these tours again. I will assert that the distillery tour of the Mob Museum is over-priced for what it is. Lost Spirits is worth it once, as a strange date night activity.

Now, I’ve been back to Desert Diamond many times. But that is because they will actually sell me booze.

Desert Diamond Distillery

4875 Olympic Way, Kingman, AZ

The Mob Museum

300 Stewart Avenue, Las Vegas, NV

(A block away from Fremont Street).

Lost Spirits Distillery – Area 15

3215 S Rancho Drive,  Las Vegas, NV.

Check websites for times and prices.

All photos are from the websites of locations covered unless noted.

“We” for this article means Cheryl and myself. More on that on my personal blog: What Have We Learned? [https://padegimas.wordpress.com]

So, yeah, this might be becoming a more general travel site.

Some Stupid Luck in the middle of nowhere.

I’m posting this here because the tale is too long for social media. 

On behalf of my dayjob, I journeyed deep into the Navajo Reservation (in NE Arizona) because I was “in the neighborhood”). A bit of remedial geography – no one is ever conveniently close to Dilkon Arizona, a crossroads deep in the Rez featuring a Basha’s grocery store, a gas station, and someday soonish a medical center.

There was a need for someone in our company to meet with someone working on that medical center. I was, that morning, in Flagstaff for a similar meeting that did not happen, and Those Above figured they’d never have anyone closer. So off I went in the 20 year old Dodge Dakota.

Bongo and Verity in Dilkon, AZ.

I had the Dakota (called Verity) because my Subaru Forester had a damaged suspension (likely from stunts like Packsaddle Mountain), and was in the shop that very day. 

I started and ended my day in Kingman AZ (where it was 28 F when I left my hotel room) on account of a third day-job assignment. 

On my way back, I stopped to manage some cabin logistics, and take some Bongo pictures for Instagram, because we are trying to build a little platform here. 

This photo appeared on Instagram. It’s still there.

The road is Tribal 15, which looks just like that most of the way.

This is the one I meant to post, but tapped the wrong one.

Friends, that was a $40 Instagram picture, and only that cheap because I got stupid lucky.

Took the photos, got back in the truck, tried to pull away, wheels spun. 

By spun, I mean the passenger rear tire buried itself in loose sand up to the axle. 

I did not take pictures.

Verity carries a shovel, and I had it half excavated when some locals stopped by to help. As sand filled back into the hole, they explained, and probably correctly, that I wasn’t going to dig myself out.  I would need a tow.

Happily, they had the means. Once we excavated the axe from the dry quicksand (this stuff was hour-glass quality,  flowing freely in a way that was both amazing and horrifying), they produced a rope, wrapped it around my front end, and we were able to free Verity from peril on the first try. 

A had a $20 bill in my wallet, and I gave it to the lead guy. Then I dug out another $20 bill when we had to cut his rope to free it from my truck. (I hide one in my wallet for just these occasions.)

When nerves allowed, I drove on to Kingman. That’s 470 miles round trip, part of the nearly 750 miles I drove over 3 days for my job. (I get compensated for that). That took the rest of the afternoon, during which I negotiated paying the mechanic for the Subaru. (Which is why you always want to get paid for mileage, not just reimbursed for gas.)

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1xSa0_UJ8H2FCwT7-CJNk1rQRKIjTsiIZ

Stay on the damn road on the Rez. Now we know. 

CODA:

Mohave County’s original county jail is one of the oldest still standing. It’s protected, so the county can’t tear it down.  I have no idea what they use it for now, but they are building the new courthouse addition basically around this structure. 

I was also in that neighborhood and have a couple of photos. 

Camping over Kingman: Hualapai Mountain Campgrounds

Like Kingman only completely different.

For most people, Kingman, Arizona is not somewhere you go so much as a place you end up – or more likely just pass through as fast as possible. Parked in the northeast corner of the state at 3000’ elevation, Kingman is known mostly as a Route 66 stop, and the last reliable source of gas before the Nevada line on the way to Las Vegas.

(I know for a fact that I can fill my tank in Kingman, go to and drive around in Vegas for a few days, and make in back to Kingman on that same tank, thus avoiding the much higher prices in Nevada.)

As it happens, it has been a destination for me from time to time. There are a few wineries and a fine distillery, for one thing. I have also been involved in the various incarnations of the local book fair in one way or another for several years.

When in Kingman, in good weather, I prefer camping. Of course, Route 66 through Kingman is lined with a variety of mostly reasonable motels, but in the spring or fall, I’d just as soon sleep outdoors. The place to do that is 14 miles southeast and 3000 feet up from downtown Kingman.

This means that temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than Kingman or other points below.

Hualapai Mountain, with settled areas between 6000-6500’ elevation towers over the high desert that surrounds it. Most of its multiple peaks are within the Mojave County Park of the same name. Surrounding this are the cabin community of Pine Lake, and a scattering of BLM land. Both the county park ands the BLM portions host campgrounds.

Hualapai Mountain Park Campground

The county park campground winds across several ridges and valleys inside the park. The main campground is a maze of narrow but paved roads winding past tent sites, cabins, and even a small RV lot.  The top end of the maze is a trail-head for the extensive trail system that meanders up and around the peaks. We’ve written about those trails elsewhere.

If you make the sharp left turn at the ranger station, past auxiliary parking and the lower group site, you reach Pine Basin, whose unpaved and marginally graded maze of dirt roads reach some primitive tent sites. A few are flat, gravel pads on top of the ridge, but most sites are tucked inside the jumble of granite boulders that fill the basin beyond.

Pine Basin is where I am most likely to hang my hammock.

Seriously, I hang my hammock.

Most campsites have a stone table, a fire pit of some sort, and are within sight of a plastic outhouse. Not all of the stone tables are in good repair. Not all the fire pits are official.  There is no water and trash service is limited to containers near the entrance.   You can reserve cabins and even RV pads, but all tent sites are first come first serve. You pay your $20/night (cash!) and take your chances. Even so, they are not likely to fill up.

Typical site in the Pine Basin.

I chose this campground first because 1) I did not know about the BLM campground at first but 2) I had business in Kingman and the BLM campground adds 15-20 minutes to the trip – one way. But if I didn’t need to be in Kingman in the morning, I’d just as soon keep driving.

Wild Cow Springs Campground

Patience and nerve…

Let’s dispense with a myth: you can totally get to Wild Cow Springs Campground with any high clearance vehicle, in good weather. The road beyond Pine Lake is signed “Chains and 4WD only” but that is for snow-time. In the summer, the road is thin, and occasionally bumpy, but is mostly well-graded dirt. Higher clearance is helpful, but mostly you just need patience and nerve.

The road beyond Pine Lake is sharp and steep and it will take you the better part of 15 minutes to cover the four miles of up and down and around until you reach Wild Cow Springs. The road is well signed, however, so there is not much fear of getting lost. The sharp altitude difference guarantees some wide views of the desert below.

(The road continues well beyond, becoming a tangle of backroads, and you are on your own with that.)

I have seen people get small trailers into Wild Cow Springs, but it is mostly tent sites. There is a string of sites, in fact, that are a good walk from the road, following a stone-lined hiking trail across the little ravine there.

All the sites have wood and metal benches and metal fire-rings with grills. The front of the site features vault toilets. The site has some trash service, but no water supply. The fee though is $8/night.

There are, in addition, a larger RV park, and a resort (with a restaurant and a store) close to or within Pine Lake, but those are a little too civilized for this blog.