THE FIRST THING YOU PLAN after you get engaged shouldn’t be your bachelor party. But I’m a journalist, goddammit, and when Matador says, “Hey Matt, would you go out to Vegas for a week and do some absolutely crazy shit to research the ultimate bachelor party even though you only proposed to Steph, like, three days ago?” I say, “I will, but only in the name of the First Amendment.”

Picture a flag waving behind me while I say that.

On Friday, I proposed to my girlfriend, and on Monday, the good folks at Travel Nevada flew me and a group of other travel writers out to Vegas and put us up in a casino.

How to be a bachelor in Sin City

From what I decided in the first 72 hours of my engagement, my bachelor party plans are going to be pretty simple. I’m going to find a cabin in the woods somewhere, get all my best friends together, and we’re going to barbecue and get piss stinking drunk. There will be no strippers. There will be no bar fights.

But Vegas has marketed itself as the place to have a bachelor party, and I just had to investigate. Between Ocean’s 11, The Hangover, Swingers, and Knocked Up, Vegas’s preferred narrative is this: We’re a place where people who aren’t necessarily rich or important can swoop in, make horrible mistakes, and leave unscathed.

It’s nonsense, of course. If you believe this narrative, I can just cut out the middleman for you, break your kneecaps, and leave you to die in the Mojave Desert so I can go strong-arm your wife for the 80 grand of debt you left her saddled with. If Vegas was a place you had a fighting chance of winning in, the casinos couldn’t afford to build $40 million totally-free-to-watch dancing fountains in the middle of the driest region in America. They couldn’t afford to ban an A-list celebrity like Ben Affleck from the casino for counting cards. They couldn’t light the strip.

Ultimately, what I learned is that the best way to celebrate your impending nuptials in Vegas is to get out of Vegas. Here’s how you do that.

Jumping off cliffs and fat-guy locomotion

Boulder City is a small town about 20 miles away from Las Vegas. It’s one of the two cities in the state that prohibits gambling and only exists because it was a good place for the workers building the Hoover Dam. It’s also the jumping-off point for a lot of adventure-based tourism in Nevada.

My first outing was at Flightlinez, which, over the course of three hours, sends you down four ziplines making up about a mile and a half of zipping and reaching an eye-watering speed of 60mph. I’m not an extreme sportsman by any stretch; I tend to be a bit on the heavier side, and me and extreme-types tend to dislike each other. They see a man who enjoys Scotch more than fresh air or adrenaline, and I resent the fact that literally every person I’ve ever met with a carabiner in their possession has called me “Big Guy,” or “Hoss.”

But ziplining is the perfect extreme sport for lazy schlubs like myself who’ve always dreamed of being strapped into a harness and pushed downhill as their primary means of locomotion.

The ghostly specter of Bette Midler

After the ziplining we went back to our hotel, Planet Hollywood, which is a casino pretty much right in the middle of the strip. Planet Hollywood’s thing is “proximity to fame.” As such, every single room in the hotel has a theme — usually an actor, sometimes a movie — and then paraphernalia from movies that actor was in.

My room was the Bette Midler Room. It had — I swear I’m not making this up — Bette Midler’s pantsuit from the movie That Old Feeling hanging on the wall. I was going to watch That Old Feeling as research for this piece, but after three nights of Bette Midler’s pantsuit watching over me as I slept, I couldn’t even think about watching the movie without a deep, foreboding sense of cosmic terror.

Top: The entrance to Planet Hollywood Casino, where you get to sleep with the discarded clothing of celebrities! Bottom left: Bette Midler in That Old Feeling. Bottom right: Bette Midler’s pantsuit hanging on the wall like the trophy that it absolutely isn’t.
(via, via, and via)

Choppers over the first wonder of the world

In Boulder City, there’s a small airstrip that sends out more helicopters than planes. The helicopters we got on — with Papillon Air — inched off the ground and then set off across the desert, flying us over the Hoover Dam and along Lake Mead.

Lake Mead is gigantic and was created by the Hoover Dam. From the air, you can see the places that used to be desert but are now underwater. Because it’s technically just the raised banks of a river, it meanders through the desert until you realize the mountains you’re approaching aren’t mountains but a plateau the river cuts a yawning chasm through.

Left: The author photobombs the Grand Canyon. Upper right: Over the Hoover Dam. Lower right: The Grand Canyon from a helicopter.

For the record, the best way to see the Grand Canyon is from a helicopter with Ennio Morricone’s theme songs from old spaghetti westerns like For a Few Dollars More playing as you pass over a part of the plateau and the world opens up beneath you.

The narration was also pretty spectacular: “The Grand Canyon,” our pilot said over the headphones, “features some of the oldest geology in the world. The rocks at the bottom are over 6 billion years old.” This is very old. It’s a full billion and a half years older than the earth itself. But the Grand Canyon is the perfect place for hyperbole.

The “feed me, I’m hungry” gold mine

The strangest stop on the itinerary was a visit to a gold mine in El Dorado Canyon, about five miles away from the Colorado River. The mine itself is called Techatticup, which was the local Amerindian word for “feed me, I’m hungry.” The prospector who bought the mine thought it sounded nice — and whenever he fed the Native Americans they’d lead him to gold — so the name stuck.

Today, the mining’s stopped. There’s still plenty of gold in them there hills; it’s just that the mine’s been bought by a family of six-and-a-half-foot-tall desert men who’ve decorated the place with a mixture of ’50s-era Americana and taxidermied animal heads. The place is both beautiful and weird, so naturally it’s become a popular place for movies and photo shoots.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Techatticup and the towns nearby were significantly larger than Las Vegas. Now, Techatticup isn’t quite a ghost town, but it’s only a notch above a ghost town.
Photo: Allan

From there, we drove down to the Colorado River. I walked to a tiny cliff overlooking it and the Arizona-Nevada border, and I saw, on the ground next to me, an empty beer bottle. It was the first time I’d thought, “Actually, I could absolutely do a bachelor party out here. We could do ATVs through the desert during the day, and then pick a spot in the desert — literally any spot — and camp, drink, and look up at the stars.”

The West Coast is a completely different monster from the East Coast. Both sides of the country have their open expanses, but the East Coast is covered in trees, so if you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, you’re rarely seeing how vast nowhere really is, and the nearest person may be feet away, behind that grove of trees. This is never the case in the desert. In the desert everything within the borders of the horizon is yours and yours alone.

The best winery & the best brothel in Nevada

Pahrump, Nevada, is a small town about an hour and a half away from Vegas, right by the California border and Death Valley. It’s also the home of the Pahrump Winery, which is inexplicably still very much located in the Mojave Desert. And for god knows why, it has some of the best wine I’ve ever had.

Granted, I’m a Scotch and shitty-beer guy. I like stuff that either cleans my teeth or I can barely taste. So it may have been that they were giving me their bottom-shelf stuff, or it may have been that, after tasting about 10 different wines and drinking three full glasses, my tastebuds had been shot to shit. But there’s something to be said for grapes that grow in the desert.

The winery mercifully fell immediately before the tour of Sheri’s Ranch, a legal brothel, which is also in Pahrump. So by the time we got to the brothel, I was feeling loose enough to actually ask questions to the ladies who gave us the tour.

I can’t say I recommend going to a brothel for your bachelor party. I mean, maybe if polyamory or a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to infidelity are an agreed upon part of your relationship with your fiancee, then fine. But that and moral qualms with prostitution aside — brothels are expensive. They run from $1,000 to $20,000 per hour at Sheri’s Ranch, which is considered one of the more high-end brothels in Nevada (that link is all kinds of NSFW, by the way).

Weird Nevada

I was ultimately relieved when I got home. The first week of your engagement is not one you really want to be out of town during, and it’s super awkward to be in a brothel less than five days after getting down on one knee. And I may well still go out into the woods with my friends for my bachelor party.

But for all those who are planning a bachelor party and thinking, “Vegas, baby, VEGAS!” maybe take a step back and think less of partying in Sin City and more about getting out into the desert. Nevada’s a weird place. It’s got this strange permissiveness that makes it an appealing home to hippies and whores and polygamists all at the same time. That’s why Vegas started there, naturally, but you pour enough money into a city, and it’s going to start losing some of its local charm.

That charm’s still out there in the Mojave Desert. There’s still open sky and Americana and long, straight stretches of road where you won’t see a cop car for miles on end. And if I had a trunk full of beer and fireworks in a car in LA or Phoenix, that’s the place I’d drive out into with my friends to celebrate getting hitched.