Off the Strip

A guide to weird Las Vegas

Visitors to Las Vegas usually navigate their way through the standard tourist attractions without much trouble. But locating the really intense stuff-extraterrestrials, eerie rock formations, weeping statues, caverns that lead straight to hell-can be considerably more difficult. To that end, we offer this guide to the dark, strange side of Vegas.

MR. SHOWMANSHIP'S JEWELS

Definitely the most over-the-top museum in the world, the Liberace Museum, home to more rhinestones per square inch than any other place on Earth, is divided into three sections: Cars and Pianos, Wardrobe and Bedroom, and Office. On your first stop, view Liberace's glitter-encrusted pianos and million-dollar custom-car collection. Gawk at photos of the entertainer posing with every possible celebrity. Then cross the parking lot to Liberace's office to view family photos, a painting of Liberace kissing the pope's ring, and a gold casting of the pianist's fabled hands placed on a velvet pillow (really scary). Next door, take a look at his flamboyant, furry, jewel-laden costumes. Peek into a historical re-creation of his Rococo bedroom. View the world's largest rhinestone. Don't miss the Liberace gift shop, where you can browse through the tackiest tchotchkes in Vegas. The Liberace Museum, 1775 E. Tropicana Ave., Las Vegas, (702) 798-5595.

CANDY-COLORED CLOWNS

No trip to Vegas would be complete without a clown experience, and Ron Lee's World of Clowns Museum fills your clown quota. As you walk in the door, the omnipresent Lara the Clown greets you. After you're dizzy from a ride on the garish carousel, meander through shelf after shelf of clown art by proprietor Lee. Inspect display cases full of giant clown shoes and rubber noses. The tour terminates at the clown factory, where you can watch minimum-wage workers paint thousands of clown statuettes. Ron Lee's World of Clowns Museum, 330 Carousel Pkwy., Henderson, (702) 434-1700.

MAGIC AND DUMMIES

The Magic and Movie Hall of Fame, which is run by noted ventriloquist Valentine Vox, is one of the most mysterious museums around. Its dimly lit halls house the world's most extensive collection of ventriloquist dummies, as well as props used by such magicians as Houdini; Siegfried & Roy; Blackstone; and Melinda, the First Lady of Magic. Note also the display on the Witch of Endor, a biblical ventriloquist (Old Testament, 1 Samuel 28:7). Be forewarned: the museum may be haunted. At night, strange sounds have emanated from the dummy display, and visitors have reported bumping into the ghost of Houdini, who is said to have started haunting the museum following a séance held there on the anniversary of his death. The Magic and Movie Hall of Fame, second floor of O'Shea's Hilton Casino, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, (702) 737-1343.

FREE CRANBERRY JUICE!

If you spend enough time in Las Vegas, you eventually stop asking questions like "What in the hell?" Welcome to Ocean Spray's Cranberry World West. When you walk in the door, you're hit with the powerful scent of cranberry and the sight of everything painted that damnable cranberry color. Just as your senses readjust, out jumps Carina, the giant cranberry showgirl, who escorts you to the Cranberry Theater, where you watch a film and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the magenta-colored berry. The museum is filled with heaps of antique cranberry-plucking and -harvesting devices. In the processing plant, watch thousands of bottles on a conveyer belt get filled with juice. The end of the tour is the part everybody likes: FREE CRANBERRY JUICE-ALL YOU CAN DRINK! Cranberry Museum, Ocean Spray Cranberry World West, 1301 American Pacific Dr., Henderson, (702) 566-7160.

THE WEEPING VIRGIN

In the backyard shrine of Pablo Covarrubias stands a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe that was brought all the way from the Basilica in Mexico City. The Virgin regularly weeps real tears that are then harvested in little cotton balls and distributed to the faithful. According to Covarrubias, many supernatural healings have been documented, and on one very windy day, an apparition of Mary appeared in the sky above the shrine. This is a private residence, so remember to be respectful and courteous when visiting. (The Covarrubias family accepts no donations.) The Shrine of the Weeping Virgin of Las Vegas is located behind a 7-Eleven near the intersection of Las Vegas and Lake Mead boulevards at 2033 Donna St., North Las Vegas, (702) 642-0452.

THE REVEREND ACRES

Within view of Old Town Vegas and the new Fremont Street Experience sits Las Vegas' only mobile wedding chapel: the glistening white Highway Chapel, which is run by the Reverend Ethan Acres. The sacred trailer is decorated in classic Vegas style, with a glimmering rotating disco ball, glowing blue neon, mirrored walls, and fountains of bubbling red liquid. Many remarkable miracles, healings and conversions have taken place at the chapel. One night, a homeless man slept underneath the chapel. When he awoke in the morning, above his face he beheld a spider web that spelled out his name, "K-E-I-T-H," as in Job 8:14. He believed it was a sign from God, so he converted on the spot. Keith is now counted as one of the members of the Highway Chapel's growing congregation. Acres is available to perform weddings, esoteric rituals and last rites for deceased pets. The Highway Chapel, 923 Casino Center Blvd., Las Vegas, (702) 384-0078.

RICHARD BURTON APPARITION

West of town in Red Rock Canyon is Howard Hughes' Spring Mountain Ranch. Over the years, the ranch has had a series of owners, including Chet Lauck ("Lum" from the old Lum and Abner radio show). In 1955, Vera Krupp, wife of German munitions manufacturer and war criminal Alfried Krupp, bought the ranch. In 1959, robbers broke into the ranch, tied up Vera and stole the famous 33.3-carat Krupp Diamond. Later, the diamond was purchased by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. In 1967, Howard Hughes acquired the property, and soon after, an earthquake changed the formation of the rocks overlooking the ranch. Visitors reportedly saw an image they believed to be of Jesus wearing a scarlet robe, arms outstretched and gazing toward Vegas. In the film The Robe, you might recall, Burton played the Roman centurion who gambled at the foot of the cross for Christ's scarlet robe. The red-rock cliff apparition of Christ wears just such a robe. From the Strip, take Charleston Boulevard west until it turns into Nevada Highway 159 five miles past the scenic loop of Red Rock; continue on to the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park Visitors Center, (702) 875-4141.

BORDELLO ART SALON

A few miles out of Vegas lies Nye County, where prostitution is legal. There, attached to the Cherry Patch Ranch bordello in the town of Crystal, lies the Brothel Art Museum. One of the gall-blasted weirdest museums in the world, it documents the history of legal prostitution in Nevada. The walls are covered with hundreds of laminated newspaper clippings, as well as an immense taxidermied moose head and several portraits of John Wayne. But the pièce de résistance is an actual dead prostitute under glass. As the story goes, the skeletal remains of a woman with her hands hacked off and with two pistols lying next to her were discovered sealed up in a wall. According to the brothel bartender, the woman was a victim of inhumane punishment after she had been caught stealing from the till. Take Highway 95 northeast toward Amargosa Valley, turn onto Nevada Highway 160 south; look for the gaudy brothel signs and blinking red lights; turn right on Ranch Road to Crystal, Nevada. The Brothel Art Museum on Ranch Road, Crystal, (702) 372-9901.

NEVADA'S GATE TO HELL

Just down the road a piece from the Brothel Art Museum is another hellhole. Devil's Hole, located in Death Valley National Monument, is not much to look at, just a gash in a hillside surrounded by a chainlink fence. From a small platform, you can look down the abyss into a bathtub-size pool at the bottom. The pool connects to a vast underground lake, the bottom of which has not been probed. A bottomless pit! In it swims an endangered species of tiny prehistoric pupfish found nowhere else on Earth. Biologists believe that the pool may be connected underground to other small pools of pupfish located hundreds of miles away. UFO experts believe that Devil's Hole is connected to the underground caverns located beneath Area 51 (see "The Extraterrestrial Highway"). Purportedly, reptilian-type aliens live in Devil's Hole and have emerged now and again. The Bible speaks of a bottomless pit that demons (or if you prefer, reptilian aliens) ascend out of (Revelation 11:7). According to Vincent Bugliosi, Charles Manson searched for a bottomless pit in Death Valley in which he and his family could hide during Helter Skelter-and afterward, he would come forth as leader of the world. The Reverend Ethan Acres believes that Devil's Hole is one of the portals of hell. He holds that it is no coincidence that this heinous hole is found so close to Nevada's brothels. "For a whore is a deep ditch and a strange woman is a narrow pit" (Proverbs 23:27). Take Highway 95 toward Amargosa Valley, turn south onto Nevada Highway 160. When you see the flashing red lights, turn right on Ranch Road toward the brothels in Crystal, Nevada. Proceed down the dirt road until you see a chainlink fence on your right. Devil's Hole, Death Valley National Monument, (760) 786-2331.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL HIGHWAY

Vegas attracts not only the usual saints and sinners, but also legions of UFO experts and abductees. One of the attractions for ufologists is the infamous Area 51 at Groom Lake, due north of Las Vegas, which is believed to be the repository of alien bodies and UFO wreckage. In nearby Rachel sits the Little A "LE" Inn, where day or night, you'll find the weirdest assemblage of characters from around the globe. The inn features authentic UFO photos, piles of conspiracy pamphlets, lots of alien kitsch, an alien library and a motel-actually seven rooms, inside which you can watch UFO videos all night. Or just set up your folding chair outside your trailer and watch the night sky. Take Interstate 15 north out of Vegas; take Exit 64 to Highway 93; go north to Nevada Highway 375 (renamed the Extraterrestrial Highway three years ago); go west to Rachel, Nevada. Little A "LE" Inn, Highway 375, Rachel, (702) 729-2515.

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